The Tudor Society

1 March – George Wishart, a man with close friends and bitter enemies

On this day in Tudor history, 1st March 1546, Scottish evangelical preacher and martyr George Wishart was hanged and burned at St Andrews, Scotland.

Wishart had been charged with 18 counts of heresy and although he answered each one he was condemned to death.

Find out more about this Scottish preacher, what he was accused of and his sad end in today's talk.

Also on this day in Tudor history, 1st March 1620, Tudor poet, composer and physician Thomas Campion died and was laid to rest. Find out more in last year’s video:

Also on this day in history:

  • 1553 – Edward VI opened Parliament. The King was ill at the time, so it was a much more low key ceremony than usual.
  • 1554 – Birth of William Stafford, son of Sir William Stafford (husband of the late Mary Boleyn) and his second wife Dorothy Stafford. William is known as a conspirator, having concocted a plot, The Stafford Plot, probably on the instructions of William Cecil. This plot was supposedly against Elizabeth I, but its purpose is likely to have been to show Elizabeth that her life was in danger from Mary, Queen of Scots and her followers.
  • 1559 – Death of Sir Thomas Tresham, Catholic politician and Grand Prior of England in the Order of Knights Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem, at Rushton in Northamptonshire. He was buried at St Peter's Church, Rushton. When Edward VI died in 1553, Tresham had supported Princess Mary's claim, and proclaimed her Queen in Northampton.
  • 1562 – The Massacre of Vassy. Sixty-three Huguenot worshippers were killed, and over a hundred injured, when Francis, Duke of Guise, ordered his troops to set fire to the barn being used as a church in Vassy (Wassy), France. Trouble had started when some of his men had barged their way into the barn, and the Duke was hit by a stone being thrown.
  • 1568 – Death of Sir Thomas Throckmorton, son of William Throckmorton. He was buried at Tortworth in Gloucestershire. In the reigns of Edward VI and Mary I, Throckmorton was a Justice of the Peace, and in Elizabeth I's reign he was a Sheriff, also serving on the Council in the Marches.
  • 1587 – Death of Welsh landowner, lawyer and antiquary Rice Merrick at Cotrel. He was buried at St Nicholas' Church. Merrick was the author of Morganiae archaiographia (“A Book of Glamorganshire's Antiquities”).
  • 1602 – Death of Herbert Westfaling, Bishop of Hereford, at Hereford. He was buried in the cathedral there.


Today I’m taking you back to King Henry VIII’s reign, but to something that happened in Scotland while James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Arran, was acting as regent for 3-year-old Mary, Queen of Scots.

On this day in Tudor history, 1st March 1546, Scottish evangelical preacher and martyr George Wishart was hanged and burned at St Andrews, Scotland.

In his preaching, Wishart had denounced the Pope and had continued preaching contrary to Cardinal Beaton's orders. He was tried on 1st March 1546, or 28th February according to John Knox, eighteen charges being levelled against him, and was condemned to death. He went to his death with courage, asking Christ's forgiveness for those who had condemned him to death “ignorantly”.

It is not known when George Wishart was born, but is thought to have been around 1513. He is thought to have been the son of John Wishart of Pitarrow and Janet Lindsay of Edzell. Wishart fled from Scotland to England in 1538 after being accused of heresy for teaching his students the Greek New Testament while working as a teacher. In Bristol, in 1539, he was forced to make a public recantation after preaching against the worship and veneration of the Virgin Mary. He then fled into exile abroad, to Germany and Switzerland, until the death of King James V. In 1543, he was at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and in 1544 or 1545, he returned to his homeland of Scotland, where he preached in different parts of the country.

On 16th January 1546, he was arrested at Ormiston in East Lothian, Scotland, and imprisoned first in Edinburgh and then transferred to St Andrews. At his trial, either on 28th February or 1st March, he was charged with 18 articles, including that he would not desist from preaching, which he answered by saying that it is written “We shall rather obey God then men”; that he preached against the sacraments, that he taught that confession wasn’t a sacrament, that he said openly that it wasn’t necessary for a man to know and understand his baptism, that he said that the sacrament was just a piece of bread, that he said that Holy Water is “no so good as wash” and that the Pope had no more power than any other man, that he said that man has no free will and that meat could be eaten in Friday, just like on Sunday, that we should not pray to saints, but only to God, that there is no Purgatory, that it was lawful for priests to marry, that he condemned fasting, and that he taught that souls sleep until Judgement day and do not obtain eternal life until that day.

After he had been charges with these counts of heresy and had answered each one, he was condemned to be burnt as a heretic. Here is an account of his execution from The Works of John Knox:

“he was led to the fire, with a rope about his neck, and a chain of iron about his middle.
When that he came to the fire, he sat down upon his knees, and rose again; 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.” When he had made this prayer, he turned him 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 already 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, which is your undoubted salvation and everlasting comfort. Moreover, I pray you, show my brethren and sisters, which have heard me oft before, that they cease not nor leave off to learn the word of God, which I taught unto them, after the grace given unto me, for no persecutions nor troubles in this world, which lestith nott. And show unto them, that my doctrine was no wives’ fables, after the constitutions made by men; and if I had taught men’s doctrine, I had gotten greater thanks by men. But for the word’s sake, and true Evangell, which was given to me by the grace of God, I suffer this day by men, not sorrowfully, but with a glad heart and mind. For this cause I was sent, that I should suffer this fire for Christ’s sake. Consider and behold my visage, ye shall not see me change my colour. This grim fire I fear not; and so I pray you for to do, if that any persecution come unto you for the word’s sake; and not to fear them that slay the body, and afterward have no power to slay the soul. Some have said of me, that I taught, that the soul of man should sleep until the last day; but I know surely, and my faith is such, that my soul shall sup with my Saviour this night, or it be six hours, for whom I suffer this.” Then he prayed for them which accused him, 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 mine heart: I beseech Christ to forgive them that have condemned me to death this day ignorantly.” 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 at the least 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.”

“Many faithful words said he in the meantime, taking no head or care of the cruel torments which were then prepared for him. Then, last of all, the hangman, that was his tormentor, sat down upon his knees, and said, “Sir, I pray you, forgive me, for I am not guilty of your death.” To whom he answered, “Come hither to me.” When he was come to him, he kissed his cheek, and said, “Lo! here is a token that I forgive thee: My heart, do thine office.” And then by and by, he was put upon the gibbet, and hanged, and there burnt to powder. When that the people beheld the great tormenting of that innocent, they might not withhold from piteous morning and complaining of the innocent lamb’s slaughter.”

Knox goes on to say, “After the death of this blessed martyr of God, began the people, in plain speaking, to dampen and detest the cruelty that was used. Yea, men of great birth, estimation, and honour, at open tables avowed, That the blood of the said Master George should be revenged, or else they should cost life for life”, so it’s clear that the common people were unhappy about Wishart’s execution.
Wishart’s biographer, Martin Holt Dotterweich, writes of Wishart: “To contemporaries Wishart was personally gentle and generous, austere but forgiving; however, his vehemence from the pulpit could also show him to be harsh and vindictive, and thus he had both close friends and bitter enemies.” It was those bitter enemies that had their say in the end, but Wishart seems confident of his salvation and that must have been a comfort to him.

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1 March – George Wishart, a man with close friends and bitter enemies