GEORGE BUCHANAN - Can his statements be relied on?

George Buchanan.(1506 - 1582) the historian, in his History of Scotland, has the following passage relating to Robert Cairncross, Bishop of Ross: - "Robert Cairncross, one meanly descended, but a wealthy man, bought that preferment (the provosty of Corstorphine) of the King, who then wanted money, eluding the law by a new kind of fraud. The law was that ecclesiastical preferments should not be sold; but he laid a great wager with the King that he would not bestow upon him the next preferment of that kind which fell vacant, and by that means lost his wager but got the abbacy. This was in September, 1528, and he was aware that the Abbot William Douglas was dying of sickness, trouble of mind and grief for the present state of affairs."

Buchanan also composed the following Latin epigrams on Robert:

In Robertum Carnicrucium
Sanctae Crucis abbatem Georgii Buchanani epigramma.

Dat titulos, dat opes, dat Crux, mihi nomina gentis;
Addictusque cruci cum patre frater erat.
Crus fueram cunctis; mihi ne crux undique desit,
Membra mea en moriens do crucianda cruci.

In eundem.

Corpore cum foedo species sit foedior oris,
Foedum pectus habet, foedius ingenium.
A cruce Parca dedit nomen praesaga futuri,
Haud alia hoc dignum morte cadaver erat.[1]

Buchanan's veracity has however been questioned, as will appear from the following collection of adverse criticisms:

"At a time when it suited a political party to throw doubt on the legitimacy of the royal family of Scotland, as Buchanan and others had done before, there was discovered among these records (of the Church of Glasgow) the first conclusive proofs of Buchanan's misstatement of the marriages of Robert II." - Preface to the Register of Glasgow.

[1]Translations provided on page 163.


"Buchanan in his account of the battle on the North Inch at Perth, between the two clans, states there were three hundred on each side, while Wyntoun and other historians previous to Buchanan give thirty only a side. In the Historie of Scotland, also, by John Leslie, Bishop of Rosse 1596, the number on each side is thirty." - Scottish Text Society. "We pin our faith then to the account of the fight (North Inch) as it appears in "Wyntoun". - R. C. Maclagan, in his "The Perth Incident of 1396."

"But what time did the Scots come to settle in Scotland? Boece and Buchanan have said that they came three hundred and thirty years before the birth of Christ. These fictions no man can pretend any ground for, in ancient history, but that the Scots dwelt in this island at least in the time of Julius Caesar, Buchanan maintains against Humphrey Lluyd, an excellent poet against an excellent antiquary, as Camden well judged between them." - Chalmer's Caledonia, Vol. VII, pp. 1 - 6.

"The ancient chronicles which the critical Innes first submitted to the public, did not plunge the curious reader into the abyss of fabulous antiquity. Boece and Buchanan, who might have derived a better spirit from the recent revival of learning, went beyond those useful chronicles in the grossness of their fables, and the absurdities of their theories. The earliest disputes touching the Scottish history begin with the petulant attack of George Buchanan on Humphrey Lluyd for presuming to suppose the Britons to be more ancient than the Scots. But a thousand facts collaterally attest that Buchanan was wrong, while the Welsh antiquary was right." - Chalmers Caledonia, Paisley Alexander Gardner, 1887.

"If Buchanan's accuracy and impartiality had been in any degree equal to the elegance of his taste and to the purity and vigour of his style, his history might be placed on a level with the most admired compositions of the ancients." - The Rev. William Robertson, D.D., late Historiographer to His Majesty (1759) for Scotland, in his 'History of Scotland'.

"Buchanan, Mary's inveterate slanderer, garbles dates to suit his purpose." - The Right Honourable Sir Herbert Maxwell, Bart., in his 'Story of the Tweed!' (1909), page 221.



The following is a translation of the epigrams: (See page 161)

The epigram of George Buchanan on (or to) Robert Cairncross, abbot of St. Cross (i.e. Holyrood)

The Cross gives titles, gives riches, gives to
me the names of my family;
And my brother was bound to the cross with
my father;
I became the Cross to everyone: so that I may
never be without a cross.
Behold, dying, I give my limbs to be
crucified on the cross.

To the same:

As in a vile body, the face is vile,
So has he a vile chest (or heart), but a viler mind.
Fate gave me (him) my (his) name from the cross as a prophecy of the future.
This corpse was worthy of no other death.

Translation by Mr. J. Cullingworth, of Pretoria, at Oxford. Feb. 1939.

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