Prof Alec Ryrie

Quincentennial Speakers

‘George Wishart: Scotland’s Turbulent Prophet?’

George Wishart’s public career was brief, but he left turbulence in his wake wherever he went. This introductory lecture tracked his preaching ministry, from the turbulent events in Bristol in 1539 through his defiant tour of central Scotland in 1544-5 to his trial and execution in 1546; but it also paid particular attention to what he left behind him and the reputation that grew up around him. The divisions which his visit to Bristol crystallised in that already troubled city were a harbinger of things to come. His ministry in Scotland not only helped to redirect a reforming movement which was disorientated and increasingly embittered after the high hopes of 1543 had been dashed; it also gave him a personal reputation as a prophet, which was cherished and transmitted by his disciple John Knox. This may even have been Wishart’s most enduring legacy, since he stands at the head of what became a kind of apostolic succession of prophets, running through Knox to his successors and disciples. This became one of the Scottish Reformation’s most distinctive features: its openness towards charismatic leadership which expected the providential or even the miraculous. A line can be traced from Wishart, through Knox, to the revivalist movements of Ayrshire and Ulster in the 1620s which in turn fed the revivalism of the eighteenth century.