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The Ghost of Matthew Hopkins (1620-1647) - The Witchfinder General

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The Ghost of the Witchfinder General

It has been reported many times that the ghost of Matthew Hopkins, the self-proclaimed Witchfinder General, can been seen, especially on nights of a full moon, still in 17th century clothing close to Mistley 'ducking' Pond and the nearby 'hopping' bridge not far from St. Marys Church, Mistley, Essex. Other reports claim that the ghost of his first victim, the elderley and crippled Elizabeth Clarke who was his neighbour, also appears on the shores of a local mudflats area called Seafield Bay. She was dragged out of the Red Lion public house in Manningtree by Matthew Hopkins as he loudly accused her of being a witch following a previous accusation by the local tailor John Rivet. She was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging. This conviction convinced Hopkins that he was right to accuse her so he proclaimed himself the Witchfinder General although it was not sanctioned by Parliament.

Matthew Hopkins was born in Great Wenham, Suffolk, possibly in 1620. He was the son of a Puritan clergyman who was the vicar of St. Johns of Great Wenham and very little is known of his early life. In the early 1640's he moved to Manningtree, Essex and managed by purchase the Thorn Inn in Mistley with an inheritance he had just received. The Middle Ages then was becoming increasingly paranoid about witchcraft so shortly afterwards he set out locally to pursue so-called 'witches' still believing in his ability as the Witchfinder General. He was very aware that towns and villages were happy to pay to be rid of witches and this money was a big motivation.

The most prolific witch hunting was carried out between 1644 and 1647 when he caused the deaths of about 300 women after he had devised a cruel method to discover what he called the 'truth'. It was called 'Swimming'. This involved a suspect's limbs being tied together before being lowered into water by ropes. He firmly believed that if his victims sank and drowned then they were innocent and now in Heaven - if they floated then they were guilty and would be tried as a witch. The end result would usually be death for the suspect either way. By this time he had hired an assistant called John Stearne.

The Witchfinder General's reign of terror came to an end in 1647 when ill-health forced him to 'retire'. He moved back to Manningtree where he died in his home on 12 August that same year. The parish registry at Mistley confirms he was buried a few hours after his death in the graveyard of the Church of St. Mary the Virgin at Mistley Heath. All that remains of this church site now are the two sentinel towers.

Matthew Hopkins and John Stearne practised their evil trade over much of East Anglia and there have been many reported ghostly sightings of them and some of their unfortunate victims particularly in and around Mistley and Manningtree in Essex.

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