The Entrepreneurial Pursuit of The Witch-finder General Matthew Hopkins
Matthew Hopkins began his career as the Witch-finder General in 1644 when he moved to Manningtree, Essex.
Hopkins was adamant that a group of witches were practicing the dark arts near his home. He also claimed that he had overheard a group of women discussing their meetings with the Devil. As a devout Puritan, this deeply troubled him. The 23 women were reported to the authorities, and they were taken prisoner.
The conditions of the prison were dire, and 4 of the women actually died while captive, the other 19 were found guilty of witchcraft and sentenced to hang.
The hanging of the 19 accused seemed to motivate him. He wanted to seek out more witches. In 1645, he began his more widespread hunts, and took on the title of Witch-finder General.
Coming from an impoverished background, Hopkins saw this is an opportunity for wealth. He traveled through Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, and Huntingdon claiming to be officially commissioned by Parliament, charging inhabitants for his services in seeking out those who were practicing witchcraft.
The price for his services was said to be around twenty shillings per town, however it’s recorded that the market town of Stowmarket once paid him £23. His wealth from witch hunting grew exponentially, and even local taxes were levied in order to fund his efforts. From Stowmarket and Surrey alone, it’s thought that he amassed a total of around £3,300 in today’s currency. The superstitious people of the time clearly willing to pay a lot of money to keep the Devil away.
Business was booming. The more people he tried and executed, the more financially successful he became. Matthew Hopkins had sent around 300 people to their deaths, including some Anglican clergyman. Witch-finding was his obsession. He went on to write a book entitled “The Discovery of Witches”.
Despite the wealth he had accumulated, his inquisition came to an end after just 3 years. Matthew Hopkins died in Manningtree, Essex, on 12 August 1647.