George Wishart - Bristol (1539)

The times were dangerous; already several believers had been burned at the stake, so Wishart fled to England. It seems like a strange choice of haven as many had been burned at the stake by Henry VIII in recent years and there were more to come. He went to Cambridge University which was a nursery for the Reformed doctrines. Hugh Latimer, Bishop of Worcester, appointed Wishart a ‘reader’, and he began his work in May 1539 at St Nicholas’ Church, Bristol. The authorities were looking out for those who spoke about the new doctrine, so they were on to Wishart at once, charging him before the mayor and justices with preaching doctrines condemned by the Church

. In June the mayor asked for advice from Lord Cromwell, the Lord Privy Seal. Just at this time the Catholic party came into ascendency. An indictment by the Bristol clergy against Wishart was laid before an ecclesiastical court, consisting of archbishop Cranmer, Clark, bishop of Bath; Repps, bishop of Norwich; and Sampson, bishop of Chichester. Advised by Cranmer, Wishart consented to retract his 'heretical' doctrine. Receiving his submission, the court decreed that he should carry a faggot in St Nicholas’ church, Bristol, on Sunday the 13th July, and in Christ church of the same city on the following Sunday. The idea of this was humiliation.

It was over the reasons for Wishart being accused of heresy that some have claimed that his doctrines were wrong and that he was guilty of what became known as Socinianism (denying the divine nature of Christ). Charles Rogers, whose book on the life of Wishart this essay is taken from, successfully argues that Wishart’s doctrines were in fact correct. (The argument is quite complex, so if you want to know more you can visit the website that is given at the end of the essay.)

Having, by burning his faggot, escaped death as the result of his evangelical labours at Bristol, Wishart proceeded to the Continent.