Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Edward Wightman was born at Burton-upon-Trent, Staffordshire. He married Frances Darbye of Hinckley on September 2, 1593. Edward and Frances settled in Burton-Upon-Trent, and they had seven children—2 boys and 5 girls. Wightman ran a successful mercer's business for a number of years in Burton. He denounced infant baptism and became a minister of the Baptist Church.
In 1611, Wightman presented a petition to King James, expounding his beliefs. For his beliefs, he was tried, found guilty of heresy and sentenced to death. Sentence was pronounced on December 14, 1611. The charges brought against him included eleven distinct heresies. Part of the charge was that he believed "that the baptizing of infants is an abominable custom; that the Lord's Supper and baptism are not to be celebrated as they now are in the Church of England; and that Christianity is not wholly professed and preached in the Church of England, but only in part." Other charges included several unheard of opinions. His contemporaries said that if Edward really held all the opinions of which he was accused, he would have been either an idiot or a madman, and, if so, he ought to have had the prayers of his persecutors rather than to have them put him to a cruel death.
The authorities first carried out an aborted attempt at execution. When the flames started to burn Wightman, he shouted out something that seemed to imply that he had changed and was ready to accept the faith of the Church of England. The sheriff released him from the stake. Wightman refused to make a formal retraction and continued to preach his "heresies"; he was a few weeks later again tied to the stake and his body burned on April 11, 1612 at Lichfield. This same year another Baptist, Thomas Helwys, wrote A Short Declaration of the Mistery of Iniquity, a plea for religious liberty in England.
Very little is known about the subsequent fate of his wife and children, though it is known that his two sons later emigrated to Rhode Island.
Such executions probably had the effect of turning the English people against execution for religious beliefs. Although a few were executed after Wightman, he was the last person to be burned at the stake in England.
- A History of the Baptists, by John T. Christian
- A History of the English Baptists, by Joseph Ivimey
- The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness, by H. Leon McBeth
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