Painting of Wilson, The Martyr of Solway, by John Everett Millais, 1871
c. 1667 – 11 May 1685
Margaret Wilson was a young Scottish Covenanter, from Wigtown in Scotland executed by drowning for refusing to swear an oath declaring James VII as head of the church. She died along with Margaret McLachlan. The two Margarets were known as the Wigtown Martyrs. Wilson became the more famous of the two because of her youth. As a teenager, her faith unto death became celebrated as part of the martyrology of Presbyterian churches.
The Covenanter movement to maintain the reforms of the Scottish Reformation came to the fore with signing of the National Covenant of 1638 in opposition to royal control of the church, promoting Presbyterianism as a form of church government instead of an Episcopal polity governed by bishops appointed by the Crown. The dispute led to the Wars of the Three Kingdoms and the overthrow of the monarchy. With the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 the Covenants were declared treasonable and Episcopacy was restored.
Margaret Wilson was born at Glenvernoch, a farm near Newton Stewart in Wigtownshire. Her parents were dutiful Episcopalians, but her older brothers were Covenanters. By 1684 Covenanters were hiding from the authorities in the hills, and increasingly draconian action had ended the large conventicles. There were still small gatherings held indoors, but now failure to take a test of allegiance to the king, which required renouncing the Covenant, met with the death penalty, as did even attending aconventicle or harbouring Covenanters. Despite the risks, Margaret began attending conventicles with her younger brother Thomas.
In February 1685 the sixteen-year-old Thomas Wilson left to join other Covenanters in the hills. The girls went on a secret visit to Wigtown to visit friends, including an elderly widow Margaret McLachlan. The young sisters Margaret and Agnes were taken prisoner, possibly after declining to drink the King's health, and put into the "thieves' hole". They refused to take the Abjuration Oath renouncing the Covenant. On the following Sunday Margaret McLachlan was arrested, and also put into the "thieves' hole" with the Wilson girls, along with a servant woman. They were taken before the "local assizes" of the Government Commissioners for Wigtownshire.
On 13 April 1685 they were indicted as being guilty of the Rebellion of Bothwell Bridge, Aird's Moss, 20 Field Conventicles and 20 House Conventicles. The Assizes session took place and a guilty verdict was brought. The three main protagonists were found guilty on all charges, and sentenced to be "tied to palisades fixed in the sand, within the floodmark of the sea, and there to stand till the flood o'erflowed them". Agnes was granted freedom on a bond of 100Pounds Scots.
About 18 years of age at the time of her death, Margaret Wilson was buried, together with her friend Margaret McLachlan, in the churchyard of Wigtown.
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