The above painting is entitled "Wishart's Last
Exaltation", by Sir William Quiller Orchardson (1832-1910). It is
reproduced courtesy of the University of St. Andrews.
George Wishart was a schoolmaster at the Grammar School in Montrose, where the first teaching of Greek in Scottish schools began. He taught the New Testament in Greek, but in 1538 he was charged with heresy by the Bishop of Brechin. He fled to Germany and Switzerland, only returning to Cambridge in 1543, but was back in Scotland by 1544.
Wishart's story from 1544 to 1546 was told by John Knox who was his disciple and friend.
Preaching throughout this part of Scotland, especially in Dundee during an outbreak of the plague, Wishart came to the notice of Cardinal Beaton who planned an ambush for him which failed. Wishart is reputed to have said "I know that I shall finish my life in that bloodthirsty man's hands, but it will not be after this manner".
Wishart went to Edinburgh and preached at Leith where he was seized by the Earl of Bothwell, taken to Edinburgh Castle and then handed over to Cardinal Beaton who brought him back to St. Andrews Castle. There he was condemned to be burnt at the stake.
On the fateful day the Captain of the Castle invited Wishart to breakfast and gave him bags of gunpowder to put in his clothing. The executioner fell on his knees before the pyre to beg Wishart's forgiveness, which he gave. When the burning began the gunpowder exploded but did not kill him straight away and his agony was prolonged. Cardinal Beaton watched from his window. Public reaction was hostile, and George Wishart's martyrdom was the real trigger which set the Reformation in train in Scotland.
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