A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen/Beaton, James, prelate and statesman
BEATON, James, uncle to the preceding, and himself an eminent prelate and statesman, was a younger son of John Beaton of Balfour, in Fife, and of Mary Boswell, daughter of the Laird of Balmouto. Having been educated for the church, he became, in 1503, provost of the collegiate church of Bothwell, by the favour, it has been almost necessarily supposed, of the house of Douglas, who were patrons of the establishment. His promotion was very rapid. In 1504, he was made Abbot of the rich and important abbacy of Dunfermline, which had previously been held by a brother of the king; and in 1505, on the death of his uncle, Sir David Beaton, who had hitherto been his chief patron, he received his office of High Treasurer, and became, of course, one of the principal ministers of state. On the death of Vaus, Bishop of Galloway, in 1508, James Beaton was placed in that see, and next year he was translated to the archiepiscopate of Glasgow. He now resigned the Treasurer's staff, in order that he might devote himself entirely to his duties as a churchman. While Archbishop of Glasgow, he busied himself in what were then considered the most pious and virtuous of offices, namely, founding new altarages in the cathedral, and improving the accommodations of the episcopal palace. He also entitled himself to more lasting and rational praise, by such public acts as the building and repairing of bridges within the regality of Glasgow. Upon all the buildings, both sacred and profane, erected by him, were carefully blazoned his armorial bearings. During all the earlier part of his career, this great prelate seems to have lived on the best terms with the family of Douglas, to which he must have been indebted for his first preferment. In 1515, when it became his duty to consecrate the celebrated Gavin Douglas as Bishop of Dunkeld, he testified his respect for the family by entertaining the poet and all his train in the most magnificent manner at Glasgow, and defraying the whole expenses of his consecration. Archbishop Beaton was destined to figure very prominently in the distracted period which ensued upon the death of James IV. As too often happens in the political scene, the violence of faction broke up his old attachment to the Douglasses. The Earl of Angus, chief of that house, having married the widow of the king, endeavoured, against the general sense of the nation, to obtain the supreme power. Beaton, who was elevated by the Regent Albany, to the high office of Lord Chancellor, and appointed one of the governors of the kingdom during his absence in France, attached himself to the opposite faction of the Hamiltons under the Earl of Arran. On the 29th of April, 1520, a convention having been called to compose the differences of the two parties, the Hamiltons appeared in military guise, and seemed prepared to vindicate their supremacy with the sword. Beaton, their chief counsellor, sat in his house at the bottom of the Blackfriars' Wynd, with armour under his robes, ready apparently to have joined the forces of the Hamiltons, in the event of a quarrel In this crisis, Gavin Douglas was deputed by his nephew the Earl of Angus, to remonstrate with the Archbishop against the hostile preparations of his party. Beaton endeavoured to gloss over the matter, and concluded with a solemn asseveration upon his conscience, that he knew not of it. As he spoke, he struck his hand upon his breast, and caused the mail to rattle under his gown. Douglas replied, with a cutting equivoque, "Methinks, my lord, your conscience clatters," as much as to say, your conscience is unsound, at the same time that the word might mean the undue disclosure of a secret. In the ensuing conflict, which took place upon the streets, the Hamiltons were worsted, and Archbishop Beaton had to take refuge in the Blackfriars' Church. Being found there by the Douglasses, he had his rochet torn from his back, and would have been slain on the spot, but for the interposition of the Bishop of Dunkeld. Having with some difficulty escaped, he lived for some time in an obscure way, till the return of the Duke of Albany, by whose interest he was appointed in 1523, to the metropolitan see of St Andrews. On the revival of the power of the Douglasses in the same year, he was again obliged to retire. It is said that the insurrection of the Earl of Lennox in 1525, which ended in the triumph of the Douglasses and the death of the Earl at Linlithgow Bridge, was stirred up by Archbishop Beaton, as a means of emancipating the King. After this unhappy event, the Douglasses persecuted him with such keenness, that, to save his Life, he assumed the literal guise and garb of a shepherd, and tended an actual flock upon Bogrian-Knowe in Fife. At length, when James V. asserted his independence of these powerful tutors, and banished them from the kingdom, Beaton was reinstated in all his dignities, except that of Chancellor, which was conferred upon Gavin Dunbar, the King's preceptor. He henceforward resided chiefly at St Andrews, where, in 1527, he was induced by the persuasions of other churchmen less mild than himself, to consent to the prosecution and death of Patrick Hamilton, the proto-martyr of the Scottish Reformation. He was subsequently led on to various severities against the reformers, but rather through a want of power to resist the clamours of his brethren, than any disposition to severity in his own nature. It would appear that he latterly entrusted much of the administration of his affairs to his less amiable nephew. The chief employment of his latter years was to found and endow the New College of St Andrews, in which design, however, he was thwarted in a great measure by his executors, who misapplied the greater part of his funds. He died in 1539.