This book is a grave disappointment. It purports to be a biography, when the facts are too few to support such a treatment. Instead of the facts about Matthew Hopkins, we are given a large amount of conjecture; and when it comes to painting the broader picture, the author can’t even get the facts right. The principal howler is in chapter Ten, when we are told (twice) that Oliver Cromwell was Lord Protector at the time the Hopkins witch craze was at its height, and the writer draws conclusions about Cromwell from this. Yet Cromwell did not become Lord Protector until 1654. Matthew Hopkins died in 1647.
Cabell deliberately eschews context – historical, social and legal – because he wants to concentrate on Matthew Hopkins, whom he believes to have been uniquely evil. Hopkins is said to have been in it for the money alone, whereas his colleague John Stearne was at least motivated by genuine religious fervour. To my mind, we cannot know whether this is right; and it is not a very useful way of approaching the subject. It is rather like blaming the Second World War on Adolf Hitler and leaving the German problem out of the account.
The persecution of witches in East Anglia in the mid-1640s is certainly an interesting phenomenon; but you will not find much about the causes of it in this book. You would learn more about them from one page in Hugh Trevor-Roper’s European Witchcraze in the 16th and 17th centuries (1967) – in fact from the footnote at page 91 of the Pelican edition. And Cabell certainly does not explain how Hopkins was able to bring about the deaths of so many pathetic old people. The answer would seem to have something to do with the lack of a public prosecutor. Hopkins was a private prosecutor who was paid to do his dirty work; but that was the system; and ‘common informers’ continued to be the both the linchpin and the bane of the English judicial system until relatively recent times.
I knew little about Matthew Hopkins before reading this book and after reading it the same still largely applies, simply because it seems that little "real" evidence remains about his life (and death). With obviously very little to go on Mr. Cabell fleshes out the first 95 or so pages with conjecture, romantic maybe's and laborious repetition. A "reasonably factual" precis of chapters 1 - 18 could be made thus : In East Anglia around 1645, a time of great political and religious unrest, a young man, a Puritan, called Matthew Hopkins and a band of followers began a crusade of persecution, torture and murder against old, infirm and feeble minded country folk as the self appointed "Witchfinder General". Motivated by notoriety and monetary gain he orchestrated the execution of around 200 "witches" until 1647 when his dubious methods were finally rubbished and his crusade fizzled out and he died (apparently). And that's it. The book does however include transcripts of the pamphlets published at the time by Matthew Hopkins and his partner in crime John Stearne and these along with the Appendixes make interesting reading.
Without just saying EVERTHING that Stephen Cooper has already said (with whom I agree pretty much 100% about this book) I was very disappointed with Craig Cabell's book. It's about 200 pages long but over half of it is the reprinting of Hopkins book, Stearne's book and then two appendices of the trial pamphlets. These are useful background if you don't have copies of these (I do) or have not already looked into Matthew Hopkins activities already (I have). The other 100 pages though are based on the tiniest of evidence (no fault of Cabell's as there is so little evidence of Hopkins' life other than a baptism, a burial and these documents) but his supposition and extraction of what may or may not have happened is fundamentally flawed as it is often based of misconceptions and untruths. I much prefer Malcolm Gaskill's effort - or even Deacon's!
And yes Mr. Cooper - I too was bemused at how Cabell could base part of his argument on Cromwell being the driving force behind England when (in 1645-6) he was just an MP and lieutenant-general of horse!
I agree with the above review to a degree. I believe the arguments are sound based upon research some of which I haven't seen before. To include Sterne's document, which nobody has done before gives a validity to the book. All books about Hopkins - four that I know of - are all slightly speculative, Richard Deacons effort heavily castigated, but again, that's where I sympathise with this book. The author goes as far as saying that he agrees with some of Deacon's research because his research went in a similar direction. What gets four stars in my book is: the truth is laid down clearly - as far as known - and then author 'beliefs' an aside, so the reader can really make up their own mind with the research to hand. So if you want somebody to have been to the sights, to have read the source documentation - and publish most of it - then offer their own views, then this book is for you. It is not an in-depth academic study of the Witch craze, but it doesn't try to be, its objective is to expose the man in shadows. I enjoyed the ride.