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The Scottish Nation

WISHART. Of this surname we have the following account in Nisbet’s Heraldry, (vol. i. p. 204): “Jacob Van Basson, a Dane, in his manuscript says, that one Robert, a natural son of David earl of Huntingtoun, being in the wars in the Holy Land, was to-named Guishart, from the slaughter he made on the Saracens; and from his were descended the families of the name of Wishart. Sir James Dalrymple, in his Collections, says, that he has seen a charter granted by Gilbert Umfravile, earl of Angus, to Adam Wishart of Logie, anno 1272. Sir George Mackenzie, in his MS. Says, the chief of this name was Lord Brichen, whose succession failed, in a daughter married with the old earl of Angus; for which the Douglases, earls of Angus, still quarter those arms with their own; and the other families of the name, were Wisharts of Logie and Pittarro. Both these families are extinct. Doctor George Wishart, sometime bishop of Edinburgh, was descended of Logie. Mr. George Wishart, who was martyred for the Protestant religion, was of Pittarro. The barony of Logie was again purchased by Mr. John Wishart, one of the commissioners of Edinburgh, nephew to the bishop, and great-grandson to Sir John Wishart of Logie.” The name, however, is Norman, originally Guiscard.

WISHART, GEORGE, one of the first martyrs for the Protestant religion in Scotland, is supposed to have been the son of James Wishart of Pitarrow, in the Mearns, justice-clerk to James V., and was born in the early part of the sixteenth century. His brother, Sir John Wishart of Pitarrow, also took an active part in promoting the Reformation, and in 1562, was appointed comptroller of the ministers’ money. Buchanan, erroneously imagining the surname to be Wiseheart, has given him the classical name of Sophocardius, while Knox calls him Wischard, which is more akin to the original. In the early part of his life he was sent to the university of Aberdeen, then recently founded, and, after completing his academical education, as was customary with youths of family in those days, he went to travel on the continent, and passed some time in France and Germany. It is supposed that he imbibed the doctrines of the Reformation from some of the Reformers themselves in the latter country. On his return home, he obtained a knowledge of the Greek language at Montrose, which was the first town in Scotland where the Greek was taught. He afterwards succeeded his master as teacher there, but having put into the hands of his scholars the Greek New Testament, the bishop of Brechin summoned him to appear before him on a charge of heresy, which induced him to retire into England for safety in 1538. Repairing to the university of Cambridge, he entered himself a student of Bennet’s or Corpus Christi college, where he resided for nearly six years, devoting himself to study, and diligently preparing himself for the work of the ministry. An interesting description of him during his residence in that university, written by Emery Tylney, one of his pupils, is inserted in Fox’s Martyrology, and in most accounts of his life. He returned to Scotland in July 1543, in the train of the commissioners who had gone to England to negotiate a treaty with Henry VIII. Immediately after his arrival he began to preach publicly at Montrose, and his great acquirements, his persuasive eloquence, his talents and devoted piety, drew large audiences to hear him both there and at Dundee, wither he afterwards proceeded. In the latter town the multitudes that followed him alarmed the Popish clergy so much, that Cardinal Bethune prevailed on one of the magistrates, named Robert Mill, to serve him with a mandate to leave the town, and trouble the people no longer. On hearing it read, Wishart exclaimed, “God is my witness that I never sought your trouble, but your comfort; yea, your trouble is more dolorous to me than to yourselves. But I am assured that to refuse God’s word, and to chase from you his messenger, shall nothing preserve you from trouble, but shall bring you into it; for God shall send you messengers who will not be afraid of burning, nor yet of banishment. Should trouble unlooked for come upon you, acknowledge the cause, and turn to God, for he is merciful.” He then removed to the west of Scotland, and resumed his labours in the town of Ayr, where he preached for some time with great freedom and faithfulness. Shortly after his arrival, the archbishop of Glasgow, instigated by Bethune, hastened to Ayr, and seized upon the church in which the Reformer was about to preach. Apprehensive of Wishart’s danger, the earl of Glencairn, and some other gentlemen of the neighbourhood, hurried to the town for his protection, and would straightway have proceeded to eject the intruders by force, had not Wishart himself interfered to prevent bloodshed. “Let him alone,” he said to the earl, referring to the archbishop, “his sermon will not much hurt; let us go to the market-cross.” This was accordingly done, and there he preached to a numerous auditory.

Continuing his labours in Kyle, Wishart frequently preached in the parishes of Galston and Bar. He was also invited to preach at Mauchline, and had repaired thither for the purpose, when he found that the sheriff of Ayr, with a band of soldiers, had taken possession of the church. Some of Wishart’s friends urged him to enter the church at all hazards, and showed themselves eager for an encounter with those who were within, but he mildly remarked, that “Christ Jesus is as potent in the fields as in the kirk; and I find that himself oftener preached in the desert, at the sea-side, and other places judged profane, than he did in the temple at Jerusalem. It is the word of peace which God sends by me; the blood of no man shall be shed this day on account of preaching it.” They then repaired without the village to the edge of a muir, where Wishart, with a dyke for his pulpit, preached for more than three hours to a most attentive audience. By this sermon a gentleman was converted, who, for his bold depravity, was commonly known by the title of “the wicked laird of Shiel.” While thus employed in Ayrshire, the Reformer received intelligence that a contagious distemper raged with great violence in Dundee, and that the inhabitants, calling to mind his awful prediction, with its speedy accomplishment, were anxious for his return. In spite of the remonstrances of his friends, he resolved without delay to share in their calamity and danger, and, as soon as he reached Dundee, he collected the people together, and preached to them at the East Port, the healthy sitting within the gate, while the infected took their station without. Besides the laborious work of frequent preaching, he toiled incessantly for their recovery, exposing himself fearlessly every hour to the hazard of contagion, by visiting the sick, providing necessaries for such as were in want, and carrying spiritual consolation to the dying.

No sooner had Bethune been informed that Wishart was again in Dundee, than he resolved upon taking him off by assassination, and a priest named Sir John Wighton, or Wightman, was selected for the purpose. The latter accordingly repaired to Dundee, entered the church where Wishart was preaching, and, with a drawn dagger in his hand which he concealed within his frock, stationed himself at the foot of the pulpit stairs until the Reformer should descend. At the conclusion of the service, when Wishart was in the act of coming down, his quick eye fell upon the purposed assassin, and at a glance he detected the suspiciousness of his attitude. Seizing the arm of the priest, he drew his hand forth from its concealment, and secured the weapon, while the villain, overcome by the suddenness of the detection, fell down on his knees at his feet, and confessed his guilty intention. An uproar of alarm burst forth from the congregation, and the people, rushing upon Wighton, would have torn him in pieces had not the Reformer himself interposed. Clasping the priest in his arms, he exclaimed, “Let him alone; he hath hurt me in nothing, but has given us to understand what we may fear. For the time to come we will watch better.” The trembling culprit was then allowed to depart unharmed. Thenceforth a two-handed sword was generally carried before him; and the office of bearing it, during his visit to Lothian in the latter part of his life, was conferred upon John Knox, who, at that period, was a constant attendant upon him.
When the pestilence had subsided in Dundee, Wishart removed to Montrose, where he not only preached publicly, but administered the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper to the adherents of the Reformation. At this time his caution, and a providential presentiment of impending danger, enabled him to escape being assassinated by a party of armed men which Bethune had placed in ambuscade in the neighbourhood of the town. “I know,” he said on this occasion to his friend, “that I shall end my life by that bloodthirsty man’s hands, but it shall not be in this manner.” Frequently after this he intimated, both in his sermons and in conversation, that he would soon be summoned to seal his testimony by a death of martyrdom. At the same time he cheered his friends with the prospect of glorious days that were yet to come, assuring them that, though all was then so dark and unpromising, Scotland would be illuminated throughout with the light of Christ’s gospel, as no country had ever been before. While at Montrose, he received a letter from the friends of the Reformation in Ayrshire, desiring him to meet them at Edinburgh in December, that he might appear before a convocation of the clergy, and be publicly heard in defence of the doctrines which he taught. They promised to him to demand a free conference from the bishops on matters of religion, and assured him of their protection. He accordingly proceeded through Fife, and arrived at Leith early in December 1545. To his great mortification, he found that his friends from the west had not come forward, nor was there any appearance of their being on the way. After waiting a few days, he ventured to preach in Leith, and among the auditory were Knox, and the lairds of Langniddry, Ormiston, and Brunston, and other gentlemen from East Lothian. Deeming it advisable for his safety that he should remove from Leith, accompanied by his friends, he repaired to Inveresk, near Musselburgh, where he preached twice to large audiences. The two following Sabbaths he preached at Tranent, and gave distinct intimation that his ministry was drawing to a chose. He next went to Haddington, where he preached to a somewhat numerous audience. On the following day he again preached, but through the influence of the earl of Bothwell, sheriff of East Lothian, who had been commissioned by Cardinal Bethune to apprehend him, the numbers present on the second day did not exceed a hundred. The third day, when he was about to preach, a boy came to him with a letter from friends in the west, explaining their inability to keep the appointment they had made with him. He handed the latter to Knox, now his constant attendant, remarking that he was weary of the world. It was so unusual for him to speak of anything else in the prospect of preaching, that Knox was surprised, and after reminding him that the hour of worship was at hand, he withdrew. Wishart paced up and down behind the high alter for nearly half-an-hour, in great anguish of spirit. On ascending the pulpit he exclaimed, “O Lord, how long shall it be that thy holy Word shall be despised, and men shall not regard their own salvation!” And turning to the people he added – “I have heard of thee, Haddington, that in thee there would have been at a vain play two or three thousand people, and now to hear God’s messenger one hundred persons cannot be brought together. Sore and fearful shall thy plagues be because of thy contempt for the gospel. Fire and sword shall reach thee – strangers shall possess thee, and thine own inhabitants shall be driven forth, or made to serve in bondage.” And thus he continued, says Knox, for nearly an hour and a half describing what afterwards occurred. At last he said – “I have forgotten myself, but let these my last words, as regards preaching, remain with you till God send you comfort,” and to he proceeded with his sermon. This fearful prediction was fulfilled in 1548, two years afterwards, when the English took possession of the town, and ravaged all the neighbouring country.

There is no authentic portrait of George Wishart. The description of him by Emery Tilney, “sometime his scholar,” commences thus: “About the year of our Lord 1543, there was in the university of Cambridge one Mr. George Wishart, commonly called Mr. George of Bennet’s College, who was a man of tall stature, polde-headed, and on the same a round Frenche cappe of the best; judged of melancholic complexion by his physiognomy; black-haired, long-bearded, comely of personage, well spoken after his country of Scotland, courteous, lowlie, lovelie, glad to teach, desirous to learn, and was well travelled; having upon him for his habit or clothing, never but a mantle friese gown to the shoes, a black Milan fustian doublet, and plain black hosen, coarse new canvas for his shirts, and white falling bands, and cuffs at the hands. All the which apparel he gave to the poor, some weekly, some monthly, some quarterly, as he liked, saving his French cap, which he kept the whole year of my being with him. He was a man modest, temperate, fearing God, and hating covetousness.”

On departing from Haddington for the house of Cockburn of Ormiston, where he was to spend the night, John Knox, his devoted scholar and sword-bearer, earnestly entreated leave to accompany him, but this Wishart refused. “Nay, return to your bairns,” he said, meaning his pupils, “and God bless you; ane is sufficient for a sacrifice.” He then took from him the two-handed sword, as if his office were at an end, and dismissed him. The frost at this time was severe, and therefore he and his friends, namely the laird of Ormiston, young Sandilands of Calder, and the laird of Brunston, with their servants, had to proceed to Ormiston on foot. After supper he spoke for a little of the death of the righteous; but getting sleepy, he sung with them the 51st Psalm according to the old Scottish version, beginning ‘Have mercy on me now, good Lord. After thy great mercy;” and retired saying, “God grant quiet rest.” After the family had gone to sleep, at midnight they were aroused with a violent knocking, and on looking out they found that the house was surrounded with a powerful force, commanded by the earl of Bothwell. Cockburn and his friends refused at first to deliver Wishart up, but Bothwell solemnly assured them that no harm was intended, and that, should any violence be offered to Wishart, he would himself interpose for his safety. Anxious to avoid bloodshed, Wishart commanded the gates to be opened, adding, “the will of God be done!” He was borne away a prisoner, and conveyed to Elphinston Hall, the ruins of which may still be seen about a mile and a half from Ormiston. Here the cardinal was in waiting, and Bothwell treacherously forfeited his plighted troth, by surrendering him into his hands. “From that time forth,” says Pitscottie, with honest indignation, “the Earl Bothwell prospered never, neither any of his affairs.”

After having been confined for more than a month in irons in the sea-tower of St. Andrews, Wishart was brought to trial before a convocation of the prelates and clergy, assembled for the purpose in the Cathedral. On this occasion every form of law, justice, and decency, was disregarded. The prisoner was not allowed a patient hearing, but was treated with every species of contumely and reproach. He was condemned to death as an obstinate heretic, and next day, March 1, 1546, he was burnt at the stake on the Castle Green. His hands were tied behind him – there was a chain round his middle, and a rope about his neck, and he was surrounded by military guards. On approaching the fire he knelt down, and, after rising, he repeated the following words three times: -- “O thou Saviour of the world, have mercy upon me. Father of heaven, I commend my spirit into thy holy hands.” And turning to the people he said ;; “Brethren and sisters, I beseech you that ye take not offence at the Word on account of the torments which ye see prepared for me. Love the Word of God. Suffer patiently for the Word’s sake, and it will prove your everlasting comfort. Exhort also brethren and sisters who have often heard me elsewhere, that they fall not away because of persecution. Show them that my doctrine was not of men. Had it been of men, I should have had their thanks. It is because it was the true gospel given me by the grace of God, that I this day suffer, not sorrowfully, but with a glad heart. It was for this cause I was sent among you. It was to suffer this fire for Christ’s sake. Look at me, and ye shall not find my countenance to change. This grim fire I fear not. And so I pray you also not to fear them that can slay the body, but have no power to slay the soul. Some have alleged that I taught concerning the soul that it shall sleep till the last day. ON the contrary, I know most surely that my soul shall sup with my Saviour this night, even with him for whom I am now to suffer.” He then prayed for his accusers thus: “I beseech then, Father of heaven, to forgive such as have ignorantly, or even of evil mind, forged lies against me. I forgive them with all my heart. I beseech Christ also to forgive such as have this day ignorantly condemned me to death.” And turning again to the people, he added – “I beseech you, brethren and sisters, to exhort your prelates to learn God’s word, that they may at least be ashamed to do evil, and learn to do well. And if they turn not, the wrath of God will come upon them suddenly. They shall not escape.” The executioner now craved his forgiveness. “Come hither, my heart,” said he, and kissing his cheek, added, “take this as a token that I forgive thee. Do thine office.” He was then suspended from the gibbet over the fire, by the chain round his middle; and after he had been also strangled by the rope round his neck, his body was burned to ashes, amidst the sighs and groans of the spectators. Apprehensive lest a rescue should be attempted, Bethune had commanded all the artillery of the castle to be pointed towards the place of execution, and the gunners also were stationed by their guns with their matches ready, so that immediate execution might be done against any who should attempt a rescue, while himself, with the other prelates, reclining in luxurious pomp, witnessed the melancholy spectacle with exultation. In most accounts of Wishart’s martyrdom, it is mentioned, that, looking towards the cardinal, he predicted “that he who from yonder (pointing to the tower where Bethune sat) beholdeth us with such undaunted pride, shall, within a few days, lie in the same as ignominiously as now he is seen proudly to rest,” a prediction which was literally fulfilled within three months after, by the violent death of his persecutor.

WISHART, GEORGE, a learned prelate of the family of Logy in Forfarshire, was born in East Lothian in 1609. He studied at the university of Edinburgh, where he took his degrees. Entering into holy orders, he became one of the ministers of St. Andrews, or, according to Keith, of North Leith. For his refusal to take the Covenant he was deposed in 1638; and having been subsequently detected in a correspondence with the royalists, he was plundered of all his goods, which happened oftener than once, and imprisoned in the “Thieves’ Hole’ of the Tolbooth of Edinburgh. Wishart himself tells us that for his attachment to Royalty and Episcopacy he three times suffered imprisonment and exile. At the surrender, in October 1644, of the town of Newcastle, where he had been officiating in his clerical character, he was taken prisoner by the Scottish army, and in the following January, when again confined in Edinburgh Tolbooth, he petitioned the Estates for maintenance to himself, his wife, and five children. A few months thereafter, when the marquis of Montrose arrived at Edinburgh with his victorious army, Wishart obtained his liberty. He afterwards became chaplain to Montrose, in which capacity he accompanied him to the continent. He wrote, in Latin, an Account of the Exploits of Montrose, published at Paris in 1647. This was the book which was hung round the latter’s neck at his execution. He subsequently wrote a continuation, bringing down Montrose’s History till his death, a translation of which was published, with the first part, in 1720. A superior version of the whole, with a strong Jacobite preface, was published qt Edinburgh by the Ruddimans in 1756, reprinted by Constable in 1819.

After the death of Montrose, Wishart was appointed chaplain to Elizabeth, the Electress-palatine, sister to Charles I., whom he accompanied to England in 1660, when she came to visit her royal nephew. Soon after he had the rectory of Newcastle-upon-Tyne conferred upon him; and on the establishment of Episcopacy in Scotland, was consecrated bishop of Edinburgh, June 1, 1662. He died in 1671, and was buried in Holyrood Abbey, under a magnificent tomb, with a long Latin inscription. Bishop Keith speaks of him as “a person of great religion.” “He published somewhat in divinity,” says Wodrow, (though he does not cite his authority,) “but then I find it remarked, by a very good hand, his lascivious poems, compared with which the most luscious parts of Ovid de Arte Amandi are modest, gave scandal to all the world.” It is recorded to Wishart’s honour, that he exerted himself to obtain a pardon for some of the persecuted Covenanters; and that, remembering his own dismal case in prison, he was always careful to send from his own table the first share of his dinner to the Presbyterian prisoners.

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