A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen/Beaton, James, Archbishop of Glasgow
BEATON, James, Archbishop of Glasgow, was the second of the seven sons of John Beaton, or Bethune of Balfour, elder brother of Cardinal Beaton. He received the chief part of his education at Paris, under the care of his celebrated uncle, who was then residing in the French capital as ambassador from James V. His first preferment in the church was to be chanter of the cathedral of Glasgow, under Archbishop Dunbar. When his uncle attained to nearly supreme power, he was employed by him in many important matters, and in 1543, succeeded him as Abbot of Aberbrothick. The death of the Cardinal does not appear to have materially retarded the advancement of his nephew; for we find that, in 1552, he had sufficient interest with the existing government, to receive the second place in the Scottish church, the Archbishopric of Glasgow, to which he was consecrated at Rome. He was now one of the most important personages in the kingdom; he enjoyed the confidence of the governor, the Earl of Arran; his niece, Mary Beaton, one of the "Four Maries," was the favourite of the young Queen Mary, now residing in France; and he was also esteemed very highly by the Queen Dowager, Mary of Lorrain, who was now aspiring to the Regency. During the subsequent sway of the Queen Regent, the Archbishop of St Andrews enjoyed her highest confidence. It was to him that she handed the celebrated letter addressed to her by John Knox, saying with a careless air, "Please you, my lord, to read a pasquil." In 1557, when the marriage of the youthful Mary to the Dauphin of France was about to take place, James Beaton, Archbishop of St Andrews, stood the first of the parliamentary commissioners appointed to be present at the ceremony, and to conduct the difficult business which was to precede it He and his companions executed this duty in a most satisfactory manner. After his return in 1558, he acted as a Privy Councillor to the Queen Regent, till she was unable any longer to contend with the advancing tide of the Reformation. In November, 1 559, his former friend, the Earl of Arran, who had now become a leading reformer, came with a powerful retinue to Glasgow, and, to use a delicate phrase of the time, "took order" with the Cathedral, which he cleared of all the images, placing a garrison at the same time in the Archbishop's palace. Beaton soon after recovered his house by means of a few French soldiers; but he speedily found that neither he nor his religion could maintain a permanent footing in the country.
In June, 1560, the Queen Regent expired, almost at the very moment when her authority became extinct. Her French troops, in terms of a treaty with the Reformers, sailed next month for their native country, and in the same ships was the Archbishop of Glasgow, along with all the plate and records of the cathedral, which he said he would never return till the Catholic faith should again be triumphant in Scotland. Some of these articles were of great value. Among the plate, which was very extensive and rich, was a golden image of Christ, with silver images of his twelve apostles. Among the records, which were also very valuable, were two chartularies, one of which had been written in the reign of Robert III., and was called, "The Red Book of Glasgow." All these objects were deposited by the Archbishop in the Scots College at Paris, where the manuscripts continued to be of use to Scottish antiquaries up to the period of the French Revolution, when, it is believed, they were destroyed or dispersed. Beaton was received by Queen Mary at Paris, with the distinction due to a virtuous and able counsellor of her late mother. On her departure next year, to assume the reins of government in Scotland, she left him in charge of her affairs in France. He spent the whole of the subsequent part of his life as ambassador from the Scottish court to his most Christian Majesty. This duty was one of extreme delicacy during the brief reign of Queen Mary, when the relation of the two courts was of the most important character. Mary addressed him frequently in her own hand, and a letter in which she details to him the circumstances of her husband's death, is a well known historical document.
It is not probable that Beaton's duty as an ambassador during the minority of James VI. was any thing but a titular honour; but that prince, on taking the government into his own hands, did not hesitate, notwithstanding the difference of religion, to employ a statesman who had already done faithful service to the two preceding generations. James also, in 1587, was able to restore to him both his title and estates as Archbishop of Glasgow; a proceeding quite anomalous, when we consider that the presbyterian religion was now established in Scotland. The Archbishop died, April 24, 1G03, in the eighty-sixth year of his age, and a full jubilee of years from his consecration. He had been ambassador to three generations of the Scottish royal family, and had seen in France a succession of six kings, and transacted public affairs under five of them. He also had the satisfaction of seeing his sovereign accede to the English throne. James learned the intelligence of his death while on his journey to London, and immediately appointed the historian Spottiswoode to be his successor in the cathedral chair of Glasgow. Archbishop Spottiswoode characterises him as "a man honourably disposed, faithful to the Queen while she lived, and to the King her son; a lover of his country, and liberal, according to his means, to all his countrymen." His reputation, indeed, is singularly pure, when it is considered with what vigour he opposed the reformation. He appears to have been regarded by the opposite party as a conscientious, however mistaken man, and to have been spared accordingly all those calumnies and sarcasms with which party rage is apt to bespatter its opponents. Having enjoyed several livings in France, besides the less certain revenues of Glasgow, he died in possession of a fortune amounting to 80,000 livres, all of which he left to the Scots College, for the benefit of poor scholars of Scotland; a gift so munificent, that he was afterwards considered as the second founder of the institution, the first having been a bishop of Moray, in the year 1325. Besides all this wealth, he left an immense quantity of diplomatic papers, accumulated during the course of his legation at Paris; which, if they had been preserved to the present time, would unquestionably have thrown a strong light upon the events of his time.