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“The Martyr of Solway” by John Everett Millais

JOHN EVERETT MILLAIS - The Martyr of the Solway

“The Martyr of Solway” by John Everett Millais

“The Martyr of Solway” by John Everett Millais portrays Margaret Wilson (1667 – 1685), who was a young Scottish teenager, of the Scottish Presbyterian movement.

Margaret Wilson was executed by drowning for refusing to swear an oath declaring James VII (James II of England) as head of the church.

Wilson was executed along with Margaret McLachlan. However, Wilson became the more famous of the two women because of her youth; she was about 18 years of age at the time of her death.

As a teenager, her faith in the face of death became celebrated as part of the martyrology of Presbyterian churches. They believed that no man, not even a king, could be the spiritual head of their church.

They also opposed the authority of the bishops in the Church. They believed that only Jesus Christ could be the spiritual head of a Christian faith.

Margaret Wilson and Margaret McLachlan were chained to stakes on the Solway Firth. As the tide rose, choking on the saltwater, Margaret Wilson was told to offer a prayer for the King, which she did, but she continued to refuse to renounce her beliefs. 

Infuriating her accusers, and she was forcibly thrust beneath the waves. Her accusers in their zeal had ignored a reprieve from the Privy Council of Scotland.

John Everett Millais

The artist, Sir John Everett Millais, was a Victorian-era English painter who was one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was founded at his home in London.

Millais became a famous exponent of the style with this painting. By the mid-1850s, Millais was moving away from the Pre-Raphaelite style. He started to develop a new and powerful form of realism in his art.

This painting is very different from Millais’s earlier particular focus on the Pre-Raphaelite style.


The Pre-Raphaelites was a group of English painters, poets, and art critics, founded in 1848.

The group intended to reform art by rejecting what it considered the mechanistic approach first adopted by the artists who succeeded Raphael and Michelangelo, hence the name “Pre-Raphaelite.”

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood sought a return to the abundant detail, intense colors, and complex compositions of Pre-Raphaelite Italian art.

The Pre-Raphaelites focused on painting subjects from modern life, and literature often used historical costumes for accuracy.

They painted directly from nature itself, as accurately as possible, and with intense attention to detail.

The Pre-Raphaelites defined themselves as a reform movement, created a distinct name for their art, and published a periodical to promote their ideas.

A later, medieval influence extended the movement’s power into the twentieth century with artists such as John William Waterhouse.

The Martyr of the Solway

  • Title:                      The Martyr of the Solway
  • Español:                 La Mártir de Solway
  • Artist:                     John Everett Millais
  • Date:                      1871
  • Medium:                Oil on Canvas
  • Style:                      Pre-Raphaelite
  • Dimensions:          70.5 × 56.5 cm (27.8 × 22.2 in)
  • Museum:               Walker Art Gallery

John Everett Millais

The Martyr of the Solway

The Story Of Margaret Wilson

Virtual Tour of Pre-Raphaelite Artists

William Holman Hunt

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

John Everett Millais

John William Waterhouse

Marie Spartali Stillman

Ford Madox Brown

Henry Holiday

Edward Burne-Jones

The Martyr of the Solway

Margaret Wilson

John Everett Millais: A collection of 207 paintings


“History has remembered the kings and warriors, because they destroyed; Art has remembered the people, because they created.”
– William Morris


Photo Credit: John Everett Millais [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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