A Date with History

9th February 1555. Heresy!


It is said heresy (picking), like vinegar, is best administered in small doses and a bit like treason, if it prosper none dare call it treason.

Many modern clergy have felt free to do their own ‘picking’. as the Bishop of Durham in the 1980.s cast doubt on the literal interpretation of the Resurrection calling it a ‘conjuring trick with bones’, but we no longer send people to the stake for heresy!

The Author’s home town of Burton-on-Trent was a centre of Puritanism in the 16th and 17th centuries and three heretics associated with the town suffered the penalty for dissent and heresy at a time when to be on the wrong side of the theological debate often meant a terrible death.

Firstly Rowland Taylor was the third Protestant in [Bloody] Mary’s reign to suffer execution Today in 1555.(1)

His father John, born in Barton-under-Needwood, Staffordshire, near Burton, was one of triplets who unusually for those days all survived, a phenomenon which came to the notice of Henry VII who had them educated with John ending as Master of the Rolls.

A volunteer association of Protestant gentry was formed in 1585 for the defence of Queen Elizabeth’s life and many paid the price for being on the wrong side including Robert Sutton son of a Burton carpenter and old boy of the Grammar School. Ordained as a Church of England Minister he converted to Catholicism which led to exile. (2)

However on returning illegally he was recognised whilst visiting prisoners in Stafford Gaol, was arrested and convicted of treason, and suffered Hanging Drawing and Quartering at Gallows Flat. Silkmoor near Stafford on 27th July 1587 after a trial by Sir Walter Aston of Tixall. His crime was to be a Catholic convert and returning to England without royal authority.

The early 17thc saw the Church of England faced with opposition from both Catholics and Protestants which wanted a more thoroughgoing reform than offered by the Elizabethan Settlement, dissent spread through Staffordshire, being particularly strong in Burton.

In 1612 the Puritan Anabaptist Edward Wightman, from Burton was burnt at the stake; his crime was for challenging scriptural authority, rejecting the notion of the Trinity, which was regarded as a heresy, as being against the Nicene Creed (325 CE) and the later Athanasius Creed of (381 CE) which had been formalised to counter the serious threat from the Arians (Arianism).  

He attracted the attention of the authorities and was interrogated by the Bishop of Lichfield, Richard Neile and William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury.

He was sentenced to be burned at the stake on 1st March 1612 but rescued and re-interrogated, only to be secondly burned on Easter Sunday 11th April in Lichfield Market Place. 

(1) There is now has a plaque at Aldham Common, just outside Hadleigh to Taylor where an unhewn stone marks the spot.

(2) He went to Hart Hall (Hertford) Oxford with his brothers, a College then a refuge for recusants especially under Philip Randell, Principal (1548-99).

Ref: historytoday. Richard Cavendish. Wightman. 4.4.2012.Pic.