The painting “The Martyr of Solway” by John Millais portrays Margaret Wilson, a young Scottish Covenanter who was executed for refusing to swear an oath declaring James II as head of the church. The artwork depicts her with her arms bound with a rope while being cast into the sea. Margaret McLachlan, another Covenanter, was executed alongside her and both became known as the Wigtown Martyrs.
Created in 1871, Millais’ painting originally displayed Margaret without clothing, but he later added clothing to conform to Victorian sensibilities. As a Pre-Raphaelite artist, Millais may have been influenced by his wife’s heritage from Perthshire in developing an interest in Scottish history.
Millais was a child prodigy and one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. His painting of Christ in the House of His Parents generated controversy and his Ophelia is a famous example of the historical and naturalist focus that characterized Pre-Raphaelite work at that time.
The painting serves as an emotional reminder of Scotland’s turbulent religious history during earlier times when Scots faced perilous consequences if they opposed authority and royalty in matters touching on religious beliefs.