Last month I wrote a piece about the misuse of religion. I would like to make it clear that I was not criticising those who genuinely follow their religious beliefs but those who profess to be believers and then behave in a way not consistent with their faith. I have respect for those who genuinely believe, even though I do find it difficult to understand, and I envy them their faith.
I mentioned the persecution of witches as one of the evils pursued in the name of Christianity, in particular I mentioned the Witchfinder General (Matthew Hopkins). Although I was aware of this man’s role in history I realized that I knew very little about him and I thought it might be interesting to learn more.
It seems that, whilst witches were regarded as unholy in the first millennium it was not always seen as appropriate to go so far as to execute them. Pope Gregory VII wrote to King Harold III of Denmark in 1080 forbidding the putting to death of witches for causing storms.
Times changed, in the fifteenth century Heinrich Kramer, a German Bishop, blamed witches for everything that went wrong, from miscarriages to failed crops and bad weather and he believed the only solution was to kill the witches, he was frustrated in his aims by the local church and he appealed to Pope Innocent VIII. The Pope issued a ‘Summaris Desiderates’ in 1484. This recognized that witches were people that had abandoned themselves to the devil. It gave approval to inquisitions to proceed in “correcting, imprisoning, punishing and chastising “. It did not necessarily recommend killing but it threatened those who impeded the work of the inquisitions with ex-communication. It was aimed specifically at Germany and It gave Kramer the green light to pursue his inquisitions but his local church authorities continued to obstruct him. He retired and wrote Malleus Maleficardum, published in 1487, which appeared to have the Pope’s blessing, this work became the text book for dealing with witches for the next two hundred years.
The inquisitions became used widely in Europe, particularly in Germany and Scotland, later in Spain they were employed not just against witches but to find those who were straying from the Catholic doctrine and regarded as heretics. The inquisitions were mainly directed against women, it was women who were believed to be witches, there were relatively few warlocks. The level of torture used, especially in Germany, in order to extract a confession were sadistic and, in some instances cruel beyond belief. Executions were commonplace.
In the early seventeenth century James I of England married a Danish princess, on their journey back to England they encountered a severe storm that almost sunk their ship. James blamed witches for causing the storm. He believed that the black arts were trying to kill him. He published his ‘Demonologie’. A treatise on the subject of witches and black art. This generated an increase in the need for people to identify witches and to ensure that they were dealt with. James died in 1623 to be succeeded by Charles and the confrontation between Charles and Parliament resulted in the civil war.
Matthew Hopkins’ father was a Puritan clergyman and vicar of the church in Great Wenham in Suffolk, where Matthew was born in 1620. When his father died Matthew inherited enough money to set himself up as a gentleman in Manningtree. His Puritan upbringing allied him with Cromwell and the Parliamentarians. In 1644 he claimed to have been appointed by parliament as The Witch Finder General, although there is no record of such an appointment. With his closest associate Steame he set about hunting witches, operating mostly in East Anglia. There is a claim that he charged fees from the local community for his services. Torture was against the law in England and this prevented Hopkins from indulging in the wicked and cruel practices used elsewhere, but he did use sleep deprivation and other means of torture. He also claimed that there were certain characteristics of witches. In particular they were supposed to have places in their bodies where they had no feeling, these were often in the form of birthmarks or brown patches, a third nipple, something that does occur occasionally apparently, was seen as clear evidence of being in the service of the devil. If they didn’t have any such marks the inquisitors would search for any insensitive patch by pricking with knives or needles, they employed women to undertake this task. Hopkins and Seame had other ridiculous tests, such as seeing if they floated in water. It is said that he was responsible for the execution of three hundred witches in just fourteen months, far more than had been executed in the previous one hundred years. The large number of executions suggests that most of the accused failed the tests or were forced to confess. The methods of execution included hanging, burning and drowning. There was mounting opposition to his practice, especially from the Christian church, he was accused of using unlawful torture, which was probably true, and eventually he was charged and that seemed to force him into retirement. His entire reign lasted less than three years and he must have been no more than twenty-five. He retired to Manningtree and Seame retired to Bury St Edmunds. Little is known of them after that and it is thought that Hopkins died soon after retiring, possibly following his trial. It is quite amazing that this infamous character, who only operated for such a short time, can have become so notorious as to be so well known even today.
(I was surprised and pleased to learn that physical torture was outlawed in England in those times, suggesting that we were a little more humane than the Europeans, even so it seems it did not prevent the cruel execution of most of his victims.)
Regular readers will think I am rather obsessed wit this topic as I seem to write about it quite often. Since I spent half my life working on the theory and design of turbines and compressors, it is, perhaps, not surprising. In this instance, however, I am just making an observation.
Over the last few decades, you may remember, that the sales pitch tended to imply that the more powerful the vacuum cleaner the better it would be. We had each new model boasting more power, we had Hoovers with a model name ‘Pure Power’, that boasted 1200Watt but these were soon upstaged and later vacuum cleaners were almost double that power. It is doubtful that they were significantly better at vacuuming, but they certainly produced a lot more hot air. The point of this little piece is that, with the arrival of lithium iron batteries and cordless vacuum cleaners, we are now told that these are superior to the old mains powered cleaners and yet they operate with relatively little power, probably less than 300W.