Edward Wightman


© 1997, Sam Behling

Once believed to be a direct ancestor, Edward Wightman's connection to the Wightman family who emigrated to America remains hazy, though apparently he still is related. Edward has the rather unenvied distinction of being the last of the religious martyrs in England to be burned at the stake. He was a Separatist (the same religion as the Mayflower passengers followed), which did not go over well with the Church of England, the ONLY accepted religion of England back in the early 1600's.

Preaching his "heresies" quickly got the attention of the authorities, including King James I himself, who issued the order for his execution. On the appointed date, Edward was taken to the stake, tied up, and set on fire. Immediately he started screaming (can't imagine WHY) and shouting out unintelligible words. For some strange reason, the townsfolk and the sheriffs got it into their heads that he was recanting his religious beliefs, so they quickly doused out the flames, untied him and cooled him off.

Once released, he continued to preach his heresies even more strongly than before, so a few days later they tied him back to the stake, and THIS time burned him to ashes. [One of my friends upon hearing this story dubbed him my "twice-baked" ancestor.]

The following is a a copy of the written order issued by the King for the death of Edward Wightman. The language alone is worth a giggle.

"The King to the sheriff of our city of Litchfield, Greeting. Whereas, the reverend father in Christ, Richard, by divine providence, of Coventry and Litchfield, Bishop, hath signified unto us, that he judicially proceeding, according to the exigence of ecclesiastical canons and of the laws and customs of this kingdon of Burton-upon-Trent, in the diocese of Coventry and Litchfield, of and upon the wicked heresies of Ebion, Cirinthus, Valintian, Arrius, Macedonius, Simon, Magnus, of Manes, Manichees, Photinus, and of the Anabaptists, and other arch-heriticks; and moreover of other cursed opinions, belched by the instance of Satan, excogitated and here to forunheard of; the aforesaid Edward Wightman appearing before the aforesaid reverend father, and other divines and learned in the law, assisting him in judgment, the aforesaid wicked crimes, heresies and other detestable blasphemies and errors, stubbornly and perniciously, knowingly and maliciously, and with a hardened heart, published, defended and dispersed, by definite sentence of the said divine father, with the consent of divines, learned in the law aforesaid, justly, lawfully and canonically, against the said Edward Wightman in that part brought, stands adjudged and pronounced a heretick, and therefore as a diseased sheep out of the flock of the Lord, lest our subjects he do infect by his contagion, he hath decreed to be cast out, and cut off. Whereas, the holy mother church hath not further in this part what it ought more to do and prosecute, the same reverend father hath left to our secular power the same Edward Wightman as a blasphemous and condemned heritick to be punished with the condign punishment as by the letters patent of the aforesaid reverend father, the bishop of Coventry and Litchfield, in this behalf thereupon made, as certified unto us in our Chancery. We, therefore, as the zealot of justice and the defender of the Catholick faith, and williing the holy church, and the rights and liberties of the same, and the Catholick faith to maintain and defend, and such like heresies and errors everywhere, so convict and condemn to punish with consign punishment, holding that such a heritick in the aforesaid form convicted and condemned, according to the customs and laws of this our Kingdom of England in this part accustomed, out to be burned with fire. We command thee that thou cause the said Edward Wightman, being in thy custody, to be committed to fire in some publick and open place below the city aforesaid, for the cause aforesaid before people; and the same Edward Wightman in the same fire cause really to be burned in destation of said crime, and for the manifest example of other Christians, that they may not fall into the same crime. And this no ways omit, under the peril that shall follow thereon."

To learn more about other early religious martyrs, browse through Fox's Book of Martyrs

Burning at StakeEdward Wightman Plaque

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