The Murder of Cardinal David Beaton or Bethune.
David Beaton or Bethune was born at Markinch in Fife in 1494, the third son of seven to John Beaton of Balfour in Fife and Isabel Moneypenny, daughter of Dasvid Moneypenny of Pitmilly. He studied at St Andrews and matriculated 26 October 1511, after which he went to the University of Paris. In 1519 he was appointed to be Envoy at the French Court by James V. Wealth was conferred by his uncle, Archbishop James Beaton, who gave him the rectories of Campsie and Cambuslang. He was then granted the Commendatory of Arbroath by Pope Adrian IV. In 1528 he was made Lord Privy Seal and became a favourite of the young James V. In 1533 he was sent to France to negotiate the marriage of James V to Magdalene Valois, but the marriage was delayed for some four years (married 1 January 1537) through the young woman`s ill health. Beaton did not, however, waste his time at the French Court and became a favourite of King Francis I to the extent that he was made a naturalised citizen of France. Following the marriage of James and Margaret, Beaton returned to Scotland with the royal pair . But the 15 year old Queen Margaret died after about a year, apparently pregnant. James then fixed to marry Mary, daughter of the Duke of Guise, and widow of the Duke de Longueville. Beaton negotiated this marriage too. Francis I meanwhile conferred on Beaton the bishopric of Mirepoix, and Suffragen to the Archbishop of Toulouse; with this was an annual revenue of 10,000 livres – a huge income. But Francis`s favour did not stop there, as he sought Pope Paul III to make Beaton a Cardinal, which he did on 20 December 1538 with the title S. Stephen in Monte Caelio. Beaton was then just 44 years old and had the world at his feet.
He became Archbishop of St Andrews when his uncle James died in 1539. He was installed between 13th and 25th February 1538/9. Almost immediately after his bastard son, also David, was given a grant of Crown lands in Angus. The Archbishop had as a concubine Marion Ogilvy, daughter of the first Lord Ogilvy of Airly, who bore him three sons and three daughters. The sons were each invested with a good estate of land and the daughters all married off to persons of substance and standing. Shortly after Wishart`s burning the Archbishop went in great pomp to Angus to be at the wedding of his daughter Margaret to David Lindsay, Master of Crawford (later 9th Earl of Crawford) at Finhaven Castle. He gave as a dowry the relatively enormous sum for those days of 4,000 marks Scots. One of the sons, Alexander Bethune was Archdeacon of Lothian and Laird of Carsgonny, who turned Protestant.
David senior was invested by the Pope with the dignity of a Legate a latere in Scotland in an effort to combat the spreading Protestant doctrines. This gave Beaton the utmost authority of the Pope to take whatever action considered appropriate. Ironically the document conferring the appointment, dated 30 January 1544, was seized on board a ship by an English privateer, and found its way to Henry VIII so he knew what was happening in Scotland. Early on the Archbishop showed his intentions to enforce the rule of the Catholic Church by giving the King James V a list of over 360 persons, including many nobles, who were suspected of heresy. Henry meanwhile despatched an envoy to Scotland seeking to plot Beaton`s disgrace, alleging treason. However, James V did not want to know and the envoy returned to Henry saying –
“I assure your majesty that he excused the Cardinal in everything, and seemed wonderous loath to hear of anything that should sound as an untruth in him, but rather gave him great praise.”
This carte blanche gave Beaton total control of both church and government; allegations of heresy soon flowed, with the denunciation of Sir John Borthwick, Provost of Linlithgow, his estate forfeit and burned in effigy. Borthwick escaped into England and was sent to the continent as an envoy of Henry VIII. About the end of February 1539 some five protestants were burned and a further nine recanted, while others, including the eminent George Buchanan, escaped from prison. King James V meanwhile left everything to Beaton. Some relief seemed to be in sight when James V died, but Beaton had allegedly schemed to have himself named as co -regent for the infant Mary (Queen of Scots) .The will was put aside as a forgery and Lord Arran became regent, while Beaton was detained and imprisoned for a while. However, Arran was inept ( some reports say an imbecile which we might recognise today as senile dementia) and Beaton was released to inveigle his way into becoming virtual ruler of Scotland. Arran publicly stated his support for action against heretics saying “My Lord Governor (meaning Beaton) shall be at all times ready to do therein what accords him of his Office.”
Against this background, and Arran affronting Henry VIII by sending the young Mary to France (rather than betrothed to the infant Edward VI), there were several attempts to disgrace Beaton and even to murder him. This latterly involved Crighton, Laird of Brunston, who in 1544 plotted with Henry VIII and offered to assassinate Beaton. George Wishart became involved and was sent to Newcastle to communicate the plan to the Earl of Hertford and seek reassurances of English support. Wishart allegedly then went with the Laird`s letter to London and communicated the plan direct to Henry who privately supported the proposal.
It was alleged that apart from Brunston, Kirkcaldy, the Master of Rothes, Norman Leslie and Kirkaldy of
Grange, were pensioners of Henry VIII and commissioned to
do the deed. They had been among those nobles etc who
were forced to flee into England earlier during the
English incursions in the Borders. Henry certainly had a
mind to be rid of Beaton and thus the assassination
was essentially a political act. These conspirators and
murderers continued to receive a pension from England
after the event.
But Wishart was a marked man as Beaton had long sought to secure him for spreading the reformed doctrines. Wishart was staying with Sir Alexander Cockburn at Ormiston House, in Haddingtonshire where he was seized by the Earl of Bothwell and taken at night to Beaton`s residence at Elphinstone Tower. A delighted Beaton summoned the prelates in February 1546 to meet at St Andrews for Wishart`s trial and martyrdom.
Revenge for the martyrdom of George Wishart was
at hand, however. Norman and John Leslie (sons of George, Earl of Rothes) William Kirkaldy of
Grange, James Melvill of Carnbee, Peter Carmichael
and others resolved to kill the cardinal. There was pre
existing hostility between the Leslies and the Cardinal
over land at Easter Wemyss previously belonging to Sir
James Colvill. These had been forfeited and given the
Rothes family by King James V. After the King`s death the
forfeit was reduced by Parliament at the direction
of Beaton (who was Chancellor of Scotland as well as
Archbishop). The Leslies were also the subject of a
plot by Beaton who had planned to have them killed, but
they had struck first.
On the evening of 28 May 1546 the Norman Leslie and five followers arrived in St Andrews at went to their normal place of lodging. William Kirkaldy of Grange and John Leslie were already there. At daybreak the conspirators (sixteen in all) entered in small groups and had mostly made it into the castle when the Porter recognised John Leslie and tried to close the gate. He was summarily despatched and the keys taken from him. Quickly and quietly the conspirators dismissed workmen about the place and followed this by escorting gentlemen of the castle out of the posterne gate. In this way the castle guard was removed before they
went to the Cardinal`s rooms. Here they found Beaton cowering. Beaton tried to stop the men asking if Lesley was Norman, his friend. but John Leslie would have no prevarication and he and Carmichael immediately attacked Beaton. With cries of ` I am a priest,
I am a priest` the prelate was stabbed through. Likewise, James Melvill would have none of Beaton`s protestations and told him it was to
avenge the death of Mr Wishart. Without more ado
Beaton was repeatedly stabbed by Melvill who related afterwards ” Never word was heard
out of his mouth but ` I am a preest ! fy, fy, all
is gone ! “
In the town
there was a murmuring and people, including the Provost,
demanded to know if the Cardinal was dead. Beaton`s corpse was brought to the balcony (from
where the execution of Wishart had been viewed) where the body was displayed and Leslie told them to disperse. Having
seen the body, the crowd departed without one word or
prayer being said for the Cardinal. Finally, as a
burial could not be quickly arranged, the Cardinals body
was dressed with salt and encased in a lead cope, then
left to lie in one of the cells of the Sea Tower – the
same cells where prisoners had previously waited on the not so tender ministrations of the Cardinal. It is variously claimed that the body laid there for weeks even up to nine months before it was removed – where to is also uncertain. Some writers say it was taken to the family mausoleum, others think it probably lies somewhere in St Andrews.