- George Buchanan (1506-1582)
George Buchanan was born at Killearn, Stirlingshire, in 1506, the son of a small farmer. Much of his childhood was spent in Cardross, Dunbartonshire after the death of his father when he was 7 years old. He began his studies in Paris - at the age of 14 - but he returned to Scotland in 1522 and graduated at St. Andrews in 1525. He went again to Paris, but on becoming tutor to the son of the earl of Cassilis in Ayrshire, he accompanied his pupil back to Scotland in 1537. He also became a tutor to a son of King James V.
Denounced as a Heretic
Buchanan incurred the enmity of Cardinal Beaton by his Latin satires on the friars, "Somnium" (Dream) and "Franciscantis". Even though he had been encouraged to write the satires by King James V (who suspected the Franciscan friars of conspiring against him), Buchanan was imprisoned in the castle of St. Andrews. However, he escaped into exile in France in 1539. He held professorships at Bordeaux and Paris, and later at Coimbra, where he fell under the displeasure of the Inquisition in Portugal and was for a time confined in a monastery. He spent his time there working on a translation of the Psalms of David into Latin. After his release, he visited England, but for about seven years, from 1553 onwards, was in France.
Supporter of the Reformation
Returning to Scotland for the last time in 1561, Buchanan was made classical tutor to Mary Queen of Scots in 1562 and principal of St. Andrews in 1566. He now openly identified himself with Protestantism and, appointed moderator of the general assembly (the elected leader of the Church of Scotland) in 1567. Initially intensely loyal to the Queen, he became conspicuously hostile to the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots when he became suspicious of Mary's role in the assassination of her husband, Lord Darnley. He went so far as to provide evidence against her at her trial in England which ultimately led to her execution.
In 1570 Buchanan was appointed tutor to the young king James VI in 1570 and until 1578 also held the office of lord privy seal. He died at Edinburgh in 1582.
A Large Body of Writing
In his declining years he wrote in Latin his most important works, De Jure Regni Apud Scotos, 1579, a treatise on the limitations of monarchical power; and Rerum Scoticarum Historia, 1582, a history of Scotland, which, though uncritical and partisan, is valuable as an authority for Buchanan's own period. As a scholar, Buchanan enjoyed a European reputation. He wrote in Latin with singular facility, while his native poetic feeling finds forceful expression in his Latin translations of the Psalms.
It is interesting to note that when the Victorians were deciding who to include in the "Hall of the Heroes" in the Wallace Monument outside Stirling, George Buchanan should be included - that's his bust in the Wallace Monument in the graphic above.
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