The Joy of Museums

Finding Beauty & Meaning in Museums

“The Martyr of Solway” by John Everett Millais

JOHN EVERETT MILLAIS - The Martyr of the Solway (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, c. 1871. Óleo sobre lienzo, 70.5 x 56.5 cm)

“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 salt water, 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.

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 and developing 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.

Essential Facts:

  • 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

Artist Essential Facts:

  • Name:                    Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Baronet
  • Born:                      1829 – Southampton, England
  • Died:                       1896 (aged 67) – Kensington, London
  • Nationality            English
  • Notable works:


“Great events make me quiet and calm; it is only trifles that irritate my nerves.” Queen Victoria



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