Imagine getting burned at the stake for kindness. Well, this was what happened to Elizabeth Gaunt. Those who looked upon the old woman knew her as a kind Christian who helped the poor and exiles. However, this was at a time in England and all over the world when those who held independent religious views were met with cruel deaths.
Two years earlier, several members of the Whig party plotted to assassinate King Charles II as he passed by the Rye House. Although the plot was later abandoned, the government found out about it from a person or persons who betrayed them. One of the men, James Burton, begged Elizabeth to hide him from his pursuers for his family’s sake. Believing that this was what God wanted her to do, Elizabeth helped him to escape, giving him her savings.
When the government issued a proclamation granting immunity to anyone who gave evidence against those involved in the plot, James Burton saw an opportunity to save himself. He offered to testify against Elizabeth, the woman who had saved his life in exchange for immunity. The government agreed and Burton “received a pardon as a recompense for his treachery and she was burnt alive for her charity,” wrote philosopher David Hume.
Elizabeth died on October 23, 1685 because of her act of kindness. She was the last woman to be burned alive in England for treason.