History of the Parish and Burgh of Laurencekirk

An extract from the book published by William Ruxton Fraser, MA published in 1880 and concerning the Wishart family of Coveth Mill and Lands (Chapter XI.Pages 77-85)

Family of Wishart

The few acres which still bear the name of Conveth now form a part of the estate of Pittarrow. The distinguished family, of whose large possessions in the Meams and other counties they were once but an insignificant portion, is more identified with the neighbouring parish of Fordoun, which at an early period almost entirely belonged to its several branches. It appears, however, that long before the barony of  Pittarrow owned their sway Conveth was in the hands of the Wisharts; and the interest which clings to this remnant of Conveth, and is inseparable from the name of Wishart, invites a protracted lingering over their relation, which would hardly have been justified by the proportion which it bears to the parish, or even to the whole of the original estate.

The origin of the name of Wishart has been variously given, and the family has been traced to different sources. One account is, that the first Wishart was a natural son of David, Earl of Huntingdon, brother of William the Lion, who was named “Guishart” from the circumstance of his having inflicted a heavy slaughter on the Saracens. Another holds that the family was descended from a distinguished Norman, so called from the cunning of his disposition. A third, without fixing the origin of the family, bears that the first member of it, being distinguished for his wisdom, was named “Wise-heart.” This version was adopted by the writer of the inscription on the tomb of Dr George Wishart, private chaplain and biographer of the Marquis of Montrose, who was of the house of Logie-Wishart in Angus –



The first of the family whose name is on record was “Johannes Wischard, vicecomes de Mernez,” – John Wishart, Sheriff of Kincardineshire when Alexander II was king. He had three sons. William, the second son, was a churchman of distinguished abilities. He was appointed Chancellor of the kingdom in 1256, and he resigned that office, when elected Bishop of Glasgow, in 1270. His personal influence may be judged by the fact of his consecration having taken place at Scone, notwithstanding the rule of the Pontiff that every bishop-elect should be consecrated at Rome. The sheriff’s third son, Adam, was founder of the family of Wisharts in Forfarshire. His eldest son was the first whose name is associated with Conveth.

Sir John Wishart, who was knighted by Alexander II., obtained from Adam, Abbot of Arbroath, the lands of Conveth in 1246. This was probably after the restitution of lands in Conveth by John de Berkeley. A condition was afterwards attached, supposed to be about 1260, that he should not alienate any portion of the lands without the abbot’s consent. The lands of Middleton may already have been disjoined; and as Westerton of Conveth was retained in the hands of the Berkeley family, the Conveth portion of the abbot’s grant may have consisted only of the lands which still bear the name. It is worthy of notice that in all future charters the name of Conveth is only associated with the mill and its lands.

Sir John Wishart, the eldest son, succeeded his father. Along with his son, also named John, he swore fealty to the English king, Edward I., at Elgin, in 1296. For the next hundred years the name of Wishart is not found coupled with the lands of Conveth.

“Dominus Joannes Wishart de Pittarro” entered into an indenture with the Abbot of Arbroath respecting the Mill and Mill-lands of Conveth. He was the    fifth baron of the house, and the first to be designated of Pittarrow. He was probably the Sir John Wishart whose servants in 1391 were fined in a justiciary court by Sir William Keith, Sheriff of Kincardineshire – who was prohibited, however, by the king, from enforcing payment of the fines.

Sir John Wishart, son of the former, was in the suite of the Princess Margaret when she married the Dauphin, afterwards Louis XI., in 1434. He had previously distinguished himself, in a less honourable manner, as one of the barons engaged in the murder of the sheriff on the Hill of Garvock. For this his estates were temporarily forfeited. His name appears in 1442 as “Sir John Wyschart, lord of Pettarrow, Knight,” when he presented “Schir David Wyschart,” as his chaplain, with an endowment of ten merks yearly, payable from his lands.

Alexander Wishart was in possession of Pittarrow in 1447, when he witnessed the resignation of lands in Maryton by William Fullerton.

James Wishart, who is supposed to have been a younger brother, succeeded Alexander. He obtained from the Abbot of Arbroath a charter of the Mill and   Mill-lands of Conveth in 1461. He died in 1491, and was followed in possession by his son. He had two daughters; Marjory, the wife of Gilbert Middleton – and Catherine, who was married to Alexander de Berkeley.

John Wishart was his successor. He forfeited his estates, or a portion of them, in 1499 ; but the cause of forfeiture is not known. He had died before October 1510.

James Wishart, the eldest son, and Janet Lindsay, his spouse, were infefted in the lands belonging to his late father, on a precept granted by the Abbot of Arbroath. He was appointed Justice- Clerk and King’s Advocate in 1513, and he resigned these offices before his death, which took place in 1525. By his first wife he had two sons – John, who succeeded him, and James, who is styled ” of Carnebege; ” and two daughters, who married, the one James Durham of Pitkerrow, and the other George Leslie of Pitnamoon. James Wishart’s second wife was Elizabeth Learmont, nearly related to the laird of Balcomie in Fife. The only child of the second marriage was George Wishart, the martyr, whose cruel murder did so much to hasten the Reformation. He was born, it is supposed, in 1513, and suffered at St Andrews in 1546, at the age of thirty-three years.

John Wishart was the next laird. David Beaton, Abbot of Arbroath, directed a precept in 1525, infefting him as heir to his father in the Mill and lands of Conveth held by the Abbey in chief. The precept bears only the abbot’s signature and seal. Beaton, the future cardinal, and wanton murderer of the youngest brother, is understood to have been related to the family – a circumstance which probably enhanced the bitterness of his hatred against the youth, whose popularity he feared, and whose influence for the reformation of religion he sought, with unparalleled cruelty and folly, to extinguish in the flames to which his body was consigned by a wicked and illegal decree. John Wishart died without issue. His brother, who had predeceased him, had four sons and two daughters. Alexander, the third son, married Marion, daughter of Falconer of Haulkerton, and, for a short period after 1556, possessed a portion of the lands of Haulkerton. James, the second son, was styled “of Balfeith.”

Sir John Wishart, eldest son of James Wishart of Cairnbeg, succeeded to the family estates on the death of his uncle. His wife was Janet Falconer of Haulkerton ; and they were, for a short time after 1557, in joint possession of a third part of the lands of Haulkerton. Sir John took a distinguished place among the Scottish nobles and gentry, whose labours were duly rewarded with the Reformation. His name is closely associated with the names of Knox, Erskine, and others familiar in the history of that period. Along with others, he was instrumental in procuring the return of Knox from Geneva; and, with Erskine of Dun, he was indefatigable in the counsels which prevailed to give early and firm root to the reformed religion in Angus and Mearns. He followed his grandfather’s pursuit of the law, and held various offices, which were all made instrumental in promoting the good cause. He was a member of the Parliament which ratified the Confession of Faith in 1560, and was one of fourteen persons to whom the government of the State was intrusted. Sir John was Comptroller and Collector-General of Teinds; and a common saying among the Reformed clergy, whose stipends were not of the highest, was, “The good laird of Pitarro was ane earnest professor of Christ, but the mekle Devill receave the Comptroller.” The economy which characterised him officially was applied to his own affairs. But it did not save him from reverse of fortune, which he sustained oftener than once. For opposition to the marriage of the  Queen and Darnley he was declared a rebel, and suffered forfeiture. In this connection there is record of the rents of certain lands, which may be enumerated to show the widespread possessions of the family. A letter under the Privy Seal assigned to Walter Wood of Balbirgenocht the rents of his lands of “Pitarrow, Easter Pitarrow, Wester Mill of Petreny, Pettingardnare, Little Carnebeg, Eeidhall, Easter Wottown, Wester Wottown, Easter Balfour, Wester Balfour, Incheharbertt, Gallowhilton, and Crofts of Kincardine, with the lands of Glentanner and Braes of Mar.” He took refuge in England, but soon returned; and  after several years more of active life and checkered fortune, he died in 1576 without issue, and was succeeded by his nephew.

Sir John Wishart, the eldest son of James Wishart of Balfeith, succeeded his uncle, not only on the family estates, but to the large share which he had taken in public matters. In a parliament held at Stirling in 1578, he was nominated one of the commissioners to examine the “Buik of the Policy of the Kirk,” with a view to its ratification. He was one of those “that subscribed the band anent the religioun at Aberdeene” in 1592. His wife was Jean, daughter of William Douglas, ninth Earl of Angus. He died in 1607, having, in the words of an old author, lived to “a good age in good reputation.” He was succeeded by his eldest son, who also had the honour of knighthood conferred on him.

Sir John Wishart gained distinction at the university, and gave early promise of regard for the purity of religion, of which his family had long been eminent upholders. His wife was daughter of Forrester of Carden, Stirlingshire. Two children were born of the marriage : a daughter, who married Sir David Lindsay of Edzell ; and a son, named William or Walter, who predeceased his father, not without gaining the questionable distinction which has thus been recorded in ths ‘ Domestic Annals of Scotland :’ ” l7th June 1605. – Ane combat or tulyie [was] foughten at the Salt Tron of Edinburgh betwixt the Laird of Ogle [Edzell] younger and his complices, and the young Laird of Pitarrow, Wishart. The faught lasted frae 9 hours till 11 at night, twa hours.  There were sundry hurt on both sides and ane Guthrie slain, which was Pitarrow’s man, ane very pretty young man. The 18th they were accusit before the Council and wardit.”

Prosperity did not long attend Sir John. His affairs became involved, and he went to Ireland, after disposing of his estates to a younger brother. His good reputation was as short-lived as his fortune. The young man of promise became in his later years a kind of braggadocio. His character is said to have suggested to Sir Walter Scott that of the unamiable Captain Craigengelt in the ‘Bride of Lammermoor.’

James Wishart, who had purchased the estates from his brother, was the last of the family and name to be in possession of them. They were sold, prior to 1631, to David, Lord Carnegie of Kinnaird, who paid for the different properties the sum of 59,000 merks, equivalent to £3277, 15s. 6 2/3d. sterling.

The Wishart family are now represented by the children of the late Lady Clinton, only child of Sir John Hepburn Stuart Forbes, Bart, of Pitsligo and  Fettercairn, who was descended from the house of Wishart by a female line;

Of the many distinguished members of the family, the one whose memory excites the strongest admiration is George, the youthful martyr, whose death may be regarded as the first effective blow to Papal supremacy in Scotland. It has been questioned if he was of the family of Pittarrow; and it has been attempted to show that he belonged to the house of Logie-Wishart, in Angus. The following circumstance, however, seems to put the claim of the Mearns  branch of the family beyond a doubt. The ‘Assertiones Theologicse,’ by John Gordon, afterwards Dean of Salisbury, was dedicated in 1603, within little  more than half a century after the martyrdom, to John Wishart of Pittarrow, eldest son of Sir John, who, according to the accepted genealogy, was grand-  nephew to the martyr. The concluding sentence of the dedicatory epistle is thus translated in Dr Rogers’s ‘Life of George Wishart :’ “In the treasury of your  heart cherish, I pray you, the memory of your great paternal uncle, George Wishart (memoriam Georgii Sophocardii patrui tui magni), who, after faithfully upholding the cause of Christian truth against false bishops, then all powerful in Scotland, was betrayed to the flames, and who now rejoices in the bright presence of Christ, for the maintenance of whose glorious doctrines he gave up his life.”