WITCHFINDERS: A SEVENTEENTH ENGLISH TRAGEDY by MALCOLM GASKIL.
By the spring of 1645, civil war had exacted a terrible toll upon England. Disease was rife, apocalyptic omens appeared in the skies, and idolators detected in every shire. In a remote corner of Essex, two obscure gentlemen began interrogating women suspected of witchcraft, triggering the most brutal witch-hunt in English history. Witchfinders is a spellbinding study of how Matthew Hopkins, 'the Witchfinder General', and John Stearne extended their campaign across East Anglia, driven by godly zeal. Exploiting the anxiety and lawlessness of the times, and cheered on by ordinary folk, they extracted confessions of satanic pacts resulting in scores of executions.
- Back Cover Blurb
In seventeenth-century England people inhabited a magical universe, a cosmos full of spiritual and occult forces with the power to shape earthly events.
- First Sentence; Preface
To many spectators they must have seemed models of witchery: dirty, ragged and hunched, their faces ravaged by age, hunger and fear. Yet to Arthur Wilson their appearances suggested rather the poor and unfortunate, the decrepit and diseased - mere victims of imagination, hardly the handmaidens of Satan.
- Memorable Moment; Page 125
SOURCE ... Received from a friend, many thanks Katie.
READ FOR A CHALLENGE? ... No.
MY THOUGHTS ... Interesting, insightful, thought provoking, infuriating and perhaps most of all chillingly sobering when, as the author concludes ...
"how different are we in mentality from our seventeenth century ancestors if 'seventeenth century ancestors' is replaced with 'fellow human beings in Africa and India'?" - pg 286
A bit dry and meandering, overlong and arguably repetitive; having read the first 15 or so accounts of how the poor individuals deemed witches (rather curiously I thought there was never any assumption that any of them were in fact witches who may well have met in covens, the author seemingly of the opinion that witches did not/do not exist) were watched, interrogated and finally convicted it all became a bit, well, samey.
As for the execution ... I thought the formatting could have been better; the paragraphs better spaced, the pen and ink illustrations perhaps larger and most of all - why oh why such minute print? - the typeface made bigger, much bigger.
Other than that ...
Largely following the witch hunt of 1645 - 1647 instigated by the infamous Matthew Hopkins into whom we are given an adequate though what I felt to be a typical insight (interestingly enough there is more actual information given about his father and siblings) and the lesser known John Stearne for whom no history prior to 1645 is given ... most likely because its non-existent ... until the death of the former and the disappearance into oblivion of the latter.
What I really liked about the book however was the indepth look at how the political climate of the time, the religious issues, the social upheavel all would have contributed to the superstition, the prejudice, the fear, the intolerance that led to the execution of these men, women and, yes, children.