Thunder Over Scotland

By: Dr. James William Baird
Green Leaf Press, Campbell, California 95009
© Copyright 1982 by James William Baird.

It is one of life’s mysteries how far flung a family can be and still some things seem to be the same. In our family, the Wisharts of Ohio, we have one Wishart married to a Baird and also one Wishart married to a Campbell. In reading Thunder Over Scotland, I found both the Baird family and the Campbell family in the fictionalized account of the Scottish Reformer and Martyr, George Wishart’s life. Dr. James W. Baird spent five years researching and writing what he terms a fictionalized account of Wishart’s life based on as accurate an account of history as he could find. He tried to imagine himself in Wishart’s footprints as he retraced them physically, and what some of his conversations would have been. He has conveyed them to us in this account of the Scottish reformer’s life and death.

The book, Thunder Over Scotland, covers George Wishart’s life from the teaching in a little school at Montrose under the sponsorship of Lord Erskine until his death at the hands of his detractors. As a teacher of young boys, he used the New Testament which was written in Greek as a textbook. The book opens describing this setting and showing Wishart going home from school to the home of his fiancé Elizabeth’s to spend the evening with her only to find her servants frantic with worry over her becoming very ill. She had the black plague and soon passed away. Wishart was so distraught over her death he was inconsolable. Finally making his way back to the schoolhouse where he could mourn in private, his eyes fell upon the New Testament open to a particular passage, which calmed him immensely. This was the start of a new beginning for him and he soon became a preacher dedicated to the reformation movement in Scotland.

Wishart was a member of a noble family, being the son of the Lord of Pitarrow and had studied and received his degree as a scholar from Kings College of Aberdeen. This book chronicles his studies and preaching from the death of his fiancé to his newfound knowledge of his Christ, his preaching the gospel and his flight to Geneva to avoid persecution. There he studied under John Calvin at St. Pierre Church then considered the center of the reform movement. He came back to Scotland with his faith renewed, stronger than ever, with a purpose to impart his newfound faith to his fellow Scottish friends and family. Wherever he went, he drew large crowds but they were usually barred from the churches by the Roman papacy. Even though the Lords and the people of the areas he preached in owned the churches, the power of the Roman Church was such that they banned him from preaching within the churches. His followers wanted to stand up to the powers of the established church of Scotland but Wishart desisted saying that if the open market places and fields were good enough for the master, they would suit their needs fine also.

Dr. Baird also chronicles the capture, trial by church tribunal and finally imprisonment and death of George Wishart. He was imprisoned in a dungeon for the duration of the trial and finally put to death by burning. The Archbishop Cardinal Beaton of St. Andrews led the church, assisted by Lord Campbell, the Earl of Bothwell and others in this effort to stop George Wishart’s influence with the people of Scotland.

The final chapter in Dr. Baird’s book deals with the retribution the people of Scotland achieved with the capture and death of Cardinal Beaton even as it appeared that the reformation movement in Scotland had come to an abrupt end. And indeed, the reform movement was alive and well. George Wishart’s life was not given in vain. His work still lives.

Wishart’s work was influenced not only by John Calvin of Geneva but also by John Knox who carried on Wishart’s work in Scotland after his death. John Knox is credited with the start of the Church in Scotland. Wishart had laid the foundation and Knox built the church.

Wishart’s life spanned 33 years, from 1513 to 1546, the same as the life of Christ. He was imprisoned, tried and put to death at St. Andrews Castle, the home of Cardinal Beaton where the cardinal also met his demise.

James William Baird is a United Presbyterian minister. He has served the Park Boulevard Presbyterian Church in Oakland, California, the First Presbyterian Church in Fort Collins, Colorado, and the West Valley Presbyterian Church of Cupertino, California.

I highly recommend this book as an excellent fictionalized chronicle of the life of the Scottish Reformer and Martyr George Wishart.

Read and reviewed by Lois J. McPherson expressly for the Wishart Society.