George Wishart

Wishart, was a younger son of John Wishart, laird of
Pitarrow in the  Mearns. His brother James  was
clerk of the Justiciary and an advocate (d 1524). George
was born about 1513 and was probably first educated at
Kings College, Aberdeen  where he learnt Greek. About
1538 he taught at a school in  Montrose which was the
first in Scotland to teach Greek.  The teaching of
Greek in a grammar school brought Wishart to the attention
of the clerics who regarded such teaching as heresy. He
was summoned to appear before John Hepburn, Bishop of
Brechin in 1538 but prudently he fled into England and
became a preacher and lecturer in Bristol, the diocese of
the reformer Bishop Latimer. Noted for eloquence and
agreeable manner he then fell foul of the dean of the
diocese. Called before Archbishop Cranmer he was found
guilty of teaching heresy and sentenced to bear a faggot
(symbolic of repentance, the burning of which indicated
recantation and the burning of the bill or warrant, that
would otherwise have been the instrument of  his
death) at St Nicholas Church in Bristol on 13 July 1539
and in Christ Church parish  the following week.
Wishart submitted to the penalties but soon departed
England for Switzerland in 1540.

During 1542
he was in Germany and Switzerland  where Wishart
learnt of and became an admirer of the Swiss Confession of
Faith, which he promptly translated into his vernacular
Scottish tongue. This stay in Switzerland seemed to mature
Wishart and in 1543 he went to Corpus Christi (also known
as Bennett College) College in Cambridge where he was both
a student and a teacher. About 1544  Wishart returned
to Scotland and was soon preaching in Dundee where his
reputation grew, and also in Montrose, Ayrshire, Leith and
throughout East Lothian. It was about this time that the
Romish clergy began to be concerned that Wishart was
pulling down the fabric of superstition and idolatry that
they had so painstakingly set up over the years.

David Beaton had succeeded his uncle as Archbishop of St
Andrews and he set up Robert Mill, a professor and man of
influence in Dundee, to charge Wishart to desist with
preaching there. The Earl Marischal  and other nobles
sought to get Wishart to come north with them but,
reluctantly Wishart headed to the West of Scotland and
Ayr. Here, however, Wishart came under the malign gaze of
Dunbar, Bishop of Glasgow, who proceeded to Ayr intent on
stopping Wishart from preaching. In the event the Bishop
preached to his cronies in an almost empty church while
Wishart preached to a large crowd at the market
cross, where the Earl of Glencairn and some gentlemen stood
guard. The Earl had offered to put Wishart in the church
in the stead of the Bishop but Wishart declined the offer,
as he did at Mauchline soon after. He had been asked to
preach at Mauchline but the Sheriff of Ayr had put
soldiers in the church to keep him out, much to the
disgust of Hugh Campbell of Kinzeancleuch , the younger
son of Sir George Campbell of Loudon. Again Wishart turned
his cheek and declined the offer to take the church by
force; instead he preached for over three hours to a very
large congregation on the moors to the south of the town.

Wishart had
been in the west of Scotland for about a month when word
came through that plague had broken out in Dundee just
four days after he had left. Overcome with concern for the
people he returned there forthwith to preach and to help
the sick and poor. It was then that Beaton bribed a
priest, John Wightman, to assassinate Wishart. However,
the attempt failed as Wishart suspected the affront,
grasped Wightman`s hand and took a dagger from him. The
people were outraged and wanted the priest given over to
them, but  Wishart calmed them down and released
Wightman. Shortly afterwards Wishart preached in Montrose
and administered the Communion where he received a letter
from an old friend ( the Laird of Kinnear) . The letter
asked that he come and visit as the laird was ill.
Wishart`s journey had hardly started when he stopped and
declared “I am forbidden by God to go this journey” . He
was right to fear for his safety as waiting in 
ambush were some sixty horsemen ready to intercept him.
The letter was of course a forgery.

leaving the west Wishart had arranged to meet his friends
in Edinburgh. He journeyed from Montrose and stayed the
night at Invergowrie with a friend, James Watson. In the
night Wishart was observed to get up and go into the
garden where he lay prostrate with widespread arms weeping
and sighing. Later he revealed that he knew  ” my
travail is near an end, therefore pray to God for me, that
I may not shrink when the battle waxeth most hot.” He
arrived in Leith on the 10th December but the meeting with
his western friends did not happen. As a result Wishart
became restless and perhaps also reckless, as he preached
several times in the vicinity even though Cardinal Beaton
and the Regent were in Edinburgh.  At Haddington he
had a very large congregation to hear him but the
following day very few. As if a warning of worse to come,
the Earl of Bothwell had inhibited the people from
attending. In despair Wishart turned to John Knox for wise
counsel. On 16 January  1546 at Ormiston the Earl of
Bothwell  surrounded the house in which he was
staying and after many promises of safe conduct and
return, Wishart was delivered up to Beaton.

After some
days imprisoned in Edinburgh Beaton had prevailed on the

Governor to hand Wishart over, who then sent him to St
Andrews and his doom. The Governor seemingly had second
thoughts but Beaton arrogantly declared that Wishart had
only been sent to Edinburgh as a courtesy ” for that he,
with his clergy, had power sufficient to bring Mr Wishart
to condign punishment”. This flew in the face of
established law that only the civil authority could order
a death sentence. It also shows the arrogance of Beaton who believed his powers as Legate gave him authority that was superior to the Regent.

At St
Andrews all was prepared for a quick conviction and
execution.  The bishops and clergy convened on 27
February 1546 and the next day Wishart, locked in the sea
tower of the castle, received his summons. Wishart`s main
accuser was one John Lauder , described as `a virulent
enemy of religion”  who trotted out all the standard
maledictions of Popery in some eighteen articles or
charges, to the horror of the common people present. After
the haranguing Wishart prayed. The common people were
removed whilst the inevitable sentence was read; he was
then returned to his castle cell.  During the night
two friars attended Wishart and desired his confession but
were quickly turned away; and an attempt was made by John
Winram, the sub prior, to obtain permission to give the
Sacrament to Wishart but this was vehemently denied by
Beaton. In the morning the captain of the castle informed
Wishart that the Sacrament had been refused him, but
invited Wishart to breakfast. At the table there was wine
and bread which Wishart first covered with a cloth, then
prayed and discoursed on the Sacrament for about half an
hour. After this he broke bread and dispensed the wine,
entreating those present to remember that Christ died for

after the breakfast two executioners arrived  and
dressed him in black linen coat and fixed some bags of
gunpowder around him. A thin rope or cord was placed
around his neck; chains around his waist and his hands
tied behind his back. Thus prepared he was led to the
stake near the cardinal`s palace while the fore tower
opposite was hung with tapestries and cushions for the
comfort of the prelates watching the execution. Afraid
that a rescue attempt might be made, the cardinal ordered
all the guns to be manned and no man was to leave his post
until the execution was over. Wishart was allowed a few brief words before he was tied to the stake and the fire ignited. The gunpowder about his waist exploded but did not kill him outright which caused the captain of the castle to speak to him and bid him be courageous and to ask pardon of God for his offences. Wishart replied-

“This flame occasions trouble to my body indeed, but it hath in no wise broken my spirit. But he who now so proudly looks down upon me from yonder lofty place, shall ere long be as ignominiously thrown down, as now he proudly lolls at his ease.”

thus speaking the executioner approached and drew the rope
around Wishart`s neck taught, cutting off his last words.
Thus a martyr`s crown was won on 1st March 1546.
Throughout his suffering Wishart`s meekness and 
patience was remarkable, while the Popish clergy were
jubilant at his death. Beaton was even praised for his
courage in refusing the Governor`s order. The people saw
it as murder as no writ had been issued nor had the
authority to execute been granted by the secular

It has to be said that there are arguements that the Cardinal did not in fact watch the execution of Wishart, nor deployed himself as alleged, nor that the prophecy (above) was spoken. As ever there are the reports of the reformers and the counter reports by the catholic authors. Whether or not they occurred, the substantive fact is that George Wishart was not executed according to law, and that Beaton abused his authority.

Revenge taken – the murder of Cardinal Beaton.