John Biddle baptised

The father of Unitarianism in England was baptised on January 14th, 1615.

Unitarianism is a variety of Protestantism that rejects the doctrine of the Trinity and consequently the divinity of Jesus, though admiring his life and teachings. It does not accept hell or original sin, rejects all authority in matters religious and believes that only the individual can, in the end, determine what he or she believes about God.

John Biddle, who has been called the father of Unitarianism in England, was a Gloucestershire tailor’s son, born at Wotton-under-Edge. Outstandingly bright, he went to the local grammar school and then to Magdalen Hall, Oxford (now Hertford College), where he took his degree. He was a tutor at the college for a time before being appointed headmaster of a school in Gloucester in 1641. He already believed in applying reason to religious questions, rather than accepting authority, and his unorthodox views on the Trinity got him into trouble. 

Biddle’s reservations about the divinity of both Christ and the Holy Spirit came to the disapproving attention of Parliament and he spent much of the rest of his life either in prison for his heretical opinions or out on bail awaiting interrogation and trial. Fully confident of his intellectual powers, he courted controversy by publishing tracts and engaging in public discussions while scathingly dismissing his opponents, who he said deluded themselves and others with ‘brainsick notions that have neither sap nor sense in them’. 

Parliament’s actions against Biddle’s ideas actually drew attention to them. He was gathering some support and in 1655 Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell personally saved him from execution by banishing him to the Scilly Isles. Released in 1658, he presided over a small group of disciples who met regularly in London, but under Charles II’s regime he was sent to prison in Newgate in 1662 and died there in September that year. He was still only 47 years old, but his influence lived on long afterwards through his disciples and reprints of his writings. The first congregation in England to call itself Unitarian was founded in London in 1774.