Wishart, George

, one of the first martyrs for the protestant religion in Scotland, and a person of great distinction in the ecclesiastical history of that country, was born in the beginning of the sixteenth century, and appears to have very early felt the consequences of imbibing the spirit of the reformers. He was descended of the house of Pitarrow in the Mearns, an illustrious family in Scotland, | and is said to have travelled into Germany, where he became acquainted with the opinions of Luther. Other accounts mention x his having been banished from his own country by the bishop of Brechin, for teaching the Greek 7‘estament in the town of Montrose, and that after this he resided for some years in the university of Cambridge. Of this latter circumstance there is no reason to doubt, for besides an account of him while there by one of his pupils, printed by Fox, the historian of Bene’t or Corpus Christ! college has inserted a short account of him, as one of the members of that house. In 1544, he returned to his native country, in the company of the commissioners who had been sent to negociate a treaty with Henry VIII. of England. At this time he was allowed to excel all his countrymen in learning, and to be a man of the most persuasive eloquence, irreproachable in life, courteous and affable in manners. His fervent piety, zeal, and courage, in the cause of truth, were tempered with uncommon meekness, modesty, patience, prudence, and charity. With these qualifications he began to preach in a very bold manner, against the corruptions of the Romish church, and the vices of the clergy. He met with a most favourable reception wherever he appeared, and was much followed and eagerly listened to, which so excited the indignation of cardinal Beaton, and the popish clergy in general, that a resolution was formed to take away his life by some means or other.

Two attempts were made to cut him off by assassination; but he defeated the first by his courage, and the second by his caution. On the first of these attempts he behaved with great generosity. A friar named Weighton, who had undertaken to kill him when he was in Dundee (where he principally preached), knowing that it was his custom to remain in the pulpit after sermon, till the church was empty, skulked at the bottom of the stairs with a dagger in his right hand under his gown. Wishart (who was remarkably quick-sighted), as he came down from the pulpit, observing the friar’s countenance, and his hand with something in it under his gown, suspected his design, sprung forward, seized his hand, and wrenched the dagger from him. At the noise which this scuffle occasioned, a crowd of people rushed into the church, and would have torn the friar in pieces; but Mr. Wishart clasped him in his arms, and declared that none should touch him but through his body. “He hath done me no hurt” said he, “my friends; he | hath done me much good; he hath taught me what I have to fear, and put me upon my guard.” And it appeared that he defeated the second attempt on his life by the suspicion which the first had inspired. When he was at Montrose, a messenger came to him with a letter from a country gentleman, acquainting him that he had been suddenly taken ill, and earnestly intreating him to come to him without delay. He immediately set out, accompanied by two or three friends, but when they were about half a mile from the town, he stoppled, saying, “I suspect there is treason in this matter. Go you (said he to one of his friends) up yonder, and tell me what you observe.” He came back and told him, that he had seen a company of spearmen lying in ambush near the road. They then returned to the town, and on the way he said to his friends; “I know I shall one day fall by the hands of that blood-thirsty man (meaning cardinal Beaton), but I trust it shall not be in this manner.

These two plots having miscarried, and Wishart still continuing to preach with his usual boldness and success, the cardinal summoned a synod of the clergy to meet Jan. 11, 1546, in the Blackfriars church, Edinburgh, and to consider of means for putting a stop to the progress of heresy, and while thus employed, he heard that Wishart was in the house of Ormiston, only about eight miles from Edinburgh, where he was seized by treachery, and conducted to the castle of Edinburgh, and soon after to the castle of St. An-r drew’s. Here, being completely in the hands of the cardinal, he was put upon his trial March 1, before a convocation of the prelates and clergy assembled for that purpose in the cathedral, and treated with the utmost barbarity, every form of law, justice, or decency, being dispensed with. He endeavoured to answer the accusations brought against him, and to shew the conformity between the doctrines he had preached and the word of God; but this was denied him, and he was condemned to be burnt as an obstinate heretic, which sentence was executed next day on the castle green. The cardinal seems to have been sensible that the minds of men would be much agitated by the fate of this amiable sufferer, and even to have apprehended that some attempt might be made to rescue him from the flames. He commanded all the artillery of the castle to be pointed towards the scene of execution; and, either to watch the ebullitions qf popular indignation/to display his | Contempt of the reformers, or to satiate himself by contemplating the destruction of a man, in whose grave he hoped that their principles would be buried, he openly, with the prelates who accompanied him, witnessed the melancholy spectacle. In many accounts which we have of Wishart’s death, it is mentioned that, looking towards the cardinal, he predicted, “that he who, frooi yonder place (pointing to the tower where he sat), beholdeth us with such pride, shall, within a few days, lie in the same as ignominiously as now he is seen proudly to rest.” In our account of Beaton we have noticed the evidence for this fact, and the opinion of historians upon it, to which may now be added the opinions of some able writers (noticed in our references) who have appeared since that article was drawn up. Concerning Wishart, we may conclude, with Dr. Henry, that his death was a loss to his persecutors as well as to his friends. If he had lived a few years longer, the reformation, it is probable, would have been carried on with more regularity and less devastation. He had acquired an astonishing power over the minds of the people; and he always employed it in restraining them from acts of violence, inspiring them with lave to one another, and with gentleness and humanity to their enemies. 1


Mackenzie’s Scotch Writers. Buchanan’s History. Spotswood’s and Knox’s Histories. Henry’s Hist. Cook’s Hist. of the Reformation. M‘Crie’s Life of Knox. Master’s Hist, of C’.C.C.C.