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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Tale of Social Contract

Meet George Buchanan!

George Buchanan was 16th century Scottish humanist, scholar, religious reformer, and tutor to the young King James VI of Scotland (later King James I of England). He was a pioneer of social contract theory almost a century before John Locke was born. He was also second moderator of the General Assembly of the Kirk of Scotland, the only layman to hold such a post. He knew John Knox in his later years, and was comforted toawrds the end of his long life by none less than his friend Andrew Melville--the selfsame cleric who reminded King James that the monarch was nothing but "God's silly [small] vassal."

This site is one where you can view King James VI of Scotland (later James I of England) as a boy. He was Dr. Buchanan's student. Although Dr. Buchanan advocated rule of law and political compact (an older word for social contract), King James grew up to be a strong supporter of royal absolutism--or, the belief that kings must answer only to God.

Once, when James was around twelve years of age, he did not want to do his Latin lessons. He got saucy with Dr. Buchanan. Dr. Buchanan, in good, 16th century pedagogical style, took a birch rod to the young, royal backside.

The young King James then went complaining to his step-mother, the Countess of Mar (actually, some stepmothers in days of old, were actually kind). The COuntess of Mar was indignant, and stormed into the royal classroom.

"How dare you strike the Lord's Anoitned" The Countess cried, wagging a nobly-born finger at Dr. Buchanan.

Dr. Buchanan looked up from the book before him. "Madam," he said, "I have whipped his arse; you may kiss it if you please."

There are two morals to this story:
(1) Social contract whipped royal absolutism.
(2) Even kings have to do their homework!

James VI and I as a booy.


  1. A good story, but the countess of Mar was not James VI stepmother, she was the wife of the Earl of Mar, John Erskine, who was regent for a year during James minority.

    James Mother was of course Mary Queen of Scots. His father was Lord Darnley, who was blown up (or strangled, depending on version)in Feb 1567 while still married to but estranged from Mary.

  2. Perhaps I should have said that the Countess of Mar was James' foster mother. After all, his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, was deposed when he was only 1 year old.