Sir John Wishart of Pittarow ( – 1585)

Wishart Tree WIS0014

(d. 1585), landowner and religious activist, was the eldest son of James Wishart of Cairnbeg and succeeded his uncle, John Wishart, in the lands and barony of Pittarow, Kincardineshire, about 1525. In the mid-1530s he belonged to the connection of Sir Thomas Erskine of Brechin, chief secretary to James V. After Erskine’s fall, like many others in the north-east, he switched his allegiance to the Keiths, family of the Earl Marischal. An early and committed protestant reformer, he was a key member of the circle of pro-reform lairds active in Angus and the Mearns in the 1540s. His house had satirical wall-paintings attacking the papal curia. He was later commended by the English ambassador Thomas Randolph as ‘a man mervileus wyse, discryte and godly, with owte spotte or wrynkle’ (CSP Scot., 1.513). Late in 1543 he supported Matthew Stewart, fourth earl of Lennox, and Archibald Douglas, sixth earl of Angus, who assembled a force at Leith in opposition to the governor, James Hamilton, second earl of Arran. In 1544 he was one of a group of north-east lairds who obtained a remission for breaking the acts forbidding disputation of the scriptures and for reading prohibited books. He was a signatory of a letter addressed in 1557 to John Knox at Geneva, inviting him to return to Scotland, and personally corresponded with Knox, who later described him as ‘a man both stout and of ready wit’ (Knox, History, 2.60).

Wishart joined the lords of the congregation in 1559. He was with the congregation at Perth in May 1559 and one of the leaders of those who garrisoned the town to protect the protestant preachers. The late 1550s brought him into the circle of Lord James Stewart, prior of St Andrews, later earl of Moray. It was at Lord James’s invitation that Wishart was at St Andrews in June 1559 ‘for reformation to be made there’ (Knox, History, 2.180–81). He was twice involved with negotiations between the congregation and Mary of Guise regarding the religious settlement. He remained with the forces of the congregation and supported the suspension of Mary of Guise as regent on 21 October 1559.

Wishart was among the commissioners who in February 1560 concluded the treaty of Berwick, which secured English aid against the French in Scotland. He also subscribed a bond in 1560, committing the signatories to advance the reformation of religion, expel the French from Scotland, and support the English alliance. He was present at the parliament in August 1560, which adopted a reformed confession of faith and passed a programme of protestant legislation, and was a lord of the articles. He sat on the privy council from December 1560.

Wishart continued to be politically active after Queen Mary’s return to Scotland in 1561, although, according to Knox, the queen hated him ‘because he flattered her not in her dancing and other things’. In 1562 he was appointed comptroller on 16 February and collector of the thirds of benefices on 1 March, and he held both posts until 1565. His role as collector of the thirds, raising revenue both for the crown and for the support of the reformed ministry, created tension. According to Knox, ‘the good laird of Pittarro was ane ernest professour of Christ; but the mekle Devill receave the comptroller’. Neither position proved particularly financially advantageous. On the other hand, having played an active role in the battle between the queen’s forces and those of George Gordon, fourth earl of Huntly, at Corrichie on 28 October 1562, he obtained a series of grants of lands in the north-east between 1563 and 1565, some of which had previously been Huntly’s. Wishart was one of those appointed in the 1563 parliament to determine who should be included in the Act of Oblivion for offences committed between 6 March and 1 September 1560.

Following Mary’s marriage to Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, in July 1565 Wishart was the only laird of the Mearns to join the earl of Moray’s rebellion. He was replaced by Sir William Murray of Tullibardine as comptroller and collector on 27 August and denounced rebel at the cross of Edinburgh on 11 October. He had fled across the border with Moray the previous week. A signatory of the bond to Darnley subscribed at Newcastle on 2 March 1566, Wishart returned to Scotland after the murder of David Riccio on 9 March and was pardoned, although he did not recover his public offices.

Wishart opposed the queen’s marriage to James Hepburn, fourth earl of Bothwell, in 1567 and subscribed articles to that effect. That year he was appointed a lord of session. He accompanied Moray to the conference held at York by Elizabeth I in 1568 to investigate the charges against Mary. Following the military activities by George Gordon, fifth earl of Huntly, in the north-east on behalf of Mary in 1568, Wishart was a subscriber of a petition of February 1569 whose signatories declared that they had been attacked by Huntly, were loyal subjects of King James, and requested protection. In March he subscribed a bond of mutual defence against Huntly and in May he was among those chosen to assess the damages caused by Huntly’s actions.

In 1570 Wishart received protection against the debts he had incurred as comptroller. In recognition of the nearly £5000 he had over-expended while he had been collector of the thirds, the sub-collectors who had served under him and had unpaid thirds in their accounts were empowered to collect these for his relief in 1573, although Wishart was never wholly recompensed. In 1573 he was one of the arbitrators appointed to ensure that the terms of the pacification of Perth were observed north of the Tay. In 1583 he was named as an arbiter to secure the surrender and return of the Ruthven raiders.

Wishart married Janet, sister of Sir Alexander Falconer of Halkerton; she died on 27 January 1581. His testament, like his wife’s, exhibited an explicitly protestant belief in salvation by the merits of Christ alone and left a legacy of £100 for the poor ‘in my awin landis as weill husbandmen as cotteris’ (Bardgett, 149). He died on 28 September 1585 and was succeeded by his nephew, Sir John Wishart of Pittarow.

Sharon Adams

Sources   CSP Scot. · G. Donaldson, ed., Accounts of the collectors of the thirds of benefices (1949) · Reg. PCS, 1st ser. · F. Bardgett, Scotland reformed: the Reformation in Angus and the Mearns (1989) · The works of John Knox, ed. D. Laing, 6 vols., Wodrow Society, 12 (1846–64) · T. Thomson, ed., A diurnal of remarkable occurrents that have passed within the country of Scotland, Bannatyne Club, 43 (1833) · F. J. Grant, ed., The commissariat records of Edinburgh: register of testaments, Scottish RS, 1 (1897)