Historical Witchfinding 101 featuring Matthew Hopkins: Article by Catherine Cavendish of The Pendle Curse

Catherine Cavendish, an author friend of mine who writes great gothic ghost tales from the UK, just released her latest novel with Samhain Horror, called The Pendle Curse, on Feb. 3, 2015. A mix of history, the paranormal, and subdued creepiness, her novels put a modern twist on the classic atmospheric telling of tales. This current novel delves into a past that includes a harrowing tale of witches.

Of course, as most readers know, I love to read anything to do with witches as well, so I’ve been highly anticipating this novel! My review will come soon, but in the meantime, take a moment to learn about the most infamous witch finder of all time, Matthew Hopkins.

Have  you heard of England’s Matthew Hopkins? The Infamous Witchfinder General

by Catherine Cavendish, author of The Pendle Curse

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A photo of Matthew Hopkins / Photo supplied by C. Cavendish

My new novel – The Pendle Curse – has some of its roots in a true story. In August 1612, ten men and women were convicted, in Lancaster, England, of crimes related to witchcraft and subsequently hanged on Gallows Hill. They became known to history as the Pendle Witches. Their trial created a template for others to follow, and one who was no doubt inspired by it was none other than the most infamous witch hunter of them all. The self-styled, ‘Witchfinder General’, Matthew Hopkins.

Hopkins was born in 1620 and little is known about his early life. His most famous career lasted just a couple of years – between 1644 until his retirement in 1647, but in fourteen months of that time, he managed to be responsible for the deaths of some 300 women, mainly in the eastern counties of England. All were convicted of witchcraft, on his authority. The total number of executions for witchcraft between the 15th and 18th centuries amounts to less than 500. Matthew Hopkins and his colleague, John Stearne, certainly contributed more than their fair share.

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Since the Lancashire witch trials of 1612 that convicted the Pendle witches, the law had been changed. It was now necessary to provide material proof that accused person had practiced witchcraft. It was the role of Hopkins and Stearne to provide evidence that the accused had entered into a pact with the devil. A confession was vital – from the human, as the devil would hardly confess.

Hopkins travelled freely throughout eastern England, although Essex was his centre of operations. His career as witchfinder began when he heard a group of women talking about meeting the devil in Manningtree in March 1644. Twenty three women were tried at Chelmsford in 1645. Four died in prison and nineteen were convicted and hanged. Hopkins was well paid for his work and this may well have spurred him on to be even more zealous. He and Stearne travelled with a team and wherever they turned up, the local community found themselves handing over significant amounts of money. In Ipswich, this was so great, that a special local tax had to be created to fund it!

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Hopkins’s methods were dubious to say the least. He would employ torture, including sleep deprivation. He would ‘cut’ the arm of a witch with a blunt knife and if, as was likely, she did not bleed, she was pronounced a witch. He was also a great fan of the ‘swimming’ test, or ducking. As witches were believed to have renounced their baptism, water would reject them. So, they were tied to a chair and thrown in the river. Those who floated were guilty. Those who drowned were innocent.

Hopkins also favoured the practice of ‘pricking’. Basically this involved searching the accused’s body for any unusual blemishes or moles. A knife or needle was used to test the mark. If it bled, on being pricked, the woman was innocent. If it failed to bleed, she was guilty. It has long been alleged that many of these ‘prickers’ had a retractable point, so that the hapless prisoner would be confirmed as a witch when the mark failed to bleed. What better way for a ‘witchfinder’ to enhance his reputation than by identifying so many ‘witches’?

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Hopkins and his merry band spread fear all over the countryside, but their reign was short-lived. John Gaule, vicar of Great Staughton in Cambridgeshire, preached a number of sermons denouncing him. His opposition began when he visited a woman who was being held in gaol on charges of witchcraft, until such time as Hopkins could attend to investigate her guilt or innocence. Gaule heard of a letter Hopkins had sent, where he had enquired as to whether he would be given a ‘good welcome’ in that area. A good, financially rewarding welcome no doubt. At around the same time, justices of the assizes in Norfolk questioned Hopkins and Stearne about their methods of torture (which was outlawed in England) and the extortionate fees.

The writing was clearly all over the wall. Their reign of terror was over. By the time the next court session sat, both Hopkins and Stearne had conveniently retired and the infamous Witchfinder General had put away his witch ‘pricker’ for the last time. But that was, sadly, not the end of his story.

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Hopkins published a book, called The Discovery of Witches, in 1647, where he outlined his witch-hunting methods. This ensured his legacy lived on – and expanded far beyond the shores of his native England. Witch-hunting in New England began, according to his methods, and, in 1692, some of Hopkins’s methods were once again employed at Salem, Massachusetts.

Now, here’s the cover and blurb for The Pendle Curse~

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Four hundred years ago, ten convicted witches were hanged on Gallows Hill. Now they are back…for vengeance.

Laura Phillips’s grief at her husband’s sudden death shows no sign of passing. Even sleep brings her no peace. She experiences vivid, disturbing dreams of a dark, brooding hill, and a man—somehow out of time—who seems to know her. She discovers that the place she has dreamed about exists. Pendle Hill. And she knows she must go there. But as soon as she arrives, the dream becomes a nightmare. She is caught up in a web of witchcraft and evil…and a curse that will not die.

Here’s a short extract from the beginning~

His spirit soared within him and flew up into the storm-clad sky as blackness descended and the rain became a tempest.

He flew. Lost in a maelstrom of swirling mists. Somewhere a baby cried until its sobs became distorted, tortured roars. Beyond, a black void loomed. He saw Alizon’s spirit just ahead and tried to call out to her, but his voice couldn’t reach her.

Beside him, another spirit cried out. His mother. He flinched at her screams before they were drowned in the mass—that terrible parody of some hideous child.

The blackness metamorphosed. An amorphous shape formed as his eyes struggled to see with their new vision—the gift of death. Small baby limbs flailed towards him. Eyes of fire flashed as a toothless mouth opened. Screeching, roaring and demanding to be fed. Demanding its mother.

His spirit reached out for his lover. Tried to pull her back. “Alizon!”

She turned anguished eyes to him. “It calls to me.”

He recognized it instantly. The blazing fire. The devil child. That cursed infant had come for them.

Again he reached out with arms that no longer felt connected to him, but he was powerless to stop Alizon being swept away, deep into the abomination’s maw.

“No!” His cry reverberated around him—a wail of anguish in a sea of torment.

Then…silence. Only he remained, drifting in swirling gray mists of time.

“I will find you, sweet Alizon. One day I will find you. And I will find the one who betrayed us.”

From somewhere, he heard an echo…

You can buy The Pendle Curse here~

Samhain Publishing

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Kobo

Catherine Cavendish, Biography~

Catherine CavendishCatherine Cavendish – Cat to her friends – lives with her husband in a haunted 18th century building in North Wales. Fortunately for all concerned, the ghost is friendly and contents herself (she’s definitely female) with switching on lights, and attempting to discover how the TV and washing machine work (it’s a long story!).

Following a varied career in sales, advertising and career guidance, Cat is now the full time author of a number of paranormal, ghostly and Gothic horror novels, novellas and short stories. She is the 2013 joint winner of the Samhain Gothic Horror Anthology Competition, with Linden Manor, which features in the anthology What Waits In The ShadowsThe Pendle Curse is her latest novel for Samhain; her first  – Saving Grace Devine – was published in 2014.

Her daily walks have so far provided the inspiration for two short stories and a novella. As she says, “It’s amazing what you see down by the river, as it flows through a sleepy rural community.” Those with delicate constitutions are advised not to ask!

You can connect with Cat here~

Catherine Cavendish (website)

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9 Comments

Filed under Guest Posts

9 responses to “Historical Witchfinding 101 featuring Matthew Hopkins: Article by Catherine Cavendish of The Pendle Curse

  1. Thank you so much for hosting me today, Erin!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Another great post Catherine. I am loving all the ones you’ve done for your new release. What a horror this guy was and what a taster for the Pendle Curse. you don’t have to sell me on it. You know I love your books.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I just wanted to say that I enjoyed this post, and the novel sounds fascinating. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey there, Cat will be thrilled I’m sure. She writes really cool atmospheric novels. Glad you enjoyed her post. Maybe you should include him as a villan in one of your upcoming mysteries, SK! ;0

      Like

  4. Hopkins was a terrifying man. The concept of pricking that Cat describes seems especially sinister. But you’re right–good material for a historical novelist!

    Like

  5. Thank you Erin, skrizzolo and Shehanne. Glad you enjoyed this post. Matthew Hopkins has appeared in a number of novels and films – most notably played by Vincent Price – he is a gift to a horror writer. Let’s face it,the reality of what he did was so awful, you don’t need to invent anything!

    Like

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