0 views posted 06 Jul 2012, 17:04
In March of 1645, with no more knowledge of witchcraft than was detailed in Demonology by King James the 1st (Edinburgh, 1597), The Wonderful Discovery of Witches in the County of Lancaster by Thomas Potts (London, 1613) and Richard Bernard’s A Guide to Grand Jurymen (London, 1627, 1629), Hopkins set himself up and started his lucrative career as the “Witch-Finder General”.
For his first victim, Hopkins picked on a poor one-legged old hag called Elizabeth Clarke, whose mother had been hanged as a witch before her. At his instigation, she was thrown into prison on suspicion of witchcraft. So as not to leave incriminating evidence, he then devised subtle methods of torture while interrogating her (torture was illegal in England at that time), and extracted from her a confession leading to the arrest of five other women. In his own book ‘The Discovery of Witchcraft’ (more like a little pamphlet, London, 1647), he tells us how it all started:
“In March 1644, he had some seven or eight of that horrible sect of Witches living in the Towne where he lived, a Towne in Essex called Manningtree, with diverse other adjacent Witches of other towns, who every six weeks in the night (being always on the Friday night) had their meeting close to his house, and had their solemn sacrifices there offered to the Devil, one of whom this Discoverer heard speaking to her imps and bid them go to another Witch, who was thereupon apprehended”.
From this we can see that Hopkins implies he daringly eavesdropped on one of the witches meetings, and later claimed they threatened to kill him because of what he had witnessed.
Under his interrogation with the aid of Jack Stearne, an unsavoury rascal with a penchant for cruelty, Elizabeth Clarke after the pain and humiliation of being stripped naked, then searched and poked for witches marks, "was found to have three teats about her, which honest women have not". (Here Hopkins had seized on a passage from King James’s Demonology as a means of detecting witches: Witchcraft meant keeping imps and familiars. “Witches suckled imps and familiars, not just to feed them, but more to aggravate a witches damnation”). Elizabeth was then kept without food or sleep for three consecutive nights, and on the forth night of her torture, she weakened and confessed to being a witch, at the same time accusing five other women of witchcraft.
Her confession alledged that she kept and nourished five familiars, Holt - a white kitten, Jarmara - a fat spaniel, Sack and Sugar - a black rabbit, Newes - a polecat and Vinegar Tom - a long legged greyhound with a head like an ox, broad eyes and a long tail. According to Hopkins no less than eight people swore they had seen these familiars. In the course of her interrogation the other witches she implicated as accomplices included: Anne West and her daughter Rebecca, Anne Leech, Helen Clarke and Elizabeth Gooding. As the investigation continued, Hopkins began rousing his neighbours to denounce others, and to cope with the growing demand for his services was forced to take on more assistants. Jack Stearne became his second-in-command, Mary ‘Goody’ Phillips whose specialty was finding witch marks on the bodies of those accused then joined him, while Edward Parsley and Frances Mills made up the rest of the team.
Together they interviewed and interrogated over one hundred people, many of whom were quick to confess under interrogation, and further names of imps and familiars were revealed, names such as: Elemanzer, Pyewacket, Peck in the Crown and Grizzel Greedigut, to which Hopkins commented: "names that no mortal could invent". The final number of those accused was thirty-two, with only Elizabeth Gooding refusing to acknowledge her guilt. After being examination by local justices, all were remanded to the county sessions at Chelmsford.In the first instance, he would have his victims thrown into a isolated prison cell, stripped naked, beaten, starved and kept from sleep, while using the pain and humiliation psychologically against them. If this didn’t work he would use his more brutal and favoured methods of torture, starting with “Pricking”. Pricking was an excruciatingly painful ordeal to endure and involved the use of evil looking pins, needles and bodkins to pierce the skin looking for insensitive spots that didn’t bleed. If any were found they would then be interpreted as a mark of the Devil . If none were found the victim was made to sit cross-legged on a table or stool, then bound in the posture with cords and left alone for up to 24 hours or until such time as the cramps and pain set in. Naked and bare foot they would then be forced to walk up and down the cold stone floor of the cell without respite until their feet began to blister and bleed.
Perhaps the most favoured method of torture used by Hopkins was the public spectacle of “Swimming” in which the accused was bound and thrown into water, if they floated they were deemed to be guilty. The idea was based on the belief that as a witch rejected the water of baptism, so the element of water would reject them in turn, and they would float in an unnatural manner
Simply throwing someone into a pond or river wasn’t the style of Hopkins and wouldn’t satisfy his sense for spectacle and cruelty. Hopkins developed his own method of Swimming in which his victims had to be bound in a special way. Bent double with their arms crossed between their legs, they had their thumbs tied to their big toes. A rope was then tied around their waist and held by a man on either side of the river or pond, this ostensibly to prevent them from drowning. The accused was then lowered from a platform into the water and allowed to sink and rise three times. It obviously depended on the dexterity of the men handling the rope, as to whether the accused survived or drowned. Many alleged witches died in this way
These people were not givn the right to a trail instead they cast out to whom they did not like, many people belive all of this begain to obtain there land