George Wishart Quincentennial Speakers

Prof. 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.

Prof. 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, Professor Dawson examined 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.

Prof. Roger Mason

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

Prof. Alec Ryrie
George Wishart’s public career was brief, but he left turbulence in his wake wherever he went. This introductory lecture tracked 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 also paid 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.
Jack Gillespie Wishart

Jack Wishart discussed the origins of the surname, how his interest was born and the history of his database along with other sundry snippets of interest.

Prof. Ian Hazlett
Professor Hazlett discussed 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 considered in the talk included:
  • What a confession of faith was and its function.
  • What the context, content and purpose was of the 1536 Swiss Confession.
  • Wishart’s encounter with the Confession when abroad in the late 1530s.
  • The impact of the Confession on Wishart and his translation of it into (English).
  • Possible allusions, direct or indirect, to the Confession during Wishart’s trial for heresy.
  • The circumstances of the publication of the Confession in English a year or two after Wishart’s demise.
  • Influence of the Confession on Scotland in relation to other confessions.
Prof. Iain Torrence

Given the lack of any known writings by George Wishart himself, Professor Torrance worked on the assumption that, although only the translator, not the author, George Wishart was more than likely to have accepted the contents of the first Swiss Confession of Faith.  He also used Wishart’s responses to questioning at his trial, as recorded by Foxe and Knox, to show that Wishart had moved from the early, Lutheran views expressed by the first Scottish Reformation Martyr, Patrick Hamilton, to a set of beliefs more influenced by the Swiss reformers such as Calvin.  In a detailed analysis of his source documents Professor Torrance showed how the Scottish Confession, written in 1560 by a small group under Wishart’s disciple, John Knox, set the reformed church in Scotland in a Calvinistic frame and suggested that without Wishart’s influence, the present day Church of Scotland would have been rather different.

All images © Scott Wishart, 2013