The Witch Hunts in England

The same case as Europe, witch-hunting throughout England was, to all intents and purposes, a judicial operation, but occasionally, agitated villagers would take justice into their own hands, executing suspected witches. In England the process of witch hunting culminated with the political and religious chaos reigned throughout the period of the English Civil Wars (1642-49) and Matthew Hopkins, assumed the job of witch hunting getting the title of Witch-finder General in 1645. Hopkins found out that there were seven or eight witches regularly practicing their evil arts close to his house, this gave him a strong motivation to destroy the “works of the devil” and, as an impoverished lawyer, he could see the financial incentive of pursuing the hunt on a wider scale. In his fight to finish East Anglia of witches, Hopkins operated John Stearne who was his close associate. While Hopkins was able to organize, direct, analyze and ensure the success of the witch campaign, Stearne provided the relentless, fanatical element. Hopkins and Stearne perfected a system of examining witches that shed no blood and non torture method which remained within the legal requirement of English. Hopkins was very careful in describing these techniques to the villages he traveled to.

The primary means of securing a confession were “watching”, “searching” and “walking”. Hopkins offered three means of distinguishing witch’s marks from natural marks, which all people have. First, a witch’s mark was to be found in an unusual place, for example “bottom of the back-bone” (Paylac 2009). Secondly, “they are most commonly insensible, and feel neither pin, nor needle thrust through them” (Paylac 2009). The third means of detection involved familiars. Hopkins would keep strict surveillance of a witch for 24 hours, making sure none of her familiars came and sucked blood from the hidden nipple on the witch’s body. According to Hopkins, the “teat” in that time would noticeably fill up with fluid and become visible. Thus, a witch who had a familiar also had a mark, and it was just a matter of finding it. Many of the confessions during the Hopkins period make reference to sexual intercourse between the witch and the Devil. Sexual references were rarely noted prior to this time and did not form part of the prevailing witch-beliefs of the masses. Their inclusion in confessions suggests leading questions from the interrogators assisting the witch in fashioning her offence (Hopkin and Stearne 2007).

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