Good Omens Tidbit #17 ~ Matthew Hopkins Witchfinder General

by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

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DeppInTheHeartOfTexas
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Good Omens Tidbit #17 ~ Matthew Hopkins Witchfinder General

Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Wed Jul 26, 2006 8:20 am

(Pg. 153 paperback, page 157 hardback)

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Political and religious chaos reigned throughout the period of the English Civil Wars (1642-49) and it was with this distraction that the previously unheard of, Matthew Hopkins, assumed the title of Witch-finder General in 1645. Matthew Hopkins was an English witchhunter whose career flourished in the time of the English Civil War. He held, or claimed to hold, the office of "Witch-finder Generall" as bestowed by the Puritan Parliament, and practiced his witch-finding in Suffolk, Essex, in East Anglia.

Hopkins was a lawyer and the son of James Hopkins; a Puritan clergyman. According to his book The Discovery of Witches (not to be confused with Reginald Scot's book The Discovery of Witchcraft) he began his career as a witch-finder when he overheard various women discussing their meetings with the Devil in March of 1644, in a village near Colchester. As a result of Hopkins's accusations, nineteen alleged witches were hanged and four more died in prison.

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Hopkins was soon traveling over eastern England, claiming truthfully or not to be an official specially commissioned by Parliament to uncover and prosecute witches. His witch-finding career spanned from 1644 to 1646. While torture was technically unlawful in England, he used various methods of browbeating to extract confessions from some of his victims. He used sleep deprivation as a sort of bloodless torture. He also used a "swimming" test to see if the accused would float or sink in water, the theory being that witches had renounced their baptism, so that all water would supernaturally reject them. He also employed "witch prickers" who pricked the accused with knives and special needles, looking for the Devil's mark that was supposed to be dead to all feeling and would not bleed. It was believed that the witch's familiar would drink their blood from the mark as milk from a teat. The devil was the deceiver.

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On the strength of his commission, Hopkins then demanded that the communities he visited pay him for his work. He also sold fetishes he called "witch boxes" that were supposed to protect the households of their owners from sorcery.

It was rumored that villagers caught Hopkins and subjected him to his own "swimming" test: he floated, and therefore was hanged for witchcraft himself. However, it is believed by most historians that Hopkins actually died of illness (possibly tuberculosis) in his home. The parish records of Manningtree in Essex record his burial in August of 1647.

The witchfinders and their purge were destined to be remembered as a lawless episode of religious mania and political violence. There would never be another Matthew Hopkins, although witchfinders did occasionally make later appearances – like the Scottish ‘witch-pricker’ employed by the city of Newcastle in 1649-50. But by now skepticism of such bullying methods and cruel tests was gaining ground. In 1655, Thomas Ady, a physician, condemned the delusions which “have been impiously acted here in England, of late in Essex, and Suffolk, by a wicked Inquisitor pretending authority for it”. In the 1660s, the satirist Samuel Butler ridiculed Puritanism in an epic poem. Hopkins earned a mention in his satire, Hudibras :

Has not this present Parliament
A Lieger to the Devil sent,
Fully impowr'd to treat about
Finding revolted witches out
And has not he, within a year,
Hang'd threescore of 'em in one shire?
Some only for not being drown'd,
And some for sitting above ground,
Whole days and nights, upon their breeches,
And feeling pain, were hang'd for witches.
And some for putting knavish tricks
Upon green geese and turky-chicks,
And pigs, that suddenly deceast
Of griefs unnat'ral, as he guest;
Who after prov'd himself a witch
And made a rod for his own breech.


Matthew Hopkins's witch hunts were loosely adapted into a 1968 horror film starring Vincent Price as Hopkins, under the title Witchfinder General (retitled The Conqueror Worm in the United States).

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Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -
Wow! What a ride!

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Liz
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Unread postby Liz » Wed Jul 26, 2006 3:03 pm

It was rumored that villagers caught Hopkins and subjected him to his own "swimming" test: he floated, and therefore was hanged for witchcraft himself. However, it is believed by most historians that Hopkins actually died of illness (possibly tuberculosis) in his home. The parish records of Manningtree in Essex record his burial in August of 1647.


Seems fitting. :shocked:
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Unread postby Bix » Wed Jul 26, 2006 4:17 pm

Very interesting, DITHOT. I was just about to start a rant on intolerance and ignorance, etc., when I realized that - at least in the USA - intolerance and ignorance is at as high a level as I have ever seen it in my lifetime. So maybe :-| would be my best bet! But I'm sure Matthew Hopkins would have made a beeline right for my mother, my sisters and me had he come to our little village!

One thing I'm loving about these tidbits, Liz and DITHOT, is that stuff I just read right over, thinking the authors had made whatever-it-was up just to be funny, turns out to be "true" stuff. You are both so clever at spotting these things and turning them into more learning for us. So thanks again.
Live! Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death! ~Auntie Mame

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Unread postby Raven » Wed Jul 26, 2006 4:20 pm

LIz and DITHOT are my new favorite teachers!! :cool:
"In my experience, those who do not like you fall into two categories: the stupid
and the envious."
John Wilmot, the 2nd Earl of Rochester in The Libertine by Stephen Jeffreys

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Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Thu Jul 27, 2006 8:25 am

Bix, it is interesting to see what is real. Some of the things we go searching for turn out to be dead ends but most of them have been based on something real! In this book you are never sure! :-O

Raven, thanks for the compliment. If only my kids felt that way!
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Wow! What a ride!

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Unread postby gilly » Tue Aug 15, 2006 7:54 am

What an evil guy..It makes my flesh creep,just reading about him...The worst thing is that such a charlatan was allowed to flourish..It didn't pay to be a woman in those days :-O
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Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Tue Aug 15, 2006 8:35 am

gilly wrote:What an evil guy..It makes my flesh creep,just reading about him...The worst thing is that such a charlatan was allowed to flourish..It didn't pay to be a woman in those days :-O


In more ways than one methinks, gilly! :-O
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -

Wow! What a ride!


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