THE Martyrs' Monument in Stirling is one of the most poignant memorials in the Valley Cemetery at the Church of the Holy Rood.

It was created to commemorate the Wigtown Martyrs from the 17th century by William Drummond, a prosperous landowner, seed merchant and farmer in Stirling.

His father, also William, had set up a successful nursery and seed business in the Bannockburn area and when he was old enough, Drummond joined him and later became a partner.

In 1814, they opened a shop in Stirling and as the business prospered, they had to take on new premises.

They became pioneers in the development of turnip seeds, creating Drummond's Improved Seed then Drummond's Extra Improved Seed

In the 1830s, young William held his first exhibition of agricultural produce. It was so successful it developed into Drummond's Agricultural Museum.

Drummond was a strong Presbyterian and as such vowed to create the monument to those who perished at the hands of the Catholic Stuarts after the Restoration of Charles II.

Charles and his government tolerated the moderates but those who had strong Presbyterian beliefs were often hounded.

To stop Episcopalian beliefs being forced on them, they took to holding prayer meetings of their own, despite them being banned.

In 1680, fed up with being harassed, they issued a declaration at Sanquhar on June 22, proclaiming the king the anti-Christ and stating his laws were illegal.

This was treason.

In 1685, at Wigton in Dumfries and Galloway, two sisters, Margaret and Agnes Wilson, and their friend 63-year-old Margaret MacLaughlin, were brought before the Judiciary Court.

They had been charged with rebellion at Bothwell Bridge and Aird Moss, a false accusation, and for attending 20 house and 20 field conventicles.

The Wilsons were the daughters of Episcopalian Gilbert Wilson of Glenvernoch who had embraced Charles' reforms, but they, along with their brother Thomas, had chosen not to follow in their father's footsteps and remained strong Covenanters.

They had fled to the hills, finding shelter in caves, but in February, 1685, the same month Charles II died, they secretly ventured back to Wigtown while Thomas kept watch.

Unfortunately, they were discovered, captured, and thrown into prison. In front of the court, they refused to swear an oath to the king, by then James VII, Charles' son.

For them to say 'god save the king' was swearing allegiance to Satan and with their beliefs so strong, they could not do it.

The court was furious and all three were sentenced to death on April 13, 1685.

THE Wigton Martyrs, as they became known, were to be "tied to palisades fixed in the sand within the flood-mark of the sea and there to stand till the flood overflowed them", and drowned them.

Gilbert Wilson went to Edinburgh to the Privy Council pleading for clemency for all three.

Fourteen-year-old Agnes had her sentenced commuted, due in part to her father paying a £100 Scots bond for her.

Reprieves were written for the two Margarets, dated 30th April, and both were signed.

The decrees, however, were ignored by Sir Robert Grierson of Lag. On May11, 1685, the women were tied to stakes in the Solway Firth. Friends and relatives of Margaret Wilson pleaded with her to take the oath to save her life.

When the tide began to swamp the eighteen-year-old, she was given permission to pray for the king, possibly in hope of acquittal, but she still refused to renounce the Covenant, remaining 'steadfast in her refusal to the end'.

As they waited for the tide to drown them, family and friends sang hymns and said prayers for the two women. Wilson even recited psalms and sang hymns.

The bodies were retrieved, and they were buried together in the churchyard of Wigton.

Inscribed on Wilson's memorial are the names of 'the actors of this cruel crime', Grierson of Lag, hereditary sheriff of Kirkcudbrightshire, Captain John Strachan, Major George Winram, who carried out the execution, and Sheriff Depute David Graham.

MacLauchlin's states that by 'unjust law' she was 'sentenced to die' – again with the four names inscribed.

Drummond commissioned and paid for the monument so this incident would not be forgotten.

Made from marble, it was designed by Alexander Handyside Ritchie, who also designed Wallace in King Street, Stirling.

An angel watches over two girls, one of whom is reading the bible to her sister. This represents Margaret reading the book to Agnes.

It was erected in 1859, without its copula, which was added later. The glass copula was designed by John Rochead, of Wallace Monument fame, and put in place in 1867, although one of the lambs at the girls' feet had to be removed from the monument to facilitate it. It is surmounted by a crown on a cushion.

The inscription reads 'Margaret virgin martyr of the ocean wave with her like-minded sister Agnes. Love, many waters cannot quench — God saves His chaste Impearled One! in covenant true. "O Scotia's daughters! earnest scan the page," And prize the Flower of Grace, blood-bought for you. Psalm ix. xix.'