Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wishart, Robert

WISHART, ROBERT (d. 1316), bishop of Glasgow, belonged to the family of Wishart or Wiseheart of Pittarrow, Forfarshire, and was either nephew or cousin of William Wishart, bishop of St. Andrews and chancellor of Scotland. William Wishart was bishop-elect of Glasgow in 1270, but before he was installed he was transferred to the bishopric of St. Andrews, and Robert Wishart, then archdeacon of St. Andrews, was preferred to the see of Glasgow. No record exists of his early career, and his name first appears as bishop of Glasgow, in which office he was consecrated at Aberdeen in 1272 (Chron. Melrose). Wishart rapidly achieved a leading position among the prelates who directed affairs of state during the reign of Alexander III, and after that monarch's death on 16 March 1285–6 he was appointed one of the six guardians of the realm, the government of the land south of the Forth being committed to Wishart, John Comyn, lord of Badenoch, and James, high steward of Scotland. The succession to the crown had been settled upon Margaret, the Maid of Norway, granddaughter of Alexander III, and daughter of Eric, king of Norway, who was then only three years old. So far as can be judged, Wishart remained true to her interests, and when Eric sent plenipotentiaries to England to consult with her grand-uncle, Edward I, as to the settlement of Scottish affairs, Wishart was invited by Edward to meet these commissioners at Salisbury. The treaty drawn up in 1289–90 left it in the power of Edward to detain the Maid in England until he was satisfied that Scotland was in a state of tranquillity. Meanwhile Edward had obtained a dispensation from the pope to enable his son Edward to marry the Scottish queen, as they were within the prohibited degrees; and when this project was announced to the Scottish parliament at Brigham, it was accepted readily, and Wishart appended his signature to a letter from the four surviving guardians informing Eric of their consent to the proposal (Fœdera, ii. 471). Wishart, bishop of Glasgow, and Fraser, bishop of St. Andrews, were thus won over to the support of Edward I; but James, the high steward, favoured the claims of Bruce, while Comyn was himself a claimant.

When news was brought to Scotland that Margaret of Norway had died in September 1290 on her way to assume the crown, Edward as lord-paramount placed John Baliol on the throne with the concurrence of Wishart, who swore fealty to Edward during his triumphal progress through Scotland in 1296. He was high in favour with the king in 1298, but the encroachments of Edward upon the liberties of Scotland, which had been apparently secured by the treaty of Salisbury, at length provoked Wishart to revolt, and he earnestly took up and prosecuted the cause of Robert Bruce. So active was Wishart's hostility to Edward that when he was captured in 1301 and thrown into prison he was not released until he had once more sworn fealty to Edward. His patriotism or love of intrigue soon led him to disregard this sacred obligation, and Edward wrote specially to Boniface VIII asking to have Wishart deprived of his see. To this the pope would not consent, but he directed a special missive to Wishart commanding him to desist from his opposition to Edward, and denouncing him as ‘the prime mover and instigator of all the tumult and dissension which has arisen between his dearest son in Christ, Edward, king of England, and the Scots.’ This remonstrance had no deterrent effect upon Wishart. He joined the little band of patriots under Wallace, and the animosity with which Edward regarded him is shown by the exclusion of Wishart from the fairly generous terms offered to the defeated Scots at Strathord in February 1303–4. Wishart next appears prominently in history as officiating at the coronation of Robert Bruce at Scone on 27 March 1306, when he supplied robes for the king from his own wardrobe. He shared the misfortunes of Bruce during that eventful year. After the battle of Methven, Wishart fled to the castle of Cupar in Fife, where he was captured by Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke, and sent ‘fettered, and in his coat of mail,’ as a prisoner to Nottingham. Thence he was removed to Porchester Castle and kept in strict confinement. Here he spent eight years in captivity, and while in prison he became blind. Not until after the battle of Bannockburn in 1314 did he regain his liberty, being one of the five prisoners exchanged for Humphrey de Bohun, fourth earl of Hereford [q. v.] Wishart returned to his diocese, and died there on 26 Nov. 1316, and was buried in Glasgow Cathedral, where his tomb, with a recumbent effigy, is still in existence.

In the character of Wishart the patriot was superior to the priest. Twice he swore allegiance to Edward, and twice he broke his vow when his country demanded his services. By a violation of the strict rules of the church, he granted absolution to Bruce for the slaughter of Comyn, though that murder had been committed on the steps of the altar. His defence of the liberty of Scotland was consistent and self-sacrificing; and he was held in high esteem by Robert Bruce, in whose interests he had surrendered everything.

[Keith's Cat. of Bishops, p. 143; Gordon's Scotichronicon, ii. 484; Eyre-Todd's Book of Glasgow Cathedral, p. 182 and other passages; Gough's Scotland in 1298, pp. 115 et seq.; Tytler's Hist. of Scotland, i. 25, 89, 94, 123; Rymer's Fœdera, i. 946 et seq.; Fordun; Winton; Hailes, passim.]

A. H. M.