George Wishart Quincentennial : Abstracts & Speakers

The following are a list of speakers and their abstracts who will be discussing the life of George Wishart at the quincentennial conference which was held in St. Andrews on 30 August. For more information and booking please follow the link at the bottom of this page.

Professor William G Naphy

The paper will look at attitudes towards and the possible impact of George Wishart from the perspective of the Continent and, in particular, the Reformed/Calvinist movement. It will also consider the extent to which he can be seen as fitting into the pattern of Continental reformed traditions. Is he Zwinglian or a ‘proto-Calvinist’, for example? As someone who was executed for conscience relatively early in the non-Lutheran Reformation period, Wishart became an iconic figure who could be used in later debates. In that context, the paper will also consider the role of early ‘martyrs’ in the Reformed tradition as evidence not just of the truthfulness of the Reformed position but also as a sign of divine approbation as a persecuted remnant.

Professor Roger Mason

The climactic moments of George Wishart’s career – his trial and execution – took place in St Andrews in 1546. This talk will explore the significance of Scotland’s ecclesiastical capital in the religious culture of the time. It will then examine the political and international contexts which lent the events of 1546, including the retaliatory assassination of Cardinal David Beaton, immense symbolic significance. Finally, it will look at how Wishart’s last days were portrayed in the writings of John Knox and George Buchanan and incorporated into an enduring Protestant narrative.

Professor Martin Dotterweich

George Wishart’s first exile was spent in England in the turbulent years 1538-39, during which he preached a good deal, was imprisoned, tried for heresy, recanted three times, and was forced to flee after the passage of the Act of Six Articles. Back in England in 1542 or 1543, he spent time at Cambridge University before returning to Scotland. Although the records are scant, Wishart’s time in England offers important insight into his overall career, and his prophetic personality.

Professor Jane Dawson

Starting with the very familiar picture of John Knox carrying his two-handed sword before George Wishart when he was conducting his final preaching tour, this lecture will examine the relationship between the two men. Although brief for Knox this was a crucial relationship and after Wishart’s execution he felt he was Elisha receiving the prophet’s mantle when Elijah was carried into heaven on his fiery chariot. The long-term effect of Wishart’s influence upon Knox will also be examined as it is revealed in his ministry and ideas for the remainder of his life.

Professor Ian Hazlett

This paper will discuss George Wishart’s relationship to the Swiss Confession of faith 1536, otherwise known as the First Helvetic Confession, created in the first generation of the Reformation. Matters to be considered in the talk will include:

  1. what a confession of faith was and its function.
  2. What the context, content and purpose was of the 1536 Swiss Confession.
  3. Wishart’s encounter with the Confession when abroad in the late 1530s.
  4. The impact of the Confession on Wishart and his translation of it into (English).
  5. Possible allusions, direct or indirect, to the Confession during Wishart’s trial for heresy.
  6. The circumstances of the publication of the Confession in English a year or two after Wishart’s demise.
  7. Influence of the Confession on Scotland in relation to other confessions.
Professor Alex Ryrie

George Wishart’s public career was brief, but he left turbulence in his wake wherever he went. This introductory lecture will track his preaching ministry, from the turbulent events in Bristol in 1539 through his defiant tour of central Scotland in 1544-5 to his trial and execution in 1546; but it will pay particular attention to what he left behind him and the reputation that grew up around him. The divisions which his visit to Bristol crystallised in that already troubled city were a harbinger of things to come. His ministry in Scotland not only helped to redirect a reforming movement which was disorientated and increasingly embittered after the high hopes of 1543 had been dashed; it also gave him a personal reputation as a prophet, which was cherished and transmitted by his disciple John Knox. This may even have been Wishart’s most enduring legacy, since he stands at the head of what became a kind of apostolic succession of prophets, running through Knox to his successors and disciples. This became one of the Scottish Reformation’s most distinctive features: its openness towards charismatic leadership which expected the providential or even the miraculous. A line can be traced from Wishart, through Knox, to the revivalist movements of Ayrshire and Ulster in the 1620s which in turn fed the revivalism of the eighteenth century.