11 April 1612 – Edward Wightman

Edward WightmanEdward Wightman is famed for being the last man to be burned for heresy. He was executed for his brazen beliefs after he openly awarded the Crown with a petition outlining his religious stance.

Extremist

Funnily enough he wasn’t Catholic – instead he was puritanical and his Separatist beliefs were so extreme that he was seen as a non-conformist.

What was he thinking? This was a time when Britain was in the firm grip of Protestantism and people loved it. But it hadn’t been established as the basis for the Church of England for long – maybe 50 years or so – therefore, any deviation was seen as heresy.

Needless to say, James I saw his petition as a direct challenge to his Divine right and ordered his arrest, citing Wightman as a ‘diseased sheep out of the flock’ who had ‘stubbornly and perniciously, knowingly and maliciously, and with a hardened heart, published, defended and dispersed’ his beliefs.

At stake

A 16-day trial followed at Westminster and he was sentenced to death by being burned at the stake, scheduled for four months later. Apparently he would have been executed a few weeks before this date, but just as the flames started to take shape around him, he called out. It was taken as a retraction and the flames were doused and he was untied. But retraction was the last thing Wightman was prepared to do and he was cooked again on this day in 1612 at Lichfield.

Just as an aside, some sources state that Wightman’s grandson emigrated to Rhode Island in 1655 or thereabouts and that ‘most’ Wightmans and Whitmans in America can be traced back to Eddie.

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