Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gaunt, Elizabeth

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GAUNT, ELIZABETH (d. 1685), executed for treason, was the wife of William Gaunt, a yeoman of the parish of St. Mary's, Whitechapel. She was an anabaptist, and, according to Burnet, spent her life doing good, ‘visiting gaols, and looking after the poor of every persuasion.’ In the reign of Charles II she had taken pity on one Burton, outlawed for his part in the Rye House plot. Though she was a poor woman, keeping a tallow-chandler's shop, she gave him money to escape to Amsterdam. Burton returned with Monmouth, and after the defeat at Sedgemoor fled to London, where Mrs. Gaunt hid him in her house. Burton was base enough to earn a pardon by informing against his benefactress. Mrs. Gaunt was indicted for high treason, and tried at the Old Bailey on 19 Oct. Henry Cornish [q. v.] was tried at the same time. She was convicted and burnt at Tyburn (23 Oct. 1685). She suffered with great courage; Penn, the quaker, who was present at her execution, described how she laid the straw about her in order that she might burn quickly, and by her constancy and cheerfulness melted the bystanders into tears (Burnet, Own Time, ii. 270). She said that she rejoiced to be the first martyr that suffered by fire in this reign; but in a paper which she wrote in Newgate the day before her death laid her blood at the door of the ‘furious judge and the unrighteous jury.’ She was the last woman executed in England for a political offence. Her speech from the stake appeared in both English and Dutch at Amsterdam, 1685.

[Cobbett's State Trials, xi. 382–410; Ralph's Hist. i. 889–90; Macaulay's Hist. i. 664; Neal's Hist. of the Puritans, ii. 75.]

E. T. B.