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Desire and Its Deformities:
Fantasies of Witchcraft in the English Civil War

As a contemporary pamphlet tells it, some soldiers searching for food before the first battle of Newbury had a strange encounter with an old woman, spotted in the act of crossing a river on a raft. The old woman was not merely floating on the raft, but manipulating it unnaturally. Somehow she was able to turn it from side to side, changing direction at will, oblivious of the current, ignoring the laws of nature. Her power over the water terrified the soldiers, and they immediately concluded it was supernatural. Worse was to follow. The soldiers struggled to kill the old woman, who proved impervious to their efforts. After shooting at her:

One [s]et his carbine close unto her breast, where discharging, the bullet back rebounded like a ball, and narrowly he missed it in his face that was the shooter; this so enraged the gentlemen, that one drew out his sword and manfully run at her with all the force his strength had power to make, but it prevailed no more than did the shot, the woman still though speechless, yet in a most contemptible way of scorn, still laughing at them which did the more exhaust their fury against her life.

At last, one soldier remembered a method of dealing with a body reinforced by magic:

yet one among the rest had learned that piercing or drawing blood forth from the veins that cross the temples of the head, it would prevail against the strongest sorcery, and quell the force of witchcraft, which was allowed for trial; the woman hearing this, knew then the devil had left her and her power was gone, wherefore she began aloud to cry, and roar, tearing her hair and making piteous [End Page 103] moan, which in these words expressed were “And is it come to pass that I must die indeed? Why then his excellency the Earl of Essex shall be fortunate and win the field.” 1

With this gratifying disclosure, the witch proves that Satan is on the king’s side: the earl of Essex was a leading parliamentarian general at Newbury. Since her magical armor has been unlocked by the act of piercing her at a particular spot, her body is no longer invulnerable. So she is shot and sinks to the bottom of the river. Her initial invulnerability and subsequent collapse can be allegorized as a story of the decline of royalist military fortunes, and they partake in particular of the logic of siege. Both cities and castles under siege are often compared to the female body, just as Petrarchan poetry borrowed the language of war to describe seduction. 2 Here, after artillery has failed, a sneak attack on the body’s weak point causes its defenses to collapse.

Yet the besieged human body is not quite like a town: once conquered, there can be no rebuilding. The soldiers who killed the witch were themselves soon to be besieged bodies, soon to be forced to assume the same iron-hard defensiveness and confident fearlessness that she assumed. But they would be forced to assume these postures by nature, as a function of their masculinity, their godliness, their salvation in both physical and spiritual senses. (In the Civil War, as in other wars, to run away was to betray one’s fellows to the slaughter of a rout.) The witch’s bizarre doubling of the ideal soldier’s posture of ironclad defense, her body’s power to repel shot and sword, replicates the very identity her murderers wished to claim. As long as she is so defensively arrayed, she is their opponent. And so it also follows that like any other military opponent, she must be divested of her defenses and destroyed, so that her destroyers can be safe.

Offered as a story before the battle, the witch of Newbury’s story can only have been told after the battle. It makes sense only in the context of that battle, since Newbury was a particularly frightful and frightening experience for parliamentarian soldiers. Fright, as Freud rightly notes, differs from fear and anxiety in that it involves surprise, the subject at a loss as to how to protect himself against it or master it. “Many men were killed on both sides,” says the ardently parliamentarian newsbook account,

but god be praised wee won the field of them. . . . The fight was long and terrible, some talke of thousands slaine on the kings side; I viewed the field, and cannot guesse above 500, but this the townsmen informed us, that they carried 60 cart loads of dead [End Page 104] and wounded men into the Towne before I came to view the place, and much crying there was for Surgeons as never was the like heard. 3

As never was the like heard: the pamphlet lamely tries to record fright, the moment when the subject is challenged by an experience so unprecedented that it is threatening, an undoing of the known.

The nakedness of relatively new recruits to the horrors of battle was exacerbated by the unleashing of new weapons of unprecedented destructive power. Cannon played an especially large role at Newbury, and John Milton was not alone in thinking it an invention of the devil. Captain Gwynne described its consequences when he saw “a whole file of men, six deep, with their heads struck off with one cannon shot of ours.” The tendency of cannon to dismember was recalled with a mixture of horror and relish in George Lauder’s ballad, The Scottish Soldier: “to see legs and arms torn ragged fly / And bodies gasping all dismembered lie.” Colonel Slingsby, similarly, saw “legs and arms flying apace” when cannon fired point-blank at infantry, while Sergeant Henry Foster, another parliamentarian, recalled that “they did some execution amongst us at the first, and were somewhat dreadful when men’s bowels and brains flew in our faces.” 4 As if this were not enough to unsettle, there was another alarming incident in which the parliamentarians were surprised on the second day of the Newbury battle:

Colonel Hurry . . . made after us, but such was the cowardice of our horse . . . that upon a weake assault of the enemy they ran away, rode quite thorow our foot in a narrow lane, prest many of them downe under their horses feet, and for the present utterly routed us, which caused the enemy to fall on with great eagernesse and resolution, but God be praised our Foot got over into the fields out of the lane, lined the hedges with Musketiers, and killed them like Dogs. 5

This providential turning of the tide replicates the story of the witch, successful right up to the moment when she is unmasked—or uncased—as vulnerable.

It is apparent that the story of the witch of Newbury is a fantasy story, a story that expresses and manages the terrible anxieties created by war and battle and the assumption of military identity. Throughout the Civil War, as I will try to show in this essay, those anxieties, and the others produced [End Page 105] by the national cataclysm, found an outlet in the manufacture and circulation of stories about witches, so that the figure of the witch was constantly caught up in and reshaped by the swirling, ceaselessly changing discourses of the politics and persons of the Civil War era. 6 This essay will focus on one particular kind of fantasy, the fantasy produced by and from the stresses the Civil War produced for combatant men and also for noncombatant spectators. I shall be arguing that the crisis in masculinity produced by the experience of battle and the ever-present threat of war and of concomitant loss of control over one’s own life issued forth in violent fantasies and violent deeds, some using the figure of the witch as a condensed, displaced image of all there was to fear. By destroying her, men could feel, as the soldiers at Newbury felt, that they were restoring normality and thus restoring their own gender identities as well. 7 I will be looking at the recurrence of this fantasy in a number of different contexts, but I shall be focusing at length on one man’s stories, stories which allow us to see how public issues were vivified by personal investments, or self-fashioning. These are the stories told by England’s self-appointed Witch-Finder General, the notorious Matthew Hopkins. I will be suggesting that, although as far as we know Hopkins was not a combatant, his fantasies are best understood in the context of Civil War anxieties about masculinity and its preservation. 8

Matthew Hopkins was, however, just one of those able to use the figure of the witch to understand their position in the Civil War years. The witch proved to be a figure so labile that diverse and even opposed meanings could attach to her, making her immensely useful to the factious polemicists of the Civil War era. The persistent connections between witchcraft and civil war are less surprising when we recall the pervasive influence of Lucan’s Pharsalia as a literary model for understanding the strife. In Lucan’s text, the witch Erictho is a potent source of subversive energy, assisting the rebellious to achieve their aims by supernatural if not by natural means. Lucan’s text can only have been known directly by the better sort, yet the same narrative structures are repeated in seventeenth-century popular newsbooks, perhaps because Lucan had influenced pre-Civil War dramas like Macbeth and Sophonisba, which likewise connect witchcraft with illegitimate rule. Many commentators interpreted the proliferation of witch-trials as a sign of disorder. 9 On the royalist side, the text “rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft” (1 Samuel 25.23) was frequently quoted, while the royalist newspaper Mercurius Aulicus observed that witchcraft is “an usuall attendant on former rebellions.” 10 James Howell, while wearing his royalist hat, remarked that [End Page 106]

we have also multitudes of witches among us, for in Essex and Suffolk there were above two hundred indicted within these two years, and above the one half of them executed. More, I may well say, than ever this Island bred since the Creation, I speak it with horror. God guard us from the Devil, for I think he was never so busy upon any part of the Earth that was enlightened with the beams of Christianity; nor do I wonder at it, for there’s never a Cross left to fright him away. 11

The Parliamentary Journal responded irritably that “it is the ordinary mirth of the malignants of this city to discourse of the association of witches in the associated counties, but by this they shall understand the truth of the old proverb, which is that where God hath his church, the Devill hath his Chappel.” 12 More ambiguously, a pamphlet entitled Signes and Wonders from Heaven bundles witches together with monsters and thunderstorms to argue that

the Lord decreed a separation between the King and his parliament before the wars began in England for the sins of the whole nation. That the Lord is angry with us every one; for our sin, doth appeare in this; . . . have not a crew of wicked Witches, together with the Devils assistance done many mischiefes in Norfolke, Suffolke, Essex, and other parts of our Kingdome, whereof some were executed at Chenfford in Essex last to the number of fourteen? 13

For others it was belief in witches and witch-prosecutions which represented the intellectual and social disorder of the Civil War years. 14 For Sir Robert Filmer, the fact that parliament had the upper hand was a sign that popular ideas had got quite above themselves. In his Advertisement to the Jury-men of England, Filmer scouted popular witch beliefs in robust terms: “To have nothing but the publique faith of the present Age, is none of the best evidence.” From an entirely different and far more godly perspective, Thomas Ady located belief in witchcraft in an ungodly and outdated reliance on inappropriate worship and ritual of the kind parliament was seeking to reform. 15 Both Filmer and Ady agreed in finding witch-beliefs plebeian and superstitious, but differed in assigning causes, each blaming his opponents. Similarly, The Moderate Intelligencer, a parliamentarian journal, questioned Hopkins’s activities in East Anglia, scornfully inquiring “whence [End Page 107] is it that the Devills should choose to be conversant with silly women that know not their right hands from their left, is the great wonder. . . . They will meddle with none but poor old women, as appears by what we received this day from Bury.” 16

Both sides also used the figure of the witch as a propaganda weapon, trying to build up an association between prominent enemy figures and witchcraft. Two examples, one from each side, are Oliver Cromwell and Prince Rupert. The imagery surrounding Rupert was more luridly imaginative than that surrounding Cromwell. Signes and Wonders From Heaven reports that the Norfolk witches’ arrest, like the death of the witch of Newbury, would impede royalists, since the witches had been working for Rupert:

It is likewise certified by many of good quality and worth that at the last Assizes in Norfolke there were 40 witches arraigned for their lives, and 20 executed: and that they have done very much harme in that countrey, and have prophesied of the downfall of the King and his army, and that Prince Robert [Rupert] shall be no longer shot-free: with many strange and unheard-of things that shall come to passe. 17

James More of Halesworth, admitting to making a covenant with the devil, said he returned his imp to his sister Mary Everard, “to send with others to Prince Rupert.” There were a number of satirical portrayals of Prince Rupert’s dog, Boy, as a familiar. “Certainly he is some Lapland Lady,” said one none-too-serious account, “who by nature was once a handsome white woman, and now by art is become a handsome white Dogge, and hath vowed to follow the Prince to preserve him from mischiefe.” Among his other gifts, Boy can find hidden treasure: the Oxford plate, which could not be found by parliament. Like the witch of Newbury, the dog is proof against attack: “once I gave him a very hearty stroke, with a confiding Dagger, but it slided off his skin as if it had been Armour of proofe nointed over with Quicksilver.” He also catches bullets aimed at Rupert in his mouth. “He prophesies as well as my lady Davis, or Mother Shipton,” concludes the pamphlet. Neither Boy nor Eleanor Davies could have felt complimented. 18 This reads like a joke about preoccupations with occult significances on the parliamentarian side, rather than as a serious account of such preoccupations; it shows too that the figure of the witch could retain, in royalist hands, some of the comic suggestion of hicks and ignoramuses that it acquired in the 1630s. 19 [End Page 108]

Cromwell too was likened to a witch, often metaphorically rather than literally. When Denzil Holles described Cromwell as a witch working to overthrow the realm, he was using witchcraft as a metaphor for a secret plot: “your Sabbaths, when you have laid by your assumed shapes, with which you have cozened the world, and resumed your own; imparting to each other and both of you to your fellow-witches.” 20 This metaphor of the witch as spy, plotter, or secret agent also surfaces in the account of the witch of Newbury as an agent sent to blow up the magazine of the earl of Essex. 21 An eighteenth-century historiographical tradition depicted Cromwell making a pact with the devil before the battle of Worcester, to run for seven years. Cromwell was also associated with a witch in a post-Restoration pamphlet, The English Devil, or Cromwell and his Monstrous Witch discovered at Whitehall. The witch, “disguised” as a prophetess, is given the role of suggesting regicide to the Council of State. Dimly recognizable as Elizabeth Poole, who in fact made herself unpopular with the Council by urging them not to kill Charles, this represents a woman with occult powers as secrecy or duplicity. 22 Whereas the reference to Eleanor Davies in the pamphlet about Rupert is primarily intended to ridicule, the reference to Poole belittles her supernatural claims, while associating her with treachery and regicide. These ideas could be taken up with frightening literalism by soldiers or prosecutors with the power to harm those on whom their eye fell.

In the summer of 1645, The Parliaments Post reported that “There is an infection in wickednesse; and the spirit of the Cavillers because it could not prevaile with our men, hath met with some of our women, and it hath turned them into Witches.” 23 Elegantly equating weakness with femininity, and thus expressing through the figure of the witch terror of the feminization of the army and its consequent vulnerability, this statement encapsulates relations between Civil War witch-trials and the war itself. War creates a number of anxieties about gender and masculinity. We have already seen the anxiety around masculinity adopting defensive positions, not giving way or opening up, in the case of the witch of Newbury. This genders the correctly military and male body as closed, hard, tight, and paradoxically, at one with the similarly disposed bodies of other men. For instance, Donald Lupton’s A warre-like treatise on the pike found it natural to link effeminacy and cowardice. During the siege of Devizes a message arrow struck just in front of Sir Jacob Astley, slicing past his genitalia: “You rogues,” he quipped, “you missed your aim.” Jokingly, he equated penetration and defeat with emasculation. 24 At the same time, battle itself presented not merely an image of death, but an image of engulfment: “the air was so darkened with smoke of [End Page 109] powder that for a quarter of an hour together (I dare say) there was no light seen, but what the fire of the volleys gave . . . ‘twas the greatest storm that I ever saw, in which I thought I knew not wither to go, nor what to do,” wrote Richard Atkyns, a bemused combatant. 25 “In the fire, smoke and confusion of that day I knew not for my soul wither to incline,” wrote Sir Arthur Trevor of the rout at Marston Moor,

The runaways on both sides were so many, so breathless, so speechless, and so full of fears that I should not have taken them for men, but by their very motions which still served them well: not a man of them being able to give me the least hint where the Prince was to be found. 26

Loss of sight is accompanied by a terrifying, dizzying loss of self, an abysme into which disappear all agency, all power of decision-making, self-fashioning, and action. The identity, carefully stiffened to meet the onslaught, suddenly and in fright dissolves into the darkened air.

Yet war also arouses the desire to escape the self, to avoid literal death by the figurative death of flight. The tension between these two powerful impulses shakes assumptions that the self is natural and inevitable, unseating notions of the naturalness of the hard masculine body. To put this in more technical terms, war unleashes the death drive in a series of aggressive and repetitious acts which menace the identity of the perpetrator, who can always envisage himself as victim. The death drive is the desire not to be, to dissolve, to disappear, but it is also the desire to thwart the desire. The ego responds to the phenomena of fragmentation, destruction, decay by assuring itself that life can be preserved. 27 Death is always implicated in attempts at pleasure. Whenever the subject constructs a fantasy of wholeness and security gained by an appropriation of the beloved, modeled along the lines of the infant-mother dyad, he also risks a return to a pre-birth stasis or inanition, a loss of self—that is, a form of death. The finding of a love-object is always a finding of the lost maternal body. Hence another connection between the death drive and femininity emerges: the return to a prior state involves the maternal body as the real material body lost at birth, the fictional phallic mother whose body represents a lost unity, as a figure of the dust to which the human being must return; hence a female figure alone offers ways of representing and also appearing—at least in fantasy—to manage the death drive and to control and satisfy it. 28 Paradoxically, then, the lost mother is actually the model for the tight, hard body assumed to be [End Page 110] the acme of masculinity by the discourses of war. Yet that same maternal body can also be understood as engulfing and formless, and hence threatening, when it seems to be on the point of swallowing up the ego, now itself understood as the locus of tight integrity. This oscillating imagery of firmness and swallowing vagueness is characteristic of representations of witches. 29 Consequently, it is not surprising that murdering or trying and executing a witch was one possible fantasy resolution of the intolerable pressures placed on the death drive by the war.

In its complex relation to the body of the mother and hence to femininity, the workings of the death drive recall Kristeva’s notion of abjection. Kristeva understands abjection as a response to the constant threat of the mother’s return and reabsorption of the ego, a return represented through chaos, pollution, dirt, and disorder. 30 War is a prolific producer of all four; and, in particular, the spectacle of dismembered and disordered bodies, living and dead, creates acute anxieties, and not only because the corpse represents death. In representing the end of life, it must also represent the beginning, the mother. Most of all, however, the very disruptive effects of war itself on the life of the individual and the nation impact on the ego to generate fears of further engulfment and chaos, setting abjection in motion. Both aggressive actions and violent repudiations are produced by these psychic pressures. 31 Freud’s theory of the death-drive is a negotiation of a desperately problematic historical moment, the moment of the rise of fascism. Kristeva develops his theory further to provide an analysis of that same moment, as does her follower Klaus Theweleit. Their analyses give new vitality to Freud’s theory by demonstrating its purchase on the historical particularity which produced it, and yet their writings seem to allow that theory to be applied to other situations in which violence is unleashed and licensed on a wide scale.

One instance of the effect of such pressures is the systematic iconoclasm of the 1640s. In Suffolk, William Dowsing led a campaign which destroyed decorations in one hundred fifty Suffolk churches. Though not a combatant, Dowsing believed his activities had a direct relation to the course of the war: he thought Fairfax was given victory at Nantwich because on that day images were destroyed at Orford, Snape, and Saxmundham. Like those who unmasked the witches who had enchanted Prince Rupert, Dowsing had removed the protective carapace of one side and thus strengthened the other. 32 King-breaking, Margaret Aston claims, was lumped with thing-breaking by royalist historians, but the same was also true of parliamentarians in the sense that there was an effort to make something new by [End Page 111] cleansing, by destruction. 33 All this applies also to the parliamentary soldiers at Newbury, and to Hopkins, whose zeal came from the same impulse to obliterate whatever might hold England back.

Iconoclasm also resembled atrocities, and was often described as if it were an atrocity; it offered the same chance to organize the self by attacking the helplessly mysterious and powerful: soldiers attacking a figure of Christ might have been attacking any feminized target:

another said “here is Christ,” and swore that he would rip up his bowels: which they accordingly did, as far as the figures were capable thereof, besides many other villanies. And not content therwith, finding another statue of Christ in the frontispiece of the South-gate, they discharged against it forty shot at the least, triumphing much, when they did hit it in the head or face. 34

Iconoclasm and the removal of witches were sometimes linked:

The late lamentable Warres began, yet God was good to us in discovering many secret treacheries. . . . And many superstitious reliques were abolished, which neither we nor our godly fathers (as ye have heard) were able to beare. Since which time, ye knew, many witches have been discovered by their own confessions, and executed; many glorious victories obtained (beyond any man’s expectation) and places of strength yielded, above seventy in eight moneths space. 35

After Naseby, some victorious parliamentarian troops came across a party of women, said to be camp-followers. They slashed at the women’s heads and faces, with such ferocity that some of them later died of their wounds. According to one story, they were seen as whores; another account says they were assumed to be Irish because they understood no English (they were Welsh). 36 But there is yet another Other that the women might have represented to the soldiers. Attacking the women’s faces and heads is reminiscent of the most common and most thoroughly masculinized method of dealing with a witch, scoring above the breath, or scratching. 37 This is used by the soldiers at Newbury to great effect: it is piercing the witch’s temples that allows the soldiers to kill her. It may even be that the troops at Naseby had heard about the events at Newbury. A very similar episode occurred during the Irish uprising of 1641, where a Scottish settler attacked an Irishwoman in reprisal for what he claimed were attacks on his own family. Grany ny [End Page 112] Mullan told the story: John Erwyn led a party of Scots soldiers to Edward O’Mullan’s house on Sunday, 2 February 1642. He drew his sword,

and wounded the said Mary Mullen in her head, and forehead, and cut her fingers, at which time she cried out, “Dear John, do not kill me, for I never offended you,” repeating this to him two or three times, whereupon he thrust her under the right breast and she gave up the ghost. . . . And after a time the said Erwyn took a mighty lump of fire and put it on the said Mary Mullen’s breast, expecting she was still living. 38

Mary’s words sound like the excuses of women accused of witchcraft by violent neighbors. Particularly telling is the test to see if Mary is really dead; it sounds as if Erwyn expects Mary to be impervious to weapons. Alternatively, he may not really have believed she was a witch, but may have intended to insult her by comparing her with one. In England, “witch” was a standard term of abuse, like “whore.” 39 Erwyn may have intended to mark Mary as a witch, to convey to her and to himself his notion of how an unruly woman might be mastered. As a settler, Erwyn was also symbolically mastering the rebellion itself, and hence the Irish, then as now apt to be figured by their colonial rulers as repositories of the primitive, the superstitious, and hence the feminine. More than one early modern colonizer compared the Irish to Circe, a figure combining femininity, seductively uncontained sexuality, and witchcraft. 40 Just as the parliamentarian soldiers saw the witch of Newbury and other witches as responsible for royalist successes, so those fighting the Irish saw witches as involved in making their jobs harder. When a large storm blew up in early summer of 1641, men and officers “attributed this hurrikan to the divelish skill of some Irish witches.” Similarly, Ann Fanshawe describes seeing an apparition during a sojourn in Ireland; she and her husband “concluded the cause to be the great superstition of the Irish, and the want of that knowing faith which should defend them from the power of the Devill, which he exercises among them very much.” 41 The soldiers at Naseby may not have cared whether the women were whores, witches, Irish, or all three; they may not have made especially sharp distinctions between these groups. What all three represented was the kind of feminized chaos which as soldiers they must control, contain, and even deny in order to assert their own identities.

An even more egregious case of violence and aggression among soldiers taking a woman as witch as object comes from Warminster. Anne Warberton was attacked by a group of soliders there, as she described [End Page 113]

upon the feast day of thannunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary last past [25 March 1643/4] was two yeares sithence one George Long of Warminster came to the house of yor peticoner and two souldiers in Armes with him and the said Long and one of the souldiers required the peticoner to open her dore who answered she would not unless he was an officer. Then the said Long said he was as good as any officer whatsoever and ymediately by force broke downe a windowe leafe w[hi]ch fell into the house upon a paile of water whereby both window leafe and paile of water fell upon yor peticoner and her child w[hi]ch dod so bruise the child that it fell sick and shortly after dyed. Yet not being contented they also broke up the dore and entered the house by force and then the said Long fell to byting pinching and scratching of yor peticoner saying and swearing in most execrable and ignominious manner shee was a witch and therfore hee would have her blood which he drawed from her in great abundance for w[hi]ch abuse hee was bound over to answer at a generall Sessions at [th]e Devizes but while yor peticoner went for a bill of indictment the said Long ran away from the Devizes and hath not answered the Law. 42

In Wiltshire the Civil War was grim: the county changed hands several times with bitter fighting until the final triumph of parliament in 1645. This may have been the occasion for many acts of violence. The Civil War often enabled behavior ordinarily open to censure; like other wars, it both placed intolerable strain on male identity and allowed it full and destructive rein. Both interpretations—the psychic and the opportunistic—are also possible for Matthew Hopkins’s activities in East Anglia, also characterized by repeated acts of seemingly incomprehensible aggression. And yet the English Civil War did not “cause” the witchcraft prosecutions of the 1640s and 1650s. In Europe there was a commonsense inverse relationship between really intensive warfare and witchcraft prosecutions in the courts. Warfare left no time for orderly prosecutions. However, this does not take account of soldiers taking the law into their own hands, as they did in the English Civil War. 43 The anxieties produced by the war and revolution could sometimes be relieved via witch-discourses, and conversely these anxieties reshaped the fantasy of witchcraft.

There was no special reason why a witchcraze of vast proportions should have started in Essex rather than in Wiltshire or Hertfordshire. 44 What [End Page 114] started it, and then facilitated it at every turn, was the presence of Matthew Hopkins. The depositions collected from plaintiffs closely resemble those from other witch-trials, recapitulating popular preoccupations with food preparation, the household economy, family tensions, and the stresses and strains imposed by pregnancy, childbirth, and maternity. 45 Once the prosecutions did start, however, Hopkins’s fantasies and the local depositions he collected were tinted by the particularities of the locale, the historical moment, the man himself. As far as we know, Hopkins was not a soldier, yet his fantasies seem motivated by similar anxieties about the fragility of masculine identity. Though not literally involved in war, Hopkins may nevertheless have seen the witch-hunt as analogous to war, because of the discursive context which understood witches to be part of the war effort. His partner, John Stearne, wrote of witch-hunting as a way of fighting spiritual battles in language which recalls the New Model Army’s understanding of its literal military activities as metaphorically spiritual: “And so going ever well-armed against these rulers of darknesse, devills and evil spirits, furnished with the heavenly furniture and spirituall weapons, of which the Apostle speaketh, Eph. 6.14.18, and being thus qualified, and armed, to trust in God only, who will keepe thee under the shadow of his wings, Psal. 91.” 46 As a godly soldier facing danger, Hopkins uses the same narratives and metaphors as the soldiers at Newbury and Naseby, and experiences the same terrors.

There is a local and possibly unreliable tradition that Hopkins “as a childe” “tooke affrighte at an apparition of the Devill, which he saw in the night.” 47 Though not authenticated, this story is believable in the light of the fantasies that Hopkins was to produce, fantasies that resemble godly nightmares. As the child of a godly vicar, whose will insists firmly on salvation through faith alone, Hopkins was part of a godly discourse that could terrify through its vehement insistence on the gap between election and damnation. 48 Although all his biographers have seen Hopkins as marked by this lineage, Hopkins himself frequently invented alternative ancestries for himself, possibly grounded in family legend, but betokening a wish to make something, or perhaps to make something different of his patronymic. He told William Lilly that he came from a line of schoolmasters in Suffolk, “who had composed for the psalms of King David”; there was indeed a John Hopkins, an English hymn-writer, a different godly father, perhaps, from his own—one less terrifying, more obviously a maker himself. By contrast, Hopkins told Lady Jane Whorwood that he was really named Hopequins and was the grandson of an English Catholic diplomat, Richard Hopequins. 49 [End Page 115] Lady Jane was a royalist, so this may have been designed to create an identity acceptable to her, as well as to Hopkins. But it may also have given him subtle pleasure to represent himself in a way not approved by his father. Self-fashioning involves the death of the father in the refusal to replicate his social identity; there is even a kind of murderousness in the obliteration of the father.

Hopkins first appears as a witness in the 1645 pamphlet account of the Essex witch-trial, in which, as well as featuring as a witness to the principal confession, he also offers, more unusually, an account of strange goings-on to supplement the witches’ confessions and depositions of maleficium. It is these narratives that bring us closest to the mind of Matthew Hopkins, since they offer an opportunity to analyze his own witch-stories, and since they are markedly different from standard popular accounts of local maleficium without direct recourse to the theorists of demonology. The first such story goes like this:

And this informant further saith, That going from the House of the said Mr Edwards to his own house, about nine or ten of the clock that night, with his Greyhound with him, he saw the Greyhound suddenly give a jumpe, and ran as shee had been in a full course after an hare; and that, when this informant made haste to see what his greyhound so eagerly pursued, he espied a white thing about the bignesse of a kitlyn, and the greyhound standing aloofe from it; and that by and by the said white impe or kitlyn daunced about the said greyhound, and by all likelihood bit off a piece of the flesh of the shoulder of the said greyhound, for the greyhound came shrieking and crying to this informant, with a piece of flesh torne from her shoulder. 50

Though told by a young man, this is a little boy’s story and a frightened little boy’s at that. It parallels stories told by other little boys anxious to make an impression as heroic battlers against evildoers. The presence of the greyhound points to the influence of Edmund Robinson’s deposition in the 1633/4 Lancashire case, which Hopkins could have heard about in childhood. 51 But it is also influenced by the folktales which gave rise to this story, in which witches in hare-form cannot be coursed by dogs. 52 Both Robinson’s dog and Hopkins’s are bitches, too. It is interesting that Hopkins begins with a story told by a known faker; Edmund Robinson eventually confessed to making his story up to escape trouble at home. Did Hopkins know that [End Page 116] Edmund Robinson had confessed to inventing his story? Or were the witches discredited in parliamentarian eyes, having been saved by the efforts of the king and the Laudian bishops? Whether or not Hopkins knew of Robinson’s use of the greyhound motif, his own story stars a dog in a rather different role. In Robinson’s story, the greyhound, too, was a witch; Hopkins sets up a neater, less ambiguous opposition between kitten and dog, where the dog is not only victim, but silent witness to the demon’s presence by her unnatural behavior (the dog did do something in the night?). Is the dog a figure for deformed nature, then, and thus for other, wider anxieties? The dog confirms this by the testimony of her torn shoulder, a wound with a tongue to cry out against evildoers, made to speak by Hopkins’s probing of it, his giving it a voice. The torn flesh of the greyhound is in fact doubly unnatural (cat bites dog). Does it also represent, at a deeper level, a deeper wound? It is, after all, a wounded female body which becomes the principal evidence for witchcraft here. The wound does not merely signify castration, but may also represent that maternal body which must be hastily abjected, that which threatens masculinity by its Medusan and apotropaic woundedness. The femininity of the wound, which is not only a wounding but a tearing, an emphasized act of violence and violation, both challenges and paradoxically reinforces Hopkins’s masculinity, which unlike the wound can really speak, can remain in control by talking. At the same time, it may represent not only the maleficium of the witch, but her power to make a visible difference. Hence, the witch’s familiar is also the deformer of a society made unnatural by false religion, the creator of disorder threatening to identity and therefore violently repressed. Like a cannonade, she turns what had been known into a torn and mangled landscape of what can never be known again, woundedness, deformity, symbolic death.

There are idiosyncrasies which may open up the singularity of Hopkins. The kitlyn, or kitten, dances. Is this a dead metaphor, merely meaning evasion of the hunting dog? Or does it point to forbidden, ungodly, even alluring dancing, dancing in a round, perhaps resembling un-godly church festivals? Is this the point at which Hopkins’s father’s voice is heard, connecting the ungodly with the Satanic? Oddly, too, the story is not very useful in establishing the validity of Hopkins’s methods of witch-hunting. It climaxes not with the discovery of the familiar (as one might expect from Hopkins) but in the discovery of the wound in the greyhound’s shoulder. This alone excites real interest, real feeling. Hopkins emerges from this story as a man who wants to talk about wounds, rather than a man who wants to [End Page 117] talk about familiars. And yet this is not the end of the Hopkins story. It continues, as follows:

And this Informant further saith, That coming into his own yard that night, he espied a black thing, proportioned like a cat, onely it was thrice as big, sitting on a strawberry bed, and fixing the eyes on this Informant, and when he went towards it, it leaped over the pale towards this Informant, as he thought; but ran quite through the yard, with his greyhound after it, to a great gate, which was underset with a paire of tumbrell strings, and did throw the said gate wide open, and then vanished; and the said greyhound returned againe to this informant, shaking and trembling exceedingly.


The greyhound, duly feminized again, is now opposed even more violently to her demonic foe, who takes on the characteristics Hopkins formerly gave to the wounded dog. The black cat of uncertain size has invaded the bounds of Hopkins’s garden, as the white kitlyn broke the greyhound’s skin. The cat’s mastery of bounds are also manifest in its ability to open the gate, and its uneasy sexualization may be signified by its position on a strawberry bed, often a signifier of female sexuality. Here the strawberries suggest both the domestic (and significantly, the food-producing element of it) that the beast has invaded, the order that has been scattered. But they might also remind us of the wound in the greyhound’s shoulder: red, soft, crushed. The cat’s gender, not specified, is ambiguous; it is both associated with the crushed strawberries and also their macho conquerer. Most importantly of all for Hopkins’s later career, the cat is the owner of the gaze, the one who can look at “this Informant,” fixing its eyes, getting him in its sights. This fixing, effective look contrasts with the cat’s own slipperiness, its blackness, its power to slip away. While in witch-stories told by witches themselves, the familiar often takes on the qualities of a child, in Hopkins’s account the familiar is the feminine other. Such figurations bring with them a fear of engulfment manifest in the shadiness (in both senses) of Hopkins’s apparitions: as John Stearne put it, “the secresie of the grounds of witchcraft is so close and hidden, as being one of the greatest workes of darknesse committed this day under the Sunne: for that naturall causes may arise very strong, and many may cunningly counterfeit outward appearances, and witnesses may feign their accusations out of malice.” 53

At this point it becomes important to notice where we are. Manningtree, [End Page 118] where Hopkins lived and where his career began, is a curious place in the mid-seventeenth century because it is both a center of activity and geographically marginal. It was a center of activity because it was a port and shipbuilding dockyard—Manningtree sent ships against the Armada—and it was peripheral because the Tendring Hundred is literally on the edge of Essex, and Manningtree and Mistley were themselves surrounded by the great and misty sea-marshes. The marshes and the Stour River were sites of a trade boom, but also of illegal activities. There was extensive smuggling up the Stour River, and over the marshes. 54 The marshes and the river represent opportunities for secret enterprises, for a form of self-fashioning, wealth creation, business, which is neither sanctioned nor scrutinized by the authorities; as such they might seem a masculine, even a macho space, or at any rate a space prodigal of opportunities for machismo. This might seem exemplary to a man like Hopkins, so eager to fashion himself, or it might have seemed an occasion for renewed suspicion, for the full force of surveillance and the law. When we take into account the other associations of the marshes and the Stour valley, this explanation becomes more likely.

Folktales from the East Anglian area prior to the drainage of fens and marshes stress the division between arable land and marsh. Regarded as unhealthy because of the miasmas associated with them, in these stories marshes are given over to the supernatural activities of boggarts, hags, and witches. 55 The Stour Valley is the site of the appearance of two strange green children, who materialize in a pit and require green food; the story is told by Camden as part of his description of the Stour valley. 56 These stories and their production are part of an index of beliefs and practices which a godly man like Hopkins would have seen as superstition. As Stuart Clark has shown, for the godly, superstition was not supernatural belief, but irrelevant or excess worship, or the correct form of worship applied to the wrong deity. As such, as another East Anglian, John Gaule, argued, witchcraft in the sense of evil magic and a pact with the devil was the telos of superstition. 57 They needed to be cleared up, their human contents made visible, reordered, re-educated. The marshes were outside the law of church as well as state, and in local legends they take on a feminine aspect, lawless, silent, pervasively misty. It was against this backward, maternal background that the towns and their inhabitants defined themselves, just as the godly defined themselves against backward, hazy superstition. Perhaps this exacerbated the tendency to separate violently from the mother, as well as the fear of being sucked back into her, of losing one’s way, and hence one’s self.

This was further exacerbated by fear of another kind of engulfment. [End Page 119] Essex was one of the areas which quickly declared for parliament, to the delight of its godly inhabitants. But throughout 1645 and 1646, the royalist army was trying to break into East Anglia, and the whole territory was under threat of turning into a battlefield. The eventual siege of Colchester was one of the most bitter campaigns of the war. Although Hopkins’s activities predate the real military crisis, godly folk in Essex had heard of events in other counties, and knew (or feared) what might occur. For John Stearne, as we have seen, the war against witches was another way of fighting the Civil War. What with one thing and another, the psychic pressures on a man like Hopkins and on his masculine identity reached nearly intolerable levels in the mid-1640s, with the result that he produced a spate of fantasies to alleviate them.

Hopkins’s fantasies had another purpose, too. They were part of his ruthless self-fashioning, a process which enabled him to flee not only his parents, and perhaps especially the femininity which for him came to represent and equate with sin, but also to flee from his family, to prove his masculine identity by exerting his will over society, by making a place for himself among the better sort, and also by piling up at least some personal wealth. 58 Hopkins’s self-fashioning as powerful Witch-Finder General is evident in his own account of his first encounter with witches in his self-defense, written some two years after the 1645 pamphlet I have been citing. This account explains how he became involved in the process of discovery, and differs in tone and substance from his reported trial depositions:

The Discoverer never travelled far for it, but in March 1644, he had some seven or eight of that horrible sect of witches living in the town where he lived, a towne in Essex called Manningtree, with divers other adjacent witches of other towns, who every six weeks in the night (being alwayes on the Friday night) had their meeting close by his house, and had their severall solmne sacrifices there offered to the Devill, one of which this discoverer heard speaking to her Imps one night, and bid them goe to another Witch, who was thereupon apprehended, and searched by women who had for many yeares knowne the Devills marks, and found to have three teats about her, which honest women have not: so upon command from the Justice, they were to keep her from sleep two or three nights, expecting in that time to see her familiars, which the fourth night she called in by their severall names, and told them what shapes a quarter of an houre before they came in, there being ten of us in the roome. 59 [End Page 120]

This is not a private story, but an ordered, shaped fantasy, smoothed out for public consumption, partaking of godly and even elite discourses and not simply of depositions and folktales. And yet some of the psychic content is the same as that in his earlier, less structured stories. “Close by his house,” says the anecdote. Closeness is the source of the “experience” Hopkins valorizes. Yet Hopkins turns this problematic closeness into valuable experience: threatened with engulfment, with darkness, the marshes, the night, the neighbors, he responds by establishing the ineluctable distance of the interrogator, the investigator, the finder. Again, Hopkins overhears what the witch says: overhearing is emblematic both of a problematic and frightening closeness and of an effort at distance. Yet distance threatens to collapse into identity: the people of East Anglian towns and villages called Hopkins in as a consultant, just as in less godly days or among less godly company they might have called in the local cunning man to finger the witch. Since for the godly (like John Stearne) a cunning person was culpable as a malicious witch, Hopkins opened himself to identification as supernaturally gifted when exposing such gifts in others. 60 This interpretation may have occurred to no one but him, since there is no evidence for the tradition that he was himself swum as a witch and convicted (reported in Hudibras), but the first question in The Discovery of Witches is a refutation of the idea that he must be “the greatest Witch, Sorcerer and Wizzard himselfe, else he could not doe it.” 61 Hopkins was of course aiming at a far more godly kind of identity, perhaps even at an imitatio Christi. Perhaps in a spirit of competitive envy, Gaule wrote that “country People talke already and that more frequently, more affectedly, of the infallibel and wonderfull power of the witchfinders, then they doe of God, or Christ, or the Gospell preached.” 62

We can now begin to understand the fantasy for which Hopkins has been remembered by our own culture, the fantasy that witches had sexual relations with devils. 63 Nineteenth-century art and writing teach us to take sadistic pleasure in the victimization of a beautiful, wild-eyed, young victim tortured, accused, forced to confess to exciting obscenities. 64 We therefore assume too easily that Hopkins saw it that way, but in that case his penchant for elderly victims is hard to explain. Hopkins stripped his victims, but not erotically; he exposes their eroticism, but not to unveil a concomitant desire of his own. 65 Rather, horror seems to have swallowed eroticism. It was to avoid the erotic and its entanglement that he got pleasure from seeing the elderly witch naked and hearing her disclose her sexual relations with the devil. Were the elderly women Hopkins victimized desired by him for their power to reduce desire, needed because powerless to arouse? Far from seeking [End Page 121] otherwise forbidden pleasures, Hopkins seems to have sought to distance himself from the eroticized female body by conjuring it up in a repulsive form. This tactic, common also to more straightforwardly anerotic medieval texts urging a life of celibacy, involved the disclosure of the mutability of the erotic female body, its vulnerability to age. Hopkins’s fantasy is in a line which includes Villon’s “She Who Was The Beautiful Helmetmaker’s Wife,” a poem in which an object of desire articulates under interrogation the tragic transience of her desirability in comparison with the permanence of her own desires.

Rather than being a desiring subject, Hopkins strives to be without desire. As his later, manicured version of the story shows, he becomes the successful investigator, the one who knows and discloses the secret world and words of women, who knows their bodies, too. Nakedness was in any case not a way of gratifying curiosity, but a public signifier, or rather a public loss of a public signifier. During the war, prisoners were often stripped of their clothes. This was partly an act of simple robbery, but it also served to remove signs of class, status, gender, identity, individuality. When the prisoners at Barthomley Church at Christmas 1643 were stripped stark naked by their royalist slaughterers, the stripping signified death, for like death it took from the victims the identity and respect that they had laboriously created, leaving them exposed as nothing but vulnerable, mortal flesh. 66 Similarly, Hopkins’s stripping of his suspects was not merely a humiliation, but a signification of their loss of public identity and respect, a way of teaching them the godly lesson that worldly things pass, leaving the body’s nakedness to symbolize the visibility of the soul to God. As they lost their identities, Hopkins created his. Like God, he could see their essential nakedness, their truth. Hopkins appropriates what had been a proto-Enlightenment discourse (the witchmark) for his own more directly misogynistic and psychosexually motivated fantasy. 67 The witchmark becomes a way to know a woman’s body, to make it speak of what it has done. But it is not enough. She must also be naked, and naked, made to speak. This desire for absolute nakedness, and hence for absolute disgust, is channeled through discourses of Puritan confession and testimony, discourses of confession as a cutting open of what was problematically hard and solid. 68 So Hopkins dissolves away his own sexuality by constant encounters with what short-circuits it. He thus drives himself ever further from the messy world of the engulfing body. In Hopkins’s world, if something needs to be confronted, it is the portability and exchangeability of the disclosed female body and its value as payment. Hopkins is taking a merchant-class view of desire; for him confession to sex with the devil is confession [End Page 122] to using the body as (the only) means of payment for services rendered. This is not peculiar to him; it is registered in Margaret Johnson’s apparently voluntary confession in the Lancashire trial of 1633/4. 69 Hopkins echoes Johnson in seeing the offer of sex as the only recourse of a poor woman who hopes to attract a man of wealth and taste.

It is thus that social and godly order is overturned rather than supported by the commodification of the female body, for that commodification can allow women to “sell” their way out of their just place in the hierarchy. 70 Having done so, they impinge upon and threaten Hopkins, as is clear from another of his stories:

29 were condemned at once, 4 brought 25 miles to be hanged, where this Discoverer lives, for sending the Devil like a Beare to kill him in his garden, so by seeing diverse of the mens [sic] Papps, and trying ways with hundreds of them, he gained this experience, and for aught he knowes any man else many find them as well as he and his company, if they had the same skill and experience. 71

The witches sent a devil to kill Hopkins personally, we now learn for the first time; this cannot be the cat or the kitlyn of Hopkins’s original depositions, and his role in the story has changed since he made them. In accordance with his general psychic pattern, his fractured and deeply unstable masculine identity is now shored up with a new self-image, that of hero. A cat does not sound like much of a threat; to have faced down a bear sounds far more heroic. What Theweleit calls “fragmented armour” seems relevant: Hopkins’s persona is dependent on meeting and vanquishing foes, on triumph. 72 Yet this is not just a psychic dependency; it is also a role he is enjoying, one that he can act out to gain social rewards. Here, his self-representation as hero and defender of the just is invested with the pleasure of success.

Heroism is also uppermost in Hopkins’s understanding of his role as interrogator. Godly preachers and congregations did not see interrogation and confession in quite the secular light in which they appear to us. Rather than forcing an unwilling admission from a suspect in violation of their personal integrity and civil liberties, Puritan ministers and preachers frequently saw themselves as desperately trying to break through a personhood which was simply an encrustation of sin over the true, God-given soul. Stearne explains that watching is “not to use violence, or extremity to force them to [End Page 123] confesse, but onely the keeping is, first, to see whether any of their spirits, or familiars come to or neere them”:

that Godly Divines and others might discourse with them, and idle persons be kept from them, for if any of their society come to them . . . they will never confesse; . . . But if honest godly people discourse with them, laying the hainousness of their sins to them, and in what condition they are in without Repentance, and telling them the subtleties of the Devill, and the mercies of god, these wayes will bring them to Confession without extremity, it will make them breake into Confession hoping for mercy. 73

Though using the same discourse as Henry Goodcole a few decades earlier, Stearne has moved on from Goodcole’s position; or rather, the epistemology of confession and truth have become even more debatable in the aftermath of a civil war characterized by the spread of rumors, cryptographs and disinformation, the movement of agents and double agents in disguise, the emergence of plot and counterplot, the battles in which each side tried to deflect fire by impersonating the other. 74 This theatrical war, which ironically saw the closure of the only institution likely safely to canalize the uncertainties thus created—the theatre itself—necessarily problematized identities even as it licensed their recovery by brutal and illicit means. The delicate cryptograph, so complex in decipherment, had to be roughly seized and exposed. Paradoxically, epistemological difficulty, as all good postmodernists know, can lead not to paralyzed skepticism but to a willingness to cast caution to the winds and to seize on any possibility, no matter how ruinous. The war, in other words, corrupted not only the practice of interrogating the accused but also the discourses in which this might be explained or justified.

And yet Hopkins’s voice should not be allowed to be or seem the only one, or even the dominant one, in creating witch fictions, for it was one voice among others eager to heal or anaesthetize the wounds of the Civil War by the psychic pleasures involved in the witch’s identification and destruction. If Hopkins was particularly motivated, he was not unusual in his desires, however deformed they may appear. The soldiers at Newbury and Naseby and in Wiltshire and Ireland were acting on similar psychic orders, desperately trying to maintain their own identities intact and sustain the fiction of masculinity in the face of intolerable pressures. It has often been remarked that the Civil War was relatively free of atrocities. Perhaps this is partially because its tensions were discharged elsewhere, off the field, [End Page 124] against the ambiguous, shadowy figure of the witch. Admittedly there were plenty of early modern wars in which violence selected its objects almost at random, or in which private prosecution of witches was supplemented by the military murder of civilians. The multiplicity of potentialities for violence created by violence itself must never be underrated. Nonetheless, we should not fail to notice the peculiarity and particularity of the Civil War. Nor should we overlook attacks on witches, whether judicially sanctioned or not, among its death toll. Perhaps it was not a war without an enemy after all.

Diane Purkiss
University of Reading
Reading, England


* I am grateful to Miranda Chaytor, Ivan Dowling, David Harley, and Nigel Smith for advice and help, to Jim Sharpe for lending me his own forthcoming study of Matthew Hopkins, and to David Aers and Michael Cornett for their patience and kindness. For seventeenth-century works cited in the notes place of publication is London unless otherwise stated. Pamphlets for which no author is cited are anonymously written.

1. A most certain, strange and true discovery of a witch, being taken by some of the parliament forces (1643). The witch of Newbury was said by the parliamentarian newspaper Mercurius Civicus of 21–28 September 1643 to be a royalist agent sent to destroy the magazine of the earl of Essex (p. 140).

2. Peter Stallybrass and Ann Rosalind Jones, “The Politics of Astrophil and Stella,” Studies in English Literature 24 (1984): 53–68.

3. A true relation of the late battel neere Newbery (1643), 5.

4. Captain John Gwynne, Military Memoirs of the Great Civil War (London, 1822), 42; The Cavalier Songs and Ballads of England from 1642 to 1684, ed. Charles MacKay (London, 1863), 125; Henry Slingsby, Original Memoirs Written During the Great War, ed. Sir Walter Scott (London, 1806), 23; Sergeant Henry Foster, A True and Exact Relation of the Marchings of the Two Regiments of the Trained bands of the City of London (1643), repr. Bibliotheca Gloucesterinsis, ed. James Washbourne, 2 vols. (Gloucester, 1828), 1:267. For further discussion of reactions to such events, see Charles Carlton, Going to the Wars: The Experience of British Civil Wars, 1638–1651 (London: Routledge, 1992), 139; and Carlton, “The Impact of the Fighting,” in The Impact of the English Civil War, ed. John Morrill (London: Collins and Brown, 1991), 25.

5. A True Relation, 5–6.

6. There are surprisingly few discussions of the figure of the witch in a Civil War context, and even the Hopkins trials have been neglected as atypical of English witchcraft, though Jim Sharpe offers a corrective view in his forthcoming book.

7. There was an upsurge in prosecutions all over England in the 1640s. For witchcraft cases 1640–60 outside East Anglia, see PRO ASSI 45, which contains a number of records from the Northern Circuit; these are partially and somewhat inaccurately transcribed in James Raine, ed., Depositions from York Castle, Surtees Society, vol. 40 (London, 1860). Pamphlet accounts include An account of the trial, confession, and condemnation of six witches at Maidstone at the assizes held there . . . to which is added The trial, examination, and execution of three witches executed at Faversham (1645); The Divel’s Delusions or a faithful relation of John Palmer and Elizabeth Knott, two notorious witches lately condemned at the sessions of Oyer and Terminer in St Albans (1649); Mary Moor, Wonderful News from the North, or a True Relation of the Sad and grieving Torments Inflicted upon the Bodies of three children of Mr George Muschamp (1650); A Prodigious and Tragicall history of the Arraignment, trial, confession and condemnation of six witches at Madistone in Kent (1652); F. H., An Account of the trial, confession and condemnation of six witches, at Maidstone . . . at the assizes held there July 1652 (1653); The Tryall and examination of Mrs Joan Peterson for her supposed witchcraft and poisoning of the Lady Powel at Chelsea (1652); The Witch of Wapping, or an exact and Perfect Relation of the Life and Devilish Practices of Joan Peterson (1652); A Declaration in Answer to Several Lying pamphlets Concerning the Witch of Wapping, showing the bloody plot and wicked conspiracy of one Abraham Vandenbemde, Thomas Crompton, Thomas Collet, and others (1652); Edmond Bower, Dr Lambe’s Darling and Dr Lambe Revived: or witchcraft condemned in Anne Bodenham (1653). For a peak in witchcraft cases in the West of England in the 1650s, see Janet Thompson, Wives, Widows, Witches, and Bitches: Women in Seventeenth-Century Devon (Frankfurt: Lang, 1992), 67–75.

8. Records of the Hopkins cases include the following: in manuscript, Cambridge University Library Ely, Assize Depositions Michaelmas 1647, EDR 12/20, 12/3, and E12 1647; British Library, MS Add. 27402, fols. 104–21; in printed form, A True and Exact Relation of the Several Informations, Examinations, and Confessions of the late witches arraigned and executed in the county of Essex (1645); A True Relation of the Arraignment of eighteene Witches that were tried, convicted and condemned, as a sessions holden in St Edmonds-bury in Suffolke . . . the 27 day of August 1645 (1645); John Davenport, The Witches of Huntingdon, their Examinations and Confessions exactly taken by his Majesties Justices of the Peace for that County (1645); The Lawes Against Witches and Conjuration, And some breif notes and observations for the discovery of Witches . . . , also the Confession of Mother Lakeland, who was arraigned and condemned for a witch at Ipswich in Suffolk (1645).

9. For Lucan’s influence, see Nigel Smith, Literature and the English Civil War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), 203–11; and on Lucan and witchcraft, see Diane Purkiss, The Witch in History (London: Routledge, 1996), chap. 8. For this notion in learned demonological texts in general, see Stuart Clark, “Inversion, Misrule, and the Meaning of Witchcraft,” Past and Present 87 (1980): 98–127.

10. 10–17 August 1645.

11. Epistolae Ho-Elianiae: The Familiar Letters of James Howell, ed. J. Jacobs (London, 1890), 506, 3 Feb 1646, addressed to Endymion Porter, a Catholic at the queen’s court in exile; see also pp. 511, 515, and 547.

12. 11–17 July 1645. The Association Counties is a reference to the East Anglian counties that had gone over to parliament in a body.

13. Signes and Wonders From Heaven, With a True Relation of a Monster borne in Ratcliffe Highway (1645), 2–3.

14. This was especially true in reports of witch-prosecutions in Scotland, which were generally hostile to the use of torture and implicitly or explicitly contrasted this with the less tyrannical rule of England. See for instance Mercurius Politicus, 28 October-4 November, which is especially unkeen on the use of torture.

15. Robert Filmer, An Advertisement to the Jury-men of England touching witches (1653), prefatory epistle, sig. A2r. Thomas Ady, A Candle in the Dark, or a treatise concerning the nature of witches and witchcraft (1656).

16. The Moderate Intelligencer, 4–11 September 1645. The reference is probably to the trials at Bury-St. Edmunds, described in A True Relation of the Arraignment of eighteene Witches that were tried, convicted and condemned, as a sessions holden in St Edmonds-bury in Suffolke . . . the 27 day of August 1645 (1645).

17. Signes and Wonders From Heaven, 7.

18. This derogatory reference to Davies suggests that this is a roylist satire, despite appearances, for she had prophesied the deaths of Buckingham and of the king, and hence was particularly disliked by royalists. For Eleanor Davies’ prophecies, see The Prophetic Writings of Lady Eleanor Davies, ed. Esther S. Cope (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996). “Mother Shipton” was a fictional woman prophet invented during the Civil War, but purporting to be ancient.

19. Signes and Wonders from Heaven, 4; Richard Deacon, Matthew Hopkins: Witchfinder General (London, Frederick Muller, 1976), 139–140; Observations Upon Prince Rupert’s White Dogge Called Boy (1643), 4–9. For Rupert’s other remarkable qualities, see also Prince Rupert’s Disguises (1642); and A Dog’s Elegy (1644). On the witch as comic figure, see Purkiss, The Witch in History, chaps. 8 and 9.

20. In his Memoirs Holles mentions the “sabbaths” held by Cromwell and St. John, where they “imparted to your fellow witches the bottom of your designs, the policy of your actings, the turn of your contrviances, all your falsehoods, vilanies and cruelties with your full intention to ruin three kingdoms.” The Memoirs of Denzil Lord Holles, Baron of Ifield, ed. John Toland (1699), 237.

21. Ady gives another instance: one of the “poor women that was hanged as a witch at Berry assizes in the yeare 1645 did send her imp into the Army to kill the parliamentary soldiers and another sent her imps into the army to kill the king’s soldiers” (A Candle in the Dark, 65).

22. S. Everard, “Oliver Cromwell and Black Magic,” Occult Review (April 1936): 84–92; The English devil, or Cromwell and his monstrous witch discovered at Whitehall (1660). Elizabeth Poole’s actual address to the Council of State can be found in An Alarum of War (1647). For a discussion of Poole, see my doctoral thesis, Gender, Power, and the Body: Milton and Seventeenth-Century Women’s Writing (University of Oxford, 1991). Cromwell’s own position in relation to witchcraft was ambiguous. Huntingdon, site of a large Hopkins-related trial in 1646, was the home of Cromwell, and the master of Huntingdon Grammar, Thomas Beard, was the godly author of The Theater of Gods Judgements, which took a strong line about witches. Yet Cromwell also stopped a major persecution in Scotland. See Christopher Hill, God’s Englishman (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1975), 250.

23. The Parliaments Post 13, 29 July-5 August 1645.

24. Donald Lupton, A warre-like treatise on the pike (1642), 35; and Memoirs of Colonel John Birch (Camden Soceity, 1873), 92; both in Carlton, Going to the Wars, 47–48, 106. I discuss these issues more fully in Gender and Politics in the English Civil War, Cambridge University Press, forthcoming.

25. The Vindication of Richard Atkyns, Esquire (1669), 32.

26. Quoted by Carlton, Going to the Wars, 130, 143.

27. Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), in The Pelican Freud Library, Volume 11: On Metapsychology and the Theory of Psychoanalysis, trans. James Strachey (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984), 269–337.

28. Two useful analyses of the negotiation of the death drive via a female figure are Elisabeth Bronfen, Over Her Dead Body: Death, Femininity, and the Aesthetic (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1992); and Klaus Theweleit, Male Fantasies, Volume I: Women, Bodies, Floods, History, trans. Stephen Conway with Erica Carter and Chris Turner (Cambridge: Polity, 1987).

29. See The Witch in History, chap. 6.

30. Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror, trans. Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982).

31. My thinking on this question has been influenced by work on more recent wars, especially the First World War: see in particular Joanna Bourke, Dismembering the Male: Men’s Bodies, Britain, and the Great War (London: Reaktion, 1996).

32. On Dowsing’s career, see Margaret Aston, England’s Iconoclasts (Oxford: Clarendon, 1989), 75 ff.; and John Morrill, “William Dowsing, the Beaurocratic Puritan,” in Public Duty and Private Conscience in Seventeenth-Century England, ed. John Morrill, Paul Slack, and Daniel Woolf (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), esp. 206.

33. Aston, 77.

34. The copy of a letter sent to an honourable Lord, by Doctor Paske (1642), repr. Mercurius Rusticus, or the Countries Complaints of the barbarous out-rages committed by the Sectaries, ed. Bruno Ryves, repr. of 1646 ed., 3 vols. (1685), 2:119–20; hence a royalist source. There was iconoclasm in the areas of Essex where Hopkins began his career: at St. Mary’s Church, Lawford, near Manningtree, the carved heads of the saints were hacked off during the 1640s (E. Auston, Historic Notes on Twenty-Four Villages in the Tendring Hundred (Colchester: E. Auston, 1951), 4.

35. B. Hubbard, Sermo Secularis (1648), 19.

36. Carlton, Going to the Wars, 143. See also “The Impact of the Fighting,” 28; and Barbara Donagan’s account of the intellectual background of the rules of war, “Atrocity, War Crime, and Treason in the English Civil War,” American Historical Review 99 (1994): 1137–66.

37. See The Witch in History, chap. 5.

38. Mary Agnes Hickson, Ireland in the Seventeenth Century, or the Irish Massacres of 1641–2, 2 vols. (London, 1884), 1:152; deposition dated 25 May 1653.

39. Peter Rushton, “Women, Witchcraft, and Slander in Early Modern England: Cases from the Church Courts at Durham, 1560–1675,” Northern History 18 (1982): 116–32.

40. Claire Carroll, “Representations of Women in Some Early Modern English Tracts on the Colonisation of Ireland,” Albion 25 (1993): 391. I am grateful to Lisa Jardine for suggesting the relevance of the Irish question to witchcraft.

41. Turner, letter of 8 May 1642, in Thomas Fitzpatrick, The Bloody Bridge and Other Papers Relating to the Insurrections of 1641 (Dublin: Sealy, Bryant, and Walker, 1903), 127; and Ann Fanshawe, Memoirs, ed. John Loftis (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979), 125. For a similar pattern of beliefs about New World natives, see The Witch in History, chap. 10. Both Old English and ethnic Irish tended to prefer to settle witchcraft cases without recourse to the courts; Ireland as a result had no witchcraze; see Elwyn C. Lapoint, “Irish Immunity to Witch-Hunting, 1534–1711,” Eire-Ireland 22 (1992): 76–93; and Robin Gillespie, “Women and Crime in Seventeenth-Century Ireland,” in Women in Early Modern Ireland, ed. Margaret MacCurtain and Mary O’Dowd (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1991), 45–46.

42. “The humble peticon of Anne the wife of John Warberton of Warminster Bricklayer,” Warminster Quarter Sessions, 14 and 15 July 1646, in B. Howard Cunnington, ed., Records of the County of Wilts (Devizes: G. Simpson and Co., 1932), 154.

43. Robin Briggs, Witches and Neighbours: The Social and Cultural Context of European Witchcraft (London: HarperCollins, 1996), 308.

44. Cases based in Manningtree began in the winter of 1644, and the first confession was recorded March 1645. Trials began in Chelmsford in July. Hunt spread into Suffolk just over the border from the Tendring Hundred, and also into Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire, and Bedfordshire. Trials also took place in Great Yarmouth, Aldeburgh, Stowmarket, King’s Lynn, and the Isle of Ely.

45. See my article “Women’s Stories of Witchcraft: The House, the Body, the Child,” Gender and History 7 (winter 1995): 408–32; Jim Sharpe also points to the unexceptional nature of many of the Hopkins trial materials in his forthcoming book on the history of witchcraft; I am grateful to him for allowing me to consult his manuscript in preparation.

46. Stearne, A Confirmation and Discovery of Witchcraft (1648), 3.

47. Deacon, Matthew Hopkins, 39, citing a manuscript, which is not identified, from the Essex County Record Office. The meager biographical facts assembled by Deacon and others are as follows: Hopkins was born c. 1619–22, making him in his early twenties at the beginning of his activities. His mother, Marie Hopkins, was possibly a Huguenot refugee. A manuscript now lost allegedly said Hopkins was a lawyer “of but little note” (Deacon, 13–14). Since there is no record of him at the Inns of Court or in other court records, he may have worked as a legal clerk, possibly for a ship-owner in Mistley. The Suffolk Record Office contains a conveyance of a tenement in Bramford, only just outside Ipswich, dated 1641, bearing Hopkins’s signature as a witness, which may imply a role as a lawyer’s clerk. Hopkins allegedly told Lady Jane Whorley that he had studied maritime law in Amsterdam. It is generally agreed that he did spend some time in the Netherlands, possibly with his Huguenot connections, but some suggest that this may mean the Essex village of Little Holland, and in that case it may be relevant that Brian Darcy, the chief justice in the St. Osyth case of 1582, was briefly owner of the manor there (J. Yelloly Watson, The Tendring Hundred in the Olden Time [Colchester, 1877], 69). Hopkins knew that other great self-fashioner of the Civil War years, William Lilly. Hopkins was not hanged as a witch, but died of a consumption: “he died peaceably at Manningtree, after a long sicknesse of a Consumption, as many of his generation had done before him, without any trouble of conscience for what he had done, as was falsely reported of him” (Stearne, Confirmation and Discovery of Witchcraft, 61). He was buried on 12 August 1647 at Mistley.

48. Hopkins’s father was the Vicar of Great Wenham. He uses Puritan discourse in his extant will: “I shalbe receved to Mercy only through the Righteousnesse & Merritts of the Lorde Jesus Christ my Saviour.” John Stearne says of Hopkins that “he was the son of a godly minister, and therefore without doubt within the covenant” (Stearne, 61)

49. Deacon, Matthew Hopkins, 37, 61.

50. A True and Exact Relation of the Several Informations, Examinations, and Confessions of the late witches arraigned and executed in the county of Essex (1645), 3. There is a slightly inaccurate transcription of this pamphlet in Peter Haining, The Witchcraft Papers (Secaucus, N.J.: University Books, 1974).

51. The fullest text of Edmund Robinson’s confession is in John Webster, The Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft, 347, but the numerous transcriptions of it testify to the wide circulation of the story (e.g., BL MS Harleian 6854, fol. 26v; Bodleian MS Dodsworth 61, fols. 45–47v; Bodleian MS Rawlinson D.399, fols. 211–12v; BL MS Add. 36674, fols. 193, 196).

52. Katherine Briggs, A Dictionary of British Folktales, 4 vols. (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1970–71), cites several instances of witches transforming themselves into hares (2:626–27, 699).

53. A Confirmation and Discovery of Witchcraft (1648), 34. John Stearne was Hopkins’s principal associate. He was gentry; Stearne was still paying hearth tax in Manningtree in 1666, despite apparently moving to Lawshall in 1648. In his writings, Stearne was heavily influenced by William Perkins’s godly and influential Discourse of the Damned Art of Witchcraft (1608), but he also borrowed at length from Richard Bernard, A Guide to Grand Jurymen (1627, repr. 1629); these may have been among Hopkins’s intellectual antecedents, too, but there is little trace of their influence in his writings.

54. On the area, see P. Morant, The History and Antiquities of the County of Essex (London, 1816); Watson, Tendring Hundred; William Andrews, Bygone Essex (Colchester, 1892); and Auston, Twenty-four Villages.

55. See M. C. Balfour, “Legends of the Lincolnshire Cars,” Folklore 11 (1891): 145–418; and W. H. Barrett and R. P. Garrod, East Anglian Folklore and Other Tales (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1976).

56. William Camden, Remaines Concerning Britain, trans. Philemon Holland, 5th ed. (1637), 345. The original source is medieval: the Chronicon Anglicarum, by Ralph of Coggeshall.

57. Stuart Clark, “The Rational Witch-Finder: Conscience, Demonological Naturalism, and Popular Superstition,” in Science, Culture, and Popular Belief, ed. Stephen Pumfrey, Paolo L. Rossi, and Maurice Slawinski (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1991), 235, 237; and John Gaule, Select Cases of Conscience Touching Witches and Witchcraft (1646), 63–64.

58. Deacon claims Hopkins made as much as £23 from Stowmarket and £15 from King’s Lynn, with promises for more after the next sessions. His inn bill was also paid in Stowmarket. But he only got £6 in Aldeburgh—£2 from each visit, three visits— suggesting that the rate was decidedly variable (Matthew Hopkins, 73). Hopkins himself denies that he made much money: The Discovery of Witches (1647), 5–6.

59. Hopkins, Discovery of Witches, 1.

60. Stearne writes of the exchangeability of godly and satanic idenitities: “many of these witches have made outward shows, as if they had been Saints on earth, and so were taken by some; as one of Catowth in Huntingtonshire, . . . by their carriage seemed to be very religious people, and would constantly repair to all sermons neer them; yet notwithstanding all their shews of religion, there appeared some of these probabilities, wherby they were suspected” (Confirmation and Discovery of Witchcraft, 39).

61. Hudibras 2.3, 139 ff., The Poetical Works of Samuel Butler, ed. Robert Bell (London, 1862); Hopkins, Discovery of Witches, 1.

62. Gaule, Select Cases of Conscience, 93.

63. A fairly typical confession of this is that of Thomazine Ratcliffe of Shellie, Suffolke, who confessed “that it was malice that had brought her to that she was come to, meaning Witchcraft; for she confessed, that soone after ther husbands decease, above twenty yeares before her confession, there came one in the likenesse of a man, into bed to her, which spoke with a hollow, shrill voyce, and told her, he would be a loving husband to her, if she would consent to him, which she said, she did, and then he told her, he would revenge her of all her enemies, and that she should never miss anything, in which she said, she found him a lyer, but said, that Satan often tempted her to banning, swearing and cursing, which shee confessed shee did use a long time, and that many times it fell out accordingly, and that she, falling out with one Martins wife, who had a child drowned, for that she called her witch, saying, shee was the cause of the childs drowning, she bad her goe home and look to the rest, lest she lose more, and one died suddenly after” (Stearne, Confirmation and Discovery of Witchcraft, 22).

64. See for instance Bram Djikstra, Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Siècle Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986).

65. Nor did they desire him, as Stearne mischeviously reports: “Then said Mr Hopkin, in what manner and likenesse came he to you? shee said, like a tall, proper, blackhaired gentleman, a properer man then you selfe, and being asked which she had rather lie withall, shee said the Devill” (p. 15).

66. For the massacre at Barthomley, see Thomas Malbon, A breefe and true relacon of all suche passages & Things as happened . . . in Namptwich, in Tracts Relating to the Civil War in Cheshire, ed. James Hall, Lancashire and Cheshire Record Society 19 (1889): 94–97.

67. For the witchmark as a proto-Enlightenment sign, see The Witch in History, chap. 9, which recounts William Harvey’s involvement int the 1633/4 case.

68. On confession, see John Bossy, “The Social History of Confession in the Age of the Reformation,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 5th series, 25 (1975): 21–38; and Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume I, trans. Robert Hurley (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985).

69. For Johnson’s confession, see Calender of State Papers Domestic (1634), 141. Similarly, Gaule mentions the devil’s “marriage” to his votaries, and reports that Hopkins said he used the Book of Common Prayer to do it, meaning the Laudian prayerbook.

70. I am referring to Luce Irigaray’s celebrated essay, “Women on the Market,” in This Sex Which Is Not One, trans. Catherine Porter (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985), 179–92, and suggesting that feminists have underestimated the subversiveness of the female body as commodity.

71. Discovery of Witches, 3.

72. Klaus Theweleit, Male Fantasies, Volume 2. Male Bodies: Psychoanalysing the White Terror, trans. Chris Turner and Erica Carter (Cambridge: Polity, 1989), 206 f.

73. Stearne, Confirmation and Discovery of Witchcraft, 14.

74. Henry Goodcole was Elizabeth Sawyer’s confessor, and wrote The Wonderful Discovery of Elizabeth Sawyer A Witch (1621).