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A Seventeenth-Century English Tragedy

Malcolm Gaskill

ISBN 9780674025424

Publication date: 10/31/2007

By spring 1645, two years of civil war had exacted a dreadful toll upon England. People lived in terror as disease and poverty spread, and the nation grew ever more politically divided. In a remote corner of Essex, two obscure gentlemen, Matthew Hopkins and John Stearne, exploited the anxiety and lawlessness of the time and initiated a brutal campaign to drive out the presumed evil in their midst. Touring Suffolk and East Anglia on horseback, they detected demons and idolators everywhere. Through torture, they extracted from terrified prisoners confessions of consorting with Satan and demonic spirits.

Acclaimed historian Malcolm Gaskill retells the chilling story of the most savage witch-hunt in English history. By the autumn of 1647 at least 250 people--mostly women--had been captured, interrogated, and hauled before the courts. More than a hundred were hanged, causing Hopkins to be dubbed "Witchfinder General" by critics and admirers alike. Though their campaign was never legally sanctioned, they garnered the popular support of local gentry, clergy, and villagers. While Witchfinders tells of a unique and tragic historical moment fueled by religious fervor, today it serves as a reminder of the power of fear and fanaticism to fuel ordinary people's willingness to demonize others.


  • Witchfinders tells the gripping and important story of England's biggest witch-hunt. The available information is perhaps without parallel in its detail, density, and inherent pathos. And Gaskill puts it together with very great skill. The result is a ground-level, step-by-step portrayal of a sort not seen elsewhere in the enormous literature on witchcraft history.

    —John Demos, author of Circles and Lines: The Shape of Life in Early America


  • Malcolm Gaskill is a Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, where he is Director of Studies in History.

Book Details

  • 384 pages
  • 5-13/16 x 9 inches
  • Harvard University Press