For the Covenanters of Scotland, there could be no question: Christ, not the King of England, was head of the church. When seventy-year-old Margaret MacLachlan and eighteen-year-old Margaret Wilson refused to swear the oath that declared the king to be head of the church, they were sentenced to die an unusually cruel death. This much of today's story everyone agrees on and documents confirm.
According toa strong tradition, two long stakes were then fastened firmly into a creek bed at Wigton where the sea would roll in at high tide. On this day, May 11, 1685, the women were bound to the stakes. The old woman was fastened to the stake furthest out. Incoming swells smothered her after a short struggle.
"What do you think of her now?" young Margaret's tormenters asked.
"Think! I see Christ wrestling there," she replied. "Do you think we are sufferers? No, it is Christ in us, for he sends no one to battle at their own expense."
As the water rose, she sang a song, pleading with the Lord to forgive her childhood sins. She repeated the words of Romans Chapter 8, a passage which says that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
When she was strangling, the soldiers pulled her out. Pray the words of the oath, she was told. She refused and was held under water. Again she was hauled out. This time she was asked to say, "God save the king." The fact that she wouldn't repeat this innocent phrase is proof that more than religious feeling was at stake: political resistance was also strong.
"Lord, Give him repentance, forgiveness and salvation if it is your holy will," she finally prayed. Her family and friends immediately called to the judge that she had said the words. But he required her to take an oath, and this she could not do, for Christ had forbidden oath-taking. "No. No sinful oaths for me," she said. "I am one of Christ's children. Let me go."
She was put back into the water where she drowned. At any rate, that is how the story goes.
Later, when only one or two old witnesses remained alive, partisans denied that the Wigton sentence was ever carried out. A reprieve was granted at the last moment, they said, and produced documentation of doubtful authenticity. But researchers turned up good evidence in support of the early accounts, which named specific names and dates, and spawned local legend. A memorial stands at the site today. The Wigton martyrdom was typical of the age. No one denies that thousands of Covenanters went to prison or perished for their stern mixture of religious and political beliefs.
- Smellie, Alexander. Men of the Covenant. Revell, 1903.
- Taylor, James. The Scottish Covenanters. London: Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Co., no date.
- "Two Margarets, the." http://www.applesofgold.co.uk/the_two_margarets.htm
Last updated May, 2007.