Matthew Hopkins was born c. 1620 at Wenham town England and died on August 12th 1647. There is not much information about Hopkins before he began his witch hunter career in 1644. From the way he presented himself in cases he said he used to be a practicing lawyer but there is not much evidence for this. He began witch hunting because he claimed he heard a group of six women discussing their love for the devil and then attempting to kill Hopkins. After he tried and executed these women he assumed the title “Witch Finder General” and traveled around the counties of Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, and Huntingdon.
He and his associated were responsible from anywhere between 200-300 deaths from 1644-1647. Overall their is estimated to be 500 deaths total for witchcraft in England, that makes Hopkins responsible for 60% of all witch deaths in England.
His methods for finding witches were, for all intents and purposes, torture. Torture was considered illegal in England during this time. However, the chaos of the civil war and the lack of appointed court judges means that torture was accepted in most of the lower courts while the civil war lasted. Hopkins used the pricking method to determine if the woman possessed the Devil’s mark. In addition, he used to make the accused walk all night without stopping because it was at night that witches conjured their familiars to frighten the townsfolk. His favorite method was the trial by water. This is when the accused is thrown into a lake or bog and if she floats it is because she has rejected her baptism. The water ‘rejects’ those touched by the devil.
Popular legend has it that he himself was accused as a witch and subjected to the trial by water and executed. However, it is much more likely that he contracted an illness and died from that.
Gaskill, Malcolm. Witchfinders: A Seventeenth-Century English Tragedy. Harvard University Press, 2007.
Morrill, John S. “Matthew Hopkins (English Witch-hunter).” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, 5 Feb. 2014. Web. 08 Dec. 2014.