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Witchfinders: A Seventeenth-Century English…
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Witchfinders: A Seventeenth-Century English Tragedy (edition 2007)

by Malcolm Gaskill

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1884105,311 (3.35)6
In the spring of 1645, at the height of the English Civil War, a minor gentleman from Essex named Matthew Hopkins initiated the most savage witch-hunt in English history. By the autumn of 1647 at least 250 East Anglian innocents - most of them women - had been captured, interrogated and hauled before the courts. More than a hundred were convicted, condemned and hanged. Their alleged crimes ranged from destroying property and inflicting fatal illnesses, to feeding animal familiars with blood and having sexual intercourse with the devil. Accompanied by John Stearne, a godly neighbour from his parish, the twenty-two-year-old Hopkins toured the eastern counties on horseback, meticulously extracting evidence of satanic pacts and dispatching suspects for trial. Hopkins fashioned himself into the 'Witch Finder General' although the torture techniques used had no justification in religion or law, nor was his campaign officially sanctioned. The witch-hunt was an extraordinary event, and would long be remembered as the poisonous fruit of religious extremism, grown wild in a political vacuum, never to be repeated. Witchfinders tells the true and terrible story of Matthew Hopkins and his horrifying crusade as witch-hunting fever gripped the country. Malcolm Gaskill uses his great story-telling talents to bring mid-seventeenth century alive.… (more)
Member:JBD1
Title:Witchfinders: A Seventeenth-Century English Tragedy
Authors:Malcolm Gaskill
Info:Harvard University Press
Collections:Removed
Rating:***1/2
Tags:British History, Read in 2009

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Witchfinders: A Seventeenth-Century English Tragedy by Malcolm Gaskill

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Showing 4 of 4
A very interesting premise and certainly one that has not been attempted in recent years. The Witch hunts and persecutions of the 1640s under MAtthew Hopkins have entered local lore in East Anglia and due to the full extend of these (well revealed in this book) it is not hard to see why. The text is exhaustative and therefore likely to be used a reference material for this event for years to come. The down side is that it is hard to read in places because of this, despite Gaskill's occasional flare for an attempt at historical re enactment. Nice use of primary sources though and a good text for those with an interest, but probably not accessible enough for those, like me, who were merely curious ( )
1 vote aadyer | Oct 31, 2010 |
An interesting and informative read that dispels many of the myths surrounding Matthew Hopkins and the East Anglian witch-hunts. ( )
  riverwillow | Jun 10, 2009 |
In Witchfinders: A Seventeenth-Century English Tragedy (Harvard University Press, 2005), historian Malcolm Gaskill chronicles the largest single witch hunt in English history, which infected the East Anglia region from 1645 through the fall of 1647. Matthew Hopkins and John Stearne, who served as "witchfinders" during much of the outbreak, serve as Gaskill's focal points, although he is forced to depart from them often when they disappear from the archival record.

Given its subject matter, and the intensity of the witchcraft scare, I didn't think it possible that this book could be unabsorbing. But Gaskill has forced so much detail into the narrative that I had a hard time slogging through it (at least 250 people were accused of witchery, and I think Gaskill must mention just about all of them by name, rank, and background). While Witchfinders will surely become the authoritative text on the subject, and there is no question that anyone researching the East Anglia outbreak should examine it closely, as a text for the general reader it is perhaps a bit much.

The most interesting sections of the book were those where Gaskill examined the cultural background in which the witchcraft craze occurred - ongoing military, political, religious and social conflict throughout the period unsettled the towns and cities which saw witchcraft accusations, and local/hyper-local rivalries played the same role here that other scholars have documented at Salem and in other witchcraft outbreaks throughout history. Gaskill's treatment of the witchfinders' interrogation techniques and tactics (which in some sense brought about the end of the whole mess after a while) is also quite interesting.

The final chapters, about the ultimate downfall of the witchfinders' reputations and the long-term development of their reputations in historical and cultural memory, were riveting, and make the book worth reading in and of themselves. And Gaskill has documented his meticulous research in fifty pages of notes, which anyone interested in yet more detail could certainly plumb to great effect.

Well designed and well illustrated, this is on the whole a great feat of scholarship covering a lamentable period of human history.

http://philobiblos.blogspot.com/2009/05/book-review-witchfinders.html ( )
1 vote JBD1 | May 29, 2009 |
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Bear in mind that man is but a devil weakly fettered by some generous beliefs and impositions. Robert Louis Stevenson

Every tragedy falls into two parts: complication and unravelling...By the complication I mean all that extends from the beginning of the action to the part which marks the turning-point to good or bad fortune. The unravelling is that which extends from the beginning of the change to the end. Aristotle
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In memory of Stephen Williams, 1967 - 1993, who understood well the strangeness of the past.
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In the spring of 1645, at the height of the English Civil War, a minor gentleman from Essex named Matthew Hopkins initiated the most savage witch-hunt in English history. By the autumn of 1647 at least 250 East Anglian innocents - most of them women - had been captured, interrogated and hauled before the courts. More than a hundred were convicted, condemned and hanged. Their alleged crimes ranged from destroying property and inflicting fatal illnesses, to feeding animal familiars with blood and having sexual intercourse with the devil. Accompanied by John Stearne, a godly neighbour from his parish, the twenty-two-year-old Hopkins toured the eastern counties on horseback, meticulously extracting evidence of satanic pacts and dispatching suspects for trial. Hopkins fashioned himself into the 'Witch Finder General' although the torture techniques used had no justification in religion or law, nor was his campaign officially sanctioned. The witch-hunt was an extraordinary event, and would long be remembered as the poisonous fruit of religious extremism, grown wild in a political vacuum, never to be repeated. Witchfinders tells the true and terrible story of Matthew Hopkins and his horrifying crusade as witch-hunting fever gripped the country. Malcolm Gaskill uses his great story-telling talents to bring mid-seventeenth century alive.

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