Norfolk Witch Hunter’s career explored at Holt Festival

A 17th Century image depicting Matthew Hopkins and a supposed witch telling her dog:

A 17th Century image depicting Matthew Hopkins and a supposed witch telling her dog: "Holt." Picture: Michael Trimble

Michael Trimble

Have you ever thought your neighbour is a bit odd? Has something bad ever happened to you that you just could not explain? Have you heard a friend, maybe even a family member making strange noises?

Professor Trimble will be giving a talk at Holt Festival. Picture: Michael TrimbleProfessor Trimble will be giving a talk at Holt Festival. Picture: Michael Trimble

Well according to 16th Century Norfolk residents, this means that someone close to you could be a witch.

At the Holt Festival this year, Professor Michael Trimble will be telling the story of Witch Hunter General, Matthew Hopkins.

Professor Trimble said: “Hopkins started out in the Essex area in around 1644, then making his way slowly north until he reached Norfolk.

“He persecuted hundreds of witches, who were either hung, drowned or burned to death. 80% of these were women.”

Witchcraft had been made a punishable offence under James I of England, with 50% of those Hopkins sent to court being convicted and killed.

Professor Trimble, an academic neuropsychiatrist at the Institute of Neurology, will be discussing both the historical and medical context of the witch hunts which Hopkins carried out.

He said: “Soldiers were returning home from war, there were plagues, there were religious tensions, and people wanted scapegoats.”

To identify witches, ‘witch prickers’ were employed to ascertain Satanic tendencies in those accused of witchcraft.

Professor Trimble explained: “The term witch prickers comes from the fact that these people, mostly women, would have a sharp knife or nail and stick it in to the accused to find so called devils patches, areas of insensitivity. If they did not react, it meant they had been touched by the devil.”

Other traits included blasphemy, speaking hysterically, or praying to the Devil.

Professor Trimble, continued: “With today’s psychological understanding the witch hunting of those times can be explained by medical and psychological problems known as Somatoform Disorders, in which a patient expresses physical traits that cannot be explained neurologically. For example, if a person had an anaesthesia patch where they were pricked, there is now a medical explanation. Of course, they did not know that at the time.”

“What is really strange is that a lot of people accused of witchcraft confessed.”

Professor Trimble’s full talk will be taking place at the Holt festival on Wednesday, July 26 at 4.00pm at Holt Community Centre.

Tickets to the event can be purchased at the Holt festival website.

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