East Anglia was the epicentre for a wave of witch-hunting led by two men: Matthew Hopkins and John Stearne. They toured the east of England discovering witches and handing them over for trial. They were freelance witchhunters, but that didn't mean they did it for free. There was a good living to be made hunting witches, and they kept up their crusade for several years. The "confessions" and "evidence" they came up with ranged from the ludicrous to the nonsensical. Case after case hinged on witches (almost always old women) being accused of having familiars who took revenge on neighbours who had cheated or offended them in some way.
|A typical East Anglian witch|
|Not a typical East Anglian witch|
Witchfinders is a nice blend of academic and popular history, and Gaskill does an excellent job of communicating the fear and misery that led communities and individuals to lash out against the weak and the defenceless. Yes, there is an aspect of class and gender hatred to this story. Old, single and widowed woman were, it seems, the underclass of the 17th century. Men could always find work as labourers or soldiers, but unemployed, single, older women had to rely on begging or charity. And no one liked beggars or giving to charity.
And on a side note; if you're a writer looking for some seriously cool names for your next steampunk or period horror novel, give Witchfinders a quick read. Harbottle Grimston, Widow Hoggard, Goodman Garnham, Valentine Walton, and, wait for it, Avis Savory, are just some of the mouthwatering names to be found here.