The Ipswich Witch

I wanted to write a glowing review of a book on Goodreads, but it's not even on their system, and Amazon won't let me write a review until I have purchased a book via them (which I do not wish to do). So I have decided to post it here instead, and hope that it circulates to a decent-sized audience who will rush forth to buy the book and keep the author's in the public consciousness!
'The Ipswich Witch' by David Jones (someone I also happen to know via his involvement with the interfaith movement) is a fascinating and smoothly written account not only of the trial of Mother Lackland, but of witchcraft trials in general within Suffolk in the 16th and 17th centuries. The historical research is excellent and goes into far greater depth than any other book I have looked at on the subject. The author draws reasoned conclusions based on the evidence, and challenges some of the conventional thoughts surrounding both Lackland herself and also Matthew Hopkins, the infamous Witchfinder General.
Whilst many people have speculated that the trials in general (and this Ipswich trial in particular) had ulterior political motives, Mr Jones makes a well-supported revision of the notion that Hopkins was a dour Puritan targeting suspected Royalist sympathisers. The contention of this book is that the Hopkins trials reflect not so much Roundhead-Cavalier hostilities, as infighting between different factions of Puritanism (especially between the very conservative Presbyterians and the emergent Independents, many of whom would go on to found groups such as the Quakers). Women held a particularly strong role within the Independents, and quite a few of the women harassed by accusations of witchcraft may well have been deemed as rather "uppity" or presumptuous in their views on Christianity.
Alongside the well constructed arguments, the book includes numerous plates depicting the historical figures mentioned and covers from the weird and wonderful pamphlets on witchcraft published by the factions at the time. The section on cunning men was fascinating and could easily form the basis of a future book.
The only point made by the author that I wasn't entirely convinced by concerned one of Hopkins' patrons, Sir Harbottle Grimston, and his changing political allegiances. My personal view is that both Grimston and Hopkins were opportunists trying (unsuccessfully in the latter's case) to jump in whichever direction the bandwagon seemed to be rolling, rather than men who held any genuinely devout opinions either political or (probably) religious. 
This book will appeal not only to anyone with an interest in Ipswich history, but to those keen on learning more about the witchtrials in general.

Comments

  1. Sounds like a fascinating read. I see here that behind the trials there is a suggestion infighting between Puritans. As far as I understand it, I believe one of the factors behind the execution of the Pendle witches was their Catholicism. An area I'm planning to look into at some point in the future.

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