Beaton, James (Bethune)
BEATON, JAMES (BETHUNE)
Primate and archbishop of Glasgow (1509–22) and St. Andrews (1522–39), one of the regents during the minority of James V, Chancellor of Scotland (1513–26); b. c. 1473; d. St. Andrews, 1539. Eleven years after receiving his M.A. from St. Andrews in 1493, James Beaton was made abbot of Dunfermline. In the next year he was appointed by the king to succeed his brother Sir David on the staff of the high treasurer. His whole career was similarly divided between affairs of Church and State. Elected to the See of Galloway in 1508, Beaton was then consecrated archbishop of Glasgow and in 1522 was appointed to the See of St. Andrews. In the struggles for the control of the young King James V, following the death of his father at the Battle of Flodden, Beaton was allied with the duke of Albany. The regency had been transferred to Albany at the marriage of the earl of Angus and Margaret Tudor, the queen mother and former regent. Angus's policy was generally pro-English, while Albany's was dedicated to maintaining and strengthening the "auld alliance" of the Scots with France. While in 1517 Albany began a four-year stay in France for this purpose, Beaton entered into correspondence with Cardinal Thomas Wolsey in England. Beaton professed hopes at preserving peace between the two countries, although Wolsey's schemes for Scotland were bound to clash with Beaton's. During Albany's absence Beaton was included in the Council of Regency. A long-standing feud between Angus and the earl of Arran for control of the king led to an outbreak in Edinburgh (1520), when Beaton was asked by Gawin Douglas, bishop of Dunkeld, to mediate.
In a famous encounter, while James Beaton struck his breast and announced that on his conscience he knew nothing of the intentions of the opposing faction, his own armor rattled beneath his vestments. Gawin Douglas remarked: "Faith, my lord, but yours is a poor conscience, for I heard it clatter."
By 1526 Angus had gained control, and Beaton was dismissed as chancellor. Angus proceeded to consolidate his power by defeating Beaton's faction and placing James V in confinement. In 1528 the king escaped, and Angus was forced to flee to England. Although the Scots negotiated a treaty with Henry VIII in 1534, Beaton's influence remained sufficiently strong to help bring about the marriage of James V to Madeleine de Valois at Paris three years later. Madeleine died within a few months, and James married Marie de Guise-Lorraine the next year. Their daughter Mary, born in December of 1542, became mary, Queen of Scots (on the death of her father) when she was but one week old.
From his castle at St. Andrews on a rocky headland near the cathedral, Beaton opposed the Protestantism that was gaining strength throughout the nation. Several advocates of the new religious doctrines were sentenced to death during his administration. The most notable was probably Patrick hamilton, who was burned at the stake in 1528 and became a protomartyr as the first native-born Scot to suffer death for the teachings that were to become those of the established church. Although Henry VIII's breach with Rome probably strengthened the Catholic sympathies of James V, the policies of James Beaton were nevertheless marked by a worldliness similar to that of many of his English ecclesiastical contemporaries. Despite the desperate need for radical reform within the Church of Scotland, Beaton too often acted as the astute politician guided by political expediency rather than as the churchman alert to the tragic ecclesiastical abuses within the realm. After his death he was succeeded in the archbishopric of St. Andrews by his nephew David Beaton, the first Scottish cardinal. James Beaton was interred at the cathedral church of St. Andrews, where he had held the primacy of Scotland for 16 years.
Bibliography: j. bain and c. rogers, eds., Liber protocollorum M. C. Simonis (London 1875). w. c. dickinson, Scotland from Earliest Times to 1603 (A New History of Scotland 1; New York 1961) 379–388, select bibliog. w. c. dickinson et al., eds., A Source Book of Scottish History, 3 v. (2d ed. London 1958–61)v. 2. r. k. hannay, The Letters of James IV, ed. r. l. mackie and a. spilman (Edinburgh 1953); The Letters of James V, ed. d. hay (Edinburgh 1954). d. hay, ed., The Anglica Historia of Polydore Vergil (London 1950). j. herkless and r. k. hannay, The Archbishops of St. Andrews, 5 v. (Edinburgh 1907–15). m. macarthur, The Dictionary of National Biography from the Earliest Times to 1900 (London 1885–1900) 2:18–19. d. mcroberts, ed., Essays on the Scottish Reformation, 1513–1625 (Glasgow 1962).
[j. g. dwyer]