Date of Award

Spring 2014

Degree Type

Honors Project

School

College of Liberal Arts

First Advisor

Professor Susie Steinbach

Abstract

Between the years of 1645 and 1647 in East Anglia, a series of witch trials known as the Hopkins Trials took place. In all, 250 witches were accused and 100 hanged. The ability to convict a person of the crime of witchcraft relied heavily on evidence which was hard to come by given the nature of the crime of witchcraft. Tangible proof of an intangible crime was needed; this came in the form of witch’s marks. To the learned population, marks were a symbol of the witch’s covenant with the devil. To the lay person, they were called ‘teats’ and were believed to be evidence that a witch kept familiars— imps of the devil which often took the form of a small animal. The finding of marks on an accused witch was one way to increase the chances of conviction. It also often led to the witch confessing to her or his supposed crimes. Thus, those who were qualified to find marks on a witch’s body were powerful actors in the Hopkins Trials. Searchers, women who were qualified to find these marks because of their experiential knowledge of the female body, were commissioned to help in this pre-trial evidence gathering. These women were an extremely influential part of the Hopkins Trials. However, they have been largely overlooked in historical discussion of witch trials to date.

In the past few decades, significant gains have been made in documenting women’s history and integrating it into historical discussion overall. The study of witch trials has not yet reached this point. Women are still discussed largely as victims. They are either victims of witchcraft, or victims because they were thought to be witches. While both these groups were certainly present, it is too simplistic a model. Women were much more than just these two things. Searchers, with their good social standing, respectability and power within the Hopkins Trials, are an example of the complexity of early modern English women’s lives. I have devoted my Departmental Honors Project to highlighting the importance of these women as a case study of the differences between women in contemporary England. Through the reading of primary sources which discuss at length the importance of marks and the testimony of women searchers, I prove that these women were not victims. They were set apart from those who were suspected of witchcraft and are an example of the attention women deserve in historical investigation.