1685: Margaret McLachlan and Margaret Wilson, the Solway Martyrs

8 comments May 11th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1685, a woman of 63 and another of 18 were staked to the tidal channel of Bladnoch River near Wigtown and drowned by the rising waters.

Margaret Wilson remembered in heroic — and sexy — marble at Knox College in Toronto, Canada. (Larger version.)

They were holdout Covenanters — Scottish Presbyterians resisting English Episcopalian control in a struggle both theological and political (here’s a backgrounder).

To skip over much meaningful history, the Covenanter movement of local presbyter control had at this point been defeated politically and militarily, if not spiritually. The due demanded by the British crown was prayer for the king — an oath, in effect, of submission to the Episcopal hierarchy and, by the same token, to London. Many Scots remained obdurate, including children — the 18-year-old Margaret Wilson was arrested with her 13-year-old sister, though their father managed to scrape together a bond payment to save the younger girl.

And fiendish penalties were deployed to force their capitulation or cow their sympathizers. In this case, a recent law prescribed public drowning for Covenanter women, and the two Margarets were duly condemned to be

ty’d to palisados fixed in the sand, within the flood mark, and there to stand till the flood overflowed them and drowned them.

The ploy on this day was to put the old woman further out, where she would drown first, in hopes of terrifying the teenager into submission. The young Margaret held firm.

Here is the women’s end related in The History of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland by Robert Wodrow, who dubbed the bloody suppression of the Covenanter movement in the 1680’s “The Killing Time”:

The two women were brought from Wigton, with a numerous crowd of spectators to so extraordinary an execution. Major Windram with some soldiers guarded them to the place of execution. The old woman’s stake was a good way in beyond the other, and she was first despatched, in order to terrify the other to a compliance with such oaths and conditions as they required. But in vain, for she adhered to her principles with an unshaken steadfastness. When the water was overflowing her fellow-martyr, some about Margaret Wilson asked her, what she thought of the other now struggling with the pangs of death. She answered, what do I see but Christ (in one of his members) wrestling there. Think you that we are the sufferers? No, it is Christ in us, for he sends none a warfare upon their own charges. When Margaret Wilson was at the stake, she sang the 25th Psalm from verse 7th, downward a good way, and read the 8th chapter to the Romans with a great deal of cheerfulness, and then prayed. While at prayer, the water covered her: but before she was quite dead, they pulled her up, and held her out of the water till she was recovered, and able to speak; and then by major Windram’s orders, she was asked, if she would pray for the king. She answered, ‘She wished the salvation of all men, and the damnation of none.’ One deeply affected with the death of the other and her case, said, ‘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.’ Whereupon some of her relations near by, desirous to have her life spared, if possible, called out to major Windram, ‘Sir, she hath said it, she hath said it.’ Whereupon the major came near, and offered her the abjuration, charging her instantly to swear it, otherwise return to the water. Most deliberately she refused, and said, ‘ I will not, I am one of Christ’s children, let me go.’ Upon which she was thrust down again into the water, where she finished her course with joy.”

Update: Gravestone photos and maps of the area can be found here.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Drowned,England,Execution,God,History,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Scotland,Women

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