Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Burning of Edward Wightman: Puritanism, Prelacy and the Politics of Heresy in Early Modern England

By Ian Atherton, Keele University &
David Como, Stanford University

Edward Wightman, the last person burned at the stake for heresy in England, in April 1612, has usually been dismissed, his anti-Trinitarian speculations seen as the product of a deranged mind. Close study of his surviving trial records, however, reveals that Wightman was a leading member of the godly clique in his home town of Burton-upon-Trent, and that he had very similar ideas to Bartholomew Legate, another anti-Trinitarian who was burned at the stake just a few weeks before him. Both men emerge as the victims of a complex series of events: the king's desire to be seen as orthodox in the light of the Vorstius affair; the in-fighting for control of the ecclesiastical establishment on the elevation of George Abbot to the archbishopric of Canterbury; and the campaign of the emerging anti-Calvinist group around Bishop Richard Neile against puritans. Wightman's career from puritan to heretic suggests that recent historiography stressing puritanism as a force for social and political order has underestimated the degree that the godly community contained within itself all the components necessary to generate profoundly radical people and ideas.

ON 5 December 1611, Edward Wightman, sometime draper, alehouse keeper and self-proclaimed prophet of Burton-upon-Trent, Staffordshire, was brought for the final time before the consistory court of Richard Neile, Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield. His appearance represented the last instalment of a dramatic show-trial in which Wightman had been accused of maintaining a number of grievous errors, including denial of the Trinity, asserting the mortality of the soul and proclaiming himself to be the Holy Ghost. Over seven days in November and December, and before an impressively large turnout to suit the gravity of the proceedings (reckoned by one to be over 500 persons) the court had probed and confirmed the heretic's beliefs. On that final day and as Wightman looked on, the court pronounced sentence against him, condemning him for stubbornly upholding ‘the wicked Heresies of the Ebionites, Cerinthians, Valentinians, Arrians, Macedonians, of Simon Magus, of Manes, Manichees, of Photinus, and Anabaptists, and of other Heretical, Execrable, and unheard Opinions, by the instinct of Satan’, and he was duly handed over to the secular authorities for punishment.1 On Friday 20 March 1611/12, Wightman was brought to the stake in Lichfield to be burned.2

When the fires were set alight, Wightman's courage failed him. He quickly cried out that he would recant, although by then he had been ‘well scorched’, whereupon the crowd ran forward and put out the flames, some of them suffering burns themselves in the process: ‘they had much a doe to save hym’ noted one newsletter writer. A form of recantation was hastily prepared, which he read and professed before he was unchained from the stake and carried back to gaol. Two or three weeks later Wightman was again brought before the consistory court to repeat his recantation, but once more emboldened, and no longer feeling the flames upon his back, he refused and ‘blasphemed more audaciously than before’. On hearing the news, the king ordered that the writ for Wightman's execution be renewed, and on 11 April 1612, he was once more led to the stake. He would not be given another chance. Although Neile recalled three decades later that Wightman had ‘died blaspheming’, one contemporary newswriter portrayed a rather more wrenching, and less tidy, ending: Wightman ‘was caried agayne to the stake where feeling the heat of the fier again would have recanted, but for all his crieinge the sheriff tould hyme he showld cosen him no more and comanded faggottes to be sett to him whear roringe he was burned to ashes’.3

In death, Edward Wightman inauspiciously secured a place for himself in the annals of history by becoming the last person burned at the stake for heresy in England (narrowly edging out another accused anti-Trinitarian, Bartholomew Legate, who, as we will see in due course, had been burned in London three weeks earlier). For this reason, Wightman's name has from time to time been invoked as a symbol of the waning barbarism of a past age, offering fodder for the occasional imaginative author or hagiographic denominational chronicler, particularly those who have tried to see him as torch-bearer for the English Baptists or Unitarians.4 From the beginning, however, most commentators have found it easiest to dismiss him as in some way mentally unstable, a ‘frantique and distracted’ person, ‘a mad enthusiast, fitter for Bedlam, than any other place’ or a ‘poor crazy soul’.5 With the exception of Christopher Hill, who characteristically saw Wightman as part of a plebeian underground of radical religious dissent, modern scholars have tended to regard him as either a spectacular curiosity or a deranged fantasist – in either case, a man quite disconnected from the historical currents of his time. Alexander Gordon thought that ‘religious fanaticism had turned his head’, Wilbur Jordan claimed that he was ‘plainly mad’ and Paul Welsby called him an ‘ignorant and half-witted soul’.6

Reconsideration of the life and death of Edward Wightman, especially through a more thorough analysis of the key sources than has hitherto been attempted (in particular a small cache of documents relating to the examination of Wightman in the summer and autumn of 1611,7 and a copy of the official judicial record of his trial, which survives among the papers of the antiquary and Lichfield native Elias Ashmole in the Bodleian Library in Oxford8) enable us to piece together a much deeper and richer portrait of our subject, allowing us to move beyond the unedifying picture of Wightman as a uniquely delusional oddity. Unbalanced he may have been, but Wightman's strange career has much to tell us about the cultural, political and social world in which he lived. To begin with, despite his very radical opinions, Wightman was no lone wolf. He appears to have been a central figure within the Burton puritan community for more than a decade before his odd opinions began to turn heads. This, in itself, provides us with a significant opportunity both to explore the dynamics of that community, and to situate Wightman within a broader historiographical context. Recent scholarship on Puritanism has tended to challenge older, Whiggish views, which had seen the godly as an embattled dissenting minority, in constant tension with the established church and state. The scholarship of Patrick Collinson, Peter Lake and others, has revealed the extent to which large numbers of people who can meaningfully be regarded as ‘puritans’ were in fact integrated into the broader structures of power during the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods. Both in rural communities and in larger towns, godly gentlemen and burghers often sat at the very pinnacle of local society, operating in tandem with an increasingly evangelical Protestant ministry to bring godly order and reformed orthodoxy to the countryside. This view has largely transformed our notion of Puritanism; where once the godly had been seen as a dissident force, pushing ever closer to conflict with the established authorities, they now reappeared as a force for social and political order, a crucial bulwark of the post-Elizabethan Protestant state.9

Yet for all its persuasive power, this revisionist view left certain questions unanswered. Most specifically, the new interpretation left little room for the undeniably radical forms of puritan religiosity that burst onto the scene during the 1640s and 1650s. How were these strange and often unprecedented forms of religious practice related to the orderly and seemingly conservative mode of piety that had held sway amongst the godly prior to 1640? Wightman's life, from its promising start as a member of the godly élite of Burton to its much less satisfying end at the stake in Lichfield, offers us a fascinating vantage point from which to survey this problem. How did this unlikely progression take place? How, in turn, did members of the godly community respond to the self-made prophet in their midst? As we shall see, the evidence suggests that Wightman was hardly a sui generis madman. Rather, his unhappy pilgrimage into error appears to have been very much the product of ideological and cultural tendencies that were present within the godly community itself, forces which could and did prove deeply corrosive to established order. The story told here thus contributes to an emerging new synthesis on the nature of Puritanism, one which emphasizes the heterogeneity of the pre-civil-war puritan community, and likewise pays close attention to those structural features of puritan piety and practice that tended to undermine, however unintentionally, order, orthodoxy and religious unity.10

Edward Wightman was baptized in orthodox fashion in the parish church of Burbage in south-west Leicestershire on 20 December 1566.11 His parents, John Wightman and Modwen (née Caldwall), had links also with Burton-upon-Trent, twenty-five miles to the north-west in Staffordshire, where they rented a house in the High Street.12 In 1611 Edward's mother and father were described by the churchwardens of Burton as an ‘honest parentage’:13 his mother was a member of an important family of clothiers in Burton and was probably the ‘Mudwyn Wightman’ who was trading as a clothier in 1582; she was also related to Richard Caldwall, a medical doctor in nearby Lichfield who established a charity for Burton clothmakers in the early 1580s.14 His father was probably master of Burton grammar school and from 1557 the first headmaster of Repton grammar school, a few miles down the river Trent in Derbyshire.15 It is likely that Edward attended Burton grammar school: reporting to their bishop in June 1611 the churchwardens of Burton said that he was ‘trayned up’ in Burton ‘in good schoolinge’,16 while his literacy and scriptural knowledge as an adult suggest that he received more than the rudiments of letters and his penmanship was such that, as we shall see, he acted as an amanuensis in the recording of some of the details of a case of alleged diabolical possession in Burton in the mid-1590s.17 He then entered the business of his maternal family – the cloth trade. He was apprenticed to John Barnes, a woollen draper in Shrewsbury, and in 1590 was admitted as a master of the Shrewsbury Drapers' Company.18 He soon returned to Burton and set up as a draper in what was then Burton's staple industry. It was a trade that he was still practising in 1600, when he was described as a clothier.19 Born into a prosperous middling family, by the early 1590s Wightman stood poised to step into a life as a solid merchant-burgher within his mother's ancestral town.

In religious affairs the Burton that Wightman had grown up in was characterised by the power and influence of Thomas, Lord Paget, a zealous recusant. Lord of the manor, and frequently resident in the town in the 1570s and early 1580s,20 Paget sought to promote Roman Catholicism in the parish: many of his household servants were recusants; he patronised William Byrd, the church-papist composer, who had a room in Paget's house next to the church, and he had a household choir to sing mass; he even sought to discharge his duty to provide the bread and wine for eucharists in the parish church by supplying ‘little singing cakes after the old popish fashion’.21 By contrast Shrewsbury had seen evangelical preaching since the 1560s and in the late 1580s and early 1590s – when Wightman was there – there was a serious attempt under John Tomkys, preacher of one of the city-centre parishes, to set up a Genevan-style discipline and establish a godly commonwealth in the Welsh marches.22 By the time that Wightman returned to Burton – by September 1593, when he married Frances Darbye there23 – the religious temper was closer to that of Shrewsbury, for the town had witnessed a religious revolution. Paget and his Burton household had become involved in the plotting around Mary, queen of Scots (held as a prisoner in neighbouring Tutbury Castle, and elsewhere); after the uncovering of the Throckmorton Plot, Paget had fled abroad in 1583.24 Into the vacuum left by Paget had stepped the Hastings family of Ashby-de-la-Zouch, which had wielded some influence in Burton before the Reformation. The impeccably Protestant Henry Hastings, earl of Huntingdon, headed the feoffees of the Burton town lands by 1595, and oversaw a rapid growth of evangelical Protestantism in the town.25 Peter Eccleshall, town preacher from the mid-1580s, was a puritan nonconformist prosecuted before quarter sessions in 1588 for not using the Book of Common Prayer, but defended by a number of the leading godly in Burton,26 and it was probably the prospect of furthering a godly reformation in the town that attracted the godly pamphleteer Philip Stubbes to settle there briefly in the early 1590s.27 By 1596 there was a ‘common exercise’ in Burton conducted by Eccleshall and other godly ministers from east Staffordshire and south Derbyshire (in the diocese of Coventry and Lichfield), and west Leicestershire (in Lincoln diocese), chief among whom was Arthur Hildersham of Ashby-de-la-Zouch; after 1603 the exercise also included William Bradshaw, preacher at Stapenhill, on the opposite bank of the Trent to Burton.28

Wightman rapidly rose in this new godly milieu and less than three years after his marriage he played a leading role in some of the most remarkable events in Burton in the early modern period.29 In February 1596 Thomas Darling, a thirteen-year-old schoolboy, alleged that he been possessed by a devil sent by a witch, Alice Goodridge of Stapenhill. In his fits of possession Darling had episodes of vomiting and paralysis, and visions of green angels and a green cat with ‘eyes like flames of fire’. What made the case particularly notable was that Darling, whose education, it was noted, had been both ‘religious and godly’, and who became known as ‘the boy of Burton’, clearly cast himself in the role of a puritan saint. In his possessions he claimed not only to be diabolically possessed but also to be simultaneously divinely inspired. Arthur Hildersham came to pray with him and although he failed to deliver the boy, Darling thereafter frequently invoked Hildersham's name during his fits, and expressed the hope that he might live ‘to be a preacher and thunder out the threatenings of Gods word, against sinne and all abhominations, wherewith these dayes doo abound’. Darling's devil was finally exorcised by another godly minister based in Ashby, John Darrell, who had a notable reputation as an exorcist. Darling himself went on to court his own form of puritan martyrdom: as a student at Merton College, Oxford, in 1602 he was sentenced in Star Chamber to have his ears cropped and to be whipped for libelling the vice-chancellor, various privy councillors and others, and for complaining of the growth of popery which he said was nursed by various bishops and courtiers.30

By no means everyone was convinced of the truth of Darling's possession, and the case quickly became entangled with a wider struggle then raging in England over similar cases of alleged possession and exorcism. Nationally the battle lines divided along the puritan/anti-puritan cleavage; within Burton the godly recognised the importance of the case as ammunition for their cause, and sought to record faithfully the details of his fits. The matter is well known to historians,31 but previous commentators have failed to notice Wightman's leading role in the investigation, recording and promotion of the case and his connection to the deliverance of the boy. Wightman was one of the five named as Alice Goodridge's interrogators when she was brought from Derby gaol to Burton town hall in May 1596; they succeeded in wringing a confession from the poor woman that the devil had appeared to her ‘in likenesse of a little partie-colored dog red and white’ called Minny whom she sent to bewitch Darling.32 The details of Darling's possession were recorded by a number of people, one of whom was Wightman. The main report, written by Jesse Bee, a Burton saddler related to Darling by marriage, was supplemented by others including Oliver Ramplain, the town schoolmaster, and Thomas Saunders, who ‘when he came home, he did cause one Edward Wightman vpon his report to set them down’.33 Edward's wife Frances was important in Darling's exorcism. Encouraged by Darrell, Darling's friends and family spent a day in prayer and fasting over the boy in preparation for his deliverance; Darling, in a trance, interrupted the prayers of the assembled company shouting ‘There is a Woman earnest at prayer, get her away’, to which one in the room replied ‘Wee cannot spare her: yet did none of them all that were there know that shee was praying; till (looking backe) they saw her earnestly at prayer in a corner being behynde them’. The story is related in A Most Wonderfull and True Storie. One copy at Lambeth Palace Library contains many marginal annotations, and against this passage the annotator has added ‘Wightm his Wife’, identifying Frances Wightman as the earnestly praying woman.34 Furthermore, in October 1598 as the truth of Darling's possession was still being debated and Darrell's claims as an exorcist were being investigated at Lambeth, forty-three people put their hands to a testimonial of Darling's character and the truth of his possession. Among them was one named in print as ‘E. wrightman’, surely our Edward.35

It is not only significant that Wightman was a major actor in the cases of Goodridge and Darling; also important was the fact that he was acting in concert with many of the leading members of the town. Those named as his coadjutors, and those who signed the testimonial of Darling's character, included the minister, Peter Eccleshall, most of the leading clothiers of the town, one of the constables, many of the wealthiest tenants and a number of people who acted as churchwarden or local juror.36 The Darling case had arisen in the centre of the parish's élite: Darling himself was well connected and his uncle, Robert Toon, was one of the wealthiest of the town's inhabitants who occupied ‘one of the fairest’ stone-built houses in Burton.37 All of this suggests that Wightman was anything but a lonely, unbalanced outsider. On the contrary, despite his relative youth, by the mid-1590s Wightman was an important and respected figure in the godly clique that had formed around the minister and had rapidly established itself at the centre of Burton's society and in control of much of the town.

Hence, where Christopher Hill suggested that Wightman might be an exemplar of a radical plebeian underground, in fact he began his adult life as a respectable middling householder and a pillar of Burton's godly community. Yet this may be less anomalous than at first it seems. A more detailed look at the Darling case serves to reveal aspects of puritan piety that are often overlooked, but which perhaps shed light on Wightman's spiritual environment. To begin with, the whole affair was carried out before a backdrop of intense, indeed overwrought, spiritual excitement. The fact that Darling claimed not just to be possessed by the devil, but to be speaking with divine inspiration, added a very unusual dimension to the case, and appears to have amplified the intensity and fascination that surrounded the whole imbroglio. During his periods of ‘possession’, Darling engaged in a series of ‘dialogues’ in which the devil cried out, only to be answered by something like a divine, or angelic spirit. Under interrogation by the ecclesiastical authorities later on, Darling revealed his own understanding of his situation: ‘as I know at this present for a certainty, that I have the spirit of God within mee: so do I with the like certaintie believe, that in my dialogues with Sathan, when I alleadged 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 Sathan at those times, by alleadging the scriptures to confound him’.38
This was not as outlandish as it might at first appear. The notion that the Holy Spirit somehow dwelled in believers was a puritan commonplace with ample scriptural precedent. Expositors differed on how this message was construed and what it entailed: some puritans, alarmed by the possible consequences of proclaiming the indwelling of the spirit in the faithful, preferred to downplay the immediacy of the direct divine presence, claiming that the spirit dwelled in people not directly, but through its gifts and effects. Others, however, tended to emphasise the direct and unmediated influence of the spirit on believers. This tendency was most evident amongst more extreme puritans, reaching its zenith amongst separatists, who vigorously denied the legitimacy of scripted prayer, arguing that a pre-set liturgy stifled the free play of the spirit in the believer's heart. It was this operating assumption that seems to have informed the entire Darling affair. In their apparent conviction that the spirit was directly and immediately operating through Darling, in the concerted and communal efforts of Hildersham, Darrell and Burton's godly to exorcise the boy through powerful mutual prayer, and finally in their decision to record and publish the ‘wonderful’ events that took place at Burton, all of the protagonists seem to have allowed for or accepted this vision of the autonomous power of the spirit, operating in an unmediated way in the sphere of everyday human events.

Writing on the parallel case of the unfortunate tub-prophet William Hacket, Alexandra Walsham has drawn attention to the ways in which godly religiosity could and did co-exist with forms of belief and practice usually labelled as ‘magical’, including beliefs about witchcraft, demonic possession and sorcery.39 All of this would appear to be amply borne out by the events at Burton. Darling's case allows us to extend Walsham's analysis: underlying this fusion between godly piety and less seemly forms of ‘popular’ belief was an abiding conviction in the operative power of spiritual forces, both Satanic and holy, in the quotidian affairs of humankind. Walsham rightly uses the confluence of godly religiosity and ‘magical’ thinking to call into question recent arguments about the inability of committed Protestantism to appeal to a supposedly unlettered and crypto-Catholic populace. Yet the Burton case suggests that Walsham's insight might be expanded in other directions. For those who gathered around Darling were not unlettered plebeians. Nor were they members of some radical puritan fringe. These frenetic attempts to record Darling's divine outpourings, to channel and amplify the Holy Spirit, and to harness the spiritual charisma of ministers were taking place at the very pinnacle of Burton local society and were lent credibility by Arthur Hildersham, one of England's most respected puritan ministers, who allegedly read over and approved Bee's manuscript before publication. What this suggests is that far from representing an unseemly aberration, confined to a plebeian fringe or a small band of self-segregating radicals at the edge of the puritan community, this sort of charged, spiritist enthusiasm was entirely familiar even to the most respectable members of the godly community.

This is a point that has for too long been ignored in existing accounts of the culture and thought-world of the godly, particularly those which have emphasized the extent to which godly values percolated through the Elizabethan and Jacobean establishments. To be sure, the events in Burton were carried out by a newly ascendant godly local élite, a point of great significance; but it is equally true that the mode of piety and the structures of thought that were in evidence in the Darling affair were anything but stable and orderly. The basic assumption that the Holy Spirit could and did enter the world in such a direct and unmediated manner, even hijacking the bodies of believers, opened up many possibilities for disorder and mischief. In theory, the spirit was of course taken to be self-regulating, a regulation that was ensured by the presence of learned and orthodox ministers; when Hildersham first arrived on the scene in Burton, for instance, he was careful to warn all those present that while ‘the Lord ofte in these daies, by the praiers of the faithful casts out divels’, the idea that a godly minister might of his own power miraculously expel demons ‘is an opinion dangerous’.40 On the face of it, this was a warning against the extravagant claims of Catholic exorcists. Just beneath the surface, however, Hildersham's words seem to suggest an anxiety that the intense spiritual frisson of such situations could easily spiral out of control, leading to errors and dangerous misconstructions. Despite the warnings, however, once such powerful spiritual forces were assumed to be present in the everyday worlds of belief and practice, they proved very difficult to discipline. And while ministers such as Hildersham and Darrell might act as a brake against the excesses that could be wrought by such enthusiasm, in point of fact their very authority as powerful ministers of the word was partly bound up in their presumed ability to muster the spiritual gifts of the godly in order to contain and tame the forces of darkness. Hence, Darrell's intervention signally escalated the temperature of an already overheated situation, a fact that was then used to trumpet Darrell's achievement, further enhancing his reputation as a minister of special spiritual prowess.

None of this was lost on Darrell's critics at the time. It was precisely these claims to special ministerial charisma that Bancroft and Harsnett sought to expose as specious, fraudulent and dangerous to the peace of the church. Their polemical onslaught achieved at least some of its desired effect. Darrell was convicted of fraud and went into hiding, while the practice of group exorcism seems by and large to have been abandoned by the godly.41 Yet at a deeper level, their triumph may have produced an unwanted side-effect. By intervening in the affair, the authorities had in fact undermined some of the fragile cultural forms through which the godly domesticated and reined in the enthusiastic, potentially destabilizing dimensions of their piety (a pattern that would be repeated again a decade later).

These observations have important implications for Wightman's later development. First of all, from the outset, Wightman's intimate involvement in the Darling affair suggests that he himself was entirely amenable to the possibility of unmediated spiritual intervention. As has been argued elsewhere, such direct reliance on the spirit carried with it not simply a tendency towards chaotic and enthusiastic practices such as those exhibited in the Darling case, but also a latent tendency towards ideological disintegration. Those open to the everyday presence of the spirit were decidedly more likely to allow the spirit to lead them in directions that were not sanctioned by the learned élite, the church, or by traditions of orthodoxy.42 Consistently prompted by godly preachers to ‘try the spirits’ by checking the words of ministers against the Gospel, and invested with a sense – perhaps even an expectation – that the Holy Spirit would act as their internal guide, such men and women might easily find themselves arguing conclusions that no orthodox ministers could countenance.

Under ideal circumstances, such deviations could be smoothed over, hedged or argued into insignificance through the careful efforts of educated, godly ministers and their respectable lay followers. But in the aftermath of the Darling case, as again in the case of Wightman, the pointed intervention of hostile elements in the ecclesiastical hierarchy had the effect of disrupting or rendering unavailable the means through which such centrifugal tendencies could be tamed by the learned and the orthodox. Moreover, such intervention, which was no doubt perceived by some among the godly community as a form of prelatical, antichristian persecution, may well have served to harden or radicalize some of its victims, driving them further away from accommodation with the authorities; such seems to have been the case with Darling, whose later challenge to the establishment cost him his ears; and such may well have been the case for Wightman, who in time embarked on an excursion into radical separatism that would eventually cost him much more.

In April 1604, at the Trinity sessions for Staffordshire, Wightman was licensed as an alehouse keeper. In a report to the bishop, the churchwardens of Burton explained the change from his earlier calling as a clothier by saying that Wightman was ‘much impoverished, and deeplie indebted’.43 It is possible, however, to examine the change in his fortunes and trade more closely. The churchwardens, writing in June 1611, reckoned that Wightman had been running an alehouse for ‘some Tenne or twelue yeres or more’, which would date his unlikely career change to about 1600. Wightman may well have been a victim of the severe economic dislocations of the 1590s. The bad harvests of that decade had undermined the economy more generally, and the cloth trade – which tended to suffer when inflated food prices ate into disposable income – appears to have been particularly hard hit.44 Nevertheless, Wightman's final abandonment of his calling may have been the result of more specific events and misfortunes. In November 1600 Wightman, then still described as a clothier, was forced to give his recognisance to appear at the next quarter sessions in Staffordshire for the settlement of a dispute between him and his apprentice Samuel Royle whom he had discharged only two years into his apprenticeship. Wightman, however, failed to appear at the Epiphany sessions at Stafford in January 1601, and presumably forfeit his £40 bond. Perhaps this was sufficient to cause Wightman's clothing business to fail and make him turn to the less respected trade of victualler. The dates fit approximately with the churchwardens' memory of events, and one further piece of evidence may add weight to this hypothesis. The justice who took Wightman's recognisance in 1600 was Sir Humphrey Ferrers. According to the churchwardens when Ferrers died Wightman went about claiming that he had been the victim of ‘some iniustice or wronges formerly done him’ by Ferrers; could Ferrers's intervention in this 1600 dispute between master and apprentice have been that grievance which still rankled with Wightman more than seven years later?45 Wightman was more successful as a victualler selling ale than as a draper selling cloth, although the churchwardens attributed this change in fortune to his skill at gambling, an expertise, they claimed, he practised ‘well neare continually’; and thus ‘the resort to his house beynge very great, his estate was much bettered’.46

The churchwardens' report to the bishop was doubtless framed to make sure that Wightman's culpability was evident but limited to Wightman himself; as few other people as possible were to be tainted by the heinous crime of heresy. Thus, throughout, Wightman is portrayed as standing on the margins of society, but never so far beyond the pale that his neighbours should have reported him to the authorities sooner. The description of Wightman as an inveterate gambler did precisely that, marking out his antisocial behaviour and placing him in a grey area where respectable behaviour shaded into criminality. Nevertheless, the churchwardens' account needs to be placed alongside the willingness of not only Wightman's neighbours to stand surety for him in a further alehouse recognisance in 1610, but also the Staffordshire justices to license him at the Michaelmas sessions that year. Two of Wightman's recognisances, of 1604 and 1610, suggest that he was enmeshed in a network of neighbourly relations firmly within local society. On both occasions his sureties were leading citizens and they included two men, Henry Clarke and William Woodcock, who were members of the godly clique in the 1590s.47 Moreover, as we will see, despite his increasingly eccentric opinions, Wightman continued to engage in personal debate and discussion with a number of godly ministers, both locally and in London, all of whom appear to have been reluctant to abandon him even as he drifted further and further into error. Despite his change of calling, even as late as 1610, Wightman had not entirely lost his status as one of the chosen saints, and the image of him standing on the fringes of respectable society will not wash.

This is all the more remarkable given the fact that by 1610 Wightman seems to have been well along his journey into heresy. It is here, in tracing the story of Wightman's descent into error, that our story becomes most murky. The most detailed account we have is the report of the Burton churchwardens; although their narrative receives some confirmation in a life of Arthur Hildersham published by Samuel Clarke, it is also open to question for reasons already mentioned.48 In order to reconstruct Wightman's trajectory, we must look carefully not just at the accounts of these observers, but also at his opinions themselves, in an attempt to place them within a broader context of contemporary theological opinion and debate. This process necessarily demands inference and guesswork; the results, inevitably, are suggestive but uncertain.

In the churchwardens' version of events the first sign of unorthodox opinions came in the immediate aftermath of the death of Sir Humphrey Ferrers, which took place at the beginning of January 1607/8. In ‘an ydle company in his owne house’ Wightman fell to discussing Ferrers's death and the grudge he still held against the magistrate and uttered the ‘damnable heresie’ that ‘the soule of man dyeth with the bodie and participateth not either of the ioyes of Heaven or the paynes of Hell, vntill the generall daie of Judgment, but resteth with the bodie vntill then (or wordes to the like effect)’. No explanation was given for why or how he had arrived at this deeply heterodox opinion, but the churchwardens suggested that this single error opened up the floodgate to further blasphemies. Once Wightman had ventured into heresy, they claimed, there was no stopping him, and he grew ever bolder, debating the point ‘in all companies ... as well with Devines as other of the laitie’. Henry Aberley, curate of Burton, sought to put a stop to Wightman's heterodox ideas by preaching against such heresies, but the principal effect was to call down upon his head a torrent of abuse from Wightman, who thereafter for ‘a longe tyme’ absented himself from the parish church in Burton and ‘resorted to other Churches where [he] pleased himself’.49

Remarkably, as Wightman was busily descending into error, members of the Midlands puritan community, not least Hildersham himself, expended considerable effort in trying to reclaim their erstwhile fellow puritan. That they were willing to do so is a tribute to the bonds of unity that held the godly community together. Viewed as erring brethren, figures such as Wightman were rarely in the first instance thrown to the wolves of ecclesiastical justice. Recent research on the puritan community in London and elsewhere has shown that the godly tended to try to resolve in-house theological disputes through negotiated, informal means of compromise. Private debate, the exchange of manuscripts and letters, and sometimes semi-formal disputations, could all be used to defuse potentially serious conflicts, and to keep contentious arguments from spreading outwards to produce serious rifts or embarrassing conflicts with the ecclesiastical authorities. Only when such informal means had broken down, and one of the enraged parties escalated the dispute, did such conflicts erupt into the more public world of print or legal court.50 Wightman's case follows this pattern closely. Initially, Hildersham and Simon Presse, minister of Egginton (Derbyshire), another leader of the local exercise, personally met with Wightman and tried to convince him through scriptural argument of the error of his ways. When this tactic failed Hildersham took the dispute into the pulpit, confuting Wightman's heresies at the next exercise at Burton, 15 March 1608/9, more than a year after he first began to ventilate his heterodox views.51 Wightman and Hildersham then continued corresponding but on finding Wightman ‘to abounde in his owne sence and to be insaciable in his wilful resolucions’, Hildersham refused to be drawn into a theological disputation, with the result that Wightman ‘gloried much’, boasting that his opinions were ‘invincible and not to be confuted’. Robbed of the opportunity to engage in a written controversy with Hildersham, Wightman nonetheless ‘began to write books of great volume’.52 The backroom processes of discussion apparently continued, for two years later the famous London puritan Anthony Wotton conferred with Wightman and agreed to read one of his manuscripts. Moreover, despite the fact that he was very frankly maintaining heterodox ideas, and that he had apparently ceased to attend his local parish church, none of the ministers involved in the affair appear to have made any attempt to have Wightman cited before the church courts. Two years would pass before his local minister saw fit to have him presented at Neile's episcopal visitation.
During those two years, Wightman seems to have undergone a process of radicalization. The churchwardens suggested that until 1609 Wightman's only publicly proclaimed heterodox idea was his doctrine of the mortality of the soul or thnetopsychism.53 Wightman himself corroborated this at his trial, maintaining that he had himself believed the doctrine of the Trinity ‘untill within theis Two yeares last past’.54 Moreover, at least at the outset, his activities appear to have been relatively narrow in scope. The churchwardens paint a picture of Wightman as an eccentric but essentially harmless busybody in Burton, the Jacobean equivalent of the bar-room bore, ‘never or seldome’ venturing out into the ‘towne and Countrie’ without his own books ‘in his bosome’, and never letting slip an opportunity to read from them to others, which they describe as his ‘delite’. Nonetheless, his activities were essentially restricted to his own circle of ‘favourers’. The churchwardens named only eleven men with whom he often conversed: two they described as his kinsmen while a third was probably a relation of his wife. None of the eleven, the churchwardens pointedly added, ever approved of Wightman's ideas.55 If Wightman did find followers it is likely that they were few in number, though the loss of the Lichfield consistory office case books between 1603 and 1620 means that it is not known whether there was any attempt to prosecute his favourers.56

Although none of the great books that Wightman is alleged to have written has been found, judging from the records of his later trial, and especially passages from his writings excerpted there, it appears that between 1609 and 1611 his ideas developed and grew more heretical and the scope of his activity appears to have widened. By early 1611 Wightman was dispensing a whole series of deeply unorthodox ideas, and doing so in an increasingly confrontational and public manner. The churchwardens later reported that in Lent 1610/11 (which began on 6 February), he had interrupted the Burton exercise and ‘twise or more did presse and with audacious and lowde wordes importune the minister in that assemblie to have had hearinge to have spoken in that publique place upon the porcion of scripture then in hand’. Only with difficulty was he silenced. It was probably this increasingly obstreperous behaviour that finally brought him into the church courts. Within days of his performance at the Burton exercise, Wightman was presented by the minister and churchwardens of Burton at Bishop Neile's primary visitation, which began in mid-February 1610/11.57 Very quickly, the machinery of the ecclesiastical courts swung into action. At the beginning of March 1610/11 the bishop sent his warrant to the constables of Burton ordering them to bring Wightman before him at the house of his chancellor, Dr Zachary Babington, in Curborough, just north of Lichfield, the next day.58 Neile returned to Westminster a few days later taking Wightman with him.

All of this suggests a process of escalation in which Wightman grew progressively bolder, courting a broader audience and perhaps inviting a final confrontation with the ecclesiastical authorities. Nevertheless, even as Wightman increased the pitch of his own rhetoric, it appears that members of the godly community continued to make informal efforts to reclaim him from the brink. Although the chronology is murky, it was probably during Wightman's first days in London that he made contact with Anthony Wotton, the famed nonconformist lecturer of All Hallows, Barking. Wotton apparently agreed to read Wightman's writings, which in turn seems to have prompted Wightman to write a kind of compendium of his theology. Only a handful of fragments of the treatise have survived, but the first lines provide an important clue as to Wightman's views: ‘A letter written to a learned man to discover and conf[ut]e the Doctrine of the Nicolaitanes very mightely Defended with all the learned of all sorts, and most of all hated and abhorred of God himself, because the wholl world is drowned therein: And seeing he hath promised to anwere he knewe not unto what, and least he should alsoe deale with me as the men of that faccion have done allready’. As Wightman reported in his first formal examination before Neile on 18 April 1611, ‘Mr Wotton tould him he would read it, and give him an Answere hereafter, since which tyme he hath not seene Mr. Wotton’.

It was at this point that Wightman made what was perhaps his most audacious and ill-advised move. Having first written his manuscript for Wotton, Wightman delivered a second copy to King James.59 It is not clear whether he did so personally, or whether he used an intermediary; in either case, it was this manoeuvre that seems to have brought down the full force of ecclesiastical justice upon him. James did not take kindly to such uninvited gifts. Earlier in his reign, attempts to present him personally with manuscript petitions calling for further reformation had provoked his fierce indignation.60 This must have been all the more true when the manuscript in question was a manifestly heretical challenge to centuries of orthodox Christian doctrine. James was widely known as a king with a theological bent, and since 1607 he had been engaged in a battle of books with Roman Catholic apologists over the Oath of Allegiance, both personally and by encouraging others to write in his defence. One of the central planks of the king's case was the preservation of his catholic orthodoxy through his adherence to the three great creeds of the church, the Apostles', the Nicene and the Athanasian.61 It is perhaps not surprising, then, that Wightman now found himself committed as a close prisoner in the Gatehouse, for it was precisely these creeds that he called into question in his manuscript. As Wightman admitted at his trial, ‘the heresies of the Nicolaitanes’, denounced in the title of his manuscript, referred to ‘the comon receaved faith contayned in those 3. Invencions of man, comonly called the Three Creeds, to witt, the 12. Articles of beleif, the Nicene Creed and Athanasius Creed, which faith within theis 1600 yeares past, hath prevayled in the world’.62

All Europe, in short, had been overcome by a kind of spectacular delusion, a perversion of Christianity which had crept in immediately after the deaths of the Apostles. This plague of error infected even the most foundational documents of the Christian tradition, the creeds, which Wightman dismissed as mere ‘inventions’. The record of his trial allows us to clarify what, precisely, Wightman believed had gone wrong. Where alleged heretics sometimes equivocated or evaded the charges against them, Wightman forthrightly engaged his accusers, even going so far as to correct and fine-tune the articles of error drawn up against him by Neile's court so as to leave no mistake as to his own opinions. This unusually candid record reveals that Wightman's initial flirtation with mortalism seems to have led to a sort of avalanche, in which he sloughed off one fundamental doctrine after another. At the root of his departure from orthodoxy was a form of hyper-puritan critique, in which Wightman rejected not simply the doctrine of the Church of England, but the entire framework of Christian orthodoxy as a mass of unscriptural accretions. Although there were aspects of Christian truth available in English pulpits, Wightman believed that for the most part, the Church was miserably polluted. He argued ‘that the baptising of Infants is an abhomynable Custome’, and he denied that ‘the practise of the Sacraments as they are now used in the Church of England are according to Christe his Institution’, affirming that rightly understood, ‘only the sacrament of baptisme [is] to be administred in water to converts of sufficient age of understanding converted from infidelity to the faieth’.63

Wightman, therefore, might be thought a species of anabaptist; indeed, Norman Burns has suggested that Wightman's views map onto those of the English anabaptist community in the Netherlands sufficiently well to call him an anabaptist and to raise the possibility that he may have been converted by one of the missionaries sent by English anabaptists from Haarlem. Certainly, in John Payne's account of the English separatists in Holland, there is a similarity of views: unorthodoxy about the Trinity, refutation of infant baptism and the assertion that ‘soules do slepe in grave wth the bodies vntill the resurrectio[n]’. The congruence of views, however, is limited: there is nothing in Payne's account of these Haarlem anabaptists about the Creeds or Nicolaitans, and nothing in Wightman's known views denying either the right of magistrates to use the power of the sword or the Lord's day.64

There was more to Wightman's theology than anabaptism and mortalism; nor would these two errors, serious as they were, have been enough to get him burned at the stake. Wightman's most grievous departures from orthodoxy concerned the Trinity and the nature of God. It was presumably on these points that he so vehemently rejected the formulae of Nicaea and Athanasius. Both of these Creeds had been structured primarily as responses to Arian denials of the Trinity. And like the Arians of the fourth century, Wightman flatly denied ‘the Trinity of persons in the unity of the Diety’, explicitly rejecting that ‘Jesus Christe is the true naturall Son of God, perfect God and of the same substance, eternitie and Majestie with the Father in respect of his Godhead’; similarly, he repudiated the notion ‘that the person of the holy Ghost to be God, coequall, coeternall and coessentiall with the Father and the Son’. Neither the Holy Spirit nor Christ was thus divine. Rather, Christ was ‘only man and a mere Creature and not both God and man in one person’. Yet, as Wightman carefully explained to his judges, this did not mean that Christ was a man like all others; in amending and correcting the article tendered to him by the court on Christ's humanity, Wightman very deliberately inserted the clause that he believed Christ was ‘onely a perfect man without sin’ (an odd claim to which we will return shortly).65

Perhaps most destructive to his cause was the fact that Wightman assumed the mantle of a divinely appointed prophet, appropriating to himself a series of prophetic scriptural passages which were usually taken to refer either to Christ or to John the Baptist. Thus, the verse ‘I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee’, drawn from Deuteronomy (18:18) and the Acts of the Apostles (3:22 and 7:37), was taken by Wightman to refer to himself, as was the phrase from John's Gospel (16: 7–8 and 13), which looked forward to the arrival of the ‘comforter’ who ‘will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment ... [and] will guide you into all truth’. Both prophecies sealed Wightman in his belief that he was ‘that person of the holy Ghost spoken of in Scriptures’. In addition to claiming that he somehow embodied the Holy Spirit, Wightman also claimed to be the second coming of Elias (or Elijah), whose return, predicted in the book of Malachi (4: 5–6), would famously ‘turn the heart of the father to the children’. (The second Elias was a crucial eschatological figure, although the orthodox generally argued that the prophecy in question had already been fulfilled in the person of John the Baptist).66

There is no doubt that Wightman actually did hold himself in such high regard: two documents surviving in the Lincolnshire Archive Office – one, a manuscript in Wightman's own hand, the second, a record of one of his examinations – confirm and clarify the allegations made in court. Just as the articles charged, Wightman affirmed my selfe to be that prophet promised in the 18 of Deuteronomie And that Elyas in the 4th of Malachie promised to be sent before the great and fearfull day of the Lord. And that comfortor in the 16th of John which should convince the world of sinne of righteousnes and of Judgment.67

As the other surviving fragments of his writings demonstrate, Wightman believed that the two witnesses of the book of Revelation were Christ and the Holy Ghost (that is, Wightman himself) who together would effect the redeeming of the world ‘from the tyranny of the Devill’, which the devil exercised ‘by heresie and misbelief’. This, then, was at the heart of what Wightman meant when he proclaimed himself to be a prophet: he, Edward Wightman, had been sent by God to convert the world from the diabolical errors of the ‘Nicolaitanes’. As he put it, ‘God the Father, and Christ, and himself, this examynate [were] united togeather, for the same worke, of the salvacion of the world, by Christe through his death, and by him this Examynate through the restoring of the true fayth’.68

It was to accomplish this mission that Wightman had proclaimed his message, and had approached King James. If he achieved his ends, if he should ‘overcome and everie one shall be convinced in themselves’, then Wightman expected a two-fold reward. First, he hoped for the ‘protection’ of the king and all those ‘as are neare vnto God both in office and dignitie’. Second, he looked for an eternal reward, ‘a royall Diademe’ set upon his head – not the crown of any earthly kingdom, but the recognition by others that both ‘inward truth’ and ‘the glorie of God’ dwelt within him ‘so plentifully’. As proof of his status as a true prophet, on 9 September 1611 Wightman offered the world a prophecy, written down as he was a prisoner and could not go about to preach it. He predicted that the ‘greate and terrible day threatened in dyvers places in the scriptures’ would come to pass before All Hallows day, 1 November. God had apparently chosen the day because Neile had, so Wightman alleged, promised to burn Wightman at the stake in Burton before 1 November, unless he recanted.69 So confident was Wightman that he promised to recant all his opinions if his prophecy did not come true.70 History does not, alas, record his opinion when he awoke in his cell that morning.

It is not difficult to see why later commentators have tended to regard Wightman as a lunatic; but before dismissing his ideas as the delusional froth of a tattered mind, it is crucial to see that when placed within his proper contexts, there was coherence, even a logic, to Wightman's ideas. We have already observed one of those contexts: the environment of intense spiritist piety that was in evidence among Burton puritans, even of the most exalted status. Given that virtually everyone around Wightman in the Burton godly élite seems to have accepted the power of the divine spirit to enter and circulate through believers at will, it is not at all difficult to see how Wightman might have arrived at the conclusion he did; Wightman had simply gone from a situation in which it was legitimate to say ‘the Holy Ghost is in me’, to one in which he was saying ‘the Holy Ghost is me’. But even this is somewhat less bizarre than it would at first appear. For although Wightman proclaimed himself to be the Holy Ghost, this claim was considerably softened in its extremity by the fact that he also claimed that the Holy Ghost was not divine.71 Moreover, even though he obviously believed that he somehow specially manifested the spirit, Wightman continued to suggest that others could receive the spirit as well. One of the few extant fragments of Wightman's manuscript summa imagined ‘God himselfe setled as it were in a Chariott and the two faithfull wittnesses both the Son and the holy Ghost as it were tyed togeather in one to drawe him amongst you all, and to offer his free Spiritt unto all that yow might be saved’.72 The spirit was thus available to all, even if Wightman was the primary and necessary conduit.

While of course none of this would have been sanctioned by anyone within the puritan community, it seems easy enough to see how Wightman made the journey from the rabid spiritism of the godly community in which he lived to the even more rabid positions for which he went to the stake. Yet this is not the only context in which Wightman needs to be placed. As noted above, all of this was from a certain perspective a kind of hypertrophied puritanism, a species of separatism run amok. In pronouncing himself to be the Holy Ghost, and in claiming that he represented the fulfillment of various eschatological prophecies from the Old Testament, Wightman was in fact inserting himself into a series of debates and discussions that had taken place at the very fringe of the English puritan community during the previous twenty years. These conversations had begun almost as soon as Elizabethan theoreticians such as John Greenwood and Henry Barrow began to elaborate the case for separation from the English church. In the process of divorcing themselves from a church they perceived to be the illegitimate progeny of Rome, separatists began to question not just the authority of the pope or the Church of England, but almost all notional sources of ecclesiastical legitimacy. In a world in which Christ's truth seemed to have been everywhere swallowed by antichristian darkness, and in which even putatively godly Protestants engaged in spineless compromises with prelatical tyrants, all human sources of authority began to look deeply suspect. Even heroes of the reformed tradition quickly became tarnished (in this spirit, Barrow, for instance, described John Calvin as ‘a painful and profitable instrument, in the thinges he saw, and times he served in, yet not without his manie errors and ignorances, especially touching the planting, government, and ordering of the Church of Christ’73). In such an atmosphere, more radical spirits easily moved into a position in which all theological and ecclesiastical authorities apart from scripture – including that of the Fathers and the early Church – were pronounced unsound. This position had a two-fold consequence: first, it tended to delegitimise long-standing traditions of orthodoxy, making it more likely that separatist adventurers would find in scripture doctrines that challenged prevailing mainstream Christian theology. Secondly, it seemed to suggest that all the churches of Christendom were partly or wholly vitiated by error, in effect, leaving a gaping void where once had stood parishes, cloisters and cathedrals. As early as 1590, Henry Barrow had hinted that such ideas might already be circulating. He warned against the opinion that ‘the building of CHRISTS Church and the worke of the ministerie [must] cease, untill some second John Baptist or new Apostles be sent us downe from heaven except peradventure they after their long travel bring us forth some new Evangelist: and sure if they make a new ministery they must also make a new Gospell and confirme yt with new miracles’.74

Within a decade, others at the separatist fringe had embraced precisely this idea. The culprits here were the Legate brothers – Walter, Thomas and Bartholomew, the last of whom would be burned at the stake some three weeks before Wightman. It is to the Legates that we must now turn, for their story helps to situate Wightman in a much firmer ideological context. The Legates haled from an old and respected family in Hornchurch, Essex. Like Wightman, Bartholomew Legate traded in cloth; more prosperous than Edward, he was described in 1589 as a ‘gentleman’. In that year, he was taxed with an £80 recusancy fine for failure to attend church. Hornchurch was during this period the site of considerable puritan radicalism, centring on the house of the schoolmaster John Leech, who at one point was accused of being an ‘anabaptist’. This may have been polemical exaggeration, designed to undermine a particularly strident puritan, but in 1593, a Thomas Legate, possibly Bartholomew's brother, was indeed presented (together with Leech) before the church courts for refusing to allow the baptism of Legate's child.75

All three brothers soon became notorious for their ultra-separatist opinions. In 1600, Henoch Clapham, himself a veteran of the Anglo-Dutch separatist milieu, complained of ‘our English Arrians’, who ‘denie all Baptisme and Ordination, till new Apostles be sent to execute those parts to the Gentiles, and Elias the Thisbite do come for that end’.76 Eight years later Clapham elaborated on this passing comment, offering a detailed, if entirely biased, caricature of those he now denounced as ‘Legatine-Arians’. Clapham attributed to ‘the Legatines’ the belief that ‘The Church being to be latent and invisible for many yeares, so that her place was no more to be found; it must accordingly follow, that there could be no more a visible Church, till some notable men were stirred up of God, to raise it again out of the dust’.77 This was separatist rigorism taken to its logical extent: not only the Church of England, but also all earthly churches, were hopelessly corrupted by the spirit of Antichrist. Nothing less than new Apostles were necessary to set things aright and re-establish the true worship of Christ. Another ex-separatist later confirmed Clapham's story, explaining that the Legates were ‘ancient Separatists from the Church of England, living sometimes in the Cittie of London’ who ‘held it stifly, that their must be new Apostles, before their could be a true constituted Church, and they drew it from this their ground’. He further observed that ‘These Legats had a conceit, that their name did (as it were) foreshew and entitle them, to be the new Apostles, that must doe this new worke’.78

This rejection of the outward structure of the church appears to have been accompanied by a rejection of its fundamental doctrines, most particularly the Trinitarian formulations of the early creeds. Like Wightman, the ultra-separatist Legate brothers argued that Christ was not truly God. Hence, according to Clapham, the Legates maintained that Christ was ‘a meere Man, as was Peter, Paule, or I: Once whereas we have the Spirit in measure, and were borne in sinne; he hath the Spirit beyond measure, and was borne free from sinne’. If Clapham is to be trusted, the logic behind their argument was as follows: ‘it being meere Man that sinned, it must be meere Man that must satisfie Gods justice’.79 In other words, they seem to have argued that if Christ were truly God, the traditional view of a substitutionary atonement would collapse; only if Christ were a perfect, sinless man, could the traditional view be maintained without contradiction. Whatever the precise route through which they arrived at their opinions, one thing seems clear: the position attributed by Clapham to the Legates on the nature of Christ was, to all appearances, identical to the one adopted by Wightman at his trial in late 1611, when he carefully corrected the articles against him to specify that Christ was not God, but ‘a perfect man without sin’.

These parallels are certainly striking. Indeed, the theological congruences between the Legates and Wightman are so remarkable that they are almost certainly not accidental. Indeed, from one perspective, Wightman looks like a fulfilment of the prophecy laid out by the Legates. The Legates claimed that there was no true Church on earth, all extant churches having fallen away into sin after the deaths of the Apostles; so did Wightman. The Legates denied Trinitarian orthodoxy, claiming that Christ was but a perfect man; so did Wightman. The Legates repudiated the sacraments of the Church; so did Wightman. Most intriguingly, the Legates called for new Apostles, the second coming of Elijah, in order to re-establish the true faith on earth; indeed, to all appearances, this is precisely what Edward Wightman claimed to be. So closely do these pieces interlock, that it seems plausible, perhaps even likely, that Wightman was at some point exposed to the ideas of the Legates or of some now unknown missing link to the Legates. It must be emphasised that this is merely a reasonable inference from the broken shards of data we have; there is no direct evidence of such a contact. At the very least, however, it seems safe to hypothesise that Wightman's opinions emerged out of engagement with ideas, questions and problems that were alive and hotly debated at the separatist margin of the puritan community. This in turn serves to place Wightman's theological position – at first glance, so seemingly outrageous – within a continuum of contemporary religious debate, rendering him at once less bizarre and less mysterious.

The notion that Wightman may have been exposed to ‘Legatine’ ideas is by no means impossible. The Legates acquired at least some followers and sympathisers: the puritan minister Thomas Gataker would later report that he had encountered one such unnamed admirer in London around 1611, whom Gataker described only as ‘a Gentleman-like man’.80 In short, while it hardly seems likely that droves of radical separatists were carrying the ideas of the Legates into the countryside, the brothers appear to have won enough support to trigger both unease and back-room debate among the godly in London. This brings us to the last, puzzling detail of this tangled story. It may have been concern about the spread of anti-Trinitarian ideas that in 1609 led one London minister to preach and publish an extended cycle of sermons on the first chapter of the Gospel of John. The sermon cycle, which spanned nearly 500 pages of finely printed text, laid out and defended the doctrine of the Trinity in excruciating detail. The minister carefully defended the idea of Christ's divinity, before attacking in laborious detail the errors of the full pantheon of late antique anti-Trinitarian heretics – Arians, Ebionites, Manichaeans, to name a few.81 Although he nowhere mentioned modern anti-Trinitarian heretics, one suspects that his numerous, vehement denunciations of early Christian villains represented a scantily clad warning to those who might be questioning the doctrine of the Trinity. The preacher of this ponderous sermon-cycle was none other than Anthony Wotton, minister of All Hallows, Barking, and two years later the object of Wightman's manuscript magnum opus.

Wotton's role in all of this remains murky. Perhaps the most likely explanation is that Wightman had been put in contact with Wotton because the uncompromising nonconformist Wotton was known to be a ‘specialist’ on the doctrine of the Trinity, and as such, might have been seen as the most likely figure to satisfy Wightman's objections and to bring him back from the brink. Yet it is also just possible that Wightman had sought out Wotton on the basis of rumours that Anthony Wotton was himself not entirely orthodox on the doctrine of the Trinity. As is well known, shortly after the burning of Wightman, Wotton would be subjected to a fierce attack by the puritan cleric George Walker, who accused the elder minister of Arminianism and Socinianism, the latter of which was widely associated with denial of Christ's divinity. Although Walker's accusations were to all appearances overblown, if not entirely baseless, the controversy over Wotton's alleged ‘heresies’ would linger on for years, occasioning bitter disputations and political in-fighting amongst the godly in London. Given the present state of our knowledge, we simply cannot know how Wotton became embroiled in the Wightman affair, nor whether his involvement brought him under suspicion, helping to fuel Walker's very vehement accusations in the years that followed. For the time being, the most we can say is that Wotton's involvement represents an extremely suggestive and tantalizing puzzle, one that underlines the complex, and often heated, world of subterranean theological disputation that flourished beneath the surface of the English puritan community.82

Bartholomew Legate went to the stake on 18 March 1611/12; Wightman, for the first time, two days later. Why were they tried and burned? No one had been executed for heresy in England since 1589, when Francis Kett went to the stake in Norwich.83 Why, suddenly, after more than two decades, was the practice revived? The question is particularly poignant since Legate, at least, appears to have been in custody for more than a decade. During part of this period, he was allegedly given the freedom of the prison. The king was certainly aware of him and, ever enamoured of theological disputation, James apparently several times had the accused heretic brought before him to try to convince Legate of his errors.84 Before 1611 there was no particular rush to make an example of Legate. How did circumstances change? Apart from the added urgency of the appearance in Wightman of another heretic of similar views, the answer to this question lies in a combination of three individuals or groups who sought to use the cases of Wightman and Legate to their own ends, and in so doing ramped up the pressure for their prosecution: the king, Archbishop George Abbot of Canterbury and the anti-Calvinist divines around Neile.

The king's immediate political mood was vital in securing the prosecution of Wightman. James had in recent years trumpeted his own credentials as a vigorous defender of the fundamental orthodoxies of the church. His efforts to consolidate this image reached their high point during his celebrated polemical attack on Conrad Vorstius, a German academic who in 1611 was nominated for the chair in divinity at the university of Leiden, but who had published one of Socinus's works and who was deemed unsound on the Trinity by the Contra-Remonstrant or ultra-Calvinist party in the Netherlands. In their attempt to block Vorstius's preferment the Contra-Remonstrants looked to England, especially Abbot, as upholder of Calvinist orthodoxy, and Abbot promised to engage the support of James. The king was the more willing to see Vorstius's opinions condemned because the previous year, in a controversy over the Oath of Allegiance, a Jesuit writer had jointly accused him and Vorstius of atheism, Arianism and heretical opinions about the Holy Spirit. Egged on by Abbot and others, by September 1611 James was deeply involved in the controversy, denouncing Vorstius as deserving severe punishment and fulminating against his works. It was an opportunity for James to defend before the theatre of Europe his orthodoxy, his adherence to the three creeds and his reputation to be ‘a King that without mixture of glory or private design, taketh so much to heart the injury that is done to the blessed Trinity’.85 The matter rumbled on from the summer of 1611 until April 1612, which meant that Wightman's trial was played out against the backdrop of the Vorstius affair, with James's denunciations of heresy abroad and his stance to show ‘how stout and earnest a Defendour he is of the opinions of the true Catholike Church’.86

Yet it should be noted that Wightman's appearance on the scene preceded the king's active engagement with Vorstius. Indeed, one might easily argue that the two cases escalated together; upset about Wightman's very direct and inappropriate overtures in March 1611, the king launched into a dual campaign against heresy at home and abroad. From this perspective, Wightman was very much a victim of his own audacious challenge to the king, while Legate was swept up by events, as James sought to make an example of both men. Indeed, when the legal process stalled as it did after the judgment of the Lichfield consistory, the king was reported to insist that the executions take place as soon as possible.87 Doubts had been raised about what the due legal process was in the case of heretics. Had the abolition of the 1401 statute de heretico comburendo by the Elizabethan Act of Supremacy removed the legal authority to execute heretics, or did the writ de heretico comburendo lie at common law; if the latter, was a conviction before the High Commission needed, or did one before a bishop's consistory (as in the case of Wightman and Legate) suffice? During his imprisonment, Legate had played on these uncertainties by denying the authority of the London consistory court and threatening to sue it for false imprisonment.88 James ordered Abbot to resolve the legal problems. The question was remitted to the lord chancellor and a panel of senior judges – at the king's behest Sir Edward Coke, who was known to believe that the cases should have been tried before the High Commission, was excluded – and decision was given that Wightman's conviction before the Lichfield consistory court was sufficient authority for the issuing of a writ out of Chancery for his execution.89

While Wightman and Legate were thus caught up in a web of international diplomacy, their cases were shaped by the play of competing factions at court and in the English ecclesiastical hierarchy. 1611 represented a moment of flux at the Jacobean court. The aftermath of Lord Treasurer Salisbury's failure to secure a financial settlement for the king in the 1610 parliament, together with the death of Archbishop Bancroft late in 1610, resulted in large questions about the future ecclesiastical regime and prompted considerable jockeying and manoeuvring, as individuals and groups vied to secure their power in a subtly changed and uncertain order.90

One of the chief beneficiaries was, of course, Abbot, the new archbishop of Canterbury. Installed in April 1611, he was quickly sworn into the Privy Council, where he became one of the most active and diligent members.91 One of his aims was to use his new position and power at court to undermine a circle of ‘avant-garde conformists’ – William Laud, Lancelot Andrewes, John Buckeridge and Neile, to name the most important – whose own sacramentalist and anti-Calvinist brand of piety threatened his own. Abbot had no easy ride in the first months of his archiepiscopate in 1611, however. His attempt to block Laud's candidature as president of St John's College, Oxford, failed, in part because Neile used his proximity to James to lobby on behalf of Laud, but the dispute dragged on throughout the summer of 1611, running parallel to the unfolding case of Wightman.92 Furthermore, in May 1611 (and in obscure circumstances) Abbot was forced to issue a set of royal injunctions to his bishops which called for the removal of intransigent nonconforming clergy and which was used in Lincoln diocese to harass six veteran puritan ministers.93

The Wightman case was thus a further challenge to Abbot's position, since it raised questions about Wightman's relationship with the Midlands puritans (a point which, as we shall see, Neile was eager to exploit in order to use Wightman's case as a means of harassing the godly). It was also, however, an opportunity for the archbishop, for if he could control the arraignment, then the godly might be protected and Neile's campaign be deflated. Moreover, by linking Wightman with Vorstius and exploiting the king's recent obsession with theological orthodoxy, Abbot might be able to solidify the Calvinist cause both at home and abroad, and push the Remonstrants (and their English sympathisers in the Neile circle) out of royal favour at a critical moment of shifting balance at court.

Wightman, therefore, was batted back and forth like a shuttlecock between the spring and autumn of 1611 as James, Abbot and Neile pondered what to do and how his case might be best used for their own ends. In the first ten weeks of his imprisonment, Wightman was brought before the High Commission four times before being discharged uncondemned in mid-June 1611; after an initial burst of energy and concern, the court appears to have decided to take no immediate action against the accused heretic who remained imprisoned at the king's pleasure, ‘kept close prisoner with very strickt and extreme vsages’.94

At the end of the summer, however, Neile attempted a decisive move. After returning from progress with the king, on 4 September Neile again summoned Wightman into his presence and, according to Wightman, ‘told me that unlesse I did recant my opinions he would burne me at a stake in burton before Allholland day next’.95 Two points are worth noting here. First, if Wightman's account is to be believed, Neile at this stage took the initiative for the trial into his own hands, vowing that he, not the High Commission, would prosecute the case. Secondly, the timing of Neile's manoeuvre may be critical, for it came just five days after James had decided to take determined action against Vorstius, ordering his ambassador at the Hague to set the diplomatic wheels in motion to crush the German theologian.96 Neile was either acting on James's order, or, more likely, taking advantage of the king's immediate zeal against anti-Trinitarian heterodoxy to further his own political programme (or perhaps a combination of the two).

About a month later Abbot responded. He had Wightman brought before the High Commission once again, this time with Legate, probably in October 1611. Sir Edward Coke described the event as part of the archbishop's battle with him in the interminable war over prohibitions, but it was just as important for Abbot to have the heretics tried before the High Commission, where he might have a direct influence over the trials, rather than in the diocesan consistories, where they would be beyond his direct reach.97 In November, however, Wightman's trial in Lichfield began. Abbot had lost the battle over Wightman, as he was shortly to do in the similar case of Legate. Perhaps James did not wholly trust his archbishop with the trials of two men who had emerged out of godly circles. Legate's diocesan was a very different figure from Wightman's – the evangelical Calvinist Bishop John King of London, a man more congenial to Abbot's theology and style of churchmanship. King did indeed preside over Legate's trial, but interestingly, he did not do so alone. The special meeting of King's consistory which convicted Legate in February 1611/12 was bolstered by the presence of other bishops – Neile, Buckeridge and Lancelot Andrewes of Ely – and according to the sole known manuscript account of the proceedings, Neile claimed at the trial to be interrogating Legate ‘by commandement from the Kinge’. All of this suggests not merely that Neile, Andrewes and Buckeridge had been dispatched by James to stiffen Bishop King's resolve, but more generally that both cases were pushed forward by an incipient anti-Calvinist grouping within the church.98

Throughout his imprisonment, Wightman had been subjected to a series of conferences with learned divines. His disputants were a weighty line-up that included two bishops (Neile himself and Buckeridge of Rochester), a future archbishop (Laud, in 1611 president of St John's College, Oxford), a dean (Richard Clayton of Peterborough) and three prebendaries (Robert Newell of Lichfield, who was Neile's half-brother and his chief confidant; Christopher Sutton of Westminster, where Neile had been dean until the previous year; and Benjamin Carier of Canterbury).99 It was a roll call of what would, after Neile's elevation to the see of Durham in 1617, be known as the ‘Durham House group’, divines of an anti-Calvinist bent gathered under Neile's wing who formed the nucleus of the faction that would dominate the church's leadership in the next reign.100 Similarly, the personnel involved in Wightman's trial in Lichfield were all known for their strident anti-puritanism and their attachment to ecclesiastical order and obedience and many of them were not officials of the diocese but were ‘imported’ for the occasion, such as two of the eight clerics who preached in the cathedral against Wightman's errors on the final day of the trial: Laud and Richard Butler, archdeacon of Northampton.101 While the conferences failed to make Wightman see the error of his ways, they were a means of gathering evidence against both him and, crucially, Hildersham, whom Neile intended to prosecute as the fount of Wightman's errors.

If Wightman's arrest by an anti-Calvinist bishop was a function of historical accident, with Wightman making himself too obstreperous and too visible for the Burton godly to handle just weeks after the appointment of a controversial anti-puritan to the see of Coventry and Lichfield, Neile and his friends certainly sought to exploit the case as a weapon against the Midlands puritan community. Immediately on his appointment to Coventry and Lichfield, and before the Wightman case, Neile had apparently determined to harass the godly, procuring the king's order in January 1610/11 that the corporation of Coventry receive the sacrament kneeling, not sitting or standing.102 The Wightman case gave Neile the perfect opportunity to extend his campaign, and particularly to target Arthur Hildersham, the father of the Midlands godly who had frequently been in trouble with the ecclesiastical authorities: he had been suspended in 1591 and 1605 (on both occasions he was restored after three years) and he had been before the High Commission in 1598.103 Neile was eager to prove that Wightman had learned his errors from Hildersham; he managed to make the king doubt Hildersham's orthodoxy sufficiently for James to order Bishop William Barlow of Lincoln to suspend Hildersham.

Tainted by Wightman and the doubts over Hildersham, the exercise at Burton, Ashby and Repton was stopped.104 Exercises and lectureships elsewhere came under suspicion: in Lincoln diocese that at Leicester was suspended in the late summer of 1611 while three others may also have been the victim of the same campaign.105 Owing to his drive against the puritans in the Midlands, Neile was in 1614 accused of a catalogue of crimes including putting down lectures and discouraging preaching.106 In godly circles it was remembered that Neile, in a ‘fierce and furious sort’, went about ‘a busseling and blustering’ so that ‘many were troubled’ by him, while Edward Vaughan hoped that he and the other godly of the diocese would be ‘more and more countenanced and comforted’ and ‘haue a more peaceable proceeding in our preaching’ under Neile's successor than under Neile.107 The republication in 1613 of a controversial sermon by Francis Holyoake should probably be placed in this context. Holyoake, rector of Southam in Warwickshire, and described by Ann Hughes as that county's ‘leading Arminian minister’ – he was later to publish a Latin–English dictionary that defined ‘Praedestinatiani’ as ‘A kinde of Heretiques’ – had preached strongly against puritan nonconformity, asserting that diversity of practice in worship confused ‘Some poore soules’, leading them into popery, atheism or ‘other heresies and schismes’. The sermon, which had apparently caused a storm of protest among the godly of Coventry where it was first preached, was edited for publication by Archdeacon Hinton, who also had a role in convicting Wightman.108

Finally, in Oxford about September 1612 another member of Neile's circle, John Howson, launched an attack on Socinianism but, unlike others who had linked the heresy with Arminianism, Howson connected anti-Trinitarianism with Calvinism, preaching against the glosses in the Geneva Bible which he claimed contained the seeds of Arianism. Clearly expecting his audience to think of Wightman and Legate, he embraced what he called ‘this occasion of this new spreadinge (not new springine) [of] Arianisme both att home, and abroad’ and lambasted ‘thes Puritan glossers’ who, in the Geneva Bible, ‘by false glosses, Translations, or Annotations [seek] to corrupt ye sence of ye holy scriptures, which concerne ye divinitie, or humanitie of our blessed saviour’. This, he averred, ‘is the highes steppe to ye Arian mountayne’. His tactic backfired, however: under counter-attack by Oxford Calvinists, including Henry Airay and Robert Abbot (the archbishop's brother), Howson was censured by the vice-chancellor.109 The attempt of the Neile group to use Wightman and Legate as sticks with which to beat the godly fizzled out and Calvinists and anti-Calvinists found new ground over which to fight,110 though some of the mud thrown by Neile against Hildersham stuck, for the claim that Wightman had learned his heresies from Hildersham was still recalled in the late 1640s.111

Wightman and Legate are chiefly remembered as the last persons burned at the stake for heresy in England; it was thus that their cases were noted by a number of writers in the wake of the 1689 Toleration Act.112 For this reason, it is tempting to see their tragedies as somehow marking a turning point, in which a rising tide of tolerationist sentiment finally eclipsed a brutal medieval practice. Yet their unenviable distinction was largely accidental: their deaths marked no major sea-change in thought. It is true that there was in England a minority opinion opposed to the execution of heretics.113 To some extent, this vein of sentiment may have been nurtured by the posturing of the post-Reformation state, which, for propagandistic purposes, had formally refrained from killing people for religious opinion, while elevating Foxe's martyrs to almost cultic status. As a result, only a handful of men and women had been burned for heresy after Elizabeth's accession in 1558, and it is possible that this relative decline in the practice, combined with the propaganda of the Protestant regime, may have effected something of a shift in opinion. Thomas Fuller seemed to assume as much when, looking back from the 1650s, he claimed that the burnings of Legate and Wightman ‘much startled the common people’ so that James decided that in the future heretics ‘should silently and privately waste themselves away in the prison’ rather than be subjected to risky public execution.114

Yet despite Fuller's assertion, all indications suggest that mainstream, élite opinion supported the executions. Not only the king was said to insist on the burnings. Others such as Andrewes supported James or joked about the burnings: the Roman Catholic newswriter Edward Bennett wished Wightman's fate on ‘all heretickes that will never repent’ and asked his correspondent ‘to pitty us who live amongest these combustious spirittes’.115 Nor were such sentiments limited to Catholics and supporters of prelacy. In the months that followed Wightman's execution, as the conforming puritan and future Presbyterian George Walker escalated his campaign against Anthony Wotton, Walker hinted that he believed Wotton's errors deserved death.116 After Wightman a number of religious radicals nearly met the same fate. Abbot was prepared to deal out the same sentence against William Sayer of Norfolk later in 1612, threatening ‘to frie him at a Stake’. Sayer escaped only because he wisely retracted his initial mutterings against the doctrine of the Trinity; under the terms of the Act of Supremacy, his crimes were thus judged as separatism, and not heresy against the three creeds and first four general councils.117 In 1639 John Trendall of Dover was arrested for heresy. The government dredged up the precedent of its treatment of Wightman and Neile wrote approvingly of the burnings of 1612 as having done ‘a great deale of good in this Church’, suggesting that ‘the present times do require like Exemplary punishment’. Only the privy council's preoccupation with the Scottish crisis saved Trendall.118 The downfall of the bishops and the abolition of the High Commission in 1640–2 removed the existing machinery for dealing with heresy, but many remained convinced that, in the words of Ephraim Pagitt, ‘such whose Heresies are blasphemous in doctrine, or dangerous to the State, deserve death’.119 New legislation in May 1648, an ‘ordinance for the punishing of blasphemies and heresies’, made espousal of anti-Trinitarianism, soul sleeping and other named heresies felonies punishable by hanging.

Opposition from Independents and sectaries, however, meant that the ordinance was never enforced.120 Only with the passage of an act in 1677 abolishing the death sentence for all ecclesiastical offences was Wightman's position as the last in the line of English heretics burned at the stake secured.121

It was largely political fortune and contingency, then, which handed Wightman his dubious honour. Yet this should not be a surprise, since it was the vicissitudes of political and polemical in-fighting which had brought him to the stake in the first place. Both Wightman and Legate were casualties of broad forces at work within church and state. They suffered their fate partly as a result of the king's own immediate priorities, and partly as a result of the clash between the Calvinist Abbot and the growing faction of court churchmen surrounding Neile, Buckeridge and Andrewes. Moreover, precisely because they were essentially super-radicalised puritans, possessed of typically godly associations, their cases were mobilised for polemical purposes that far transcended the very particular, not to say unique, opinions they had articulated. This was in many ways entirely unjust. Members of the godly community such as Hildersham had, after all, opposed Wightman's errors, and tried to convince him to relinquish them. Although the churchwardens of the town noted that he had a number of friends and ‘favourers’ in Burton, Wightman appears to have won no real converts, particularly once he entered his final phase as the new Elijah. To this extent, attempts to conflate Wightman with fellow members of the godly community were cynical and unwarranted.

Yet this article has also tried to demonstrate precisely how and why such a conflation was possible. As we have seen, even in trying to wean him from his errors, inveterate puritans such as Hildersham were tacitly acknowledging what was patently obvious to people like Neile and Buckeridge: that is, that Wightman was in a very real sense the progeny of the godly community whence he came. This study has sought to explore some of the ways in which that community, for all its commitment to order and orthodoxy, could and did produce so peculiar and radical a figure. It is a jarring, and in some ways, unfamiliar view of the godly community, but one that nevertheless does justice to certain facets of the culture of puritanism that have hitherto been ignored. In Wightman's life and career, we see a puritanism in which famous, university-trained ministers presided over exorcisms; solid puritan burghers, obsessed with order and godly reformation, gave credence to claims of both demonic and divine inhabitation; members of town élites indulged in forms of piety that were anything but orderly or decorous; learned and nationally acclaimed puritan ministers simultaneously cultivated coteries of devoted lay followers, while at the same time trying to control and contain the sometimes anarchic consequences of that same lay devotion; putatively orthodox and conformist godly devotees rubbed shoulders with and jousted with separatist and even heretical brethren in a private world that was effectively off-limits to outsiders. Only when these debates and devotional practices spiralled out of control, either reaching a fever pitch of spiritual enthusiasm and puritan self-congratulation (as in the case of Darling) or growing too wild-eyed and acrimonious (as in the case of Wightman) did they come to the attention of the broader world. At such moments, hostile elements within the ecclesiastical establishment could seize upon them and turn them against the godly, undermining the practices on offer within the godly community to contain and channel these disruptive tendencies, and providing radicalising fodder for members of the godly community who viewed such interventions as episcopal oppression. In one sense, then, the careers and public emergence of radicals such as Wightman were a consequence of the complicated dynamic between the godly and the authorities, in which long stretches of relative lenience were punctuated by fierce and sometimes humiliating instances of official repression. Viewed from another perspective – one that has been emphasised throughout this article, and one which would become all too clear after 1640 – it might well be argued that the godly community contained within itself all the components necessary to generate profoundly radical people and ideas. Viewed from this vantage point, Wightman looks less like a fabulous curiosity – and much more like a natural by-product of the culture of English puritanism.

Top Notes

1. Bodl[eian Library], ms Ashmole 1521 B(vii), [1a–1b], 1–43; Dr Williams's Library, Morrice ms J, fos 10, 12, 14, cited by permission of the Trustees of Dr Williams's Library (there is a microfilm of this manuscript in the Folger Library); A True Relation of the Commissions and Warrants for the Condemnation and Burning of Bartholomew Legatt and Thomas Withman (London, 1651): Wightman's name is correctly rendered on p. 7. The warrants in this last have often been reprinted, perhaps most accessibly in W. Cobbett and T. Howell, Cobbett's Complete Collection of State Trials (33 vols, London, 1809–26), ii, cols 727–38. The authors would like to thank Ann Hughes, Peter Lake and Michael Winship for their helpful comments on this paper, the members of seminars at Keele and the Pacific Coast Conference on British Studies where earlier versions were aired, and Bob Dowling, John Coffey, Roger Pooley, Jane Tillier and Ron Wightman for their assistance.

2. M. Questier (ed.), Newsletters from the Archpresbyterate of George Birkhead (Camden, 5th series, 12, 1998), 153; National Archives (Public Record Office) [hereafter PRO], SP16/432/27iv, fos 63r–64v, calendared in C[alendar of] S[tate] P[apers,] D[omestic], 1639–40, 84–5. The date is given in John Chamberlain's newsletter: T. Birch (ed.), The Court and Times of James the First (2 vols, London, 1849), i, 163.

3. Questier, Newsletters, 153; CSPD, 1639–40, 84–5. The date of Wightman's execution has been variously rendered by historians, but is fixed as 11 April 1612 by William Neile, brother of Bishop Neile, in his almanac (Durham Dean and Chapter Library, ms Hunter 44/17, fo. 216v), and confirmed by J. Stow and E. Howes, The Abridgement of the English Chronicle (London, 1618), 531.

4. T. Crosby, History of the English Baptists (4 vols, London, 1738–40), i, 107–8; T. Lindsey, Apology (London, 1774), 48–52; T. Lindsey, An Historical View of the State of the Unitarian Doctrine and Worship (London, 1783), 272–[6]; W. Mountford, ‘Edward Wightman the Martyr’, Christian Pioneer, xvii (1843), 145–73; B. Mardon, ‘Burning of Edward Wightman’, The Christian Reformer, xi (1844), 99–103 (also 191, 343); R. Wallace, Antitrinitarian Biography: Or Sketches of the Lives and Writings of Distinguished Antitrinitarians (3 vols, London, 1850), iii, 534–9, 565–8; [R. Spears], Memorable Unitarians, Being a Series of Brief Biographical Sketches (London, 1904), 25–6; A. W. Fox, Four English Unitarian Martyrs (London [1913]), 8–12.

5. W. Prynne, The Sword of Christian Magistracy Supported (London, 1647), 67, a reference we owe to John Coffey; Gentleman's Magazine, xxviii (1758), 162; A. G. Matthews, The Congregational Churches of Staffordshire (London [1924]), 12; W. H. Frere, The History of the English Church. V. The English Church in the Reigns of Elizabeth and James I (London, 1904), 370.

6. C. Hill, ‘From Lollards to Levellers’, in M. Cornforth (ed.), Rebels and their Causes: Essays in Honour of A. L. Morton (London, 1978), 59, 60; A. Gordon, ‘Edward Wightman’, D[ictionary of] N[ational] B[iography] (London, 1908–9); W. K. Jordan, The Development of Religious Toleration in England (4 vols, New Haven, 1932–40), ii, 49; P. Welsby, George Abbot: The Unwanted Archbishop, 1562–1633 (London, 1962), 47.

7. L[incolnshire] A[rchives] O[ffice], D & C Ciij/13/1/2/1–4. The documents were first recorded in 1852 at Lincoln Cathedral, and were deposited in the county record office in 1969 by the dean and chapter; we are grateful to Dr Mike Rogers, archivist at Lincolnshire Archives Office, for this information. They were first used by Ken Fincham: K. Fincham, Prelate as Pastor: The Episcopate of James I (Oxford, 1990), 334.

8. Bodl., ms Ashmole 1521 B(vii), [1a–1b], 1–43. It was first but briefly analysed in C. Burrage, The Early English Dissenters in the Light of Recent Research (1550–1641) (2 vols, Cambridge, 1912), i, 217–20.

9. Many of the key players in the redefining of puritanism not as an opposition against the ‘Jacobethan’ church but as a key element, style, tendency or movement within the church have shifted their views subtly in the last three decades. See P. Lake, The Boxmaker's Revenge: ‘Orthodoxy’, ‘Heterodoxy’ and the Politics of the Parish in Early Stuart London (Manchester, 2001), 11–16 for an attempt to characterise these shifting positions. See also P. Collinson, The Religion of Protestants (Oxford, 1982); P. Lake, Moderate Puritans and the Elizabethan Church (Cambridge, 1982); Fincham, Prelate as Pastor; T. Webster, Godly Clergy in Early Stuart England: The Caroline Puritan Movement, c. 1620–43 (Cambridge, 1997).

10. P. Lake and D. Como, ‘"Orthodoxy" and its Discontents: Dispute Settlement and the Production of "Consensus" in the London (Puritan) "Underground"’, Journal of British Studies, xxxix (January 2000), 34–70; Lake, Boxmaker's Revenge; D. Como and P. Lake, ‘Puritans, Antinomians and Laudians in Caroline London: The Strange Case of Peter Shaw and its Contexts’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, l (1999), 684–715; D. Como, ‘The Kingdom of Christ, the Kingdom of England, and the Kingdom of Traske: John Traske and the Persistence of Radical Puritanism in early Stuart England’, in M. C. McClendon, J. Ward and M. MacDonald (ed.), Protestant Identities: Religion, Society and Self-Fashioning in Post-Reformation England (Stanford, 1999), 63–82; D. Como, Blown by the Spirit: Puritanism and the Emergence of an Antinomian Underground in Pre-Civil-War England (Stanford, 2004).

11. Leicestershire Record Office, DE 3367/1 [fo. 1v]; Bodl., ms Ashmole 1521 B(vii), 16–17. The suggestion in the article on Edward Wightman in the O[xford] D[ictionary of] N[ational] B[iography] (Oxford, 2004) that he was baptised in 1580 at Hinckley is wrong.

12. S[taffordshire] R[ecord] O[ffice], D4219/1/1, marriage of 6 November 1553; D(W)1734/2/3/21b, 23.

13. LAO, D & C Ciij/13/1/2/1, fo. 1r.

14. William Salt Library, Stafford, MS 1/64/23.

15. Lichfield Record Office, B/C/11/Joan Walker (1557); A. Macdonald, A Short History of Repton (London, 1929), 86, 91, 244 (noting that the first headmaster of Repton was called Wightman, but speculating that he was the Thomas Wightman who graduated at Oxford in 1539). In 1590 it was said that Edward's father was John, late of Repton: W. G. D. Fletcher, ‘The Earliest Book of the Drapers' Company, Shrewsbury’, Transactions of the Shropshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, 4th series, xi (1927), 145.

16. LAO, D & C Ciij/13/1/2/1, fo. 1r.

17. It is not clear whether any of the surviving papers from Wightman's trial are holograph, but one, dated 9 September 1611, may be: LAO, D & C Ciij/13/1/2/2.

18. Fletcher, ‘Earliest Book of the Drapers' Company, Shrewsbury’, 145; Shropshire Records and Research Centre, MS 1831/6/1, 314. The record of his apprenticeship has not survived in the Drapers' Company records. We are grateful to James Lawson and William Champion for much assistance with the Drapers' Company archive.

19. LAO, D & C Ciij/13/1/2/1, fo. 1r; SRO, Q/SR/77/24. Note that in the published edition of the Staffordshire quarter sessions rolls Wightman's place of residence is given as Norton; the original is worn at the crucial point, but the initial capital letter of the place can be made out as a B, and all the details fit the place being Burton: S. A. H. Burne (ed.), The Staffordshire Quarter Sessions Rolls, vol. iv, 1598–1602 (Collections for a History of Staffordshire, 1936), 296.

20. SRO, D(W)1734/3/3/268; D(W)1734/3/4/80, expenses account, 1573 [fo. 8v]; D(W)1734/3/3/276, fos 70–1; D(W) 1734/3/3/280; PRO, SP12/193, fo. 143.

21. SRO, D(W)1734/2/7/8, fo. 8; D(W)1734/3/3/280, 6–15 Aug. 1580; PRO, SP12/193, fo. 143; C. Harrison, ‘William Byrd and the Pagets of Beaudesert: A Musical Connection’, Staffordshire Studies, iii (1990–1), 54; Victoria County History of Staffordshire, iii, 99.

22. P. Collinson, ‘The Shearmen's Tree and the Preacher: The Strange Death of Merry England in Shrewsbury and Beyond’, in P. Collinson and J. Craig (ed.), The Reformation in English Towns, 1500–1640 (Basingstoke, 1998), 205–20; B. Coulton, ‘Implementing the Reformation in the Urban Community: Coventry and Shrewsbury 1559–1603’, Midland History, xxv (2000), 43–60.

23. SRO, D4219/1/1, marriage of 11 September 1593.

24. G. E. Cokayne, Complete Peerage (2nd edn, 14 vols in 15, London, 1910–98), x, 282; CSPD, 1581–90, 134; L. Hicks, An Elizabethan Problem: Some Aspects of the Careers of Two Exile-Adventurers (Oxford, 1964), 33–8; PRO, SP12/193, fo. 143v.

25. Victoria County History of Staffordshire, ix, 8–10, 25, 86, 90–1; C. Cross, The Puritan Earl: The Life of Henry Hastings, 3rd Earl of Huntingdon (London, 1966).

26. PRO, E164/41, fo. 21; S. A. H. Burne (ed.), Staffordshire Quarter Sessions Rolls, vol. i, 1581–1589 (Collections for a History of Staffordshire, 1929), 317–18.

27. SRO, D4210/1/1, baptism of 17 November 1590 and burial of 14 December 1590; P. Stubbes, A Christal Glasse for Christian Women (London, 1592); DNB, s.n. Stubbes, Philip.

28. S. Harsnett, A Discovery of the Fravdvlent Practises of Iohn Darrel (London, 1599), 270–1, 293; P. Collinson, ‘Lectures by Combination: Structures and Characteristics of Church Life in Seventeenth-Century England’, Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, xlviii (1975), 197; S. Clarke, The Lives of Thirty-Two English Divines (London, 1677), 43, 51.

29. [J. Bee], The Most Wonderfull and True Storie, of a Certaine Witch named Alse Gooderige of Stapenhill (London, 1597); Harsnett, Discovery; J. Darrell, A Detection of that Sinnfvl, Shamfvl, Lying, and Ridicvlovs Discovrs, of Samvel Harshnet (n.p., 1600).

30. D. P. Walker, Unclean Spirits: Possession and Exorcism in France and England in the late Sixteenth and early Seventeenth Centuries (London, 1981), 56; CSPD, 1601–3, 292–3, 300; J. Bruce (ed.), Diary of John Manningham (Camden Society, 1st series, 99, 1868), 169; H. Foley (ed.), Records of the English Province of the Society of Jesus (7 vols in 8, London, 1875–83), i, 18–19.

31. C. L. Ewen, Witchcraft and Demonianism (London, 1933), esp. 176–81; C. Hole, Witchcraft in England (London, 1945), 78–80; C. H. Rickert, The Case of John Darrell, Minister and Exorcist (Gainesville, Florida, 1962), 10–18; B. Rosen (ed.), Witchcraft (London, 1969), 300–2; K. Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (Harmondsworth, 1973), 576–80; Walker, Unclean Spirits, 52–6; F. W. Brownlow, Shakespeare, Harsnett, and the Devils of Denham (Newark, Delaware, 1993); M. Gibson, ‘"Now the Witch is Dead": A Study of a Narrative of Witchcraft on the Staffordshire–Derbyshire Border’, Staffordshire Studies, ix (1997), 9–17; T. Freeman, ‘Demons, Deviance and Defiance: John Darrell and the Politics of Exorcism in late Elizabethan England’, in P. Lake and M. Questier (ed.), Conformity and Orthodoxy in the English Church, c. 1560–1660 (Woodbridge, 2000), 34–63.

32. [Bee], True Storie, 25–6.

33. Harsnett, Discovery, 265–7; [Bee], True Storie, 3, 37.

34. [Bee], True Storie, 35, copy in Lambeth Palace Library, bound with other tracts concerning witchcraft in a volume with the initials R.B., pressmark PB.1597.15. The annotator was probably Richard Bancroft, his chaplain Samuel Harsnett or one of their clerks, who questioned Darling as part of their investigation of Darrell in 1598–9. We are grateful to Melanie Barber and Christina Mackwell of Lambeth Palace Library for advice on the identification of the annotator.

35. Darrell, Detection, 265; Walker, Unclean Spirits, 52.

36. The names of those mentioned in connection with the cases of Darling and Goodridge can be compared with the following: SRO, D(W)1734/2/3/13, fo. 1r; D(W)1734/2/3/16; D(W)1734/2/3/19; PRO, E179/178/219, rot. 1, E179/178/248, rot. 1, E179/178/256, rot. 1, E179/178/281, rot. 1; C. Owen, Burton upon Trent: The Illustrated History (Derby, 1994), 42–5.

37. [J. Darrell], The Triall of Maist. Dorrell ([Middelburg], 1599), 55; [Bee], True Storie, 1.

38. Harsnett, Discovery, 290.

39. A. Walsham, ‘"Frantick Hacket": Prophecy, Sorcery, Insanity, and the Elizabethan Puritan Movement’, Historical Journal, xli (1998), 27–66.

40. [Bee], True Storie, 26.

41. J. Darrell, The Replie of Iohn Darrell (n.p., 1602), sig. A2v; Freeman, ‘Demons, Deviance and Defiance’, 46, 55, though Freeman thinks that the contest between Darrell and his opponents ended in a draw.

42. See Como, Blown by the Spirit, ch. 5.

43. SRO, Q/SR/92/67, m. 1; LAO, D & C Ciij/13/1/2/1, fo. 1r.

44. See J. Walter, Understanding Popular Violence in the English Revolution: The Colchester Plunderers (Cambridge, 1998), 249, for comments on the relationship between harvest failure and the cloth trade.

45. LAO, D & Ciij/13/1/2/1, fo. 1r; SRO, Q/SR/77/24. Ferrers died on 8 and was buried on 9 January 1607/8: SRO, D5368/2/6; C. F. Palmer, The History of the Town and Castle of Tamworth (Tamworth, 1845), 365. He had a house at Walton-on-Trent, four miles south of Burton: Tamworth Castle Museum, Ferrers Papers, no. 51.

46. LAO, D & C Ciij/13/1/2/1, fo. 1r.

47. SRO, Q/SR/92/67, m. 1; Q/SR/116/86; Darrell, Detection, 184; Owen, Burton, 42–3.

48. LAO, D & C Ciij/13/1/2/1; S. Clarke, The Lives of Two and Twenty English Divines (London, 1660), 144–56.

49. LAO, D & C Ciij/13/1/2/1. For Aberley see M. W. Greenslade, ‘The 1607 Return of Staffordshire Catholics’, Staffordshire Catholic History, iv (1963–4), 6–32; Clarke, Lives of Two and Twenty English Divines, 147.

50. Lake, Boxmaker's Revenge, 218–57; Lake and Como, ‘"Orthodoxy" and its Discontents’.

51. LAO, D & C Ciij/13/1/2/1, fo. 1r; Clarke, Lives of Two and Twenty English Divines, 147–8. For Presse see J. Foster, Alumni Oxonienses, 1500–1751 (4 vols, Oxford, 1891–2), iii, 1199, and S. Presse, A Sermon Preached at Egginton (Oxford, 1597). Presse was rector of Egginton from c. 1590 until his death in February 1611/12: Derbyshire Record Office, D840 A/PI 1.
52. LAO, D & C Ciij/13/1/2/1, fo. 1r.

53. N. T. Burns, Christian Mortalism from Tyndale to Milton (Cambridge, Mass., 1972), 16–18.

54. Bodl., MS Ashmole 1521 B(vii), 17.

55. LAO, D & C Ciij/13/1/2/1, fo. 1r.

56. Lichfield Record Office, B/C/3/10–11. The claim in J. Weever, Ancient Fvnerall Monvments (London, 1631), 55, that Wightman ‘had his followers’ may result from a conflation of the cases of Wightman and Legate.

57. Bodl., MS Ashmole 1521 B(vii), 1, 15; Articles to be Enquired of within the Diocese of Couentrie and Litchfielde (London, 1610[11]); there is a copy in Archbishop Marsh's Library, Dublin. Neile left London for Lichfield on 12 February and returned on 9 March: Durham Dean and Chapter Library, MS Hunter 44/17, fo. 216r.

58. SRO, D4219/7/2. The warrant is undated but instructs the constables to bring Wightman before the bishop on Tuesday 4 March. The date presents some problems, as 4 March 1610/11 was a Monday, so the bishop probably meant 5 March, shortly before he departed for London: Durham Dean and Chapter Library, MS Hunter 44/17, fo. 216r.

59. Bodl., MS Ashmole 1521 B(vii), 2–3. He also sent ‘the lord Archbysshope’ (probably George Abbot, of Canterbury) ‘an other’ book (it is not clear whether this was different from that delivered to Wotton and the king), ‘besydes other odd papers’, said to be at least 40 sheets of paper in all: LAO, D & C Ciij/13/1/2/2.

60. B. W. Quintrell, ‘The Royal Hunt and the Puritans, 1604–5’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, xxi (1986), 41–58; A. Bellany, ‘A Poem on the Archbishop's Hearse: Puritanism, Libel, and Sedition after the Hampton Court Conference’, Journal of British Studies, xxxiv (1995), 140–1.

61. F. Shriver, ‘Orthodoxy and Diplomacy: James I and the Vorstius Affair’, ante, lxxxv (1970), 453–4; James VI and I, The Workes of the Most High and Mightie Prince, Iames by the Grace of God, King of Great Britaine (London, 1616), 302.

62. Bodl., MS. Ashmole 1521 B(vii), 8. It is not clear why he chose the label ‘Nicolaitans’. The Nicolaitans are mentioned in Revelation 2:6 and 2:15 as a heretical group who apparently taught that Christians could eat meat offered to idols and practise sexual immorality, and of whom the churches at Ephesus and Pergamum are warned. The Church Fathers (notably Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus and Eusebius) added little to this understanding of the group, beyond seeing the Nicolaitans as libertines or antinomians, and it was this view which prevailed after the Reformation: the 1599 notes to the Geneva Bible described the Nicolaitans as ‘heretikes which held that wiues should be common’. Perhaps it was the forthright condemnation of the group in the Bible (where Jesus says that he hates the doctrine of the Nicolaitans) which led Wightman to his unusual position of labelling the three creeds as the heresies of the Nicolaitans. It is notable that on the very page of the Geneva Bible that the Nicolaitans are condemned are echoes of two more of Wightman's ideas: the sleep of the first death and his refutation of Jesus's divinity. It is almost as if Wightman has creatively read (or misread) that page, which begins with the abhorrence of ‘the workes of the Nicolaitans’ so that everything which follows in the text or the notes is also condemned as if it were a part of the Nicolaitan heresy. A. von Harnack, ‘The Sect of the Nicolaitans and Nicolaus, the Deacon in Jerusalem’, Journal of Religion, iii (1923), 413–22; W. Perkins, A Godly and Learned Exposition or Commentarie vpon the three first Chapters of the Reuelation (London, 1606), 93; J. Durham, A Commentarie upon the Book of the Revelation (London, 1658), 78–80; The Bible (London, 1599), sig. Zzziiiv (STC 2173).

63. Bodl., MS Ashmole 1521 B(vii), 8–9, 23. Wightman's opposition to paedobaptism did not prevent the baptism of seven of his children between 1594 and 1611: SRO, D4219/1/1.

64. Burns, Christian Mortalism, 120, 123; J. Payne, Royall Exchange (Haarlem, 1597), 21–3, 45–7.

65. Bodl., MS Ashmole 1521 B(vii), 5, 10–11, 19.

66. Bodl., MS Ashmole 1521 B(vii), 6. In the record of the trial proceedings all Biblical citations are paraphrases; here the quotations are from the Authorised or King James version of 1611.

67. LAO, D & C Ciij/13/1/2/2, 4.

68. LAO, D & C Ciij/13/1/2/4.

69. LAO, D & C Ciij/13/1/2/4; D & C Ciij/13/1/2/2, fo. 1r.

70. LAO, D & C Ciij/13/1/2/3.

71. Bodl., MS Ashmole 1521 B(vii), 5. According to W. Burton, The Description of Leicester Shire (London [1622]), 307, Wightman had maintained that the Holy Ghost was a creature ‘different from God’, whose ‘essence’ was ‘corporeall and visible, yet transparent and tra[ns]lusent’. Burton lived at Fauld, only five miles from Burton-upon-Trent, and so may have met Wightman or those who knew him.

72. LAO, D & C Ciij/13/1/2/4.

73. H. Barrow, A Brief Discoverie of the False Church (n.p., 1590), 13.

74. Barrow, Brief Discoverie, 115.

75. For the Legates, see D. Como, ‘Bartholomew Legate’, ODNB; M. McIntosh, A Community Transformed: The Manor and Liberty of Havering, 1500–1620 (Cambridge, 1991).

76. H. Clapham, Antidoton: Or a Soveraigne Remedie Against Schisme and Heresie (London, 1600), 33.

77. H. Clapham, Errour on the Right Hand (London, 1608), 29.

78. Edmund Jessop [John Etherington?], A Discovery of the Errors of the English Anabaptists (London, 1623), 76–7. On the authorship of this book see C. Marsh, The Family of Love in English Society, 1550–1630 (Cambridge, 1994), 239–40.

79. Clapham, Right Hand, 43–5.

80. T. Gataker, An Answer to George Walker's Vindication (London, 1642), 38–9.

81. A. Wotton, Sermons upon a part of the first Chap. of the Gospell of S. John (London, 1609), 29–30, 41, 45, 55, 58, 78, 80, 93, 94, 114–18, 152–4, 178–9.

82. Lake and Como, ‘"Orthodoxy" and its Discontents’.

83. J. Coffey, Persecution and Toleration in Protestant England 1558–1689 (Harlow, 2000), 99–102.
84. PRO, PRO31/3/44, fo. 93r; T. Fuller, The Church History of Britain (3 vols, London, 1837), iii, 252–4.

85. Shriver, ‘Vorstius Affair’, 449–74.

86. I. Casaubon, The Ansvvere of Master Isaac Casaubon to the Epistle of the Most Reuerend Cardinall Peron (London, 1612), 4.

87. H. F. Brown (ed.), Calendar of State Papers and Manuscripts relating to English Affairs, existing in the Archives and Collections of Venice, 1610–1613 (London, 1905), 294.
88. Fuller, Church History, iii, 252–4; Birch, Court and Times of James the First, i, 136; F. Pollock, The History of English Law Before the Time of Edward I (2nd edn, 2 vols, Cambridge, 1911), ii, 551–2; W. Holdsworth, A History of English Law (6th edn, 16 vols, London, 1938–65), i, 616–19. The first Lollard to be burned, William Sawtre, was in fact executed two weeks before the passing of the 1401 Act.

89. Huntington Library, EL 2183–4, transcribed in J. P. Collier (ed.), The Egerton Papers (Camden Society, 1st series, vol. xii, 1840), 447–8; E. Coke, The Twelfth Part of the Reports (London, 1656), 93; E. Coke, The Third Part of the Institutes of the Laws of England (London, 1660), 39–40.
90. See L. Peck, Northampton: Patronage and Policy at the Court of James I (London, 1982), 30–1.

91. Welsby, George Abbot, 43.

92. N. Tyacke, Anti-Calvinists: The Rise of English Arminianism c. 1590–1640 (Oxford, 1990), 68–9; CSPD, 1611–18, 33, 43, 75; H. R. Trevor-Roper, Archbishop Laud, 1573–1645 (London: Macmillan, 1940; 2nd edition, 1962), 48–9; for Neile's role in approaching James to secure the position for Laud, see Lambeth Palace Library MS 943, fo. 59r.

93. K. Fincham (ed.), Visitation Articles and Injunctions of the Early Stuart Church (2 vols, Church of England Record Society, 1, 5, 1994–8), i, 98–9; Fincham, Prelate as Pastor, 219.

94. LAO, D & C Ciij/13/1/2/2, fo. 1r. The records of Wightman's investigation before the High Commission have disappeared; like most of the court's papers they were probably destroyed during the civil wars: R. G. Usher, The Rise and Fall of the High Commission (Oxford, 1913), 367–71.

95. LAO, D & C Ciij/13/1/2/2, fo. 1r.

96. Shriver, ‘Vorstius Affair’, 455.

97. Coke, Twelfth Part of the Reports, 88–9. Coke wrongly calls the archbishop Bancroft, but the date and circumstances fit with Abbot's archiepiscopate. S. R. Gardiner, History of England from the Accession of James I to the Outbreak of the Civil War, 1603–42 (10 vols, London, 1883–4), ii, 122–4, follows Coke in placing the events in the context of prohibitions.

98. G. Roberts (ed.), Diary of Walter Yonge (Camden Society, 1st series, 41, 1848), 25–6.; British Library, Harl.Ms 3795, fo.51.

99. CSPD, 1639–40, 84; LAO, D & C Ciij/13/2/2/3; Dr Williams's Library, Morrice MS J, fos 10, 12, 14. For all these see DNB. For Clayton's links with the Neile circle see CSPD, 1603–10, 526.

100. A. Foster, ‘A Biography of Archbishop Richard Neile (1562–1640)’ (D.Phil. thesis, Oxford University, 1978), 66, 212–20, 310. Clayton died in 1612 and Carier converted to Rome in 1613 and died shortly thereafter: M. Questier, ‘Crypto-Catholicism, Anti-Calvinism and Conversion at the Jacobean Court: The Enigma of Benjamin Carier’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, xli (1996), 45–64.

101. Bodl., MS Ashmole 1521 B(vii), 29–30; CSPD, 1639–40, 84. For Butler's ‘proto-Arminian’ views, his conformist drive and his links, through St John's College, Oxford, with Neile, see J. Fielding, ‘Arminianism in the Localities: Peterborough Diocese, 1603–1642’, in K. Fincham (ed.), The Early Stuart Church, 1603–1642 (Basingstoke, 1993), 95, 97–9.
102. Fincham, Prelate as Pastor, 239; W. Dugdale, The Antiquities of Warwickshire (2 vols, London, 1730), i, 151. Dr Williams's Library, Morrice MS J, fo.10, shows that Neile's target in 1611 was Hildersham.

103. W. Scott, The Story of Ashby-de-la-Zouch (Ashby, 1907), 367–9; C. W. Foster (ed.), The State of the Church in the Reigns of Elizabeth and James I as Illustrated by Documents relating to the Diocese of Lincoln, vol. I (Lincolnshire Record Society, 23, 1926), 363–6.

104. Huntington Library, Hastings Correspondence, Box 7: HA 2 and HA 408, calendared in Historical Manuscripts Commission, 78, Report on the Manuscripts of the late Reginald Rawdon Hastings (4 vols, London, 1928–47), ii, 54–5; Scott, Ashby, 370–1.

105. H. Stocks (ed.), Records of the Borough of Leicester, 1603–1688 (Cambridge, 1923), 115. At some point between 1608 and 1613 Barlow closed lectureships at Aylesbury and Huntingdon, and refused to allow a lectureship to be established at Sleaford: E. Venables, ‘The Primary Visitation of the Diocese of Lincoln by Bishop Neile, A.D. 1614’, Associated Architectural Societies' Reports and Papers, xvi (1881), 44.

106. M. Jansson (ed.), Proceedings in Parliament 1614 (House of Commons) (Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, vol. 172, 1988), 339–88, 396–412.

107. Clarke, Lives of Thirty-Two English Divines, 48; E. Vaughan, A Plaine and Perfect Method (London, 1617), sig. A4. For a different view that underplays the severity of Neile's attack on the godly, see Foster, ‘Archbishop Richard Neile’, 74–5.

108. F. Holyoake, A Sermon of Obedience especially vnto Authoritie Ecclesiasticall (Oxford, 1610, republished Oxford, 1613); A. Hughes, Politics, Society and Civil War in Warwickshire, 1620–1660 (Cambridge, 1987), 67–9; F. Holyoake, Dictionarium Etymologicum Latinum (London, 1640), sig. Aaaa2r.

109. N. Cranfield and K. Fincham (ed.), ‘John Howson's Answers to Archbishop Abbot's Accusations at his "Trial" before James I at Greenwich, 10 June 1615’, Camden Miscellany, xxix (Camden, 4th series, 34, 1987), 320–2; Bodl. MS Rawlinson D. 320, fos 46–65v; Tyacke, Anti-Calvinists, 69 (which places Howson's sermon in a different context).

110. Tyacke, Anti-Calvinists, 70, 72–4.

111. J. Cotton, The Way of Congregational Churches Cleared (London, 1648), 39, a reference we owe to Ann Hughes.

112. G. Croese, The General History of the Quakers (London, 1696), ii, 193; E. S. De Beer (ed.), The Correspondence of John Locke (8 vols, Oxford, 1976–89), vi, nos. 2621, 2631, 2653; Truth brought to Light: Or, the History of the First 14 Years of King James (London, 1692).
113. PRO, PRO31/3/44, fo. 93r; T. Helwys, A Short Declaration of the Mistery of Iniquity ([?Amsterdam], 1612).

114. Fuller, Church History, ii, 506–8. His claim rests on James's treatment of a Spanish or Portuguese Cistercian monk condemned in 1618 to be burned for blasphemous heresy but whose sentence was suspended and who spent the rest of his days in Newgate. In this case, however, the king's actions owed more to a thaw in his private attitude to Roman Catholics in connection with the Spanish match than to any feelings about the impropriety or inadvisability of burning heretics. CSPD, 1611–18, 522, 525–7; A. J. Loomie, ‘Bacon and Gondomar: An Unknown Link in 1618’, in A. J. Loomie (ed.), Spain and the Early Stuarts 1585–1655 (Aldershot, 1996), ch. 10.

115. F. Higham, Lancelot Andrewes (London, 1952), 63; Questier, Newsletters, 153, 155. Jordan's claims that the burnings of Legate and Wightman were ‘vigorously condemned by every writer who dealt with the case’ and that their execution ‘enjoyed no support in the public conscience of England in 1612’ (Religious Toleration, iv, 478) cannot be reconciled with the evidence.
116. Lake and Como, ‘"Orthodoxy" and its Discontents’.

117. Burrage, Early English Dissenters, ii, 169–71.

118. CSPD, 1639–40, 80–5; PRO, PC2/50, fos 271v, 279, 281, 296r; PRO, SP16/427, fo. 180r.

119. E. Pagitt, Heresiography, or a Discription of the Heretickes and Sectaries sprang up in these Latter Times (4th edn, London, 1647), sig. B2v.

120. C. H. Firth and R. S. Rait (ed.), Acts and Ordinances of the Interregnum, 1642–1660 (3 vols, London, 1911), i, 1133–6; H. J. McLachlan, Socinianism in Seventeenth-Century England (Oxford, 1951), 163–217.

121. 29 Charles II c. 9. In Scotland, however, the death penalty remained and the last person executed for blasphemy or heresy was Thomas Aikenhead, hanged in Edinburgh in January 1696/7 for denying the Trinity: DNB. Burning at the stake, meanwhile, remained on the statute book in England until 1790 as the punishment for a woman who murdered her husband, and it was occasionally used in the eighteenth century: 30 George III c. 48; Gentleman's Magazine, xliii (1773), 461.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for making this available.

Steven Avery said...


This is an excellent write-up, done without the typical us-them agiprop approach.

In a sense Edward Wightman had similarities to "David Koresh" (Vernon Howell) of the late 1900s, with the dubious prophetic mantle.

Putting that as an aside, there are also similarities to the Michael Servetus history.

Did you find any indication at all of ebionite indications (denial of the virgin birth) in either person ? I saw nothing along that line referenced.

Thanks !


Xavier said...


Thank you for reading.

I do not quite see the Koresh connection you do. But definitely the Servetus one. These men were not 'doomsayers' but people looking for religious freedom of expression at a time when there was none.

As far as the historical records go, there is no denying of the virgin birth from Wightman or Servetus. They were very much believers of the birth, life, death and resurrection of the lord Jesus