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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Essex

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Myths and Legends
Witch-finder witch?

The Witch-finder General

Not a great deal is known about Hopkins' early life, but it is thought he was born in Little Wenham, in Suffolk, in the 1620's. He trained as a lawyer, but with little professional success, so he augmented his paltry salary with the opportunities that witch-hunting offered by the time he was in his 20s. His new career started near Manningtree in Essex in 1644, where he "examined" his first witch at the Thorn Inn, Mistley.

Hopkins had no specific schooling for his role as witch finder - he just came with a passionate belief in the righteousness of his actions. Some records show that he was given a special commission by the Long Parliament and received remuneration from government sources. King Charles I first established the Long Parliament, on 3 November 1640, not
Matthew Hopkins - Witch-finder General
Hopkins made his move to witch hunt with the smoke-screen of the Civil War
© Essex County Council
long after the dissolution of the Short Parliament which had only lasted three weeks after it was first assembled.

Hopkins and Stearne employed varying methods to extract confessions from the "witches". They would keep the suspect awake on surveillance for days on end, resulting in sleep depravation, meaning that at the end, the suspect could be coaxed into confessing to almost anything. Interestingly, this practice of confession-extraction is still used by a number of armies today.

Hopkins believed that witches fed their "familiars" (animals that would accompany them in their evil practices) with their own blood; by keeping the witch under guard this would also ensure that their familiars would not be able to feed from the witch, thereby depriving the witches of their alleged capabilities.

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