Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wishart, George (1599-1671)

WISHART, GEORGE (1599–1671), bishop of Edinburgh, was the younger son of John Wishart of Logie-Wishart, Forfarshire, and grandson of Sir John Wishart of that ilk. His father did not succeed to the property till 1629, and had settled in East Lothian, where George was born in 1599 (not 1609, as stated by Chambers). He is said to have studied at Edinburgh University, but his name does not appear in the roll of graduates. In 1612 a George Wishart matriculated at St. Salvator's College, St. Andrews, graduating in 1613, and it has been conjectured from this unusual circumstance that this was the future bishop, who had begun his course at Edinburgh and graduated at St. Andrews, though then only fourteen years old. It is supposed that he afterwards travelled on the continent, and acted as secretary to Archbishop John Spottiswood (1565–1637) [q. v.] According to Hew Scott (Fasti, iii. 724) he was presented by James VI to the parish of Monifieth, Forfarshire, on 26 Aug. 1624. Murdoch and Simpson (Deeds of Montrose, pref. p. viii) suggest that this is a clerical error for 1625; but as James VI died on 27 March 1625, Scott is probably correct, otherwise Charles I must have made the presentation. Wishart was ordained at Dairsie by Spottiswood in September 1625, and then entered on his charge at Monifieth. He continued there till 10 April 1626, when he was transferred to the second charge in St. Andrews, as colleague to Alexander Gledstanes, then minister of the first charge.

In the following year the Marquis of Montrose entered St. Andrews University, and there is evidence that Wishart then formed an acquaintance with him that had an important influence upon his career. He received the degree of D.D. from St. Andrews prior to October 1634, as he is so described in the commission then appointed for the maintenance of church discipline. When the presbyterians obtained the ascendency, Archbishop Spottiswood and several of the bishops fled to England, and Wishart and others joined them at Morpeth. Thence Wishart went with Spottiswood to Newcastle, and probably to London. The general assembly of 1638 deposed the bishops, and in December 1638 the case of Wishart was before the assembly, as the congregation complained that he ‘had deserted them above eight months,’ but expressed willingness to have him back again. The matter was continued; but at length, in 1639, Wishart was deposed by the general assembly, having been absent for eighteen months. He returned with Spottiswood early in 1639 to Newcastle, and on 19 Oct. of that year he was appointed to a lectureship there in All Saints.

Scott (Fasti, ii. 394) states that in 1640 Wishart also held an afternoon lectureship at St. Nicholas, Newcastle, in conjunction with his other appointment. When the covenanters under Leslie besieged the town, Wishart was forced to flee; but after the departure of the Scots army on 25 Sept. 1641, he returned to Newcastle. From the journal of the House of Commons for 18 June 1642 it appears that he was ‘dismissed from his preferment as a frequenter of taverns,’ though this order seems to have been disregarded. On 12 May 1643, according to Brand's ‘History of Newcastle,’ Wishart was appointed (or reappointed) to the lectureship at St. Nicholas. He was certainly in Newcastle during the second siege of that place by Leslie from February to October 1644, for a manuscript volume of sermons written by him at that time is in the possession of the Rev. W. D. Macray of the Bodleian Library (Hist. MSS. Comm. 13th Rep. iv. 507). Newcastle fell into the hands of Leslie on 19 Oct., and Wishart was sent to Edinburgh with other captives, and imprisoned in the Thieves' Hole, the worst part of the Tolbooth. Wishart's house at Newcastle had been plundered, and his wife and five survivors of his nine children had been turned adrift. For nearly twelve months (October–August) he was confined in Edinburgh Tolbooth. On 28 Jan. 1645 he petitioned the Scottish parliament for ‘some reasonable maintenance’ for himself and family, which apparently was granted.

Montrose won the victory at Kilsyth on 15 Aug. 1645, and immediately sent orders for the release of the prisoners at Edinburgh. Wishart joined the royalist army at Bothwell, and was appointed chaplain to Montrose, then governor-general of Scotland. From this time Wishart was constantly with the army, and his narrative of the campaign is that of an eye-witness. After the decisive battle of Philiphaugh he accompanied the remnant of the troops, and shared in the dangers of Montrose's flight. On 3 Sept. 1646 Montrose, with Wishart and a few faithful companions, sailed from the harbour of Montrose and set out for Norway. Wishart remained with Montrose during his wanderings in Europe, and at length reached The Hague, where the story of the campaign of 1644–6 was written by Wishart. The dedication of this work is dated 1 Oct. 1647, and it has been conjectured, in default of precise information from the book itself, that the first edition was printed at The Hague. Shortly after this date Wishart obtained the chaplaincy of a regiment of Scots soldiers in the pay of the Prince of Orange. In 1650 he was minister to the Scots congregation at Schiedam, and he was in that office in 1652. It has been said, on slight evidence, that Wishart was chaplain to Elizabeth, queen of Bohemia, though it is more reasonable to suppose that she only extended her favour and protection to him. After the Restoration Wishart returned to England, and in September 1660 he was appointed lecturer at St. Andrews, Newcastle, but he seems to have at once passed to the more important charge of St. Nicholas, where he had formerly been lecturer. In April 1661 he applied to the Scots parliament for some assistance out of the vacant stipends in their gift, and he received a grant of 300l. On 1 June 1662 Wishart was consecrated bishop of Edinburgh. This position he retained till his death on 25 (?) July 1671. He was buried ‘within the kirk of Holyrood house’ on 29 July, and a Latin epitaph on a mural tablet beside his grave is still legible. He married, in early life, Margaret Ogilvy, supposed to be connected with the Airlie family, and had two sons.

Estimates of Wishart's character vary according to the religious convictions of different writers. Wodrow, with characteristic prejudice against prelacy, wrote: ‘This man could not refrain from profane swearing, even upon the streets of Edinburgh; and he was a known drunkard. He published somewhat in divinity; but then, as I find it remarked by a very good hand, his lascivious poems, which, compared with the most luscious parts of Ovid, “De Arte Amandi,” are modest, gave scandal to all the world.’ Keith, on the other hand, describes Wishart as ‘a person of great religion,’ who was ‘held in great veneration for his unspotted loyalty;’ and he relates that after obtaining the bishopric Wishart's benevolent spirit led him to remember and relieve the wants of presbyterian prisoners, being mindful of his own sufferings.

All the known works by Wishart are his Latin account of the campaigns of Montrose (1647), which passed into a third edition within four months; his Latin ‘Anniversary Poem’ on the death of Montrose (1651); and the manuscript sermons delivered at Newcastle in 1644. A passage in this manuscript refers to some work which the author had written on the question of the original language of St. Matthew's gospel; but this work is not known, though it may be the book referred to by Wodrow as ‘somewhat in divinity.’ The ‘lascivious poems’ which Wodrow mentions are quite unknown.

[The latest and best authority is Murdoch and Simpson's Deeds of Montrose (1893), which contains Wishart's Latin text, an English translation, and a full bibliography, together with a biography of Wishart as preface. The sketch of Wishart in Chambers's Eminent Scotsmen is very incorrect. Keith's Cat. of Bishops; Wodrow's Hist. of Church of Scotland, 1829 ed. i. 236; Lyon's Hist. of St. Andrews, ii. 13; cf. Napier's Memoirs of Montrose.]

A. H. M.