Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Beaton, James (1517-1603)

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BEATON or BETHUNE, JAMES (1517–1603), archbishop of Glasgow, second son of John Bethune of Balfour, and nephew of the cardinal, was the last Roman catholic archbishop of Glasgow, and was consecrated at Rome in 1552. At fourteen he was sent to Paris to study, and at twenty was employed by Francis on a mission to the queen dowager of Scotland. On the death of his uncle, the cardinal, he was in possession of the abbacy of Arbroath, but was required to give it up to George Douglas by the governor. Beaton was the faithful friend and counsellor of the queen regent all through her struggles with the lords of the congregation. He was a determined opponent of religious reform, and protested in the parliament of 1542 against the act allowing 'that the halie writ may be usit in our vulgar tongue.' It was to Beaton the regent handed the lords' remonstrance when it was presented to her, with 'Please you, my lord, to read a pasquil,' and in the civil war which followed he shared with the French auxiliaries all the hardships and privations of the siege of Leith. On the death of the regent Beaton went to France with the French allies, taking with him the muniments and treasures of his diocese, to keep them safe out of the hands of the reformers. Among them was the Red Book of Glasgow, which dated from the reign of Robert III. He deposited these documents in the Scotch college at Paris, and continued to live in that city till his death in 1603. He acted during the whole of that time as Scottish ambassador at the French court, and still took a lively interest in the affairs of Scotland. He also administered the queen's revenues as dowager of France, and received a salary of 3,060 livres for his services.

Mary kept up an active correspondence with Beaton, and was anxious to keep his good opinion. She wrote to him herself giving the first news of Darnley's murder, dwelling strongly on the merciful interposition of Providence that had prevented her sharing her husband's fate. Beaton in his reply points out to her that to find out and punish the murderers is the only way in which she can prove her innocence before the world. In 1598, on account of the 'great honours done to his majestie and the country by the said archbishop in exercising and using the office of ambassadoir,' he was restored to his 'heritages, honours, dignities, and benefices, notwithstanding any sentences affecting him.' He was as much respected and liked by the French as by his own countrymen. He held several French preferments, the abbey de la Sie in Poitou, the priory of St. Peter's, and the treasurership of St. Hilary of Poictiers; but it was thought much to his credit that he had sent none of the revenues which he drew from them out of the kingdom. During his life Beaton was a constant benefactor to the Scots College founded in Paris in 1325 for the benefit of poor Scots scholars, and at his death he left to it his fortune and his manuscripts, including a vast mass of correspondence. These manuscripts, together with the greater part of the ancient records which he had brought with him from Glasgow, were, on the outbreak of the revolution, sent to St. Omer for safety, and have since been lost sight of. He died in Paris, and was buried by his own desire in the church of St. Jean de Lateran, within the precincts of which he had lived for forty-five years (30 April 1603). In his éloge funèbre, which was attended by the nuncio and many other magnates and a great concourse of people, he is styled 'unique Phœnix de la nation écossaise en qualité de pré1at.' Unique he certainly was among the churchmen of that time in leaving behind him an unblemished reputation, for even his enemies could rake up no scandal either in his private or public life to bring against him.

[Oraison Funèbre by Abbé Gayer, Paris, 1603; Register of the Diocese of Glasgow; Knox's History with Laing's notes; Queen Mary's Letters; Cosmo Innes's Sketches of Early Scottish History; Chambers's Biographies of Eminent Scotchmen.]

M. M'A.