BIDDLE, JOHN: A founder of modern English Unitarianism; b. at Wotton-under-Edge (15 m. s. of Gloucester), where he was baptized Jan. 14, 1615; d. in a London jail Sept. 22, 1662. He was educated at Oxford, and appointed head master of the free school in the parish of St. Mary le Crypt, Gloucester, 1641. Study of the Scriptures led him to disbelieve the doctrine of the Trinity, and, his unsoundness being reported to the city magistrates, he was summoned before them. Fearing imprisonment, he made a confession of faith (May 2, 1644) which was not satisfactory, and so he made a second in which he used more conventional language and was allowed to go free. He then committed to paper Twelve Arguments Drawn out of Scripture: wherein the commonly received opinion touching the Deity of the Holy Spirit is clearly and fully refuted, and to these views he was faithful the rest of his life. A friend informed the magistrates of the existence of this paper and so he was cited before the committee of Parliament then at Gloucester, and put in the common jail Dec. 2,1645. Happily a prominent citizen bailed him out. In 1646 he was summoned to appear before Parliament at Westminster to explain his position, and boldly avowed his belief. He was committed to the custody of one of the officers of the House of Commons and so continued for five years. Meanwhile a committee of the Assembly of Divines sitting at Westminster considered his case and to them he gave a copy of his Twelve Arguments. They made answer to it, but did not move him. So in 1647 he published his paper, which makes a tract of thirty-eight small pages. It stirred up great indignation and was suppressed and burned by the common hangman. Next he published A Confession of Faith Touching the Holy Trinity, according to the Scripture (1648), a tract of seventy-five small pages, in which in six articles, accompanied by expositions, he plainly states his views, making God the Father the first person of the Holy Trinity; one chief Son of the most high God, with only a human nature, though our God by reason of his divine sovereignty over us, yet subordinate to the most high God, the second person; and one principal minister of God and Christ the third. Next came another tract (eighty-six pages) containing alleged testimonies in favor of his views from the Fathers. In 1648 Parliament, at the instigation of the Westminster divines, made denial of the Trinity a capital offense, yet Biddle was not only not put to death, but in 1649 was released on bail. He became a chaplain and preacher in Staffordshire, but was shortly recalled and remained in prison till Feb., 1651. On his release he publicly advocated his views and continued his publications with A Two-fold Catechism; the one simply called a Scripture Catechism; the other a brief Scripture Catechism for Children (1654, the first of 141 small pages, the second of thirty-four, both with a preface). The answers, being entirely in quoted Scripture, could not be gainsaid, but the questions were open to serious criticism. Consequently he was examined by the House of Commons and committed to prison on Dec. 3, 1654, and was not released till May 28, 1655. The Catechism was burned by the common hangman Dec. 14,1654. Again publicly advocating his beliefs on July 3, 1655, he was thrown into prison and a little later was tried for his life on the ordinance above mentioned. Cromwell, unwilling to put him to death, banished him to the Scilly Islands (Oct. 5, 1655), and allowed him 100 crowns a year for maintenance. In 1658 he was released, and resumed preaching. In the latter part of Aug., 1662, he was again imprisoned and after five weeks died.


Bibliography: The principal source of information respecting Biddle is the Life by Joshua Toulmin, London, 1789, which analyzes all his writings, including several translations not mentioned above. There are earlier accounts, such as J. Bidelli Vita, by J. Farrington, ib. 1682, and A Short Account of the Life of John Biddle, ib. 1691. Consult also A. A Wood, Athenæ Oxonienses, ed. P. P. Bliss, iii, 593-603, 4 vols., ib. 1813-20; J. H. Allen, Historical Sketch of the Unitarian Movement, pp. 131-135, New York, 1894; DNB, v, 13-16. Some additional information is in Walter Lloyd's Bicentenary of Barton Street Dissenting Meeting House, Gloucester, pp. 40-50, Gloucester, 1899.