The Headgate Theatre has a remit to undertake educational projects, and early in 2006 an approach was made to the Local Heritage Initiative for financial support for a project to produce a DVD and other materials relating to Matthew Hopkins – “The Witchfinder General.”
Little did we realise that this was to become one of the biggest ventures undertaken by the theatre, involving over 200 people. The result has been a startling success. These pages provide details of the project and also will give you more information about this dark period of our local history.more....
Matthew Hopkins - the Witchfinder General
Matthew Hopkins was the notorious witchfinder who in 1644 went on a purge to round up and bring to trial hundreds of (mainly) women.
He was born in Suffolk in 1620 and in 1642 he came into an inheritance and bought the Thorn Inn in Mistley.
Two years later, uninvited, he helped a man called John Stearne to interrogate a suspected witch. This led on to them forming a partnership in witch hunting. They were paid by each parish and town for their trouble and became quite wealthy. Once their notoriety spread, people would drag up long forgotten neighbours' feuds going back many years and took the opportunity to rid themselves of troublesome residents.
They targeted mainly defenceless widows or other women who had no one to defend them. Once arrested the suspects would be stripped and searched by a team of search women to find the 'Devil's marks' (any wart, blemish, or abnormality would do).
The suspects would then be deprived of food, water and sleep for three days and nights; so it is not that surprising that they nearly all confessed to having made a pact with the devil, or anything else, to end that hardship.
Hopkins and Stearne travelled all round the eastern counties and it was more the cost of their activities as much as any moral outrage that eventually brought a stop to their activities.
Matthew Hopkins died of TB in 1647 aged 27.