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A History of Witchcraft in England from 1558 to 17

Who called himself Witchfinder General


an inference would, however, be altogether unjustified. The absence of evidence of the use of torture by no means establishes the absence of the practice. It may rather be said that the evidence of the practice we possess in the Hopkins cases is of such a sort as to lead us to suspect that it was frequently resorted to. If for these cases we had only such evidence as in most previous cases has made up our entire sum of information, we should know nothing of the terrible sufferings undergone by the poor creatures of Chelmsford and Bury. The confessions are given in full, as in the accounts of other trials, but no word is said of the causes that led to them. The difference between these cases of 1645 and other cases is this, that Hopkins and Stearne accused so large a body of witches that they stirred up opposition. It is through those who opposed them and their own replies that we learn about the tortures inflicted upon the supposed agents of the Devil.

The significance of this cannot be insisted upon too strongly. A chance has preserved for us the fact of the tortures of this time. It is altogether possible--it is almost probable--that, if we had all the facts, we should find that similar or equally severe methods had been practised in many other witch cases.

We have been very minute in our descriptions of the Hopkins crusade, and by no means brief in our attempt to account for it. But it is safe to say that

it is easily the most important episode in that series of episodes which makes up the history of English witchcraft. None of them belong, of course, in the larger progress of historical events. It may seem to some that we have magnified the point at which they touched the wider interests of the time. Let it not be forgotten that Hopkins was a factor in his day and that, however little he may have affected the larger issues of the times, he was affected by them. It was only the unusual conditions produced by the Civil Wars that made the great witchfinder possible.

[1] See J. O. Jones, "Matthew Hopkins, Witchfinder," in Thomas Seccombe's _Twelve Bad Men_ (London, 1894).

[2] See _Notes and Queries_, 1854, II, 285, where a quotation from a parish register of Mistley-cum-Manningtree is given: "Matthew Hopkins, son of Mr. James Hopkins, Minister of Wenham, was buried at Mistley August 12, 1647." See also John Stearne, _A Confirmation and Discovery of Witchcraft_, 61 (cited hereafter as "Stearne").

[3] _Calendar of the Proceedings of the Committee for Advance of Money, 1642-1656_, I, 457. _Cf. Notes and Queries_, 1850, II, 413.

[4] The oft-repeated statement that he had been given a commission by Parliament to detect witches seems to rest only on the mocking words of Butler's _Hudibras_:

"Hath not this present Parliament A Ledger to the Devil sent, Fully empower'd to treat about Finding revolted Witches out?"

(_Hudibras_, pt. ii, canto 3.)

To these lines an early editor added the note: "The Witch-finder in Suffolk, who in the Presbyterian Times had a Commission to discover Witches." But he names no authority, and none can be found. It is probably a confusion with the Commission appointed for the trial of the witches in Suffolk (see below, p. 178). Even his use of the title "witch-finder-general" is very doubtful. "Witch-finder" he calls himself in his book; only the frontispiece has "Witch Finder Generall." Nor is this title given him by Stearne, Gaule, or any contemporary record. It is perhaps only a misunderstanding of the phrase of Hopkins's title-page, "for the benefit of the whole kingdome"--a phrase which, as the punctuation shows, describes, not the witch-finder, but his book. Yet in _County Folk Lore, Suffolk_ (Folk Lore Soc., 1893), 178, there is an extract about John Lowes from a Brandeston MS.: "His chief accuser was one Hopkins, who called himself Witchfinder-General." But this is of uncertain date, and may rest on Hutchinson.

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