George Wishart

George Wishart (1513-1546) "a powerful Protestant preacher, confidant and mentor of John Knox. While preaching the Protestant Reform in 1546 he was betrayed to Cardinal David Beaton and imprisoned in the bottle dungeon at the Castle in St. Andrews. Subsequently he was tried for heresy, condemned to death and burnt at the stake outside the Castle." [1]

Biographical sketch

According to John Howie in Scots Worthies (revised by W H Carslaw and published at an unknown date by Oliphant, Anderson and Ferrier), George Wishart was brother to the Laird of Pitarrow, near Montrose, in Mearns, Scotland. Wishart was educated at Cambridge University, and returned to his home county in 1544 and began teaching in a school in Montrose. By all accounts he was an accomplish scholar and teacher - and of admirable character.

Wishart left Montrose for Dundee where he was famed for his public lectures on the Letter to the Romans, and his popularity and teaching provoked the local clergy, principally Cardinal David Beaton, to jealousy. Since the matyrdom of Patrick Hamilton it was dangerous to provoke opposition from the tyranny of these men. Beaton persuaded the Dundee gentry to issue an edict against Wishart to silence him. Wishart left Dundee for Ayrshire, but Beaton stirred up the Archbishop of Glasgow to stop Wishart preaching.

About a month or so after his leaving Dundee, Wishart learned that plague had broken out in the city just a few days after he left. He learned, too, that many people had been smitten and he was constrained to return. Intimation was made that he would preach from the top of the Eastgate of the city, with the infected people standing outside the gate and those not infected on the city side of the gate. He stood, as it were, between the living and the dead. He preached from Psalm 107:20, "He sent his Word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction." The people were so comforted by his preaching that they asked him to continue to preach while the plague raged, which Wishart agreed to do, and he put himself at risk of being infected by the plague as he attended the poor and needy.

The Cardinal made attempts to assassinate Wishart but they failed. But Wishart knew his days were drawing to a close and that he would suffer for his faith and in his sermons prior to his death he hinted that his ministry was near to an end.

While Wishart was at Ormiston, the Earl of Bothwell surrounded the Laird of Ormiston's house where he was staying for the night. Wishart surrendered himself into Bothwell's hand and he was carted off to Edinburgh to appear before the blood-thirsty Cardinal Beaton. He was then sent to St Andrew's where he was imprisoned prior to the mockery of a trial. He was condemned as a heretic and sentenced to being burnt to death. Bags of gunpowder were fastened around him, a rope put round his neck, a chain round his waist, and his hands tied behind him. He was brought to the stake prepared for him near the Cardinal's palace. The great guns of the castle had been brought out lest anyone should attempt to rescue him. He addressed the crowd. "I entreat 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. 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." Then having prayed, the executioner kindled the fire and the powder fastened to his body blew up. Still alive he said, "The flame has scorched my body, yet it has not daunted my spirit." The executioner pulled the cord that was around his neck and he spoke no more. George Wishart obtained the martyr's crown on March 1, 1546.