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Mathew Hopkins

Matthew Hopkins

“The Devil hides in every corner and we mustn’t ignore him or he will take us unawares.”   

‘The World Turned Upside Down’,  2020

Vincent Moisy as Mathew Hopkins in The Ungodly. Image credit: Bill Jackson

The self proclaimed Witchfinder General worked alongside his partner John Stearn on a crusade to rid East Anglia of those who were believed to be working with the devil. Upon the death of his father, Hopkins purchased a pub called The Thorn Inn in Mistley. From this establishment, he socialised with important members of the community and caught wind of the social change occuring.

Hopkins’ first case was an old one legged woman called Elizabeth Clarke. Her mother had previously been hung as a witch, and soon accusations were pointed in her direction too. The magistrate offered a warrant to gather information about her connection to witchcraft, and it was Matthew Hopkins and John Stearn who accepted the role.

In order to obtain a confession from the witch, Hopkins inflicted methods of torture such as walking, sleep deprivation, starvation, and swimming. Swimming was a method whereby the suspected witch had their hands and feet tied together and would be thrown into a river. If they sank they were innocent, yet drowned, if they floated, it meant they were guilty. They outlawed this method following the trial of the Suffolk Witches in Bury St Edmunds in 1645.

“Boy, those individuals, those corrupted sisters that will – if not sternly dealt with – infect this very area. Evil shall not succeed under MY WATCH! I will go toe to toe with any man who opposes me… and with god on my side I shall be victorious”

‘Find Her’, Audio play 2020

Vincent Moisy as Mathew Hopkins and Nadia Jackson as Susan Edwards in The Ungodly. Image credit: Bill Jackson

Joanna Carrick’s play, The Ungodly, explored Hopkins through a new light, uncovering new research into Mathew Hopkins’ life and family, particularly his relationship with his step sister and her husband, Susan and Richard Edwards. The Edwards lost multiple babies which led them to testify against women in the witch trials brought by Hopkins.

” Aye brother. Witchfinder General. I’ll leave this world a better and a cleaner place than I found it. I’ll hunt them and seek out the truth of their vile communion with the Devil, till children are safe in their cradles and cattle in their stalls. It’s an apocalyptic fight for God, and it’s a fight that we must win. “

The Ungodly, 2023

Tom Hindson in The World Turned Upside Down. The Chainers, 2020.

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Hopkins’ Downfall

At a Bury St Edmunds trial, the judge Serjeant Godbold ruled that because of just how many people were being arrested, the cost of the trials should be paid by the towns and villages who presented them. Some of these towns had already paid the witchfinders, searchers and watchers or still owed them money. An officer was appointed to collect funds from locals to feed the prisoners in gaol. The very people that had enjoyed watching the executions found themselves paying for it and were forced to reconsider whether they truly wanted the witch hunting to continue.

Not everyone was happy to have Hopkins in their town, and soon complaints started to spread. A man called Rev. Gaule preached openly against Hopkins’ actions and published a book titled ‘Select Cases of Conscience Touching Witches and Witchcraft’ which covered his concerns extensively. He wrote that, “Every old woman with a wrinkled face, a furrowed brow, a hairy lip, a robber tooth, a squint eye, a squeaking voice or scolding tongue, having a rugged coat on her back, a skull cap on her head, a spindle in her hand & a dog or cat by her side, is not only suspect but pronounced for a witch.” It seemed that plenty of people agreed with him, and soon Hopkins’ reputation was worse than ever.

“I am the witchfinder general and i am here to stay.

Gone are the witches – we’re celebrate each and every day”

‘Cauldrons Bubbling’, Audio play 2020

Hopkins died not long after his career had begun, and despite rumours that he was executed for witchcraft himself, he died, likely of tuberculosis, on the 27th August, 1647, at his home in Mistley. He was at most 27 years old. He was buried at the church of St Mary at Mistley Heath.


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