The Two Margarets

Today we take freedom of religion very much for granted, but things were very different back in 1684, when politics and religion were inextricably mixed. Refusing to accept bishops was as highly charged a position as declaring that Osama bin Laden was a good role model might be today! Covenanters, the people who rejected episcopacy, had been involved in several armed uprisings, so the danger to the state wasn't just hypothetical.

It is against this background that we have the story of the Wigtown Martyrs, two women called Margaret who appear to have been targetted by bigots determined to kill them, without regard to law or justice. The two women were put to death in a particularly cruel way, by being tied to stakes in Wigtown Bay and drowned as the tide crept in.

In Protestant hagiography it is customary to regard the two as near saints, harried to death by overweening proponents of a particular form of church government. In modern terms, however, the older Margaret was guilty of sheltering terrorists and preaching terrorism, while the younger one had just returned from a "terrorist training camp" in the Scottish hills.

Does the story have any lessons for us today? Probably - though the differences between Covenanters who sought only to live in peace and follow their consciences and modern extremists who actively seek the destruction of Western civilisation must be born in mind as well as whatever similarities there may be.