The Martyrdom Of George Wishart 1 March 1546

On the sixteenth day of January, 1546, the Regent and cardinal arrived after night-fall at Elphingston Tower, in the neighbourhood of Ormiston, with five hundred men, and despatched the Earl of Bothwell to apprehend Wishart, holding themselves in readiness, if need were, to support him by force. As soon as the Reformer became aware of his errand, he cried out to Cockburn and his other friends, “Open the gates), the blessed will of my God be done.” The earl being admitted with some other gentlemen who accompanied him, Wishart addressed him thus: “I praise my God that so honourable a man as you, my lord, receives me this night in the presence of these noblemen, for now I am assured, that for your honour’s sake, you will suffer nothing to be done unto me contrary to the order of law. I am not ignorant that their law is nothing but corruption, and a cloak to shed the blood of the saints; but yet I less fear to die openly, than secretly to be murdered.”

…On the morning of the 28th day of February, 1546, the Tribunal of Heresy was constituted with great pomp and solemnity in the cathedral; and George Wishart was brought from the Sea-tower by the Captain of the Castle at the head of a hundred men, armed with jacks, spears, and axes. As he entered the church, he threw his purse to a poor man lying at the door, who asked alms. John Wynram, sub-prior of the Abbey and dean of the Cathedral, opened the proceedings with a sermon, which formed a singular prelude to what followed. He took for his text the parable of the sower, and explained it in a way which must have been much more satisfactory to the Reformer at the bar, than to the prelates and doctors on the tribunal. The good seed, he said, was the Word of God, and the evil seed was heresy. But what was heresy? “Heresy,” said Wynram, “is a false opinion, defended with pertinacity, clearly repugnant to the Word of God;” a definition which entirely ignored the dogmas of the church. Passing to the cause of heresy within that realm, and all other realms, he declared it to be the ignorance of those who had the care of men’s souls; “to whom,” said he, “it necessarily belongeth to have the true understanding of the Word of God, that they may be able to win again the false teachers of heresies with the sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God; and not only to win again, but also to overcome, as saith Paul, ‘a bishop must be faultless, as becometh the minister of God, and such as cleaveth unto the true word of doctrine, that he may be able to exhort with wholesome learning, and to reprove that which they say against him.’ ” If Sir David Lindsay had been in the pulpit, he could not have spoken more plainly what the bishops needed to hear. Once more demanded the preacher, how heresies should be known? and “heresies,” quoth he, “may be known in this manner: As the goldsmith knoweth the fine gold from the imperfect by the touchstone, so likewise may we know heresy by the undoubted touchstone; that is, the true, sincere, and undefiled Word of God.”

…His Articles were eighteen in number, and turned chiefly upon the doctrine which he was alleged to have taught respecting the seven sacraments of the Church of Rome. The third article was this, “Thou, false heretic, preachest against the sacraments, saying that there are not seven sacraments;” to which Wishart replied, “My lords, if it be your pleasure, I taught never of the number of the sacraments, whether they were seven or eleven. So many as are instituted by Christ, and are shown to us by the Evangel, I profess openly. Except it be the Word of God I dare affirm nothing.” The fourth ran thus, “Thou, false heretic, hast openly taught that auricular confession is not a blessed sacrament, and thou sayest that we should only confess us to God, and to no priest.” He answered, “My lords, I say that auricular confession, seeing that it hath no promise of the Evangel, cannot therefore be a sacrament. Of the confession to be made to God there are many testimonies in Scripture, as when David saith, ‘I thought that I would acknowledge my iniquity unto the Lord, and He forgave the trespasses of my sins.’ Here confession signifieth the secret acknowledgment of our sins before God. When I exhorted the people on this manner, I reproved no manner of confession. And farther St. James saith, ‘Confess your sins one to another.’ Here the apostle meaneth nothing of auricular confession, but that we should acknowledge and confess ourselves to be sinners before our brethren and before the world, and not to esteem ourselves as the Grey Friars do, thinking themselves already purged.” When he had said these words, the horned bishops and their accomplices cried out, and grinned with their teeth, saying, “See ye not what colours he hath in his speech, that he may beguile us and seduce us to his opinion.” When accused of having preached plainly that there is no purgatory, his reply was equally explicit and characteristic. “My lords, as I have oftentimes said heretofore, without express witness and testimony of Scripture I dare affirm nothing; I have oft and divers times read over the Bible, and yet such a term found I never, nor yet any place of Scripture applicable thereunto; therefore, I was ashamed ever to teach of that thing which I could not find in Scripture.” Then said he to Lauder, his accuser, “If you have any testimony of the Scripture by the which ye may prove any such place, show it now before this auditory.” But Lauder was dumb. At last the bishops grew impatient of his “witty and godly answers.” John Scot, a Grey Friar and a notorious deceiver of the people, who was standing behind Lauder, “hasted him to read the rest of the articles, and not to tarry upon his answers.” “For we may not abide them,” quoth he, “no more than the devil may abide the sign of the cross.”

…Immediately after, his room was entered by two executioners; one brought him a coat of linen dyed black, and put it upon him; the other carried some bags full of powder, which he tied to several parts of his body. Thus arrayed for the fire, they brought him forth to an outer room, near the gate of the castle. Meanwhile, the artillery of the block houses was charged and pointed in the direction of the scaffold, and cushions and green-cloths were spread upon the wall-heads, for the cardinal and bishops to sit upon. “When all things were made ready,” says Spottiswoode, “he was led forth, with his hands tied behind his back, and a number of soldiers guarding him, to the place of execution. As he was going forth at the castle-gate, some poor creatures who were lying there, did ask of him some alms for God’s sake, to whom he said, ‘I have not the use of any hands wherewith I should give you alms, but our merciful God, who out of his abundance feedeth all men, vouchsafe to give you the things which are necessary both for your bodies and for your souls.’ ”

When he ascended the scaffold, he fell upon his knees, and thrice he said these words, “O thou Saviour of the world, have mercy upon me. Father of heaven, I commend my spirit into thy holy hands.” Then he turned to the people and said these words, “I beseech you, Christian brethren and sisters, that ye be not offended at the word of God, for the affliction and torments which ye see prepared for me, but I exhort you that ye love the word of God your salvation, and suffer patiently and with a comfortable heart, for the Word’s sake. Moreover, I pray you, show my brethren and sisters which have heard me oft before, that they cease not to learn the word of God, which I taught unto them, for no persecutions nor troubles in this world which lasteth not. For the Word’s sake, and the true Evangel which was given to me by the grace of God, I suffer this day not sorrowfully, but with a glad heart and mind. Consider and behold my visage; ye shall not see me change my colour. This grim fire I fear not. I know surely that my soul shall sup with my Saviour this night, for whom I suffer this.” Then he prayed for his accusers, saying, “I beseech the Father of heaven to forgive them that have, of any ignorance, or else of any evil mind, forged lies upon me. I forgive them with all my heart. I beseech Christ to forgive them that have this day ignorantly condemned me to death.” And last of all he said to the people on this manner, “I beseech you, brethren and sisters, to exhort your prelates to the learning of the word of God, that they may be ashamed to do evil, and learn to do good; and if they will not convert themselves from their wicked error, there shall hastily come upon them the wrath of God, which they shall not eschew.”

After these words, the martyr gave himself into the hands of the executioner. “Sir, I pray you forgive me,” cried the tormentor, “for I am not guilty of your death;” to whom he answered, kissing his cheek, “Lo! here is a token that I forgive thee; my heart, do thine office.” He carried a chain of iron at his middle, by which he was fastened to a gibbet which rose in the centre of the scaffold. Fire was then put to the pile; the powder-bags exploded, and enveloped him in fierce flames; a cord, which had been placed round his neck, was pulled tightly till he was suffocated, and the body of the lifeless martyr was speedily reduced to ashes. “When the people beheld his great tormenting, they might not withhold from piteous mourning, and complaining of the innocent lamb’s slaughter.” The cardinal and the bishops, unforgiving even in death, caused a proclamation the same night to be made throughout the city, that none should pray for the soul of the heretic, under pain of the heaviest censures of the church.

Peter Lorimer, The Scottish Reformation: A Historical Sketch (London; Glasgow: Richard Griffin and Company, 1860), 143, 145–146, 148–149, 151–153.

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One comment

  1. Prayer for the dead is always an insult, either to the dead themselves, that they have any need of our prayers, or to God in asking Him to spare one whom He has sworn not to spare.

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