Edward Wightman

Edward Wightman bigraphy, stories - Heretic

Edward Wightman : biography

c.1580? – 11 April 1612

Edward Wightman (c.1580? – 11 April 1612) was an English radical Anabaptist, executed at Lichfield on charges of heresy.Wikisource: Dictionary of National Biography, 735–736. He was the last person to be burned at the stake for heresy in England.Atherton and Como 2005.


Edward Wightman“In the King’s letter, under the privy seal, as well as in the warrant for his execution, he is called ‘Edward Wightman, of the parish of Burton-upon-Trent, in the diocese of Coventry and Lichfield’.” Robert Wallace, Antitrinitarian Biography, E. T. Whitfield, 1850, pp 567–568. may have been the child baptised at Hinckley, Leicestershire, on 14 July 1580, by his father, John Wightman.Wright 2004. He attended Burton Grammar School and entered the clothiers business of his mother’s family. Eventually, he served an apprenticeship as a woollen draper in the town of Shrewsbury.A. Macdonald, A Short History of Repton, London, 1929, p 86, 91, 244. He married Frances Darbye of Hinckley in 1593Staffordshire Record Office, marriage recorded as Sept. 11, 1593. and settled in Burton upon Trent. Apart from his mercer’s business in Burton he also became a minister of the local Baptist Church.

Case of Thomas Darling

He became involved with the Puritans and in 1596 was chosen as one of the leaders assigned to the investigation of demonic possession of 13 year old Thomas Darling.D. P. Walker, Unclean Spirits, London, 1981, p 56; J. Bruce (ed.), Diary of John Manningham, Camden Society, 1st series, 99, 1868, p 169. This suggests that by the mid-1590s Wightman was an important and well-respected public figure, taking part in the newly formed movement that began to hold sway over Burton’s society and politics. His involvement in the Darling case proved a turning point in his life, making him entirely amenable to the possibility of unmediated spiritual intervention. Darling claimed not just to be possessed by the devil, but engaged in a series of ‘spiritual wars’ in which both demonic and angelic voices were said to emanate from him:

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

Religious persecution

Wightman’s adoption of “heresy" commenced with his understanding of the mortality of the soul, adopting the "soul sleep" view of Martin Luther. In one of his early public messages he preached that “the soul of man dies with the body and participates not either of the joys of Heaven or the pains of Hell, until the general Day of Judgment, but rested with the body until then."M. W. Greenslade, ‘The 1607 Return of Staffordshire Catholics’, Staffordshire Catholic History, 4, 1963–4, p 6–32; Clarke, Lives of Two and Twenty English Divines, p 147.

Between 1603/4 and 1610/11, he became more active and vocal. According to court records, he was a prolific writer, although none of his writings have been found to date.Robert Wallace, Antitrinitarian Biography, E. T. Whitfield, 1850, p 567-568. He came to the attention of the local church authorities and a warrant for his arrest was issued. The order instructed the constables of Burton to immediately bring him before the Bishop of Lichfield Richard Neile (or Neale) for interrogation.Durham Dean and Chapter Library, MS Hunter 44/17, fo. 216r.

Condemned by King James I

Wightman set about putting together a compendium of his theology for his upcoming hearing and defence. Perhaps thinking that he would at least be allowed time to plead his case, he delivered copies of it to members of the clergy in an effort to shore up support. But then, perhaps as a last resort, he delivered a copy to King James I,Collections for a History of Staffordshire, Staffordshire Record Society, 1982, p. 176. a move that would ultimately seal his fate. No copy survives.