James Beaton

April 22, 2024

James Beaton

(Or Bethune)

Cardinal James Beaton

Archbishop of Glasgow, b. 1517; d. 24 April, 1603; the son of James Beaton of Balfarg (a younger son of John Beaton of Balfour) and nephew to Cardinal David Beaton. He was elected to the archbishopric in 1551, on the resignation of the archbishop-elect Andrew Gordon, and not being yet in priests’s orders was ordained in Rome, and consecrated there on the 28th of August, 1552. For eight troublous years he administered the affairs of his diocese and stood faithfully by the queen-regent, Mary of Guise, in her dealings with the disaffected Scottish nobles, who were plotting the destruction of the ancient Church in order to enrich themselves with the spoils. In March, 1539, we find him assisting at the provincial council at Edinburgh summoned by the primate, Archbishop Hamilton – the last assembly of the kind which was to meet in Scotland for three hundred and twenty-six years. The events of 1560, the treaty of alliance with England against France, the commencement of the work of destruction of cathedrals and monasteries, and, finally, the death of the queen-regent, no doubt actuated Beaton in his resolve to quit the distracted kingdom. He repaired to Paris, taking with a great mass of the muniments and registers of his diocese, and much church plate and other treasures, which he deposited in the Scots College.

Queen Mary immediately appointed him her ambassador at the French Court, and he remained both up to her forced abdication in 1567, and during the rest of her life, her most faithful friend and adviser. He did not hesitate, after the murder of Darnley, to inform her frankly of the dark suspicions attaching to her, and the necessity of the assassins being punished. On the 15th of February, 1574, Beaton’s name appears at the head of the list of the Catholic prelates and clergy declared outlaws and rebels by the Scottish Privy Council; but he nevertheless continued to enjoy in his exile the favour of the young king (James VI) who, about 1586, appointed him, as the late sovereign had done, ambassador at Paris. Beaton held several benefices in France, including the income of the Abbey De la Sie, in Poitou, and the treasurership of St. Hilary of Poitiers. His intimate association with the House of Guise had naturally led him to join with the League against Henry IV, and on its dissolution he was threatened with banishment; but by the intervention of Cardinals Bourbon and Sully and of the king himself, he was allowed to remain in France, where he was regarded with the greatest esteem. Perhaps the most remarkable testimony to the respect felt for his character in Scotland is to be found in the fact that in 1598, nearly forty years after the overthrow of the ancient Church, the archbishop was formally restored, by an act of the Scottish Parliament, to all his “heritages, honours, dignities, and benefices, notwithstanding that he has never acknowledged the religion professed within the realm”. He survived to witness, a month before his death, the union of the English and Scottish crowns under King James. On the 24th of April, 1603, when James was actually on his way to London to take possession of hew new kingdom, the archbishop died in Paris, on the eighty-sixth year of his age, and half a century after his episcopal consecration.

Mary Queen of Scots by Federico Zuccari

Beaton had lived in Paris for forty-three years, and had been Scottish ambassador to five successive kings of France. He was buried in the church of St. John Lateran at Paris, his funeral being attended by a great gathering of prelates, nobles, and common people. The poetical inscription on his tomb eulogizes him, in the exaggerated language of the times, as the greatest bishop and preacher of his age in the whole world. A sounder estimate of his worth is that of his Protestant successor in the See of Glasgow, Spottiswoode, who describes him as “a man honourably disposed, faithful to his queen while she lived and to the king her son; a lover of his country, and liberal to all his countrymen”. No breath of scandal, in a scandalous age, ever attached to the honour of his name or the purity of his private life. Beaton left his property, including the archives of the Diocese of Glasgow, and a great mass of important correspondence, to the Scots College in Paris. Some of these documents had already been deposited by him in the Carthusian monastery in the same city. In the stress of the French Revolution many of these valuable manuscripts were packed in barrels and sent to St. Omers. These have unfortunately disappeared, but the papers left in the college were afterwards brought safely to Scotland, and are now preserved at Blairs College, the Catholic seminary near Aberdeen.

Regist. Episc. Glasg., pp. i-ix, liii; Grub, Eccles. Hist. of Scotl., II, 31, 155, 279; Chambers, Biogr. Dict. Of Eminent Scotsmen, I, 108, 109; Acts of Parl. of Scotl., IV, 169, 170; Reg. Priv. Coun. Scotl., II, 334; Keith, Cat. of Scott. Bishops, 153, 154.

D.O. HUNTER-BLAIR (Catholic Encyclopedia)


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