Archive for Heresy

11 April 1612 – Edward Wightman

Posted in Burned at the stake, Death penalty with tags , , , , on April 11 by Old Sparky

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.


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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21 March 1556 – Thomas Cranmer

Posted in Burned at the stake, Death penalty with tags , , , , , , , on March 21 by Old Sparky

Thomas CranmerThomas Cranmer was a wily old dog. He was pretty in touch with the changing world under the Tudors…that is until his luck finally ran dry. Cranmer was executed on this day in 1556, for his support of Lady Jane Grey against Mary I.

Why was he supportive? Well Cranmer had committed his life to freeing England from the iron grip of Catholicism, after he’d become a Lutheran convert during a stint in Germany.

Essex boy

Having gained a fellowship in Cambridge, Cranmer married a pub landlord’s daughter, who sadly died in childbirth so he entered the priesthood just as the plague forced him to flee to Essex, where he was thrown into the path of Henry VIII.

At the time, Henry was hell-bent on extricating himself from a marriage to Catherine of Aragon, so he could legally jump the bones of the ill-fated Anne Boleyn. Cranmer said ok, and headed up an envoy to the then head of the English church – the Pope.

Rising star

However, divorce was a dirty word to the Catholics and his mission was denied but as Cranmer had impressed the Roman emperor, he was made a special envoy instead.

Little did the Catholics know he’d married again, otherwise he’d have been barred, but what they didn’t know couldn’t hurt them and the savvy clergyman bided his time and was finally made archbishop of Canterbury.

Then bam, he quickly annulled Henry’s first marriage and, after that, the reforms came thick and fast. England broke away from Rome, Henry was declared head of the English Church and Cranmer flourished. He even helped to translate the Bible into English, writing verses that are still in use today as well as co-writing the Book of Common Prayer.

Grey matter

All was rosy until Henry’s successor – the sickly Edward VI – passed away. Lady Jane Grey’s father-in-law tried to dismiss Mary I and install Grey on the throne in a move Cranmer heartily supported as the only other option was (staunch Catholic) Mary.

Mary I won and gleefully, one of her first victims was Cranmer – maybe in part due to the role he played in her mother’s divorce. At first he was tried for treason for his support of the Grey plot, but Mary deviously absolved him of guilt as she had bigger plans for Cranmer…and those included a heresy charge.

Of course the sentence was the same, so what was the big deal?

Well, maybe Mary wanted him to decry Protestantism and maybe the new queen was so committed to reinstating the Catholic Church that she would do all in her power to get key players to denounce the newfangled church. But first she had to get the backing of the nation and that wasn’t going to be easy because they seemed to like new church. After all, for once everyone could understand the prayers and could join in the services.

Right and wrongs

Cranmer, as a key advocate of the Church of England, was publicly tried and forced to denounce his support of Protestantism, yet despite this he was still sentenced to death.

The ex-archbishop was burned at the stake in Oxford and, as the legend goes, the 65-year-old is said to have theatrically thrust his right hand – the one that had signed his name to the anti-Protestant claims – into the flames. His death and others like him (such as Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer, who are all honoured by a stone monument at one end of Giles Street) earned the queen the insalubrious soubriquet, Bloody Mary.

Talking of popular titles, it’s said that the nursery rhyme ‘Three Blind Mice’ is based on the three priests, according to Albert Jack in his book ‘Pop Goes the Weasel: the Secret Meaning of Nursery Rhymes.

Also on this day

21 March 2008 (and every Good Friday) – Devout Catholics in the Philippines re-enact the crucifixion of Christ. Some are actually nailed to crosses. No-one dies though.
21 March 1804 – Louis-Antoine-Henri de Bourbon-Condé, duc d’Enghien
21 March 1817 – Ann Statham
21 March 1901 – Herbert Bennett

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1 March 1546 – George Wishart

Posted in Burned at the stake with tags , , , , on March 1 by Last Writes

George WishartA keen advocate behind the early rise of Protestantism in Scotland was executed on this day in 1546.

George Wishart became a martyr to the Protestant cause when he was put to death today in the mid-16th century. The priest had been shopped by Cardinal Beaton. The cardinal is said to have had him arrested to deflect criticism away from himself. Many held Beaton responsible for two English invasions.

Stake and ail

Nevertheless, 33-year-old Wishart was the one that was tried for heresy and found guilty. He was burned slowly and painfully at the stake for preaching Calvinist theories as a forerunner to the Reformation.


Apparently a kindly captain wanted to prevent him from suffering, so he gave Wishart gunpowder to secret about his person. When the flames caught hold the gunpowder exploded but just added to the pain. Bu eventually he died.

Wishart’s single most impressive legacy rose out his ashes. In response to his execution, friends of his broke into St Andrews Castle and murdered Cardinal Beaton, before stringing Beaton’s body up from the castle parapets. It is said that Wishart’s friends then assembled at St Andrews to form the first congregation of the Church of Scotland that very night.

The exact place where he was burned alive is engraved with the letters GW and he is also commemorated by the Martyr’s Monument at St Andrews.

Also on this day

1 March 1910 – George Perry

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29 February 1528 – Patrick Hamilton

Posted in Burned at the stake with tags , , , , on February 29 by Old Sparky

It took Scottish clergyman Patrick Hamilton six hours to slow roast today in 1528.

He’d been found guilty of heresy and sentenced to be burned at the stake.

Off the Beaton track

A churchman and one of the early Protestant reformers, he found fellow sympathisers for his thoughts on his travels before returning to Scotland to preach. But his forward thinking and ideologies caught the attention of the austere Archbishop of St Andrews, James Beaton.

Knowing he was treading on dodgy ground, Hamilton decided, rather than stick around and face being tried for heresy, that he’d hot foot it over to Germany where he laid low for a while. But the pull of his motherland was too strong and he returned to Scotland.

A real roasting

Not long afterwards, he was brought to trial by the Church and found guilty of heresy. But they couldn’t sentence him to death for his crimes. Reassured, he let himself be taken on the express understanding that he would be released back to his friends.

But they lied and had him up on some farce of an indictment, which meant he was handed over to the laws of the land. The death penalty was immediately awarded and he was burned at the stake. He apparently burned from midday day until 6pm and became a martyr to his beliefs.

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9 February 1555 – John Hooper

Posted in Burned at the stake with tags , , , , on February 9 by Last Writes

John HooperEvents conspired against John Hooper to ensure he was burned at the stake in 1555.

The ex-Bishop and clergyman had been banged up for heresy, but they couldn’t touch him because there were no laws to call upon. But under Mary I’s rule, things changed and the heresy laws were revived sanctioning the death penalty in December 1554. Just a couple of months later he was to be executed.

Good turnout

It was market day so there was a great turnout, according to records captured by writer John Foxe in his ‘Book of Martyrs’. Foxe estimated around 7,000 turned up for the execution.

At about eight o’clock, Hooper was led to the stake, near Gloucester Cathedral where he’d been Bishop. He leaned on a staff due to his sciatica brought on from grim prison life.

Black mail

Then came the second event that gave him a glimpse of life. Mid-prayer, ‘a boxe was brought and layd before hym’. It was on a fur stole and was said to contain ‘his pardō (or at the least wise it was fayned to be hys pardon)’. But it came with a caveat. That he should turn to Catholicism. “Away with it if you love my soul” said Hooper and in defiance. He even kissed two faggots, stuffed them under each arm and showed the executioners how to set the remaining ones around him.

A swell time

Apparently it was windy that day and when the boughs were set alight the flames were blown away from him, so some dried faggots were added, which caught light and burned his hair causing his skin to blister and swell.

But progress was slow mainly because the faggots were green and the wind was against them. As his bottom half burned slowly he cried, ‘For God’s love, let me have more fire’. More faggots were added, even gunpowder, but to no avail.

Dead and dripping

The details of his death according to John Foxe were as graphic as any horror film. Foxe wrote: ‘…when he was blacke in the mouth, and his tonge swollen, that he could not speake: yet his lippes went, ’til they wer shrounke to the gommes [gums]: and he did knocke his brest with his hands untill one of his armes fel of, and then knocked still with the other, what time the fat, water, and bloud dropped out at his fingers endes, until by renewing of the fire, his strength was gonne….So immediatly bowing forwardes, he yelded up his spirite.’

Bowel movement

Foxe went on to say that it took 45 minutes or more for him to die, quietly as a lamb: he didn’t move despite the bottom part of his body burning until his bowels fell out. John Foxe observed that the 60-year-old died ‘as quietly as a child in his bed’.

Also on this day

9 February 1961 – George Riley

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8 February 1555 – Laurence Saunders

Posted in Burned at the stake with tags , , , , on February 8 by Old Sparky

Laurence SaundersLaurence Saunders was hot roasted on this day for daring to speak out against Catholicism back in the mid-16th century.

Eton- and Cambridge-educated Laurence Saunders was burned at the stake after warning people away from ‘the errors of the Popish religion’. He was forewarning his fellow countrymen about the dangers of Mary I’s ascendency to the English throne.

Christ alive

The preacher spoke out against Mary’s ‘lukewarm indifference in the cause of Christ’ and that the English risked incurring the wrath of God. It was such treasonous outbursts as these that led to his arrest. At his trial when asked to confess his crimes Saunders shot back ‘I will not accuse myself. You cannot charge me with the breach of any of your laws since they were in force.’

Smarting arse

But for all his clever counter-arguments, Saunders was sentenced to be executed. Without delay he was transported to Coventry where he was burned at the stake from the bottom up for his heretical beliefs.

Slow burn

Actual details of his death described how he was surrounded by greenery – which has a high water content, so is slow to catch light and burn. As a result, his death would have been prolonged and painful.

Not wrong

Of course, Saunders wasn’t entirely wrong in his indictment of fanatical Mary either. She earned her nickname Bloody Mary from her over-zealous slaying of supposed heretics in her bid to turn England back into a Catholic country.

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