Polemicist, pamphleteer; b. Wotton, Gloucestershire, 1615; d. London, 1662. As a grammar school boy, he "outran his instructors and became tutor to himself," translating Vergil and Juvenal. Upon graduating from Magdalen Hall, Oxford (1638), he became master of the Free School, Gloucester, where he wrote "Twelve Arguments against the Deity of the Holy Ghost." For this he was imprisoned and his manuscript seized. It was published in 1647 and ordered to be burnt publicly as blasphemous. Despite a penalty of death (1648) on all who denied the Trinity, he published two tracts against the doctrine. He was saved by friends in Parliament and withdrew to Staffordshire in extreme poverty, preaching and editing the Septuagint. Cromwell's Act of Oblivion (1652) enabled Biddle to gather his followers for public Sunday worship but, on publishing two scriptural catechisms, he was indicted before Parliament (1654). After periods in several prisons, he was banished to close custody in the Scilly Isles. He wrote with pathos and power for release, and he was brought for trial to Westminster and discharged by Lord Chief Justice Glynn. Biddle at once restarted his Bible classes. Again he was tried, fined, and put in prison; he died of disease contracted in the foulness of conditions there.
Bibliography: j. toulmin, A Review of the Life, Character and Writings of the Rev. John Biddle, M.A. (London 1791). a. b. grosart, The Dictionary of National Biography From the Earliest Times to 1900 (London 1885–1900) 2:475–478.
John Biddle, 1615–62, founder of English Unitarianism. From his examination of the Scriptures he lost belief in the doctrine of the Trinity and stated his conclusions in Twelve Arguments Drawn Out of Scripture. When the existence of this paper was made known to the magistrates in 1645, Biddle was imprisoned, as he was frequently thereafter. His Twelve Arguments was suppressed and burned publicly in 1647. Upon the publication of his Two-fold Catechism in 1654, he was tried for his life but received from Oliver Cromwell a sentence of banishment to the Scilly Islands. Returning in 1658, Biddle taught and preached until in 1662 he was again thrown into prison, where he died. His followers were called Biddelians, Socinians, or Unitarians.
See biography by J. Toulmin (1789).
J. A. Cannon