|Martyrdom||1 March 1546
St Andrews, Scotland
Life Story by John Howie
This gentleman was a brother of the laird of Pittarro in Mearns, and was educated at the university of Cambridge, where his diligence and progress in useful learning, soon made him be respected. From an ardent desire to promote the truth in his own country, he returned to it in the summer of 1544, and began teaching a school in the town of Montrose, which he kept for some time with great applause. He is particularly celebrated for his uncommon eloquence, and agreeable manner of communication. The sequel of this narrative will inform the reader, That he possessed the spirit of prophecy to an extraordinary degree, and was at the same time humble, modest, charitable and patient, even to admiration. One of his own scholars gives the following picture of him, “That he was a man of a tall stature, black-hair’d, long-bearded, of a graceful personage, eloquent, courteous, ready to teach and desirous to learn; that he ordinarily wore a French cap, a frieze gown, plain black hose, and white bands and hand cuffs; that he frequently gave away different parts of his apparel to the poor; in his diet he was very moderate, eating only twice a day, and fasting every fourth day; his lodging, bedding, and such other circumstances, were correspondent to the things already mentioned.” But as these particulars are rather curious than instructive, we shall say no more of them.
After he left Montrose, he came to Dundee, where he acquired still greater fame, in public lectures on the epistle to the Romans; insomuch that the Romish clergy began to think seriously on the consequences which they saw would inevitably ensue, if he was suffered to go on, pulling down that fabric of superstition and idolatry, which they with so much pains had reared; they were particularly disgusted at the reception which he met with in Dundee, and immediately set about projecting his ruin.
From the time that Mr. Patrick Hamilton suffered, until this period, papal tyranny reigned by fire and faggot without controul. In the year 1539, cardinal David Beaton succeeded his uncle in the see of St. Andrews, and carefully trod the path his uncle had marked out; to show his own greatness, and to recommend himself to his superior of Rome, he accused Sir John Borthwick of heresy, whose goods were confiscated, and himself burnt in effigy (for being forewarned of his danger, he had escaped out of the country). After this he suborned a priest to forge a will of K. James V. who died about this time, declaring himself, with the earls of Huntly, Argyle and Murray to be regents of the kingdom: The cheat being discovered, the earl of Arran was elected governor, and the cardinal was committed prisoner to the castle of Dalkeith; he soon found means to escape from his confinement, and prevailed with the regent to break all his promises to the party who had elected him into that office, and to join with him in imbruing his hands in the blood of the saints. Accordingly, several professors of the town of Perth were arraigned, condemned, hanged and drowned; others were sent into banishment, and some were strangled in private. We have departed thus far from the course of our narrative, to shew the reader, that the vacancies betwixt the respective lives in this collection, were as much remarkable for persecution, as the particular instances which are set before him in the lives themselves.
It was this cardinal who, incensed at Mr. Wishart’s success in Dundee, prevailed with one Robert Mill (formerly a professor of the truth, and who had been a sufferer on that account, but who was now a man of considerable influence in that town,) to give Mr Wishart a charge in the queen and governor’s names, to trouble them no more with his preaching in that place. This commission was executed by Mill one day, in public, just as Mr Wishart had ended his sermon. Upon hearing it, he kept silence for a little with his eyes turned towards heaven, and then casting them on the speaker with a sorrowful countenance, he said, “God is my witness, that I never minded your trouble, but your comfort; yea, your trouble is more grievous unto me than it is unto yourselves; but sure I am, to reject the word of God, and drive away his messengers, is not the way to save you from trouble, but to bring you into it: When I am gone, God will send you messengers, who will not be afraid either for burning or banishment. I have, at the hazard of my life, remained among you, preaching the word of salvation; and now, since you yourselves refuse me, I must leave my innocence to be declared by God. If it be long well with you, I am not led by the Spirit of truth; and if unexpected trouble come upon you, remember this is the cause, and turn to God by repentance, for he is merciful.” These words being pronounced, he came down from the pulpit or preaching place. The earl of Marshal and some other noblemen who were present at the sermon, entreated him earnestly to go to the north with them, but he excused himself, and took journey for the west country, where he was gladly received by many.
Being come to the town of Air, he began to preach the gospel with great freedom and faithfulness. But Dunbar, the then arch-bishop of Glasgow, being informed of the great concourse of people who crouded to his sermons, at the instigation of cardinal Beaton, went to Air with the resolution to apprehend him; the bishop first took possession of the church, to prevent him from preaching in it. The news of this brought Alexander earl of Glencairn, and some gentlemen of the neighbourhood, immediately to the town; they offered to put Mr. Wishart in the church, but he would not consent, saying, “The bishop’s sermon would not do much hurt, and that, if they pleased, he would go to the market-cross:” which he did, and preached with such success, that several of his hearers, formerly enemies to the truth, were converted on that occasion. During the time Mr. Wishart was thus employed, the bishop was haranguing some of his underlings and parasites in the church; having no sermon to give them, he promised to be better provided against a future occasion, and speedily left the town.
Mr. Wishart continued with the gentlemen of Kyle after the arch-bishop’s departure, and being desired to preach next Lord’s day at the church of Mauchlin, he went thither with that design; but the sheriff of Air had, in the night-time, put a garrison of soldiers in the church to keep him out. Hugh Campbel of Kinzeancleugh with others of the parish were exceedingly offended at such impiety, and would have entered the church by force; but Mr. Wishart would not suffer it, saying, “Brethren, it is the word of peace which I preach unto you, the blood of no man shall be shed for it this day; Jesus Christ is as mighty in the fields as in the church, and he himself, while he lived in the flesh, preached oftener in the desart, and upon the sea-side, than in the temple of Jerusalem.” Upon this the people were appeased, and went with him to the edge of a muir on the south-west side of Mauchlin, where having placed himself upon a ditch-dyke, he preached to a great multitude who resorted to him; he continued speaking for more than three hours, God working wondrously by him, insomuch that Laurence Rankin the laird of Sheld, a very profane person, was converted by his means; the tears ran from his eyes, to the astonishment of all present, and the whole of his after-life witnessed that his profession was without hypocrisy. While in this country, Mr. Wishart often preached with most remarkable success, at the church of Galston and other places. At this time and in this part of the country, it might be truly said, That the harvest was great, but the labourers were few.
After he had been about a month thus employed in Kyle, he was informed, That the plague had broke out in Dundee the fourth day after he had left it, and that it still continued to rage in such a manner that great numbers were swept off every day; this affected him so much, that he resolved to return again unto them: Accordingly he took leave of his friends in the west, who were filled with sorrow at his departure. The next day after his arrival at Dundee, he caused intimation to be made that he would preach; and for that purpose chose his station upon the head of the east-gate, the infected persons standing without, and those that were whole within: his text was Psalm cvii. 20. He sent his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction. By this discourse he so comforted the people, that they thought themselves happy in having such a preacher, and intreated him to remain with them while the plague continued; which he complied with, preaching often and taking care that the poor should not want necessaries more than the rich; in doing which he exposed himself to the infection, even where it was most malignant, without reserve.
During all this his sworn adversary the cardinal had his eye close upon him, and bribed a priest called Sir John Wighton, to assassinate him; he was to make the attempt as Mr. Wishart came down from the preaching place, with the expectation of escaping among the crowd after the deed was done. To effect this, he posted himself at the foot of the steps with his gown loose, and a dagger under it in his hand. Upon Mr. Wishart’s approach, he looked sternly upon the priest, asking him, What he intended to do? and instantly clapped his hand upon the hand of the priest that held the dagger, and took it from him. Upon which he openly confessing his design, a tumult immediately ensued, and the sick without the gate rushed in, crying, To have the assassin delivered to them; then Mr. Wishart interposed and defended him from their violence, telling them, He had done him no harm, and that such as injured the one injured the other likewise; so the priest escaped without any harm.
The plague was now considerably abated, and he determined to pay a visit to the town of Montrose, intending to go from thence to Edinburgh, to meet the gentlemen of the west. While he was at Montrose, he administred the sacrament of our Lord’s supper in both kinds of the elements, and preached with success. Here he received a letter directed to him from his intimate friend the laird of Kinnier, acquainting him, That he had taken a sudden sickness, and requesting him to come to him with all diligence. Upon this, he immediately set out on his journey, attended by some honest friends of Montrose, who out of affection would accompany him part of the way. They had not travelled above a quarter of a mile, when all of a sudden he stopped, saying to the company, “I am forbidden by God to go this journey. Will some of you be pleased to ride to yonder place (pointing with his finger to a little hill), and see what you find, for I apprehend there is a plot against my life:” whereupon he returned, to the town, and they who went forward to the place, found about sixty horsemen ready to intercept him: By this the whole plot came to light: they found that the letter had been forged; and, upon their telling Mr. Wishart what they had seen, he replied, “I know that I shall end my life by the hands of that wicked man, (meaning the cardinal) but it will not be after this manner.”
The time which he had appointed for meeting the west-country gentlemen at Edinburgh, drawing near, he undertook that journey, much against the inclination and advice of the laird of Dun; the first night after leaving Montrose, he lodged at Innergowrie, about two miles from Dundee, with one James Watson a faithful friend, where, being laid in bed, he was observed to rise a little after midnight, and to go out into an adjacent garden, that he might give vent to his sighs and groans without being observed; but being followed by two men, William Spaldin and John Watson, at a distance, in order that they might observe his motions, they saw him prostrate himself upon the ground, weeping and making supplication for near an hour, and then return to his rest. As they lay in the same apartment with him, they took care to return before him, and upon his coming into the room they asked him, (as if ignorant of all that had past) where he had been? But he made no answer, and they ceased their interrogations. In the morning they asked him again, Why he rose in the night, and what was the cause of such sorrow? (for they told him all that they had seen him do) he answered with a dejected countenance, “I wish you had been in your beds, which had been more for your ease, for I was scarce well occupied.” But they praying him to satisfy their minds further, and to communicate some comfort unto them, he said, “I will tell you, that I assuredly know my travail is nigh an end, therefore pray to God for me, that I may not shrink when the battle waxeth most hot.”—Hearing these words, they burst out into tears, saying, That was but small comfort to them. To this he replied, “God will send you comfort after me; this realm shall be illuminated with the light of Christ’s gospel, as clearly as any realm ever was since the days of the apostles; the house of God shall be built in it; yea, it shall not lack (whatsoever the enemies shall devise to the contrary) the very cope stone; neither shall this be long in doing, for there shall not many suffer after me. The glory of God shall appear, and truth shall once triumph in despite of the devil, but, alas, if the people become unthankful, the plagues and punishments which shall follow will be fearful and terrible.” After this prediction, which was accomplished in such a remarkable a manner afterwards, he proceeded on his journey, and arrived at Leith about the 10th of December, where being disappointed of a meeting with the west-country gentlemen, he kept himself retired for some days, and then became very uneasy and discouraged, and being asked the reason, he replied, “I have laboured to bring people out of darkness, but now I lurk as a man ashamed to shew himself before men:” by this they understood that he desired to preach, and told him that they would gladly hear him; but the danger into which he would throw himself thereby, prevented them from advising him to it, he answered, “If you and others will hear me next Sabbath, I will preach in Leith, let God provide for me as best pleaseth him;” which he did upon the parable of the sower, Matth. xiii. After sermon, his friends advised him to leave Leith, because the regent and cardinal were soon to be in Edinburgh, and that his situation would be dangerous on that account; he complied with this advice, and resided with the lairds of Brunston, Longniddry and Ormiston, by turns; the following sabbath he preached at Inneresk both fore and after noon, to a crowded audience, among whom was Sir George Douglas, who after the sermon publicly said, “I know that the governor and cardinal shall hear that I have been at this preaching, (for they were now come to Edinburgh) say unto them, that I will avow it, and will not only maintain the doctrine which I have heard, but also the person of the teacher to the uttermost of my power;” which open and candid declaration was very grateful to the whole congregation. During the time of this sermon, Mr. Wishart perceived two grey friars standing in the entry of the church, and whispering to every person that entered the door; he called out to the people to make room for them, because, said he, “perhaps they come to learn;” and then addressed them, “requesting them to come forward, and hear the word of truth;” but they still continued to trouble the people, upon which he reproved them in the following manner: “O ye servants of Satan, and deceivers of souls of men, will ye neither hear God’s truth, nor suffer others to hear it? depart and take this for your portion, God shall shortly confound and disclose your hypocrisy within this realm; ye shall be abominable unto men, and your places and habitations shall be desolate.”
The two sabbaths following he preached at Tranent, and in all his sermons after leaving Montrose, he more or less hinted that his ministry was near an end. The next place he preached at was Haddington, where his congregation was at first very throng, but the following day very few attended him, which was thought to be owing to the influence of the earl of Bothwel, who, at the instigation of the cardinal, had inhibited the people from attending him, for his authority was very considerable in that part of the country. At this time he received a letter from the gentlemen of the west, declaring, That they could not keep the diet appointed at Edinburgh; this, with the reflection that so few attended his ministrations at Haddington, grieved him exceedingly. He called upon Mr. Knox, who then attended him, and told him, That he was weary of the world, since he perceived that men were become weary of God.—Notwithstanding the anxiety and discouragement which he laboured under, he went immediately to the pulpit, and sharply rebuking the people of that town for their neglect of the gospel, he told them, “That sore and fearful should be the plagues that should ensue; that fire and sword should waste them; that strangers should possess their houses, and chase them from their habitations.” This prediction was soon after verified, when the English took and possessed that town, while the French and Scots besieged it in the year 1548. This was the last sermon which he preached, in which, as had for some time been usual with him, he spoke of his death as near at hand; and after it was over, he bade his acquaintance farewel, as if it had been for ever. He went to Ormiston, accompanied by the lairds of Brunston and Ormiston, and Sir John Sandilands, the younger of Calder. Mr. Knox was also desirous to have gone with him, but Mr. Wishart desired him to return, saying, “One is enough for a sacrifice at this time.”
Being come to Ormiston, he entered into some spiritual conversation in the family, particularly concerning the happy state of God’s children, appointed the 51st psalm, according to an old version then in use, to be sung, and then recommended the company to God; he went to bed some time sooner than ordinary; about midnight the earl of Bothwel beset the house, so as none could escape, and then called upon the laird, declaring the design to him, and intreating him not to hold out, for it would be to no purpose, because the cardinal and governor were coming with all their train; but if he would deliver Mr. Wishart up, Bothwel promised upon his honour that no evil should befal him. Being inveigled with this, and consulting with Mr. Wishart who requested that the gates should be opened, saying, “God’s will be done,” the laird complied. The earl of Bothwel entered, with some gentlemen, who solemnly protested, That Mr. Wishart should receive no harm, but that he, viz. Bothwel, would either carry him to his own house, or return him again to Ormiston in safety: Upon this promise hands were stricken, and Mr. Wishart went along with him to Elphiston where the cardinal was, after which he was first carried to Edinburgh, then to the earl of Bothwel’s house (perhaps upon pretence of fulfilling the engagement which Bothwel had come under to him) after which he was re-conducted to Edinburgh, where the cardinal had now assembled a convocation of prelates for reforming some abuses, but without effect. Buchanan says, that he was apprehended by a party of horse detached by the cardinal for that purpose; that at first the laird of Ormiston refused to deliver him up, upon which the cardinal and regent both posted thither, but could not prevail until the earl of Bothwel was sent for, who succeeded by flattery and fair promises, not one of which were fulfilled.
Mr. Wishart remained at Edinburgh only a few days, until the blood-thirsty cardinal prevailed with the governor to deliver up this faithful servant of Jesus Christ unto his tyranny, and was accordingly sent to St. Andrews; and being advised to it by the arch-bishop of Glasgow, he would have got a civil judge appointed to try him, if David Hamilton of Preston, a kinsman to the regent, had not remonstrated against it, and represented the danger of attacking the servants of God, who had no other crime laid to their charge, but that of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. This speech, which Buchanan gives at large, affected the governor in such a manner, that he absolutely refused the cardinal’s request, upon which he replied in anger, “That he had only sent to him out of mere civility, without any need for it, for that he with his clergy had power sufficient to bring Mr. Wishart to condign punishment.”—Thus was this servant of God left in the hands of that proud and merciless tyrant, the religious part of the nation loudly complaining of the governor’s weakness.
Mr. Wishart being now in St. Andrews, the cardinal without delay caused summon the bishops and superior clergy to meet at that place on the 27th of February 1546, to deliberate upon a question about which he was already resolved. The next day after this convocation, Mr. Wishart received a summons in prison, by the dean of the town, to answer to-morrow, for his heretical doctrine, before the judges. The next day, the cardinal went to the place of judgment, in the abbey church, with a train of armed men marching in warlike order; immediately Mr. Wishart was sent for from the sea-tower, which was his prison, and being about to enter the door of the church, a poor man asked alms of him, to whom he threw his purse. When he came before the cardinal, John Wirnam the sub-prior went up into the pulpit by appointment, and made a discourse upon the nature of heresy from Matth. xiii. which he did with great caution, and yet in such a way as applied more justly to the accusers, for he was a secret favourer of the truth. After him came up one John Lander, a most virulent enemy of religion, who acted the part of Mr. Wishart’s accuser, he pulled out a long roll of maledictory charges against Mr. Wishart, and dealt out the Romish thunder so liberally as terrified the ignorant by-standers, but did not in the least discompose this meek servant of Christ; he was accused of disobedience to the governor’s authority, for teaching that man had no free-will, and for contemning fasting, (all which he absolutely refused) and for denying that there are seven sacraments; that auricular confession, extreme unction, and the sacrament of the altar, so called, are sacraments; that we should pray to saints; and for saying, That it was necessary for every man to know and understand his baptism; that the pope hath no more power than another man; that it is as lawful to eat flesh upon Friday as upon Sunday; that there is no purgatory, and that it is vain to build costly churches to the honour of God, and for condemning conjuration, the vows of single life, the cursings of the holy church, &c. While Lauder was reading these accusations, he had put himself into a most violent sweat, frothing at the mouth and calling Mr. Wishart a runagate traitor, and demanded an answer, which he made in a short and modest oration: At which they cried out with one content against him in a most tumultuous manner; by which he saw, they were resolved to proceed against him to the utmost extremity, he therefore appealed to a more equitable and impartial judge. Upon which Lauder (repeating the several titles of the cardinal) asked him, “If my lord cardinal was not an equitable judge?” Mr. Wishart replied, “I do not refuse him, but I desire the word of God to be my judge, the temporal estates, with some of your lordships, because I am my lord governor’s prisoner.” After some scornful language thrown out both against him and the governor, they proceeded to read the articles against him a second time, and hear his answers, which he made with great solidity of judgment: After which they condemned him to be burnt as an heretic, paying no regard to his defences, nor to the emotions of their own consciences, but thought that by killing him they should do God good service. Upon this resolution, (for their final sentence was not yet pronounced) Mr. Wishart kneeled down and prayed in the following manner.
“O immortal God, how long wilt thou suffer the rage of the ungodly, how long shall they exercise their fury upon thy servants, who further thy word in this world, seeing they desire to choke and destroy thy true doctrine and verity, by which thou hast shewed thyself unto the world, which was drowned in blindness and ignorance of thy name? O Lord, we know surely that thy true servants must suffer for thy name’s sake, both persecution, affliction and troubles in this present life, which is but a shadow, as thy prophets and apostles have shewed us, but yet we desire thee, merciful Father, that thou wouldst preserve, defend and help thy congregation, which thou hast chosen from before the foundation of the world, and give them thy grace to hear thy word, and to be thy true servants in this present life.”
After this, the common people were removed until their definitive sentence should be pronounced, which being so similar to Mr. Hamilton’s, need not be here inserted. This being done, he was re-committed to the castle for that night; in his way thither, two friars came to him requesting him to make his confession to them, which he refused, but desired them to bring Mr. Wirnam who had preached that day, to him; who being come, after some discourse with Mr. Wishart, he asked him, If he would receive the sacrament of the Lord’s supper? Mr. Wishart answered, “Most willingly, if I may have it administered according to Christ’s institution, under both kinds, of bread and wine.” Hereupon the sub-prior went to the bishops, and asked, If they would permit the sacrament to be given to the prisoner? But the cardinal, in all their names, answered, That it was not reasonable to give any spiritual benefit to an obstinate heretic condemned by the church.
All this night Mr. Wishart spent in prayer, and next morning the captain of the castle gave him notice that they had denied him the sacrament, and at the same time invited him to breakfast with him, which Mr. Wishart accepted, saying, “I will do that very willingly, and so much the rather, because I perceive you to be a good Christian, and a man fearing God.” All things being ready, and the family assembled to breakfast, Mr. Wishart turning himself to the captain, said, “I beseech you, in the name of God, and for the love ye bear to our Saviour Jesus Christ, to be silent a little while, till I have made a short exhortation, and blessed this bread which we are to eat, so that I may bid you farewel.” The table being covered and bread let upon it, he spake about the space of half an hour, of the institution of the supper, and of our Saviour’s death and passion, exhorting those who were present to mutual love and holiness of life. Then, giving thanks, he brake the bread, distributing a part to those about him, who were disposed to communicate, intreating them to remember that Christ died for them, and to feed on it spiritually; then taking the cup, he bade them remember that Christ’s blood was shed for them; And having tasted it himself, he delivered it unto them, and then concluding with thanksgiving and prayer, he told them, “That he would neither eat nor drink more in this life,” and retired to his chamber.
Soon after, by the appointment of the cardinal, two executioners came to him, and arraying him in a black linen coat, they fastened some bags of gun-powder about him, put a rope about his neck, a chain about his waist, and bound his hands behind his back, and in this dress they led him one to the stake, near the cardinal’s palace; opposite to the stake they had placed the great guns of the castle, lest any should attempt to rescue him. The fore tower, which was immediately opposite to the fire, was hung with tapestry, and rich cushions were laid in the windows, for the ease of the cardinal and prelates, while they beheld the sad spectacle. As he was going to the stake, it is said, that two beggars asked alms of him, and that he replied, “I want my hands wherewith I used to give you alms, but the merciful Lord vouchsafe to give you all necessaries, both for soul and body.” After this the friars came about him, urging him to pray to our Lady, &c. to whom he answered, “Cease, tempt me not, I intreat you.”
Having mounted a scaffold prepared on purpose, he turned towards the people and declared that “he felt much joy within himself in offering up his life for the name of Christ, and told them that they ought not to be offended with the good word of God, because of the afflictions I have endured, or the torments which ye now see prepared for me; but I intreat you, that you love the word of God for your salvation, and suffer patiently and with a comfortable heart for the word’s sake, which is your everlasting comfort; but for the true gospel which was given me by the grace of God, I suffer this day with a glad heart. Behold, and consider my visage, ye shall not see me change my colour; I fear not this fire, and I pray that you may not fear them that slay the body, but have no power to slay the soul. Some have said that I taught that the soul shall sleep till the last day, but I know surely, and my faith is such, that my soul shall sup with my Saviour this night.” Then he prayed for his accusers, that they might be forgiven, if, through ignorance or evil design, they had forged lies upon him. After this the executioner asked his forgiveness, to whom he replied, “Come hither to me;” and when he came, he kissed his cheek, and said, “Lo, here is a token that I forgive thee, do thine office.” Being raised up from his knees, he was bound to the stake, crying with a loud voice O Saviour of the world, have mercy upon me; Father of heaven, I commend my spirit into thy holy hands: whereupon the executioner kindled the fire, and the powder that was fastened to his body blew up. The captain of the castle perceiving that he was still alive, drew near, and bid him be of good courage, whereupon Mr. Wishart said, “This flame hath scorched my body, yet it hath not daunted my spirit; but he who, from yonder place beholdeth us with such pride, shall within a few days lie in the same as ignominiously as he is now seen proudly to rest himself.” But as he was thus speaking, the executioner drew the cord that was about his neck so strait that he spoke no more; and thus, like another Elijah, he took his flight by a fiery chariot into heaven, and obtained the martyr’s crown on the 1st of March, 1546.
Thus lived, and thus died this faithful witness of Jesus Christ; he was early marked out as a sacrifice to papal tyranny, being delated to the bishop of Brichen for an heretic, because he taught the Greek new Testament to his scholars, while he kept school at Montrose; he was summoned by him, to appear before him, but escaped into England, and at the university of Cambridge completed his education, and was himself an instructor of others; During the whole time he was in his own country, he was hunted as a partridge in the mountains, until the cardinal got him brought to the stake. Through the whole of his sufferings, his meekness and patience were very remarkable, as was that uncommon measure of the spirit of prophecy which he possessed; witness the circumstances relative to Dundee, Haddington, the reformation from popery, and the cardinal’s death, all of which were foretold by him, and soon after accomplished.
The popish clergy rejoiced at his death, and extolled the cardinal’s courage, for proceeding in it against the governor’s order; but the people very justly looked upon him as both a prophet and a martyr. It was also did, that abstracting from the grounds of his suffering, his death was no less than murder, in regard no writ was obtained for it, and the clergy could not burn any without a warrant from the secular power. This stirred up Norman, and John Lefties of the family of Rothes, William Kircaldie of Grange, James Melvil of the family of Carnbee, Peter Carmichael and others, to avenge Mr. Wishart’s death. Accordingly upon the 28th of May, 1546, (not three months after Mr. Wishart suffered) they surprized the castle early in the morning, and either secured or turned out the persons who were lodged in it; came to the cardinal’s door, who was by this time alarmed, and had secured it, but upon their threatening to force open the door, he opened it, (relying partly upon the sanctity of his office, and partly on his acquaintance with some of them) crying, “I am a priest, I am a priest;” but this had no effect upon them, for James Melvil having exhorted him in a solemn manner to repentance, and having apprized him, that he was now to avenge Mr. Wishart’s death, he stabbed him twice or thrice; which ended his wretched days. These persons, with some others who came in to them, held the castle out for near two years, being assisted by England; they had the governor’s eldest son with them, for he had been put under the cardinal’s care, and was in the castle at the time they surprized it. The castle was at last besieged by the French, and surrendered upon having the lives of all that were in it secured.
Betwixt this and the time of Mr. Walter Mill’s sufferings, whose life follows, one Adam Wallace, alias Fean, a simple but very zealous man, was taken at Winton, and was brought to his trial in the Blackfriars church in Edinburgh, where he was charged with articles of heresy, similar to those with which others before him had been charged. He was condemned and burnt in the castle-hill, suffering with great patience and resolution.
There were others condemned before that time, among whom were Robert Forrester gentleman, Sir Duncan Simson priest, Friar Killore, Friar Beveridge, and dean Thomas Forrest a canon, regular and vicar of Dollar, who were all burnt at one stake upon the castle-hill of Edinburgh, February 1538.
Narrative from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs
Taken from the book Foxes Book of Martyrs. by John Foxe
About the year of our Lord 1543, there was, in the University of Cambridge, one Master George Wishart, commonly called Master George of Benet’s College, a man of tall stature, polled-headed, and on the same a round French cap of the best; judged to be of melancholy complexion by his physiognomy, black-haired, long-bearded, comely of personage, well spoken after his country of Scotland, courteous, lowly, lovely, glad to teach, desirous to learn, and well travelled; having on him for his clothing a frieze gown to the shoes, a black millian fustian doublet, and plain black hosen, coarse new canvas for his shirts, and white falling bands and cuffs at his hands.
He was a man modest, temperate, fearing God, hating covetousness; for his charity had never end, night, noon, nor day; he forbare one meal in three, one day in four for the most part, except something to comfort nature. He lay hard upon a puff of straw and coarse, new canvas sheets, which, when he changed, he gave away. He had commonly by his bedside a tub of water, in the which (his people being in bed, the candle put out and all quiet) he used to bathe himself. He loved me tenderly, and I him. He taught with great modesty and gravity, so that some of his people thought him severe, and would have slain him; but the Lord was his defence. And he, after due correction for their malice, by good exhortation amended them and went his way. Oh, that the Lord had left him to me, his poor boy, that he might have finished what he had begun! for he went into scotland with divers of the nobility, that came for a treaty to King Henry.
In 1543, the archbishop of St. Andrews made a visitation into various parts of his diocese, where several persons were informed against at Perth for heresy. Among those the following were condemned to die, viz. William Anderson, Robert Lamb, James Finlayson, James Hunter, James Raveleson, and Helen Stark.
The accusations laid against these respective persons were as follow: The four first were accused of having hung up the image of St. Francis, nailing ram’s horns on his head, and fastening a cow’s tail to his rump; but the principal matter on which they were condemned was having regaled themselves with a goose on fast day.
James Reveleson was accused of having ornamented his house with the three crowned diadem of Peter, carved in wood, which the archbishop conceived to be done in mockery to his cardinal’s cap.
Helen Stark was accused of not having accustomed herself to pray to the Virgin Mary, more especially during the time she was in childbed.
On these respective accusations they were all found guilty, and immediately received sentence of death; the four men, for eating the goose, to be hanged; James Raveleson to be burnt; and the woman, with her sucking infant, to be put into a sack and drowned.
The four men, with the woman and the child, suffered at the same time, but James Raveleson was not executed until some days after.
The martyrs were carried by a great band of armed men (for they feared rebellion in the town except they had their men of war) to the place of execution, which was common to all thieves, and that to make their cause appear more odious to the people. Every one comforting another, and assuring themselves that they should sup together in the Kingdom of Heaven that night, they commended themselves to God, and died constantly in the Lord.
The woman desired earnestly to die with her husband, but she was not suffered; yet, following him to the place of execution, she gave him comfort, exhorting him to perseverance and patience for Christ’s sake, and, parting from him with a kiss, said, “Husband, rejoice, for we have lived together many joyful days; but this day, in which we must die, ought to be most joyful unto us both, because we must have joy forever; therefore I will not bid you good night, for we shall suddenly meet with joy in the Kingdom of Heaven.” The woman, after that, was taken to a place to be drowned, and albeit she had a child sucking on her breast, yet this moved nothing in the unmerciful hearts of the enemies. So, after she had commended her children to the neighbors of the town for God’s sake, and the sucking bairn was given to the nurse, she sealed up the truth by her death.
Being desirous of propagating the true Gospel in his own country George Wishart left Cambridge in 1544, and on his arrival in Scotland he first preached at Montrose, and afterwards at Dundee. In this last place he made a public exposition of the Epistle to the Romans, which he went through with such grace and freedom, as greatly alarmed the papists.
In consequence of this, (at the instigation of Cardinal Beaton, the archbishop of St. Andrews) one Robert Miln, a principal man at Dundee, went to the church where Wishart preached, and in the middle of his discourse publicly told him not to trouble the town any more, for he was determined not to suffer it.
This sudden rebuff greatly surprised Wishart, who, after a short pause, looking sorrowfully on the speaker and the audience, said: “God is my witness, that I never minded your trouble but your comfort; yea, your trouble is more grievous to me than it is to yourselves: but I am assured to refuse God’s Word, and to chase from you His messenger, shall not preserve you from trouble, but shall bring you into it: for God shall send you ministers that shall fear neither burning nor banishment. I have offered you the Word of salvation. With the hazard of my life I have remained among you; now you yourselves refuse me; and I must leave my innocence to be declared by my God. If it be long prosperous with you, I am not lede by the Spirit of truth; but if unlooked-for troubles come upon you, acknowledge the cause and turn to God, who is gracious and merciful. But if you turn not at the first warning, He will visit you with fire and sword.” At the close of this speech he left the pulpit, and retired.
After this he went into the west of Scotland, where he preached God’s Word, which was gladly received by many.
A short time after this Mr. Wishart received intelligence that the plague had broken out in Dundee. It began four days after he was prohibited from preaching there, and raged so extremely that it was almost beyond credit how many died in the space of twenty-four hours. This being related to him, he, notwithstanding the importunity of his friends to detain him, determined to go there, saying: “They are now in troubles, and need comfort. Perhaps this hand of God will make them now to magnify and reverence the Word of God, which before they lightly esteemed.”
Here he was with joy received by the godly. He chose the east gate for the place of his preaching; so that the healthy were within, and the sick without the gate. He took his text from these words, “He sent His word and healed them,” etc. In this sermon he chiefly dwelt upon the advantage and comfort of God’s Word, the judgments that ensue upon the contempt or rejection of it, the freedom of God’s grace to all His people, and the happiness of those of His elect, whom He takes to Himself out of this miserable world. The hearts of his hearers were so raised by the divine force of this discourse, as not to regard death, but to judge them the more happy who should then be called, not knowing whether he should have such comfort again with them.
After this the plague abated; though, in the midst of it, Wishart constantly visited those that lay in the greatest extremity, and comforted them by his exhortations.
When he took his leave of the people of Dundee, he said that God had almost put an end to that plague, and that he was now called to another place. He went from thence to Montrose; where he sometimes preached, but he spent most of his time in private meditation and prayer.
It is said that before he left Dundee, and while he was engaged in the labors of love to the bodies as well as to the souls of those poor afflicted people, Cardinal Beaton engaged a desperate popish priest, called John Weighton, to kill him; the attempt to execute which was as follows: one day, after Wishart had finished his sermon, and the people departed, a priest stood waiting at the bottom of the stairs, with a naked dagger in his hand under his gown. But Mr. Wishart, having a sharp, piercing eye, and seeing the priest as he came from the pulpit, said to him, “My friend, what would you have?” and immediately clapping his hand upon the dagger, took it from him. The priest being terrified, fell to his knees, confessed his intention, and craved pardon. A noise was hereupon raised, and it coming to the ears of those who were sick, they cried, “Deliver the traitor to us, we will take him by force”; and they burst in at the gate. But Wishart, taking the priest in his arms, said, “Whatsoever hurts him shall hurt me; for he hath done me no mischief, but much good, by teaching more heedfulness for the time to come.” By this conduct he appeased the people and saved the life of the wicked priest.
Soon after his return to Montrose, the cardinal again conspired his death, causing a letter to be sent him as if it had been from his familiar friend, the laird of Kennier, in which it was desired with all possible speed to come to him, as he was taken with a sudden sickness. In the meantime the cardinal had provided sixty men armed to lie in wait within a mile and a half of Montrose, in order to murder him as he passed that way.
The letter came to Wishart’s hand by a boy, who also brought him a horse for the journey. Wishart, accompanied by some honest men, his friends, set forward; but something particular striking his mind by the way, he returned, which they wondering at, asked him the cause; to whom he said, “I will not go; I am forbidden of God; I am assured there is treason. Let some of you go to yonder place, and tell me what you find.” Which doing, they made the discovery; and hastily returning, they told Mr. Wishart; whereupon he said, “I know I shall end my life by that bloodthirsty man’s hands, but it will not be in this manner.”
A short time after this he left Montrose, and proceeded to Edinburgh, in order to propagate the Gospel in that city. By the way he lodged with a faithful brother, called James Watson of Inner-Goury. In the middle of the night he got up, and went into the yard, which two men hearing they privately followed him. While in the yard, he fell on his knees, and prayed for some time with the greatest fervency, after which he arose, and returned to his bed. Those who attended him, appearing as though they were ignorant of all, came and asked him where he had been. But he would not answer them. The next day they importuned him to tell them, saying “Be plain with us, for we heard your mourning, and saw your gestures.”
On this he with a dejected countenance, said, “I had rather you had been in your beds.” But they still pressing upon him to know something, he said, “I will tell you; I am assured that my warfare is near at an end, and therefore pray to God with me, that I shrink not when the battle waxeth most hot.”
Soon after, Cardinal Beaton, archbishop of St. Andrews, being informed that Mr. Wishart was at the house of Mr. Cockburn, of Ormistohn, in East Lothian, applied to the regent to cause him to be apprehended; with which, after great persuasion, and much against his will, he complied.
In consequence of this the cardinal immediately proceeded to the trial of Wishart, against whom no less than eighteen articles were exhibited. Mr. Wishart answered the respective articles with great composure of mind, and in so learned and clear a manner as greatly surprised most of those who were present.
After the examination was finished, the archbishop endeavored to prevail on Mr. Wishart to recant; but he was too firmly fixed in his religious principles and too much enlightened with the truth of the Gospel, to be in the least moved.
On the morning of his execution there came to him two friars from the cardinal; one of whom put on him a black linen coat, and the other brought several bags of gunpowder, which they tied about different parts of his body.
As soon as he arrived at the stake, the executioner put a rope round his neck and a chain about his middle, upon which he fell on his knees and thus exclaimed:
“O thou Savior of the world, have mercy upon me! Father of heaven, I commend my spirit into Thy holy hands.”
After this he prayed for his accusers, saying, “I beseech thee, Father of heaven, forgive them that have, from ignorance or an evil mind, forged lies of me: I forgive them with all my heart. I beseech Christ to forgive them that have ignorantly condemned me.”
He was then fastened to the stake, and the fagots being lighted immediately set fire to the powder that was tied about him, which blew into a flame and smoke.
The governor of the castle, who stood so near that he was singed with the flame, exhorted the martyr, in a few words, to be of good cheer, and to ask the pardon of God for his offences. To which he replied, “This flame occasions trouble to my body, indeed, but it hath in nowise broken my spirit. But he who now so proudly looks down upon me from yonder lofty place (pointing to the cardinal) shall, ere long, be ignominiously thrown down, as now he proudly lolls at his ease.” Which prediction was soon after fulfilled.
The hangman, that was his tormentor, sat down upon his knees, and said, “Sir, I pray you to forgive me, for I am not guilty of your death.” To whom he answered, “Come hither to me.” When that he was come to him, he kissed his cheek, and said: “Lo, here is a token that I forgive thee. My heart, do thine office.” And then he was put upon the gibbet and hanged, and burned to powder. When that the people beheld the great tormenting, they might not withhold from piteous mourning and complaining of this innocent lamb’s slaughter.
It was not long after the martyrdom of this blessed man of God, Master George Wishart, who was put to death by David Beaton, the bloody archbishop and cardinal of Scotland, A.D. 1546, the first day of March, that the said David Beaton, by the just revenge of God’s mighty judgment, was slain within his own castle of St. Andrews, by the hands of one Leslie and other gentlemen, who, by the Lord stirred up, brake in suddenly upon him, and in his bed murdered him the said year, the last day of May, crying out, “Alas! alas! slay me not! I am a priest!” And so, like a butcher he lived, and like a butcher he died, and lay seven months and more unburied, and at last like a carrion was buried in a dunghill.