Witchfinders: A Seventeenth-Century English Tragedy

Witchfinders: A Seventeenth-Century English Tragedy

Malcolm Gaskill / Feb 24, 2020

Witchfinders A Seventeenth Century English Tragedy By spring two years of civil war had exacted a dreadful toll upon England People lived in terror as disease and poverty spread and the nation grew ever politically divided In a remote corner of

  • Title: Witchfinders: A Seventeenth-Century English Tragedy
  • Author: Malcolm Gaskill
  • ISBN: 9780674025424
  • Page: 352
  • Format: Paperback
  • By spring 1645, two years of civil war had exacted a dreadful toll upon England People lived in terror as disease and poverty spread, and the nation grew ever politically divided In a remote corner of Essex, two obscure gentlemen, Matthew Hopkins and John Stearne, exploited the anxiety and lawlessness of the time and initiated a brutal campaign to drive out the presBy spring 1645, two years of civil war had exacted a dreadful toll upon England People lived in terror as disease and poverty spread, and the nation grew ever politically divided In a remote corner of Essex, two obscure gentlemen, Matthew Hopkins and John Stearne, exploited the anxiety and lawlessness of the time and initiated a brutal campaign to drive out the presumed evil in their midst Touring Suffolk and East Anglia on horseback, they detected demons and idolators everywhere Through torture, they extracted from terrified prisoners confessions of consorting with Satan and demonic spirits.Acclaimed historian Malcolm Gaskill retells the chilling story of the most savage witch hunt in English history By the autumn of 1647 at least 250 people mostly women had been captured, interrogated, and hauled before the courts More than a hundred were hanged, causing Hopkins to be dubbed Witchfinder General by critics and admirers alike Though their campaign was never legally sanctioned, they garnered the popular support of local gentry, clergy, and villagers While Witchfinders tells of a unique and tragic historical moment fueled by religious fervor, today it serves as a reminder of the power of fear and fanaticism to fuel ordinary people s willingness to demonize others.

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      Posted by:Malcolm Gaskill
      Published :2019-05-04T02:59:57+00:00

    About "Malcolm Gaskill"

      • Malcolm Gaskill

        Malcolm Gaskill is Professor of Early Modern History at the University of East Anglia.


    1. Interesting glimpse into the insane filthiness of 1600s witch-hunting crisis of the United Kingdom during its Civil War. These people all seemed bat-shit insane, paranoid, and with highly debatable concepts of personal cleanliness. I've never seen the word "teets" thrown around with so much disregard in one book as I have in this one, and half of the time that's not even referring to those found on an animal, much less on a woman at that. Whether or not they found these various nipples where wit [...]

    2. I was very much looking forward to reading this book as it was written by an Oxbridge don and I hold those guys in high esteem when it comes to books they have written. However, I found this a very meandering read, and it didn't seem to move anywhere until the final tenth of the book. It seemed to me that we would simply read of accounts of people discovering a witch, over and over again. As there is little surviving written evidence, it would usually be along the lines of "Goodwife Joan widow i [...]

    3. I found this very accessible and it brings together various materials that Gaskill has sourced from archives etc. It is a bit repetitive, but then again - it was at the time, too: again and again, Satan allegedly turned up at a cottage and spoke in a "hollow voice" to a lure his witch.I was quite impressed by Gaskill's attempt to almost novelise the proceedings, weaving a narrative through the scrappy remains of the period. He's clearly consulted parish registers to trace the accused and their a [...]

    4. If you are looking for a narrative of the witch trials - this book is for you. Gaskill has packed the book with case after case but although engaging, this does get repetitive. A good read but sadly lacking in in-depth examination of the causes of these sad events. Nevertheless, it does provide a springboard into the subject area as a whole.

    5. Forced myself quickly through this with much skimming in order to begin on the essay I was required to write based on this book. Maybe I might have enjoyed more if I wasn’t being made to read it, but even assigned reading can be enjoyable many times, and this was not. If I hadn’t been assigned it, I probably would have quickly put the book down and not read very much at all. Still, I can tell Gaskill worked very hard on it, so it’d be unfair to rate one star only. It’s good if you like b [...]

    6. A frustrating one. As a source of information on the witch-hunting fervor which exploded during the English Civil War and afterwards, this is excellent. It's also nowhere near as gripping as I expected. That's primarily because it's more information than it turns out I really wanted to know. But it's also repetitive information: the trial of one woman in poverty after another, same accusations and evidence, only the names change. And the infamous "witchfinder general" Matthew Hopkins comes off l [...]

    7. Poor book, got half way through and lost interest. Introduces you to too many people and it's extremely hard to keep up. Should have just focused on one story.

    8. Please ignore the reviews that say this is a boring book, it is not. In fact it is the banal details which make the witch hunting craze of the 1640s so chilling. In a world torn apart by a war that would kill almost 4% of the population, amidst famine and repeated poor harvests the removal of the traditional support structures helped create a world where tensions led to accusations of witchcraft across east anglia. Traditionally faith had put the emphasis on atonement of sins through charity and [...]

    9. I started reading this book over a year ago. I got half way through and gave up. I think it just wasn't what I was wanting to be reading at the time. The first half of the book read mostly like a biography of the early lives of the two witch-finders, Mathew Hopkins and John Stearne and their initial "success" as witch-finders. The second half moves away from the witch-finders themselves and looks more at the people being accused, examples from the cases and puts the whole thing in the historical [...]

    10. Informative, well-written examination of that most unsavory era of the 17th century; where a swathe of bloody acrimony, headed by that vainglorious arbiter of god's will Matthew Hopkins, was brought against those members of the community least able to defend themselves. The book includes much rich detail about that especial dour, pestilential period; including all the truly foul depredations that made up the short, crude life of the poor and infirm, but at the end of 'Witchfinders' I still found [...]

    11. I got this book thinking it might shed some light on an especially dark and fascinating corner in the evolution of religious thought and subsequent political movements. It did not. It was mostly a roughshod timeline of accusations of witchcraft in East Anglia in the mid seventeenth century, "she-said he-said" sort of stuff that read more like a soap opera digest. It follows, just barely, two men, John Stearne and the ever popular Matthew Hopkins, as they gather evidence to convict and execute wi [...]

    12. A medium-depth study of the events leading up to the English witch-craze. What I took from it was that one man's desire to dip his wick ends up causing hella trouble down through the ages. Insofar as the witch trials sprung from insecurities brought about by the civil war and the knock-on effect of religious divisions, they are as much a legacy of Henry VIII as anything else. Henry isn't named here; he's the specter at the feast. The books spends much time with the victims, and some with Hopkin [...]

    13. Well I DID get half way through this one. Not a bad effort I thought, considering I'm horrible at reading non fiction. It's about two witch hunters, in the 17th century, and their travels and what they worked with, etc.A little too repeditive for me. Once you'd found out what one witch confessed, it was a little boring to hear the next 10 say the same thing. Interesting to know that they didn't just burn them. There had to be evidence and confessions. And the 'water test' wasn't always applied.S [...]

    14. A fascinating subject, but quite a dull read. Too bogged down in the detail of each specific case - with an almost obsessive interest in teat and imp counts - that the overall context of the witch-hunts (civil war, poverty and class frictions, religious fervour) is only touched on in passing. I think it could have been half the length and just as informative if the author had been a bit more selective over which specific cases to cover. There's only so many genital teats and small mammal-like im [...]

    15. It baffles me how anyone can take a topic as dramatic and interesting as Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General, and the witch-hunts of the 17th century and make it boring, but Gaskill has managed to do that. This book was a slog, which it shouldn't have been, given the subject matter. I found myself bored rigid halfway through and I scarcely paid any attention the rest of the way through. It's as though Gaskill strips out all of the human interest, drama and tragedy and just leaves the reader [...]

    16. I studied the East Anglian witch craze at school- I found it interesting then and fascinating now. The author writes compassionately about the horrors of the witch hunt, trials and hangings, as well as exploring the reasons that people were so willing to accuse and condem their neighbours. He also discusses, briefly, areas of the modern world where witch hunting still occurs, and reminds us that we are not that different from seventeenth century people.

    17. I greatly enjoyed this book. It is interesting to see how people can profit from the pain and uncertainty of others. I would have liked to read more about how Sterene and Hopkins interrogated perceived witches and the confessions, but you can only tell so much of the story and be historically accurate. I was shocked to read about the current which trials (read the last ~3 pages of the epilogue), I can't believe we cannot learn from the past. I would really like to read more on this subject.

    18. A really fascinating look at an event I knew nothing about. I particularly like the narrow focus, and the exploration of how the Puritan grip on communities influenced views of witchcraft. Also learned how much legality actually went into the hunt for witches. Very readable, too, with great notes.

    19. The story of Matthew Hopkins and John Stearne's witch hunts is a familiar one, but this well written book is a rare one (in my experience) in that it also features accounts of folk who stood up and questioned the "Witchfinder General"'s methods of extracting 'confessions' and his extortionate fees.

    20. Interesting, but very detailed. Gaskill gives a thorough account of the many cases of people convicted and executed, after being brought to confess by professional (and well paid) witchfinders, in the socially instable world of 1640s England.

    21. This was ok, but didn't contain anything new. I think I've exhausted popular books on the English witches - might be time to read about Salem! Full review here: theselittlewords/2016/01/1

    22. Absolutely loved this - Mathew Hopkins, according to Gaskill, one of the foremost authorities on this subject, was a really unpleasant and manipulative character who caused the deaths of endless innocents. Fascinating read.

    23. It was a good insite to the true tale of the Witchfinders though at points it did seem to repeat itself to many times.

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