Read an excerpt below:
The witch-hunt began in the small village of Manningtree, Essex. Hopkins and Stearne collaborated with locals to identify and prosecute individuals suspected of practicing witchcraft. Alleged witches were detained, interrogated, sleep deprived and tortured until they offered a satisfactory confession. To uncover physical proof of witchcraft, female suspects were stripped naked, possibly shaved, and searched by a group of women for the witch’s mark, a supernumerary nipple from which demons fed. Once the witch-finders collected sufficient information against a witch, locals and Justices of the Peace (JPs) composed official legal documents to be used as evidence at the Assize courts.
Systematic witch-hunting of such intensity was new to England, but the intellectual tradition underpinning the witch-finders’ actions was not. Many demonologists believed women to be the weaker sex, ruled by their carnal desires and more prone to the Devil’s temptations than men. The Malleus Maleficarum (1487) is perhaps the most famous witchcraft text propounding these ideas. Authors Kramer and Sprenger presented women as being predisposed to Satan’s advances. They were thought vulnerable because, in a woman, ‘Everything is governed by carnal lusting, which is insatiable in them… for this reason they even cavort with demons to satisfy their lust.’ Similarly, in Daemonologie (1597), King James VI and I commented about women, ‘that sexe is frailer than man is, so is it easier to be entrapped in these grosse snares of the Devil.’ By the 1640s, Hopkins and Sterne had internalized such ideas: Hopkins explicitly referenced Daemonologie and his partner asserted that women were ‘fit instruments for the Devil’.