Hopkins, self-appointed Witch Finder General, was the model for
Obediah Wilson. Hopkins operated in the Essex/East Anglia area
between 1645-47 and during this period up to 200 women were hanged
by him and his associates. Hopkins was paid 20 shillings for ridding
a town of witches. Not an inconsiderable sum of money in those
days. His career stopped abruptly in 1647, when he himself was
discovered as a sorcerer and hanged.
could Mary go if she was orphaned by persecutions such as those
inflicted by Matthew Hopkins? Who could she turn to? She would
need a protector. A noble woman, perhaps, rich and powerful, but
doomed by her husbands deeds and actions. I took as my model
Lucy Hutchinson, wife of Colonel John Hutchinson who was a Parlimentarian
and commander in the New Model Army. He was also one of the signatories
of Charles I's death warrant. Lucy Hutchinson was brave, strong,
and resourceful, above the pitch of ordinary women.
She accompanied her husband on his campaigns, withstood sieges
with him, and ultimately saved him from execution. But Witch
Child is a work of fiction and as such deals with what could
have happened, not what did. I used Lucy Hutchinson as a template
only. There is, of course, absolutely no evidence that she had
an illegitimate daughter, or that she practised the Craft.
Despite the activities of Matthew Hopkins, and others like him,
England got off lightly. It is estimated that only 1000 people
(most of them women) were hanged as witches between 1550 and 1685.
Their Scottish sisters were not so lucky. In Scotland it is estimated
that as many as 4000 people, (again most of them women) were convicted
of witchcraft and burned alive. In Europe the persecution was
even worse. In the period from 1560 to 1632, it is estimated that
between 30,000 and 100,000 were burned for witchcraft. Again,
most of these would have been women. In the small German state
of Quedinburg, 133 women were burned in just one day and in some
towns and villages there were no adult women left alive.
persecutions did not stop when settlers went to America. They
took their fears, superstitions and prejudices with them, along
with their goods and chattels. The first hanging was in 1647 in
Connecticut. A steady trickle of trials ensued, mostly in New
England, culminating in the infamous Salem witch trials in 1692.
This marked the last great witch persecution on either side of
the Atlantic. The outbreak lasted less than a year but by the
time the hysteria there had subsided, 160 people had been accused
of witchcraft, 27 had been found guilty and 19 had been hung.
keeps a journal of everything that happens to her. She is not
unusual in this, many of her contemporaries kept such diaries,
but hers is different, dangerous and subversive. She has to hide
it so she stitches it into a quilt. The quilt survives to the
present day, preserving her story for modern readers.