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  • Writer's pictureWendy Percival

A witchery post for Halloween

Last week I paid a visit to The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle (for writing research purposes - but more on that another time!). It's been many years since I last went but it's just as good as I remember. There is so much fascinating information crammed in the network of rooms which weave Tardis-like through the building.

The museum was originally set up on the Isle of Man but was moved to Cornwall by its then owner, Cecil Williamson, and opened in 1960. Since the current owner, Graham King, bought the museum its popularity has grown and it is now one of the most visited museums in Cornwall.

Shortly after my visit, I happened upon a novel by Beth Underdown, called The Witchfinder’s Sister, in which Alice, the fictitious sister of the infamous Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins, who sought out so-called witches and brought them to trial in the 17th century. It’s a great read (especially for Halloween!) and rather than repeat my thoughts, I’ll let you read my review below which I posted on Goodreads.


I was drawn to this story while researching the persecution of witches in 17th century England. The story is written from the POV of a sister of Matthew Hopkins, the infamous self-appointed Witchfinder General, but while Alice is the author's creation, the existence of a sister is perfectly feasible.

As to what role any real sister of Matthew Hopkins played in his "work", history has no record but Beth Underdown has set up the perfect character in Alice to reveal how Hopkins might have operated, taking her information from what records do exist for the time when women were targetted by Hopkins for being witches, convicted and ultimately executed.

Alice is vulnerable in the society of 1645, when the book is set, being a widow and without funds. She finds herself with no option but to return to the village where she grew up and to her brother's house, on whose charity she will now have to depend.

Alice's horror of what she realises Matthew is up to is well portrayed, as is her fear of him and that for herself in a society cracking under the strain of the effects of civil war, never mind the pressure created by Hopkins' activities.

As I reader, I felt the sense of terror that many must have felt at that time, with accusations of witchcraft being aimed at their neighbours, often fuelled by prejudice, personal dislike or self-preservation on behalf of the accuser. "Proof" was based on the flimsiest and bizarre of evidence, with little possibility of mounting a credible defence, and even though torture was officially unlawful, Hopkins had ways of eliciting a confession from his victims.

If you're familiar with the history of Matthew Hopkins and the persecution of witches, as I am, you'll recognise much of what takes place in the book (and if not, it's an excellent way to glean the history of that period). But what you'll get from this story is, through Alice, an emotional perspective, giving you a real sense of what living through such terrifying times might feel like.


For more information go to the books page on the menu above or click on the image

A fascinating story, well told. Loved the little twist at the very end, too! ;-)

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