Matthew Hopkins was a notorious figure at the centre of witch hunts in East Anglia at the time of the English Civil War. Yet we know remarkably little about him — even his date of birth is guesswork. He was the son of James Hopkins, who was vicar of St John’s church in Great Wenham, in Suffolk, but nothing concrete is known about his life until 1645, when his career as a witch hunter began.
The period from 1560 to 1685 was the height of the witch craze in Western Europe, including England and Scotland. In 1563, the parliaments of both nations passed laws authorising the death penalty for witchcraft, which had previously been a matter for churches to deal with, rather than a criminal offence. These laws remained in force for nearly two centuries and it is estimated that between 400 and 500 people were executed in England and Wales, and possibly as many as 2,500, in Scotland.
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