This man was John Bidle, a clergyman and schoolmaster of Gloucester. His Biblical studies led him to a denial of the Trinity, which he lost no occasion of making public. During twenty years, broken by five or six imprisonments, he persisted in the effort to diffuse Unitarian teachings, and even to organize services for Unitarian worship. His writings and personal influence were so widely recognized that it became a fashion later to speak of Unitarians as ‘Bidellians.’ Cromwell was evidently troubled about him, feeling repugnance to his doctrine yet averse to ill-treat a man of unblemished character. In 1655, ten years after Bidle’s first imprisonment, the Protector sent him to the Scilly Islands, obviously to spare him a worse fate, and allowed him a yearly sum for maintenance. A few months before Cromwell’s death, he was brought back to London, and on being set at liberty at once renewed his efforts. Finally, he was caught ‘conventicling’ in 1662 and sent to gaol, and in September of that year he died.
The foregoing sufficiently illustrates the position confronting those who at that time openly avowed their departure from the Trinitarian dogma. Those who dared and suffered were no doubt but a few of those who really shared in the heretical view; the testimony of orthodox writers is all in support of this surmise. Equally clear is the fact that while the religious authorities were thus rigorous a steadily deepening undercurrent of opinion made for ‘Latitude.’ How far this Latitude might properly go was a troublesome question, but at any rate some were willing to advocate what many must have silently desired.