11th May 1685

The Wigtown Martyrs are drowned

Mary Wilson and Mary Lachlan were Covenanters, who believed that God and Jesus Christ sat at the head of the church. This put them at odds with their neighbouring Episcopalians, who supported the Archbishop of Canterbury and the primacy of the Anglican church.

It also put them in conflict with King Charles II, who insisted that the monarch was rightfully head of the church across the whole of Britain. Anyone who refused to acknowledge that, and to swear allegiance to the crown, was to be put to death. This put the Wigtown Martyrs in a position of significant danger.

Covenanters persecuted

Five years earlier, Covenanter Michael Cameron had read a declaration in Sanquhar – later known as the Sanquhar Declaration – refusing to recognise the king’s authority and declaring war against him.

Cameron was killed in the subsequent fight, but his ideas lived on and, when Mary Wilson and Mary Lachlan were arrested for their Covenanter beliefs, they were told to renounce their support for the precepts of the Declaration, which they refused to do. As a result, they were sentenced to death, and tied to a stake on the mud flats in Wigtown Bay, to be drowned by the incoming tide.

Mary and Mary condemned

The women were brave to the very end. When sentenced to death, they were told to pray for the king’s health and wellbeing, but refused to do so, declaring him to be an enemy of God. Instead, they said they would pray for the forgiveness of his sins. Wilson was given a second chance to save her life, but declined. She was aged around 18, and Lachlan, who was drowned first as Wilson watched, had been around 70. When asked how she felt, having seen Lachlan die, Wilson declared that she had seen “Christ wrestling there”. Having refused the chance to save her own life, she set about reading the Bible, singing Psalms and praying as the water came in and covered her.

Final chance

In The Wigtown Martyrs, Rev Hector MacPherson describes how “All accounts agree that the brave girl was pulled out of the water and given a last chance to save her life. ‘Before her breath was quite gone, they pulled her up and held her till she could speak, and then asked her if she would pray for the king. She answered that she wished for the salvation of all men, but the damnation of none.’ One of the onlookers, deeply moved, cried out, ‘Dear Margaret, say God save the king, say God save the king.’ She answered ‘in the greatest steadiness and composure, God save him if He will: for it is his salvation I desire.”

After refusing once more to denounce the Covenant, she was pushed back down beneath the water and held there. The Wigtown Martyrs continues, “according to a local tradition, the town’s officer who thrust her down with his halbert said sarcastically, ‘Tak anither drink, hunny: clep wi the partans’ and it is not impossible that this rough and unseemly jest was the last bit of human speech to reach the girl’s ears…”



Other events that occured in May

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