Daniel Defoe, the Wigtown Martyrs and an Enemy of God

Daniel Defoe’s account of the drowning of the two female Wigtown martyrs, Margaret McLachlan and Margaret Wilson, first appeared in 1717. He claims that his account of it came from ‘creditable witnesses’, but he does not name them. It is a remarkable version of their execution, as the dialogue it records between Margaret McLachlan and the government forces is a clear case of treason, as she says that while King James VII was ‘a Persecutor of God’s People he was an Enemy to God’.

Wigtown Martyrs' Stake

The Way to the Martyrs’ Stake Monument © Lairich Rig and licensed for reuse.

Defoe does not name either McLachlan, or Wilson, by name, but in his version of their execution, McLachlan is the ‘Woman’ and Wilson the ‘Maiden’.

He does not record where the events took place, but the evidence of other sources confirms that it was in Wigtown in 1685.

Like other sources, Defoe identified Sir Robert Grierson of Lag as involved in their execution. However, he does not name any of the officers involved. Other sources claim that Captain George Winram conducted the execution.

Defoe’s account of their summary trial and execution is as follows:

‘The first I meet with is the Story of a poor Woman and a young Maiden of about 16 Years old in the West of Scotland, who were cruelly murthered by some Men belonging to [Sir Robert] Grierson of Lag, an Eminent Persecutor in that part of the Country [i.e., Galloway]. They began by putting the Questions to them abovemention’d; and the first they offered, as what was most popular at that Time in the World, and best serv’d, as they thought, to expose the persecuted People to the Court, was that of, Will ye say God bless the King. As I have receiv’d this Story from Creditable Witnesses, take it as follows; [>p228.] The Woman told them she would pray to God to forgive the king his sins: The Maid said she would pray that God would please to give the King Repentance: But it would be an impious Thing, said the Woman, to pray to God to save, that is, to bless a Covenant-breaking perjur’d Magistrate, and in the Prosecution of his Perjury too: And they both declar’d it was against their Consciences, their Principles, and the Covenant; and that therefore they could not do it. The Woman said boldly, That while the King was a Persecutor of God’s People he was an Enemy to GOD and to the Church of GOD; and she thought it was an abominable Thing to ask of any Christian to pray for Prosperity to the Persecutors of the Church of Christ; for that was to say God spped to them, Even in the very Persecution itself: She was an undaunted Woman, and challeng’d them to answer her in that particular; but they had nothing to say to her Argument, but thought she would have some Regard to theirs which was, Pray to God to bless the King — or dye. Will ye kill me, says the Woman, because I will not bless those who God curses! the Lord forbid that I should do it, tho’ I were to dye a Thousand Times. Upon this they fix’d a Stake in the Sea at the low Water Mark, and binding the poor Woman and the young Girl to the Stake, let them stand there ‘till the Tide flowed over them and drowned them both, being also tormented almost to Death with the Cold by standing in the Water so long as ‘till the Tide was high enough to drown them. However, they both endur’d it with great Constancy, and without the least Offer of Compliance with the barbarous Adversary.’ (Defoe, History, 227-8.)

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

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~ by drmarkjardine on November 28, 2014.

4 Responses to “Daniel Defoe, the Wigtown Martyrs and an Enemy of God”

  1. Daniel Defoe, notorious liar, English spy and general reprobate! Interestingly, another well known distorter of truths – Patrick Walker – comments on the “Wigtown Martyrs” that ” The broth was hell-hot in these days. They wanted long spoons that supped with the devil. I could give many instances, but, at this time, shall only mention the drowning of those two women at Wigtown, the 11th day of May 1685, which some deny to be [a] matter of fact.”

  2. […] Daniel Defoe, 1717. In 1717, Daniel Defoe does not mention the judges, but does say that the women ‘were cruelly murthered by some Men belonging to [Sir Robert] […]

  3. […] “list” does not include the two female Wigtown Martyrs, but in the same text he also published an account of their drowning. That may indicate that he used Cloud of Witnesses (1714) as his source […]

  4. […] 1717’ refers to the “list” of dead that Daniel Defoe derived from Shields/Cloud and his narrative of the Wigtown Martyrs both of which are found in his History of the Church of Scotland which was published in […]

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