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Stereoscopic photograph of the monument of Margaret Wilson, the Wigton Martyr

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Scotland (photographed)

  • Date:

    ca. 1860s (photographed)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Crowe, Alexander (photographer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Stereoscopic photograph

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level F, case X, shelf 546, box G

Physical description

Stereoscopic photograph depicting the monument of Margaret Wilson, the Wigton Martyr, in the Old Town Cemetery, Stirling.

Place of Origin

Scotland (photographed)


ca. 1860s (photographed)


Crowe, Alexander (photographer)

Materials and Techniques

Stereoscopic photograph

Object history note

Margaret Wilson was a young Scottish Covenanter, from Wigtown, Galloway in Scotland executed by drowning for refusing to swear an oath declaring the King as head of the church. She died on May 11, in 1685. Her death became part of the martyrology of Presbyterian churches, and she was commemorated as the most famous of the Wigtown Martyrs.
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. Particularly in the south-west of Scotland, ministers refused to submit. Barred from their churches, they held open air field assemblies called conventicles which the authorities suppressed using military force.
Margaret Wilson had been born at Glenvernoch, a farm near Newton Stewart in Wigtownshire. Her parents were dutiful Episcopalians, but her older brothers were among the Covenanters. By 1684 they 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 a conventicle or harbouring Covenanters. Despite the risks, she began attending conventicles together 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 (there are various spellings of her second name). 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. Taken before the assizes of the Government Commissioners for Wigtownshire, the servant was found partially guilty and given a sentence of flogging and pillorying on three successive days. The other three 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". The father of the girls, Gilbert Wilson, went to Edinburgh and made a plea to the Privy Council of Scotland for clemency for all three, presenting a petition which claimed that Margaret McLachlan had recanted. Agnes was granted freedom on a bond of 100 Pounds Scots, and reprieves were written out for the two Margarets with a date of 30 April 1685. There have been claims that the two women recanted the Covenant and were not executed, but Kirk Session records written out twenty years after the events provide detailed accounts supported by witness statements.

Margaret Wilson and Margaret McLachlan, were condemned to death by drowning and were chained to stakes on the Solway Firth. Although at the last moment, choking on the salt water, Margaret Wilson was allowed to offer a prayer for the King, this was not good enough for her accusers, and she was forcibly thrust beneath the waves. It is said that, as the tide rose, she defiantly quoted from the psalms and the epistles and sang. After her drowning, witnesses described how her hair floated around her head like a halo in the clear water.
About 18 at the time of her death, Margaret Wilson was buried, together with her friend Margaret McLauchlan, in the churchyard of Wigtown.

The story of the Wigtown Martyrs was among those collected by Robert Wodrow and published in his History of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland from the Restoration to the Revolution.
The Church of Scotland synod had decided in 1708 to collect accounts of persecution under the Stuart monarchs, and persuaded Wodrow to take on the research. The account was published in 1721, and had a considerable effect on public perception despite it being attacked by royalists and supporters of the Scottish Episcopal Church.

The death of Margaret Wilson was depicted in 1862 by the Pre-Raphaelite artist John Everett Millais in an illustration for the magazine Once A Week. The magazine also reproduced the verses describing her death which are inscribed on her grave in Wigtown.

Descriptive line

Stereoscopic photograph by Alexander Crowe of Stirling depicting the monument of Margaret Wilson, the Wigton Martyr. Scotland, ca. 1860s.





Subjects depicted

Stereograph; Martyrs; Stereoscope; Cemeteries; Monuments


Photographs; Scotland


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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