1546 - Cardinal Beaton assassinated

The Murder of the Cardinal

Cardinal Beaton was a key figure in the early years of Mary's reign. He came down hard on the new breed of heretics to be found in Scotland. In 1546 he made an example of the young charismatic Protestant preacher George Wishart by having him burned at the stake for heresy. Wishart's friends vowed vengeance. They had political as well as personal motives. The cardinal was pro-French while the would-be reformers supported Protestant England. They embarked on an English-backed plot to assassinate Beaton, leading to the occupation of St Andrews Castle. One of those who joined the defence of the castle was John Knox. In his time at St Andrews he had the opportunity to talk firsthand to Beaton's murderers when the deed was fresh in their minds. The result is a harrowing narrative of violence told in a gloating tone. Knox drags the name of the dead cardinal through the mud with sexual innuendo and aspersions of greed. Certainly Beaton was no saint and he had just presided over the gruesome execution of Wishart, but the self-righteousness of his murderers still seems chilling even today.

Mony purpoises war devysit, how that wickit man mycht have bein
Many plots were devised for getting rid of that wicked man, but they all
taikin away; bot all faillit, till Fryday the 28th of Maii, anno 1546,
failed until Friday 28th May 1546,
quhen the foirsaid Normand [Leslie] came at nycht to St Androis,
when Norman Leslie came to St Andrews
William Kirkcaldie of Grainge youngar was in the toun befoir,
at night. William Kirkcaldy of Grange younger was already in the town,
awaytting upoun the purpois. Last came Johne Leslie forsaid, who
ready and waiting for the plot. John Leslie came last, as he
was moist [most] suspected: quhat conclusion they tuik that nicht it
was the most suspect of them. What decision they reached that night
was not knawin, bot by the ischew [issue] that followed. Bot airlie
was not known, but by what followed. Early
upoun the Settorday in the morning, the 29th of Maii, war thay in
upon the Saturday morning, the 29th of May, they came together in
sundrie cumpanies in the Abbay Kirkyaird, not far distant frome the
companies in the Abbey kirk yard, not far from the castle.
Castell: first, the yettis [gates] being oppin and the draw-brig lattin
The gates of the castle were open and the draw-bridge
down for receaving of lyme and stanis, and uther things necessarie for
down to allow lime, stones and building materials in,
building, for Babilon [the cardinal's new block-house] was almost
for Babylon [the Cardinal's new block house] was almo
finisched. First we say, assayit William Kircaldie of Grange younger,
finished. First William Kirkcaldy of Grange and
and with him sex [six] personis, and getting entres, held purpois with
six persons with him tried, and getting in asked the
the porter, gif my Lord Cardinall was wakin? Who answered, No: and
porter whether my lord cardinal was awake? The porter answered no,
so it was indeid, for he had bein bussie at his accomptis with Mestres
and so it was indeed, for he had been 'busy' at his 'accounts' that night
Marioun Ogilby that nicht, who was espyit to departe from him by
with Mrs Marion Ogilvy, who had been seen sneaking out via the
the privie posterne that morning; and therefoir quietnes, efter the
privy postern that morning and therefore according to the dictates of
reullis of physick and a morne sleip was requisite for my Lord. Quhille
medicine he needed a good sleep in the morning. While William
the said William and the Porter talked, and his servandis maid thame
Kirkcaldy and the porter talked, and his servants pretended to be
to luik the wark and the warkmen, aproched Normond Leslie with his
looking at the work and the workmen, Norman Leslie and his
cumpanie; and because they war no grit number, thay easilie gat
company came up, and because there were not many of them, they easily
entres. Thay addres thame to the middis of the clois, and immediatelie
got in. They took up the middle of the close when suddenly
came Johne Leslie sumquhat rudelie, and foure personis with him: the
John Leslie and another four of the company came in somewhat roughly.
porter fearing, wald have drawn the brig, bot the said Johne being
The porter, being afraid would have drawn up the bridge, but John
enterit thairone, stayit and lap in: and quhill the porter maid him for
Leslie being on it, stayed on it and leapt in and while the porter tried to
defence, his heid was brockin, the keyis was taikin frome him, and he
defend himself, his head was broken, the keys taken from him and he was
castin in the fowsie [ditch], and so the plaice was seisit. The warkmen,
thrown in the ditch and so the castle was taken. The workmen
to the number of mo than ane hundreth, ran of the wallis, and war
to the number of more than a hundred ran off the walls and were
without hourt put furthe at the wickit yet [wicket gate]. The first thin
put out of the wicket gate unharmed. The very first thing that was
that evir was done Williame Kirkcaldie tuk the gaird of the privie
done was for William Kirkcaldy to guard the privy
posterne, fearing that the fox sould have eschaipit. Than go the rest to
postern, fearing that the fox should have escaped. Then the rest went to
the gentilmenis chalmeris, and without violence done to ony man,
the gentlemen's chambers and without any violence done
thay put mo than fyiftie personis to the yet: the number that
they put more than fifty people out of the gate. The number which dared
interprysit and did this war but sextein personis. The Cardinall
and did this were but 16 persons. The cardinal awakened
wacknit with the schoutis, askit frome his window, quhat meanit that
by the shouts, asked from the window, what the noise meant?
noyis? It was answerit that Normond Leslie had taikin his castell:
It was answered that Norman Leslie had taken his castle,
which understaude, he ran to the postern; bot perceaving the passage
understanding this, he ran to the postern, but realising that the exit
to be keipit without he returnit quicklie to his chalmer, and tuk his
was guarded outside, he returned to his chamber, and took his
two handit sword, and garth [the] chalmerchyild cast kistis and uther
two-handed sword and ordered the chamber boy to put chests and other
impedimentis to the dure [door]. In this mein tyme came Johne Leslie
barriers against the door. In the meantime John Leslie came to it
unto it, and biddis opin. The Cardinall asking who callis? He answerit
and asked them to open it. The cardinal asked 'Who calls?' He answered
my name is Leslie. He redemands, is that Normond? The other sayis
'My name is Leslie'. The cardinal asked again 'Is that Norman?' The other
nay, my name is Johne. I will have Normond sayis the Cardinall, for
replied 'No, my name is John.' 'I will have Norman' replied the cardinal
he is my friend. Content your self with suche as ar heir, for uther sall
'for he is my friend.' 'Content your self with such as are here, for you
ye get nane. Thair war with the said Johne, James Melvell, a man
won't get any others.' There were the said John, James Melville, a man
familiarlie acquainted with the said Mr George Wischeart, and Petir
who knew George Wishart well, and Peter
Carmichell, a stout gentilman. In the mein tyme, whyll they force at
Carmichael, a courageous gentleman. In the meantime whilst they forced
the dure, the Cardinall hyddis a box of gold under coills that war layd
the door, the cardinal hid a box of gold under coals in a secret corner of
in a secret corner. At lenth he asketh Will ye save my lyif? The said
the room. At length he asked 'Will you save my life?' John Leslie answered
Johne answerit It may be that we will. Nay sayis the Cardinall Sweir
'It may be that we will.' 'No' said the Cardinal 'Swear
unto me by Godis Woundis, and I sall oppin unto yow. Than answerit
to me by God's Wounds and I shall open the door to you.' Then John
the said John, It that was said is unsaid; and so he cryit Fire, fire for
Leslie answered 'It that was said was unsaid' and so he called 'fire, fire
the dure was verie stark and so was brought ane chimlay full of
for the door was very strong and so a grate full of burning coals was
burning coallis, quhilk perceavit the Cardinall or his chalmer-chyld (it
brought to him, on perceiving this the cardinal or the chamber boy (it is
is uncertain) oppinit the dure, and the Cardinall sat doun in a chayre
uncertain which) opened the door and the Cardinal sat down in a chair
and cryit I ame a preist, I ame a priest, ye will not slay me. The said
and cried out ' I am a priest, I am a priest, you will not slay me.'
Johne Leslie, according to his former vowis [to avenge Wishart], straik
John Leslie, according to his former vows [to avenge Wishart] struck
him anis or twyis, and so did the said Petir. Bot James Melvell, a man
him once or twice and so did the said Peter, but James Melville, a man
of nature moist gentill and most modest, perceaving thame bayth in
of a most gentle and modest nature, seeing that they were both enraged,
cholere, withdrew thame and said the wark and judgement of god,
pulled them back and said 'The work and judgement of God
althocht it be secreit yit aucht to be done with gritter gravitie. And
although it is hidden, yet it ought to be done with greater gravity.' And
presenting unto him the point of the sword said 'Repent of thyne
presenting to the cardinal the point of the sword said 'Repent of your
former wickit lyif, but especiallie of the schedding of the bluid of that
former wicked life, but especially of the shedding of the blood of that
notable instrument of God, Mr George Wiseheart whiche albeit the
notable instrument of God, Mr George Wishart, which although
flame of fyre consumit befoir men, yit cryis it a vengeance upoun
consumed by the flame of fire before men, yet it cries a vengeance upon
the[e] and we from God ar sent to revenge it. For heir befoir my god,
you and we from god are sent to revenge it. For here before my God, I
I protest, that neither haitrent of thy persone, the love of thy ryches,
protest that neither hatred of your person, the love of your riches,
nor the feir of anie trouble thow could have done to me in particular,
nor the fear of any trouble you could have done to me in particular,
muisit or movethe me to straik the[e]; bot onlie because thow hes bein,
inspires or moves me to strike you, but only that you have been and
and remainis ane obstinate enemie to Chryist Jesus and his holie
remain an obstinate enemy to Christ Jesus and his holy gospel.'
evangell.' And so he straik him twys or thryis throw with a stoge
And so he struck him twice or thrice through with a stabbing sword,
sword: and so he fell, nevir a word hard out of his mouthe bot I ame
and so he fell, never a word heard out of his mouth but 'I am a
a priest. I ame a Preist. Fy, fy all is gone.
priest, I am a priest. Fy, fy, all is gone.'
Whill they war thus occupyed with the Cardinal, the fray ryissis in
While they were busy with the cardinal, a stir rose in
the toun; the proveist assembles the commonalitie, and cumis to the
the town, the provost assembled the ordinary people and came to the
fouseis syde, crying Quhat have ye done with my Lord Cardinal? Let
ditch-side crying 'What have you done with my lord cardinal.' They
us sie my Lord Cardinall. Thay that war within answerit gentillye,
that were within answered gently
'The best it war to yow to returne to your awin houses; for that man
'The best thing for you would be to return to your own houses, for that
you call the Cardinall hes receaved his reward, and in his awin
man you call the cardinal has received his reward and in his own
persone wil trouble the warld na mair. Bot then mor inragitlie they
person will trouble the world no more.' But then more enragedly they
cryit We sall nevir departe till that we sie him. And so was he brocht
cried 'We shall never depart until we see him.' And so he was brought to
to the Eist Blokhouse Heid and schawin deid over the wall to the
the east blockhouse head and shown dead over the wall to the
faythles multitude, which would not beleve befoir that it saw. And so
faithless multitude, which would never believe until they saw. And so
they departit, without requiem aeternam & requiescat in pace sung
they departed without requiem mass being sung for his soul. Now
for his saull. Now because the wedder [weather] was hotte, for it was
because the weather was hot, for it was May, as you have heard, and his
in Maii, as ye have hard and his funerallis culd not suddantlie be
funeral could not suddenly be prepared,
prepaired, it was thocht best (to keip him frome stinking) to give him
it was thought best (to keep him from stinking) to give him
grit salt yneuche, a cope of leid, and a nuck in the bottome of the Sey-
enough salt, a winding sheet of lead and a corner in the bottom of the sea
tour, a plaice quhair mony of God's children had bein imprisonit
tower, a place where many of God's children had been imprisoned
befoir to await quhat exequies his brethren and bischopis wald
before to await what funeral ceremonies his brethren and bishops would
prepair for him. These thingis we wrytte merrille, bot we would that
prepare for him. These things we write with gladness, but we would wish
the reidar sould observe God's just judgementis, and how that he can
that the reader should observe God's just judgements and how he can take
deprehend the wardlie wyis in their awin wisdome, mak their tabill to
the worldly wise in their own wisdom, make their table to
be a snair to trappe thair awin feit, and thair awin presuppoisit streth
be a snare to trap their own feet and their own pre-supposed strength
to be thair awin destructioun. These ar the warkis of our God,
to be their own destruction. These are the works of our God,
whereby he wald admonisch the tirrants of this earthe, that in the end
whereby we would admonish the tyrants of this earth, that in the end he
he will be revengit of thair crueltie, quhat strenth soevir they mak in the contrair . . .
will revenge their cruelty, whatsoever strength they make to the contrary . . .
The deith of this forsaid tirrant [tyrant] was dolourous to the
The death of this tyrant was sorrowful to the
preistis, dolourous to the Governour, and moist dolourous to the
priests, sorrowful to the regent and most sorrowful to the
Quein Dowager: for in him perisched faythfulness to France, and
queen dowager, for in him perished faithfulness to France and
comfort to all gentilwemen and especiallie to wantoun wedowis: his
comfort to all gentlewomen and especially to wanton widows: his
deith muist be revengit.
death had to be revenged.

John Knox, Historie of the Reformatioun of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1732.

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