* This reproach is noticed in a very rare tract, which was bought at Mr. Lort's sale by the celebrated collector, Mr. Bindley, and is now in the author's possession. Its full title is, " The Discovery of Witches, in Answer to several Queries lately delivered to the Judge of Assize for the County of Norfolk ; and now published by Matthew Hopkins, Witchfinder, for the Benefit of the whole Kingdom. Printed for B. Boyston, at the Angel, in Inn Lane. 1647
The boast of the English nation is a manly independence and common sense, which will not long permit the licence of tyranny or oppression on the meanest and most obscure sufferers. Many clergymen and gentlemen made head against the practices of this cruel oppressor of the defenceless, and it required courage to do so when such an unscrupulous villain had so much interest.
Mr. Gaul, a clergyman, of Houghton, in Huntingdonshire, had the courage to appear in print on the weaker side •, and Hopkins, in consequence, had the assurance to write to some functionaries of the place the following letter, which is an admirable medley of impudence, bullying, and cowardice :—
" My service to your worship presented.—I have this day received a letter to come to a town called Great Houghton to search for evil-disposed persons called witches, (though I hear your minister is far against us, through ignorance.) I intend to come, God willing, the sooner to hear this singular judgment in the behalf of such parties. I have known a minister in Suffolk as much against this discovery in a pulpit, and forced to recant it by the Committee,* in the same place. I much marvel such evil men should have any (much more any of the clergy, who should daily speak terror to convince such offenders) stand up to take their parts against such as are complainants for the king, and sufferers themselves, with their families and estates. I intend to give your town a visit suddenly. I will come to Kimbolton this week, and it will be ten to one but I will come to your town first; but I would certainly know before whether your town affords many sticklers for such cattle, or is willing to give and allow us good welcome and entertainment as others where I have been, else I shall waive your shire, (not as yet beginning in any part of it myself,) and betake me to such places where I do and may punish (not only) without control, but with thanks and recompense. So I humbly take my leave, and rest your servant to be commanded,
" Matthew Hopkins."
The sensible and courageous Mr. Gaul describes the tortures employed by this fellow as equal to any practised in the Inquisition. " Having taken the suspected witch, she is placed in the middle of a room, upon a stool, or table, cross-legged, or in some other uneasy posture, to which, if she submits not, she is then bound with cords ; there she is watched, and kept without meat or sleep for four-and-twenty hours, for they say they shall within that time see her imp come and suck. A little hole is likewise made in the door for the imps to come in at; and lest they should come in some less discernible shape, they that watch are taught to be ever and anon sweeping the room, and if they see any spiders or flies, to kill them, and if they cannot kill them they may be sure they are their imps."
* Of Parliament.
If torture of this kind was applied to the Reverend Mr. Lowis, whose death is too slightly announced by Mr. Baxter, we can conceive him, or any man, to have indeed become so weary of his life as to acknowledge that, by means of his imps, he sunk a vessel without any purpose of gratification to be procured to himself by such iniquity. But in another cause, a judge would have demanded some proof of the corpus delicti, some evidence of a vessel being lost at the period, whence coming and whither bound ; in short, something to establish that the whole story was not the idle imagination of a man who might have been entirely deranged, and certainly was so at the time he made the admission. John Lowis was presented to the vicarage of Brandis-ton, near Framlingham, in Suffolk, 6th May, 1596 where he lived about fifty years, till executed as a wizard, on such evidence as we have seen. Notwithstanding the story of his alleged confession, he defended himself courageously at his trial, and was probably condemned rather as a royalist and malignant than for any other cause. He showed at the execution considerable energy, and to secure that the funeral service of the church should be said over his body, he read it aloud for himself while on the road to the gibbet.
We have seen that, in 1647, Hopkins's tone became lowered, and he began to disavow some of the cruelties he had formerly practised. About the same time, a miserable old woman had fallen into the cruel hands of this miscreant near Hoxne, a village in Suffolk, and had confessed all the usual enormities, after being without food or rest a sufficient time. Her imp, she said, was called Nan. A gentleman in the neighbourhood, whose widow survived to authenticate the story, was so indignant that he went to the house, took the woman out of such inhuman hands, dismissed the witchfinders, and, after due food and rest, the poor old woman could recollect nothing of the confession but that she gave a favourite pullet the name of Nan. For this Dr. Hutchison may be referred to, who quotes a letter from the relict of the humane gentleman.
In the year 1645, a commission of Parliament was sent down, comprehending two clergymen in esteem with the leading party, one of whom, Mr. Fairclough, of Kellar, preached before the rest on the subject of witchcraft; and after this appearance of enquiry, the inquisitions and executions went on as before. But the popular indignation was so strongly excited against Hopkins, that some gentlemen seized on him, and put him to his own favourite experiment of swimming, on which, as he happened to float, he stood convicted of witchcraft, and so the country was rid of him. "Whether he was drowned outright or not does not exactly appear, but he has had the honour to be commemorated by the author of Hudibras :—