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Matthew Hopkins
Birth: c. 1619
Death: Aug. 10, 1647

English Folk Figure. He was England's notorious "Witchfinder General", and was active during the English Civil War, when he was able to exploit the fear and unrest of the times for his personal gain. Little is known of his early life and his birthdate is only approximate. He was the son of a Puritan clergyman and had knowledge of the law, but there is no evidence to support the story that he was a failed attorney. In March 1645, having read a few books on witchcraft, Hopkins set himself up as a witchhunter in Manningtree, Essex. He chose as his first victim Elizabeth Clarke, a one-legged old woman whose mother had been executed as a witch. After days of interrogation Clarke not only confessed to being in league with the devil but implicated 31 others as well. As a result of Hopkins' allegations, 19 were hanged and four died in prison. Emboldened by his success, Hopkins hired four assistants and began hunting for witches all over Suffolk, Essex, and East Anglia. He claimed that the Puritan Parliament had appointed him "Witchfinder General" and made a fortune charging the towns he visited exorbitant fees for his services. Torture was technically illegal in England, so Hopkins got confessions from his victims through sleep deprivation and other bloodless means of physical coercion. Those who maintained their innocence were put to the "swimming" test: bound with rope and thrown into a pond. The theory was that since witches had renounced their baptism all forms of water would symbolically reject them; so if the accused floated, they were found guilty of witchcraft. If they drowned, they were declared innocent. Hopkins' favorite targets were elderly widows (especially if they owned cats) and people who were unpopular with their neighbors (and thus vulnerable to malicious accusations). His best known victim, however, was a clergyman, John Lowe, the 70 year-old vicar of Brandeston. After Hopkins and his crew had nearly drowned him, kept him awake for three days and nights, and forced him to walk without rest until his feet blistered, Lowe wearily confessed to a host of supernatural crimes, including causing a shipwreck off the coast of Harwich. He later recanted his confession but was condemned anyway. Denied benefit of clergy, Lowe recited his own burial service on the way to the gallows. (The Lowe case reveals just how bigoted the local justices could be: no one bothered to check if a ship had actually foundered off Harwich. It also helps explain how Hopkins could conduct his widespread "investigations" with such impunity). During his 14-month reign of terror throughout the provinces of eastern England, Hopkins had between 230 and 400 people executed as witches, while scores more died under torture or imprisonment. Eventually, opposition rose against him. In the spring of 1646, the Reverend John Gaule of Great Staughton looked into Hopkins' methods and published his findings in a scathing pamphlet, "Select Cases of Conscience towards Witches and Witchcraft". Gaule also denounced him from the pulpit, hinting that the "Witchfinder General" was himself a witch. Hopkins replied with a pamphlet of his own, "The Discovery of Witches", but his reputation had been thoroughly debunked. Faced with mounting public resentment, and already in poor health, Hopkins disbanded his team in May 1646 and retired to the village of Mistley in Essex. He died of tuberculosis and was buried in the old churchyard (now destroyed) at Mistley Heath on August 12, 1647. The tale that he had been lynched by vengeful villagers probably stems from Samuel Butler's poem "Hudibras" (1663), which satirized the witchhunter. Another legend asserts that his ghost wanders between Manningtree and Mistley, pointing an accusing finger at passersby. His brief, bloody career was the subject of a horror film, "Witchfinder General" (released in the United States as "The Conqueror Worm", 1968), with Vincent Price playing Hopkins. (bio by: Bobb Edwards) 
 
Burial:
Body lost or destroyed
Specifically: The churchyard at Mistley Heath (now destroyed), Essex, England.
 
Maintained by: Find A Grave
Originally Created by: Bobb Edwards
Record added: Dec 12, 2004
Find A Grave Memorial# 10074815
Matthew Hopkins
Added by: Bobb Edwards
 
Matthew Hopkins
Added by: Anonymous
 
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