THE LIFE OF GEORGE BUCHANAN
WRITTEN BY HEMSELF TWO YEARS BEFORE HIS DEATH
EORGE Buchanan was born in Lennox-Shire (commonly called the sherriffdom of Dumbarton) in Scotland, scituate near the river or water of Blane, in the year of our Lord one thousand five hundred and six, about the first day of February, in a country town within that shire, of a family rather ancient than rich. His father died of the stone, in the flower of his age, whilst his grandfather was yet alive, who being a spend-thrift, their family, which was low before, was now reduced to almost the extremity of want. Yet such was the frugal care of his mother, Agnes Heriot, that she brought up five sons and three daughters to men’s and women’s estate. Of the five sons, George was one. His uncle, James Heriot, perceiving his promising ingenuity in their own country schools, took him from thence, and sent him to Paris. There he applied himself to his studies, and especially to poetry, either having a natural genius that way, or else out of necessity (because ’twas the only method of study propounded to him in his youth). Before he had been there two years, his uncle died and he himself fell dangerously sick, and being in want beside, he was forced to return into his own country. After his return to Scotland, he spent almost a year in taking care of his health; then he went into the French army of auxiliaries newly arrived in Scotland, on purpose to obtain some skill in the art military. But that expedition proving fruitless, the army retreated in a very sharp and snowy winter, so that he again relapsed into a disease which confined him all that winter to his bed. early in the spring he was sent to St. Andrews to hear the lectures of John Major, who, though very old, read Logic, or rather Sophistry, in that university. The summer after, he accompanied him into France, and there he fell into the troubles of the Lutheran sect, which then began to increase. He struggled with the difficulties of Providence almost two years, and at least was admited into the Barbaran College, where he was Grammar Professor almost three years. During that time Gilbert Kennedy, Earl of Cassilis, one of the young Scottish nobles being in that country, was much taken with his ingenuity and acquaintance, so that he entertained him for five years and brought him back with him into Scotland.
2. Afterwards having a mind to return to Paris to his old studies, he was detained by the King and made tutor to James his natural son. In the mean time, an elegy made by him at leasure times came into the hands of the Franciscans, wherein he writes that he was solicited in a dream by St. Francis to joyn himself to his Order. In that poem there were one or two passages that reflected on them very sorely, which those ghostly Fathers, notwithstanding their profession of meekness and humility, took more heinously than men (having obtained such a vogue for piety among the vulgar) ought to have done upon so small an occasion of offence. But finding no just ground for their immoderate wrath and fury they had recourse to the common crime of those days which they objected to those they wish’d ill to, viz. the cause of religion. Thus, whilst they indulged their malice and disgust, they made him, who was not well affected to them before, a greater enemy to their licentiouness, and rendered him more inclineable to the Lutheran cause. In the mean time the King, with Magdalen his wife, came from France, not without the resentment of the priesthood, who were afraid that the royal lady, having been bred up under her aunt the Queen of Navarre, should attempt some innovation in religion. But this fear soon vanished upon her death, which followed shortly after.
3. A while after there arose some suspitions at Court against some of the nobility, who were thought to have conspired against the King, and in that matter the King was persuaded the Franciscans were somewhat concerned; so that he commanded Buchanan, who at that time was at Court (thou he were ignorant of the disgusts betwixt him and that Order) to write a satyr against them. He was loth to offend either of them, and therefore, tho he made a poem, yet it was but short, and such as might admit of a doubtful interpretation, wherein he satisfied neither party: not the King, who would have had a tart and biting invective, nor the Fathers neither, who lookt on it as a capital offence to have any thing said of them but what was honourable. So that receiving a second command to write more pungently against them, he began that miscellany which how bears title of the Franciscan, and gave it to the King. But shortly after, having been made acquainted by his friends at Court that Cardinal Beton sought his life and had offered the King a sum of money as a price for his head, he escaped out of prison and fled for England. But there also things were at such an uncertainty that the very same day,and almost with one and the same fire, the men of both factions (Protestants and Papists) were burnt together, Henry the Eighth in his old age being more intent on his own security than the purity or reformation of religion. This uncertainty of affairs in England, seconded by his ancient acquaintance with the French and the innate courtesie of that nation, drew him again into France.
4. As soon as he came to Paris he found Cardinal Beton, his utter enemy, ambassador there, so that to withdraw himself from his fury, at the invitation of Andrew Goveanus, he went to Bordeaux. There he presided and taught three years in the schools which were erected at the public cost. At that time he wrote four tragedies which were afterwards occasionally published. But that which he wrote first, called the Baptist, was printed last, and then the Medea of Euripides. He wrote them in compliance with the custom of the school, which was to have a play wrote once a year, so that by acting of them he might as much as he could call back the French youth from allegories, with which they then were overmuch delighted, to the imitation of the ancients. This affair succeeding even almost beyond his hope, he took more pains in compiling the other two tragedies, called Jepthe and Alcestis, because, he thought, they would fall under a severer scrutiny of the learned. And yet during this time he was not wholly free from trouble, being harassed between the menaces of the Cardinal on the one side and of the Franciscans on the other. For the Cardinal had wrote letters to the Archbishop of Bourdeaux to apprehend him, but, providentially, those letters were delivered to some of Buchanan’s friends. However the death of the King of Scots, and the pestilence which then reigned over all Aqitain, dispelled that fear.
5. In the interim an express came to Goveanus from the King of Portugal, requiring him to come into that kingdom, and to bring with him some men learned both in the Greek and Latin tongues, that they might read the Liberal Arts, and especially the principles of the Aristotelian philosophy, in those schools which were then a building with a great deal of cost and expence. Buchanan, being addressed to, easily assented to go for one. For whereas he saw that all Europe besides was either actually in foreign or domestique wars, or else suddenly likely so to be, that one corner of the world was, in his opinion, likeliest to be free from tumults and combustions. And besides, his companions in that journey were such that they seemed rather his acquaintance and familiar friends than strangers or aliens to him. For many of them are well known to the world by their learned works, as Nicolaus Gruchius, Gulielmus Garentaeus, Jacobus Tevius, and Elias Vinetus. Upon which account he did not only joyn himself to their society, but also persuaded a brother of his called Patrick to be one of so illustrious a society. And the truth is, the matter succeeded excellently well at the beginning, but the death of Andrew Goveanus (which hapned, as it were, in the midst of race, and was mature enough for himself, but very prejudicial to us) put a stop to its happy progress. For after his decease all our enemies endeavoured at first to insnare us by treachery, and soon after ran violently upon us, as if it were with open mouth; and their agents and instruments being great enemies to the accused, they laid hold of three of them and haled them to prison; whence, after a long and nasty durance, they were brought forth to their answers; and after many bitter taunts, were remanded to prison again; and yet no accuser did appear in court against them. As for Buchanan, they insulted most bitterly over him as being a stranger, and knowing also that he had very few friends in that country who would either rejoice in his prosperity, sympathize with his grief, or revenge the wrongs offered to him. The crimes laid to his charge was the poem he wrote against the Franciscans, which he himself before he went from France had deposited in the hands of the King of Portugal. Neither did his accusers perfectly know what it was, for he had given but one copy of it to the King of Scots, by whose command he wrote it. They further objected his eating of flesh in Lent, tho there be not a man in all Spain but uses the same liberty. Besides, he had given shrewd girds [lampoons] against monks, which yet none but monks could well except against.
6. Moreover, they took it much amiss that, in a certain familiar discourse with some young Portugal gentlemen, upon mention made of the Eucharist he should affirm that, in his judgment, Austin [St. Augustine] was more inclinable to the party condemned by the Roman Church in that controversie. There were also some witnesses produc’d against him (as some years after it came to his knowledge), viz. John Tolpin, a Norman, and John Ferrerius of Sub-Alpine Liguria; their testimony was that they had heard from divers creditable persons that Buchanan was not orthodox as to the Roman faith and religion.
7. But to return to the matter, after the Inquisitors had wearied both themselves and him for almost an year and a half, at least, that they might not seem to have causelessly vex’t a man of some name and note in the world, they shut him up in a monastery for some months, thereto be more exactly disciplined and instructed by the monks, who (to give them their due) were men otherwise not uncivil or bad, though ignorant of all religion.
8. ’Twas principally at this time that he rendered most of David’s Psalms into several sorts of Latin metre. At last he was set at liberty, and suing for a pass and accommodations from the King to return into France, he was desired by him to stay where he was, and he had a small parcel of money bestowed upon him for his daily expence, till some better provision might be made for his subsistence. But he, being tired out with delay, as being put off to no certain time, nor on any sure grounds for hope, having got the opportunity in a ship out of Crete then riding in the Bay of Lisbon, was wafted over into England. He made no long abode in England, though fair offers were made him there, for he saw that all things were in an hurry and combustion under a very young King, the nobles at variance one with another, and the mind of the Commons yet in a ferment, upon the account of their civil combustions. Whereupon he returned into France about the time that the siege of Metz was raised. There he was, in a manner, compell’d by his friends to write a poem concerning that siege, which he did, though somewhat unwillingly, because he was loth to interfere with several of his acquaintance, and especially with Mellinus Sangelasius, who had composed a learned and elegant poem on that subject. From thence he was call’d over into Italy by Charles de Cosse of Brescia, who then managed matters with prosperous success in the Gallic and Ligustic countries about the Po. He abode with him and his son Timoleon, sometimes in Italy, and sometimes in France, the space of five years, till the year of Christ one thousand five hundred and sixty, the most part of which time he spent in the study of the holy Scriptures, that so he might be able to make a more exact judgment of the controversies in religion which in those days did exercise the greatest part of Men. ’Tis true, those disputes were somewhat silenced in Scotland when that kingdom was freed from the tyranny of the Guises of France, so he returned thither, and entered himself into the Church of Scotland.
9. Some of his writings, in former times being, as it were, redeemed from a shipwrack, were collected and published by him. The rest of them, which are yet in the hands of his friends, he commits to the disposal of Providence. At present, being in the seventy-fourth year of his age, he is in attendance on the education of James the Sixth King of Scotland, to whom he was appointed tutor in the year one thousand five hundred sixty five, where, being broken with the infirmities of old age, he longs for the desired haven of rest.
He departed this life at Edinburgh, on the 28th day of September,
in the Year of our Salvation one thousand five hundred eighty two.