Mary Queen of Scots and her antagonists

Monday 27 July 2020

In this the third of our mini-series of blogs by students who have studied Mary Queen of Scots with Dr Amy Blakeway in 2019/20, we learn from Emily about a work by an eminent former student of the University.

Portrait of George Buchanan by Arnold van Brounkhorst c. 1580 (University of St Andrews Museum Collections HC148)

George Buchanan (1506-1582) is one of the most renowned Scottish historians and humanist scholars of the sixteenth century. Ane Admonition Direct To The Trew Lordis Mantenaris of the Kingis Graces Authoritie was written in April 1570 at the height of the Marian Civil War, and was designed as a plea for support from both the English and the Protestant Lords in Scotland. After the murder of the Regent Moray in January 1570, the Anti-Marian faction lost their leader. The Admonition was, in part, a response to this death, providing a report on the state of Scottish affairs, including a direct attack on The Hamiltons, and acted as an elongated request for aid to support the Protestant Scots in their struggle against the Pro-Marian Catholic Faction.

Image one: Ane Admonition’s title page, including the handwritten ‘George Buchanan’ underneath the initials.

The copy of Ane Admonition in the University’s Special Collections (Buch DA785.B8) claims to have been copied from the Scottish version printed at Stirling by Robert Lekprevik. However, this imprint is probably false and the work was more likely printed in London by John Daye. Claims to alternative publication and false imprints were commonplace in books of the sixteenth century. A work’s legitimacy was directly enhanced by its provenance – Daye’s claim to Scottish origins made this work about Scotland instantly more authoritative and desirable.

Image Two: The nineteenth century binding of the Admonition – note the conservative style adopted and the size of the book.

The Admonition is small – measuring 9cm x 14cm, it was thus pocket- sized and could be easily transported. Further, the work’s type face (see image three) is tightly packed. These observations show that the Admonition was likely printed cheaply and quickly and was intended to be circulated widely. Buchanan typically favoured using ten words over one within his writing! This book’s simple style and structure suggests that it was written hurriedly so as to spread the request for support for the anti-Marian party as quickly as possible. The Admonition is one of the two works Buchanan wrote in vernacular Scots; his choice of language contributes to his clear and simple style which differs from his other complex Latin works.

Image Three: The first page of the Admonition including Buchanan’s apparent unworthiness to comment on matters of government.

Despite the work’s clear tone, Buchanan adheres to certain tropes typical of intellectual humanism. The text commences with a statement of Buchanan’s own unworthiness (see image three). This was a typical rhetorical device employed by humanists to preserve their own humility. Further, Buchanan’s name is printed as ‘M.G.B’ throughout; this was done in order to maintain some anonymity regarding the authorship to ensure that the writer was not deemed boastful. The initials represent ‘Magister George Buchanan’. The St Andrews copy has the name ‘George Buchanan’ handwritten underneath the initials in explanation; this was likely added around the nineteenth century to coincide with the rebinding of the Admonition which was completed by Roger de Coverly, a singing bookbinder who shared his name with a Scottish country dance.

The Admonition was not printed until a year after it was written. Although manuscript versions may have been in circulation prior to this, the actual publication of the work in 1571 reveals the ongoing need for support. Moray’s murderers remained uncaught, and the Marian Civil War raged on. Therefore Daye, who was likely facilitated or at least encouraged by William Cecil, intended to persuade Elizabeth I into sending support to Scotland.

The final page of the Admonition contains a message directed specifically at Elizabeth (see Image Four).

Image Four: The final page of the Admonition depicting a religiously oriented plea for English support.

This message, which is grounded in religious imagery, constitutes a special plea to the English Queen. The simplistic use of vernacular language within the Admonition forms an urgent appeal for support for the anti-Marian party in Scotland.

Emily de Salis
MO4807 Student, 2019/20

PS George Buchanan is an eminent alumnus of St Andrews. He was one of the last students to graduate from the Pedagogy of the Faculty of Arts in 1525 and returned to his alma mater as Principal of St Leonard’s College, a post he held from 1566-70. He also wrote the report for the Committee appointed by the Scottish Parliament in 1563 to visit the University to suggest proposals for reform.


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