Edward Wightman

One of the Pilgrims to the New World was the Wightman family. Edward Wightman (Burbage, December 20, 1566 – April 11, 1612) has the rather unenvied distinction of being the last of the religious martyrs in England to be burned at the stake. He was a Separatist (the same religion as the Mayflower passengers followed), which did not go over well with the Church of England, the only accepted religion of England back in the early 1600’s.

Edward Wightman born at Wykin Hall, Burbage, near Hinckley, was most likely as it happened in te 16° Century, baptised, as most infants were christened. He went to Burton Grammar School, served an apprenticeship as a woolen draper in the town of Shrewsbury and entered the clothiers business of his mother’s family. In 1593 he married Frances Darbye of Hinckley and settled in Burton.

Featley correctly notes the several sorts of “anabaptists” that existed in the 1640s

Edward Wightman was a person who wanted to know God and wanted to serve Him how God wanted it, and not how the State wanted the people to worship. He became very interested in the ideas of the anabaptists and became a minister of the local Baptist Church.

Martin Luther‘s view of the “soul sleep” interested him and by going through the Bible several times he got a more clear view. It seems that he must have been a very important religious and well-respected public figure, because in 1596 he was chosen as one of the leaders assigned to the investigation of demonic possession by 13 year old Thomas Darling. His involvement in the Darling case proved a turning point in his life, making him entirely amenable to the possibility of unmediated spiritual intervention. Darling claimed not just to be possessed by the devil, but engaged in a series of ‘spiritual wars’ in which both demonic and angelic voices were said to emanate from him:

“As I know at this present for a certainty, that I have the spirit of God within me: so do I with the like certainty believe, that in my dialogues with Satan, when I [quoted] sundry places of scripture, to withstand the temptations he assaulted me with: I had the spirit of God in me, and by that spirit resisted Satan at those times, by [quoting] the scriptures to confound him.” (S. Harsnett, A Discovery of the Fraudulent Practices of John Darrel, London, 1599, p 290.)

When you think that there are fallen angels who are devils, they would need a place to reside. When they hoover over the earth and try to catch people in their nets, others could see the damage those devils do to people. Would it be right when somebody else brings some one into doing the wrong things and when he got caught would be punished, but afterwards when he got his earthy penalty, once more he would have to die for his sins, and than again he would receive an third punishment, going into purgatory or in hell. But when people already spoke out the punishment on earth and afterwards fallen angels decided to get that person in their  living quarters to be put to torture once more, what or whom had Christ Jesus than to judge when he would come back?

When people were wrung with anguish at lifetime with fear of the possibility to go to purgatory or in the worst case to hell to be tortured for ever, going into that doomplace for ever Jesus would not be able to get them out and would not have to judge them any more, because they were already judged and and sentenced on earth and in hell.

Wightman came more to the understanding of the mortality of the soul, adopting the “soul sleep” view of Martin Luther. In one of his early public messages he preached that “the soul of man dies with the body and participates not either of the joys of Heaven or the pains of Hell, until the general Day of Judgment, but rested with the body until then.”

He also got to see that this judge after Armageddon was going to sit next to his father, who was the Most High God. Also afterwards Jesus was going to hand over the Kingdom of God to His Father. So for Wightman there were too many signs in the Bible that Jesus Christ is not perfect God and of the same substance, eternity and majesty with the Father in respect of the Godhead.

Having now the Bible in his own mother-tongue he could find many answers to his questions about the person Jesus, his Father and the Holy Spirit. He came to the conclusion that the ‘Person’ of the Holy Ghost is not God co-equal, co-eternal and co-essential with the Father, who is One God, and the Son who is son of man.

His ideas

  • THAT the (Nicene and Athanasian) creeds are the heresies of the Nicolaitans
  • THAT the soul doth sleep in the sleep of the first death as well as the body and is mortal, and that the soul of the Lord Jesus Christ did sleep in that sleep of death as well as his body
  • THAT the souls of the elect saints departed are not members of the triumphant church in heaven

where not liked by the rulers and where notated in the Royal Writ from King James I sent to the Bishop of Lichfield in 1612 ordering his arrest and execution.

Wightman was fully aware of the king’s firmly orthodox stance, yet he set about to combat both his State and Church. Of the handful of fragments of his defence treatise that have survived, he refers to the doctrine and “heresies of the Nicolaitan;… most of all hated and abhorred of God himself … the common received faith contained in those three inventions of man, commonly called the Three Creeds … the [Apostles’], Nicene and Athanasius Creed, which faith within these 1600 years past hath prevailed in the world.” (Bodleian Library, ms Ashmole, A True Relation of the Commissions and Warrants for the Condemnation and Burning of Bartholomew Legate and Thomas Withman, 1521 B, 7, 1a–1b, London, 1651, p. 8.)

For many Christians it was “heresy” and the teachings of this radical where an atrocity to the common goods and values.

There had come into existence different orthodox groups, but Wightman had by now isolated himself from all the others, by his so weird ideas, calling into question many tenets of orthodox belief. For most people  not baptised persons where from the devil and could not come before God but landed straight into hell when they died. So it was considered a horrendous act not to baptize the infants. For Wightman it was an abominable custom to keep doing the practice of the Sacraments as they were used in the Church of England. Those so called Sacraments according to Christ his Institution are totally against the teachings of Christ and not conform the practices of the first Christians. for him it was clear that “only the sacrament of baptism is to be administered in water to converts of sufficient age of understanding converted from infidelity to the faith”.

In Belgium many preachers of the baptism at a later age had been prosecuted. But they had also been killed for a teaching that looked even more horrible and is often today considered as totally out of bounds. There  was a great public rejection of Trinitarianism. It was presumably on these points that he so vehemently rejected the formulae of the Nicene Creed of 325 and the subsequent ‘Athanasius’ Creed of 381. (Both of the Creeds had been structured primarily as responses to Arian denials of the Trinity. And like the Arians of the 4th century, Wightman flatly denied them.)

Following the words of the Bible, he could not find any grounds to believe in such Trinity which was never mentioned in the Holy Scriptures. After reading the Bible over and over again he could only come to the conclusion that the doctrine of the Trinity was a total fabrication. Following the essence of the Bible he got to see the true value of Jesus his actions. Only by being a man it all makes sense, having generations waiting such a long time, before the Messiah came to deliver them. Now he could understand why it took such a long time before there was somebody who could live up to the difficult standards of purity. All being descendants of the first sinners, everybody, also Jesus, as a man, had to fight against the temptations, while God even cannot be tempted. Stating that Christ was only a man “and a mere Creature and not both God and man in one person… [Although this did not mean that Christ was a man like all others but] only a perfect man without sin.” was considered over the top. (Bodleian Library, ms Ashmole, A True Relation of the Commissions, p 5.)

He also argued the Old Testament priesthood being abolished and now all Christians are in the priesthood. He also argued the Ecclesia is the church and not the “steeplehouse”, and may meet anywhere. for him it was clear that preaching goes before baptism and that the Church of England is not a church of God. For him the church of Christ was and is the only church, and hence, not a denomination.

He got to see and preached that men have free-will, not only in natural and moral, but also in spiritual actions, that man has freedom to choose or reject God’s Grace whereby they may be saved (through baptism by immersion, after repentance and confession)

There was no choice to put him on the stake on ‘Ordinance for the Punishment of Blasphemies and Heresies’, “principally those of the triune God, the resurrection, the last judgment, and that the Bible is the Word of God…relapse is to be punished as felony with death without benefit of clergy.”

But like many believers at the continent, who preferred to believe that the Bible is the Word of God and can explain everything, and that we should listen to that word and not as such to the Word of the Church, made that the power of the Church was undermined. Therefore those who preached such things should have been done away with. It was unacceptable that people would listen more to what is written in the Bible than what the Church predicated.

That Christianity is not wholly professed and preached in the Church of England, was much over the borderline and therefore, with the for them heretical teachings this unorthodoxy had to be called to an end, before he could get more converts.

The time he was living in was an age where it was dangerous to disagree with church teachings. And yet, the reason why Wightman believed different things was because he read the Bible and came to the conclusion that church doctrines were not taught in the pages of Holy Scripture. His will to hold vast to the teachings of the Bible, like many at the continent, brought that he was confronted with the investigation about his beliefs and with the punishment to die at the stake.

On the appointed date, Edward Wightman was taken to the stake, tied up, and set on fire. Immediately he started screaming and shouting out unintelligible words. For some strange reason, the townsfolk and the sheriffs got it into their heads that he was recanting his religious beliefs, so they quickly doused out the flames, untied him and cooled him off.

Burning at Stake
Burning at Stake

Once released, he continued to preach his heresies even more strongly than before, so a few days later they tied him back to the stake, and this time burned him to ashes, in Lichfield Market Place on 11th April 1612, where a plaque still commemorates his status as “the last person in England so to die”. Narrowly edging out another accused anti-Trinitarian and heretic, Bartholomew Legate, burned in London three weeks earlier. History has marked him as a heretic, but perhaps he should be remembered simply because he read his Bible for himself.

To Edward Wightman, it mattered what you believed. It wasn’t enough to agree with the priest, every man had a duty to find the Bible Truth out for himself, and then to stand up for it. Such an attitude is quite rare today, but the Christadelphians are among those who firmly base their beliefs on the Bible and no other authority. In fact, we would agree with Wightman on all of the above statements which were taken into the accusation.


Burton Library is hosting a talk about Edward Wightman on Monday 17th September, where Dr Ian Atherton of Keele University will speak on the subject ‘Edward Wightman: The Burton Heretic’. Tickets cost £3.50 or £3.00 for library members, and are available at the library or on 01283 239556. This talk is not affiliated to the Christadelphians.

Burton – Square in Lichfield next to Saint Mary’s church were the fire was lit under Edward Wightman of Burton-on-Trent


Read also:

Edward Wightman: The Burton ‘Heretic’


Twice Baked Englishman – Edward Wightman 1566-1612

We’ll be heading to England this summer (2010), so I decided it might be fun to trace an ancestor back to the town where he or she originated and pay the town a visit. I broke out the genealogical charts my mother made and began the search. The Pryor line currently peters out in 1818, still in America, so I turned to other family charts.
The story begins with James I, king of England, a monarch who considered himself a learned scholar of theology. (He had been dubbed “The wisest fool in Christendom”) He was the eldest son of Mary Queen of Scots, the very same Mary who was beheaded by order of Elizabeth I for “Treason”, which really meant she was a threat to the throne. Mary had strong Catholic support in Scotland, England and abroad, while Elizabeth was backed by protestants.
Edward Wightman was a devout and passionate man. Obstinate was a word sometimes used to describe him. He was a Baptist minister and a successful businessman. The late 16th century was a highly superstitious time throughout most of the western world and it was generally accepted by scholars and clergy alike that things like witches and demonic possession really, truely existed.

Edward was returned to the jail, where he was presented with documentation to sign recanting his heretical views. Edward carefully read them over, but surprised everyone by refusing to sign them. They gave him a few days to recover and then presented the documents to him again. He again refused to sign, despite the fact they assured him they would complete the burning next time. This went on for three weeks, which would seem to indicated they really didn’t relish the idea of burning a man alive and wanted to provide every opportunity to prevent it.

Finally, on April 11th 1612, he was taken back to the public square:

“[Wightman] was carried again to the stake where feeling the heat of the fire he again would have recanted, but for all his crying the sheriff told him he should cost him no more and commanded faggots to be set to him whence roaring, he was burned to ashes.”

It is said that to his last breath he died blaspheming.

Edward Wightman of Burton-on-Trent the last person to be executed by burning at the stake for heresy in England in 1612.

1612 Last Heretic – Edward Wightman
The first day of the trial was held on November 19, 1611. On the second day of the trial on November 26, the crowd was so large that the trial had to be moved to the larger space of the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin. On December 5, Edward was brought before the court for his final appearance. Throughout the trial, Edward did not attempt to defend himself. Instead, he attempted to educate them on the righteousness and intellectual rigor of his arguments, ‘clarifying’ the court’s conception of his heresies.
Seeing that heresy still survived with a number of religious radicals still emerging, King James I lost faith in burning heretics. After the case of Edward Wightman, it was decided that those found guilty of heresy should instead silently and privately waste away in prison rather than excite others with a public execution.

It was not until 1677 that an act of Parliament expressly forbade the burning of heretics, securing once and for all, Wightman’s dubious position in history as ‘The last person in England to be burned at the stake for heresy’.

Wigthman Families International
The authorities began to take an interest in the outspoken Wightman, particularly when he denounced the Trinity as false, and claimed he was the Messiah. Yet he continued to preach unmolested — until, foolishly, he presented a petition to King James I last year, in which he expounded his belief.
Wightman’s story is a strange and tragic one, particularly for the family he has left behind. For many years he ran a successful mercer’s business in Burton-on-Trent, and lived happily with his wife and small son.
The Wightman Family has a long history of family associations. Extensive research has been done in the past, several books have been written, and more recently many web sites have been established.
The Family Name

Origin of the Family Motto

Wightman Family Coat of Arms


  • Jesus went to Hell and so will We (fredswolfe.wordpress.com)
    If you have read my book or Ecclesiastes you will know that there is no memory, or thinking or imagination or any brain activity at all, in the grave “wither thou goest!”
    No matter what version of the Bible you choose to use, when we die we all go to the same place where there is no awareness that we are even dead. Jesus Christ tasted death just like we will, with one exception: we will rot away.
    Here you can see how Hades, Sheol and Hell are used interchangeably. These words have nothing to do with the Lake of Fire, which was used figuratively of the dump burning outside of Jerusalem.
    The Question of Hell? (fredswolfe.wordpress.com)
  • Atrocity (zwingliusredivivus.wordpress.com)
    Speechless.  First, it presumes Satan reads pentebabbleist books and second that he has any concern with pentebabbleist parents.  Why would he?  They’re already on his side with their false doctrine, their ‘theology of glory’ (in Luther’s terminology), and their nonsensical sub-Christian spiritualism (not spirituality).
  • Religion and Politics Hmmmm (charliecountryboy.wordpress.com)
    Why is it that people say, “No politics and no religion”. The most interesting, controversial topics in the universe and they don’t want to talk about them. This comment is usually followed by, “They’re boring.”
    the only schools that will have their religious education removed are Protestant, you try to take it away from the Catholics, Muslims and Jews and see what happens.
    jessicaembarlow says: I agree with religion in schools, I’m not religious but I think those classes could be used for teaching kids about various religions around the world so they’re not ignorant as well as some sort of spiritual classes etc instead of ditching them altogether.
    exceedingspeed says: I believe people are their politics and have learned that is why disagreements can become so heated and personal. As to religion in schools, presenting the world’s religions as a lens for understanding diversity and tolerance is a good thing. Unfortunately, it is the people, not the practice, that tend to become dogmatic. But, I liked the Children’s Lives of the Saints which is actually pretty gruesome.
    buddyhell says: I can remember a time when you could walk into a pub find a sign that said “No politics. No religion”. The thing is, you won’t get this sort of attitude on the continent. If you walk into a bar in France or Germany, you will always find people talking about politics and religion (mainly politics). But then, politics in Britain was once the sole preserve of the aristocracy and landed gentry and for that reason, many people feel alienated from the political system. Then there’s the aftermath of Culloden, when it was forbidden to sing Jacobite songs (there were English Jacobites too). Politics is never boring. The feminists of the 1970s coined a very useful phrase, ” The personal is political”.
  • Use schools to ‘spread Christian story’(telegraph.co.uk)

    The Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd John Pritchard, chairman of the Church’s board of education, signalled a new move to promote religion through its schools.

    He told the Church’s General Synod meeting in York that plans are being drawn up to overhaul the entire curriculum to reflect the Christian foundation “in every part”. He also called for clergy to be trained to maximise their use of schools to extend the church’s “mission”.

  • Prayer in Fear and Horror of Death and Hell. (Luther) (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)
    Dear Lord Christ, even though I have not fulfilled the law, and even though sin still very much remains within me, and I am afraid of death and hell–I still know this from the Gospel, that You have given me all Your works as a free gift.

15 thoughts on “Edward Wightman

  1. How can I get in contact with the author of the article on Edward Wightman? I am writing a research paper on him and need to ask the author some questions. Any help would be so greatly appreciated.
    –Beth Ellis Bow


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