The discovery of witches


The title page shown here is from Matthew Hopkins's 1647 book The Discovery of Witches, in which he describes his grim profession. Hopkins, known as 'Witchfinder General', had around 300 women executed in East Anglia during the turmoil of the English Civil War in 1645 and 1646. Professionals who exposed witches could make a lot of money, as local magistrates paid the witch finder the equivalent of a month's wages.

There was much superstition and ignorance in 17th century England. Witchcraft had been illegal since 1563 and hundreds of women were wrongly accused and punished. 'Proof' of being a witch could be a third nipple, an unusual scar or birthmark, a boil, a growth, or even owning a cat or other pet (a 'witch's familiar', or evil spirit). Confessions were often made under torture, and suspects were tied up and thrown into a river or pond. Floating was proof of guilt. After a show trial, the victim was hanged.

Full title:
[The discovery of witches: in answer to severall Queries, lately delivered to the Judges of Assize for the County of Norfolk. And now published by Matthew Hopkins Witch-finder, for the benefit of the whole kingdome.]
1647, London
Book / Illustration / Image
Matthew Hopkins
Held by
British Library

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Witchcraft in Shakespeare's England

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Carole Levin
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