Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Beaton, David
BEATON or BETHUNE, DAVID (1494–1546), cardinal archbishop of St. Andrews, was the third son of John Bethune of Balfour, elder brother of Archbishop James Bethune. He studied at the universities of St. Andrews and Glasgow, and in his sixteenth year was sent to Paris, where he studied both the civil and the canon law. About that time his uncle presented him to the rectory of Campsie, and in 1523 he resigned in his nephew's favour the abbacy of Arbroath, though the pope dispensed the young abbot from taking orders till two years later. In 1537 David Beaton was consecrated bishop of Mirepoix in Foix, and very shortly after Pope Paul III made him cardinal of San Stefano on Monte Celio. He succeeded his uncle as archbishop of St. Andrews in 1539, and was murdered at St. Andrews in 1546. From a very early age he was resident for Scotland at the court of France, was made lord privy seal in 1528, and chancellor in 1543. He was also proto-notary apostolic and legate a latere from 1543. Till he became primate Beaton was frequently employed on foreign diplomatic service, for which his education and abilities specially fitted him. He negotiated the marriage of James V with Magdalen, daughter of Francis I, and on her death he was sent on the commission to bring to Scotland the king's second wife, Mary of Guise. He continued his uncle's policy of knitting closer the alliance with France, and standing on the defensive against England. It was due to his influence that James V rejected all his uncle Henry's proposals, and refused to act in concert with him in religious reforms. On the death of James V in 1542, Beaton produced a will appointing himself and the earls of Huntly, Argyle, and Arran, joint regents. This will his opponents rejected as a forgery. Arran was declared governor of the kingdom by the estates. Beaton was arrested; but his imprisonment was more nominal than real, as Lord Seaton, to whose custody he was committed, was one of his sworn partisans, and very shortly restored him to his own castle. It was suspected that his arrest was merely a pretence to secure him against being kidnapped by the English. For a short time the English party, which was also that of the reformers, triumphed. The governor drew the preachers round him, and two treaties with England were set on foot. One in July 1543 arranged the marriage of Mary with Henry's son Edward; the other concluded an alliance with England. But no sooner did the cardinal find himself at liberty than he raised a faction against the governor and the English marriage. His party mustered in great force, and escorted the queen and her mother from Linlithgow to Stirling Castle in July 1543, a proceeding which was approved at the next meeting of the estates. Arran, too, dismissed the preachers, and went over to the cardinal's party on 8 Sept. 1543. The English treaties were repudiated 24 Sept. 1543, a step which provoked a declaration of war from England; and when Hertford invaded Scotland in 1544 he had special instructions to seize the cardinal and raze his castle of St. Andrews, which Beaton had meanwhile been busily fortifying, and had made so strong that he feared neither English nor French. When the English fleet was seen in the Firth of Forth, both the cardinal and the governor hastened out of reach of the invaders, 1544.
As a persecutor the cardinal was even more zealous than his uncle. His memory has been held up to execration for his cruelties to the reformers, especially for the burning of Wishart. But as the reformers were in secret treaty with England, their political as well as their religious creed made it impossible to let the preaching of their doctrines pass unnoticed; and it has now been ascertained that Wishart was a willing agent in the plots laid by Henry against the cardinal. George Wishart was the most popular of the preachers, and had many powerful supporters among the nobles who upheld them. In 1546 the cardinal called a provincial assembly of the clergy at the Blackfriars, Edinburgh. George Wishart was at Ormiston, a laird's house in the neighbourhood. There he was arrested by the Earl of Bothwell, acting for the cardinal, and brought to St. Andrews, where he was tried on a charge of spreading heretical doctrines, condemned, and burnt on 2 March 1546. At this time the cardinal was at the height of his power. Most of the nobles were bound to him by bonds of manrent or promises of friendship, and he had just married his natural daughter Margaret to David Lindsay, afterwards ninth earl of Crawford. But the friends of Wishart, the lairds of Fife, were determined to avenge his death and secure their own safety by getting the cardinal out of the way before he could carry out a scheme he had in hand for their destruction. John Leslie, brother to the Earl of Rothes, had sworn on the day of Wishart's death that his whinger and hand should be 'priests to the cardinal.' This bloody threat he fulfilled. Entering the castle by stealth in company with his nephew Norman, and Kircaldy of Grange, they surprised the cardinal in his bedroom, murdered him, and took possession of the fortress, 29 May 1546.
Beaton's greatest gift was the power he had of gaining ascendency over the minds of others. He ruled in turn the councils of James V, of the governor and the queen dowager, and had great influence with Francis I. He left several natural children, and the immorality of his private life, as well as his pride and cruelty, has been much enlarged upon by his religious opponents. After his body had lain nine months in the sea tower of the castle, it was obscurely buried in the convent of the Blackfriars at St. Andrews.
[Knox's History, ed. Laing; Sir David Lyndesay's poem of The Cardinal; Keith's Catalogue of Bishops; Spottiswood's History of the Church of Scotland; Sir James Balfour's Manuscript Account of the Bishops of St. Andrews; Register of the Diocese of Glasgow, edited by Cosmo Innes; Sadler's State Papers; Chambers's Biographies of Eminent Scotchmen.]