Greetings from iainthepict. This blog of mine is meant to be like a 'Book of Days' or a kind of 'Scottish Year Book' if you will. The idea was to present an event for each day of the year. Somewhere in here, you can find out what happened, affecting Scotland and the Scots, on any given day of the year. Your comments and observations are very welcome.
The photograph is by Sam Perkins (check him out on Facebook at Sam Perkins Photography) and was taken near Oban.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Cardinal David Beaton

David Beaton, Cardinal Archbishop of St. Andrews and Lord High Chancellor of Scotland, was murdered by a band of Protestant Reformers, on the 29th of May, 1546.

David Beaton was effectively the last Archbishop of St Andrews (appointed in 1539) and the last Scottish Cardinal prior to the Reformation. He was murdered (or assassinated, if you prefer – he didn’t have much say in the matter, nor less the manner, of his death and the distinction wouldn’t have made any difference to him deid) in St Andrews Castle by some Lordly Protestant Reformers. Beaton was a hugely powerful man, very prominent in the turbulent politics of the day, and he made many enemies. A lot of that was his own doing, of course, as he wisnae short of self belief and supposed himself to have both right and might on his side.

Cardinal Beaton was the main persecutor of Protestantism and its supporters, and he instigated an inquisition-style regime against the Protestant ‘heresy’ at St Andrews, the stronghold of the Catholic Church. Beaton took a particular dislike to George Wishart, a mentor of John Knox, and had Wishart burned at the stake a few months before he met his own grisly end. Beaton’s enemies held the castle for a year, until French troops stormed the ramparts and captured the heretics, one of whom was yon John Knox.

David Beaton (or Bethune) was born in Balfour (or Markinch), and educated at St. Andrews and Glasgow Universities. At the age of sixteen, David was sent to Paris to study law and he first became involved in politics at the French court. Beaton returned to Scotland when he was given an ecclesiastical appointment by his uncle, James Beaton, the Archbishop of Glasgow. Beaton’s rise to power and the glory of the lord was partly through influence, but he was certainly a very capable politician. His experience in France led to him being made responsible for negotiating both the marriages of King James V, so he became very useful.

In 1522, again through family influence, which was par for the course (OK, no more St. Andrews jokes of that sort) in those times, Beaton was appointed Abbot of Arbroath Abbey. There was one cute wee condition attached; namely, that half the very large income from the Abbey was to go to his uncle. The politicians of today, with their sordid expenses claims, have nothing on these guys. For a Cardinal, he wasn’t very devout either, at least in terms of the rules of celibacy. One of his pet lassies, Mistress Ogilvy, the un-maidenly Marion, became his wife in all but name; until his death did them part.

Beaton sat in the Scottish Parliament, from 1525, and, in 1528, he was appointed Keeper of the Privy Seal. His rise continued as on the death of his uncle, in 1539, he became Archbishop of St Andrews. And it didnae take Pope Paul III long to catch on as he was promptly made a Cardinal, on the 20th of December that same year. Thus, by 1540, Cardinal Beaton was one of James V’s most trusted advisers. When James V died, on the 14th of December, 1542, leaving as his heir the six day old Mary, the canny Beaton didn’t hang about. He produced a document, dated on the day of the King’s death and which James had supposedly signed, appointing him and his cronies as Regents for the young Mary Stuart. Then, on the 10th of January, 1543, Beaton cheerily appointed himself Chancellor of Scotland.

Beaton allied Scotland with France for the maintenance of the Catholic faith against the Protestant Henry VIII and his desire for the young Mary to marry his son, Prince Edward. However, a wee bit hiatus developed in Beaton’s career when he was arrested by the Earl of Angus for allegedly (“Who? Me!”) forging the King’s will. Whilst he was thus indisposed, the Earl of Arran began negotiations with Henry, but despite the Treaty of Greenwich, in July, 1543, and very much because of Henry’s demands and behaviour, which reminded many of that of Edward I, back in 1291-2, nothing, in terms of marriage at any rate, happened.

What did occur was that Beaton was subsequently released and at the same time, Marie de Guise had the infant Mary crowned as Queen. So, the Scottish Parliament had blown both hot and cold with regard to Henry and Beaton, and by the end of 1543, our man the Cardinal was back in power as Chancellor of Scotland. His holy Catholic temper was fairly roused by this time and he set about renewing harsh penalties for heresy. The following year, Protestant Henry’s testosterone fuelled response was to invade, in what became known as ‘the Rough Wooings’. Scotland coyly resisted on Mary’s behalf, but Beaton became widely blamed for provoking an unwanted fight.

In addition, Cardinal Beaton was not a greatly admired man, nor had he any qualms about using the great wealth of the Church as if it were his own. Not satisfied with just the one mistress, yon Marion, he also fathered something like twenty illegitimate children between her and various other concubines. Of course, he later appointed many of these to well paid positions in the Church. For the likes of John Knox, Beaton came to personify everything that was corrupt and in need of change. It was almost the last straw.

The one that broke the camel’s back floated in during December, 1545, when Beaton arrested the Protestant preacher, George Wishart. Beaton accused him of being an English spy and, after a show trial prosecuted by Scotland’s Public Accuser of Heretics (and Beaton’s secretary), John Lauder, Wishart was burned at the stake in front of St Andrews Castle, in March, 1546. Out for revenge at dawn on the 29th of May, a group of Protestant Lairds from Fife entered St Andrews Castle pretending to be stonemasons.

Nobody expected the Scottish Inquisition to be caught by surprise, but Beaton certainly was. He was dragged out of his bedchamber, stabbed to death, mutilated, and then hung upside down from a castle window, with his breeks flapping about his neck. He was left hanging for a time, before his remains were pickled in a barrel of brine, and kept in his own dungeon. This was the infamous ‘Bottle Dungeon’ in St Andrews Castle, where the Protestant Friar, John Rogers, had not so long before “died while trying to escape” – possibly the first time that euphemism had ever been used.

Incidentally, there was pre-existing hostility between at least one of the killers, John Leslie, and the Cardinal. That was over land at Easter Wemyss, which previously belonged to his kinsman, Sir James Colville. And finally, here are a few words on the death of the Cardinal, by the man who became the nemesis of all Catholics, John Knox: “These ar the warkis of our God, whereby he wald admonisch the tirrants of this earthe, that in the end he will be revengit of thair crueltie, quhat [what] strenth soevir they mak in the contrair… .”


  1. Cardinal Beaton had eight children, all by his 'wife' Marion. All are well documented and only one entered clerical office, well after his father's murder - and as a Protestant! His children were all legitimised by the Pope prior to his murder. All were born prior to taking holy orders.I am certain he still slept with his lady (the youngest child of the Earl of Airlie) but I would imagine that her fertile years would have passed by then.
    After his murder, he was strung up, stripped and mutilated, from the Castle Tower. He was later wrapped in salt and lead and kept in the base of the Sea Tower, not the Bottle dungeon. That was a later embellishment, as were the gangs of mistresses and children.
    He was actually very highly regarded by all except the 'reformers' some of whose leaders' names may be found in the Royal Archives of England as having been in the pay of Henry the Eighth, and by those he had bested in some way (Leslie, etc)
    His name started to be blackened by Knox, then the Victorians made much of his actions. The result is a tarnished and skewed view of a man who kept Scotland as a separate country with its own Independence. On his death, the country was plunged into a difficult and troubled time.
    His remains are believed to lie where they were interred at night and in secret in the vault of Blackfriars Monastery in St Andrews, my home town. The area where he was eventually laid to rest is the grassy area in front of Madras College.
    I hope you find this interesting and helpful.

    1. Very interesting, from a personal perspective only! "Capable" he certainly was,in making use of family connections,rather than ability.He did not keep Scotland independent as being allied to France, ( French troops stormed St. Andrews castle remember) meant that "independence" was an illusion only as France interfered in Scotland"s affairs when it"s interests were at stake, (as did England.)

  2. Believe it or not, David Beaton is the direct descendant of a hero, Jack Reginald Beaton! Not bad for a relative of an archbishop!

    1. You mean Jack is a direct descendant of David, the Bishop?

    2. Ian Colville, yes he is!