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A History of Witchcraft in England from 1558 to 17

Asserted the virtuous witchfinder


As

for starving the witches and keeping them from sleep, Stearne maintained that these things were done by them only at first. Hopkins bore the same testimony. "After they had beat their heads together in the Gaole, and after this use was not allowed of by the Judges and other Magistrates, it was never since used, which is a yeare and a halfe since."[87] In other words, the two men had given up the practice because the parliamentary commission had compelled them to do so.

The confessions must be received with great caution, Hopkins himself declared.[88] It is so easy to put words into the witch's mouth. "You have foure Imps, have you not? She answers affirmatively. 'Yes'.... 'Are not their names so and so'? 'Yes,' saith she. 'Did you not send such an Impe to kill my child'? 'Yes,' saith she." This sort of thing has been too often done, asserted the virtuous witchfinder. He earnestly did desire that "all Magistrates and Jurors would, a little more than ever they did, examine witnesses about the interrogated confessions." What a cautious, circumspect man was this famous witchfinder! The confessions, he wrote, in which confidence may be placed are when the woman, without any "hard usages or questions put to her, doth of her owne accord declare what was the occasion of the Devil's appearing to her."[89]

The swimming test had been employed by both men in the earlier stages of their work. "That hath been used," wrote

Stearne, "and I durst not goe about to cleere my selfe of it, because formerly I used it, but it was at such time of the yeare as when none tooke any harme by it, neither did I ever doe it but upon their owne request."[90] A thoughtful man was this Stearne! Latterly he had given up the test--since "Judge Corbolt" stopped it[91]--and he had come to believe that it was a way of "distrusting of God's providence."

It can be seen that the men who had conducted the witch crusade were able to present a consistent philosophy of their conduct. It was, of course, a philosophy constructed to meet an attack the force of which they had to recognize. Hopkins's pamphlet and Stearne's _Confirmation_ were avowedly written to put their authors right in the eyes of a public which had turned against them.[92] It seems that this opposition had first shown itself at their home in Essex. A woman who was undergoing inquisition had found supporters, and, though she was condemned in spite of their efforts, was at length reprieved.[93] Her friends turned the tables by indicting Stearne and some forty others of conspiracy, and apparently succeeded in driving them from the county.[94] In Bury the forces of the opposition had appealed to Parliament, and the Commission of Oyer and Terminer, which, it will be noticed, is never mentioned by the witchfinders, was sent out to limit their activities. In Huntingdonshire, we have seen how Hopkins roused a protesting clergyman, John Gaule. If we may judge from the letter he wrote to one of Gaule's parishioners, Hopkins had by this time met with enough opposition to know when it was best to keep out of the way. His boldness was assumed to cover his fear.

But it was in Norfolk that the opposition to the witchfinders reached culmination. There most pungent "queries" were put to Hopkins through the judges of assize. He was charged with all those cruelties, which, as we have seen, he attempts to defend. He was further accused of fleecing the country for his own profit.[95] Hopkins's answer was that he took the great sum of twenty shillings a town "to maintaine his companie with 3 horses."[96] That this was untrue is sufficiently proved by the records of Stowmarket where he received twenty-three pounds and his traveling expenses. At such a rate for the discoveries, we can hardly doubt that the two men between them cleared from three hundred to a thousand pounds, not an untidy sum in that day, when a day's work brought six pence.


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