DIARY OF NEHEMIAH WALLINGTON
In 2010 a 350 year old diary was made public for the first time revealing details of the terror that faced the victims of Matthew Hopkins’ witch-hunts during the English Civil War.
It is the account of Puritan writer, Nehemiah Wallington, who tells how a supposed coven of witches was found in the village of Manningtree in the 1640s.
It tells how one of those accused admitted to ‘carnal copulation with the Devil’ after he appeared in her bedroom in the shape of a handsome young man.
The confession, by a young Essex maid, Rebecca West, implicated her mother, Anne, in witchcraft – saving her own life but condemning her mother to the gallows.
Hopkins had achieved notoriety long before he was immortalised in the 1968 Vincent Price film The Witchfinder General . Between 1645 and 1647, historians believe his bloody crusade across East Anglia resulted in more than 300 women being put to death.
Matthew Hopkins - The Witchfinder General
The trials in Manningtree – his home village – are among the most notorious of his brutal campaign.
Suspicion had fallen on villager Elizabeth Clarke and Hopkins was appointed to question her in March 1645. She was examined for ‘devil’s marks’ like warts or moles.
Under torture she broke down and named several other women including Anne West and her daughter Rebecca. They were already being blamed for the deaths of two children.
It was at their trial in Chelmsford in July 1645 where Rebecca’s dramatic account was given.
Explaining how she knew her mother was in league with the Devil, Wallington writes: ‘When she looked upon the ground she saw herself encompassed in flames of fire and as soon as she was separated from her mother the tortures and the flames began to cease.
An extract from the diary telling of the fate of Rebecca West and her family
‘As soon as her confession was fully ended she found her contience so satisfied and disburdened of all tortures she thought herself the happiest creature in the world.’
With no legal representation, all but Rebecca were found guilty, and a total of 19 women – including Clarke – were hanged.
At the Chelmsford trial in July 1645, Wallington wrote about Rebecca.
On the ‘many witches in Essex, Suffolk and Northfolk’, he wrote:
“July the XX111 there were at Least XXXV111 wiches imprisoned in the Town of Ipswich…divers of them voluntarily and without any forcing or compulsion freely declare that they have made a covenant with the Devill, to forsake God and Christ ant to take him to be their Master and Like wise do acknowledge that divers Cattell; and som Christians have been killed by their meanes …By this wee may see the grand delusions and impostures of Satan by which we works upon men & women in these Latter times of the world What sins so hanious what crimes so grevious will not they run in to from whom God is gone’
Tatton Park Mansion and Collections Manager Caroline Schofield said: “Nehemiah Wallington, a turner by trade and a Christian by religion, was an intelligent working man battling with the adversities of life in the seventeenth century.
Of his brood of children only his daughter Sarah survived into adulthood.
At times he doubted his salvation to the degree that he suffered a mental breakdown and tried to take his own life.
He began to keep his diaries in an effort to record his own sins and God’s mercies.
Wallington is thought to have based his account on contemporary pamphlets. He died in 1658. The notebook is kept at Tatton Hall, Cheshire. It is has now been made public by a team from Manchester University’s John Rylands Library who have ‘digitized’ the diary.