Brass of the Month

Copyright © 2017 Monumental Brass Society (MBS)

Page last updated 05 January 2017

January 2017 -  John Beton, 1570, Edensor, Derbyshire


Print this page:

On 2nd May 1568 Mary Queen of Scots escaped from imprisonment in Castle Leven, set on an island in Loch Leven. She had been forced to abdicate in favour of her ten month old son, James VI, on 24th July the previous year following the murder of her second husband and her marriage to the man many believed to be the murderer. After gathering a force of 6,000 men she then met defeat by forces led by her protestant illegitimate half-brother the earl of Moray. Mary fled to England, crossing the Solway Firth by boat on 16th May and hoping for English help in recovering her throne. At the time of Elizabeth's accession to the throne of England in November 1558, Mary had been married to the Dauphin. Henri II of France had proclaimed his son François and daughter-in-law king and queen of England on the basis of Mary Queen of Scots' descent from Henry VII via his daughter Mary. Although the French backed down in July 1560 when they signed the Treaty of Edinburgh which recognised Elizabeth as queen, Mary had refused to ratify the treaty. Mary's arrival in England thus put Elizabeth in a difficult position. Mary was taken into protective custody and moved away from the Scottish border but not too close to London.

    As the inscription of his brass reveals, John Beton was a servant of Mary. He ran her household, initially of thirty servants, during the first couple of years of her captivity in England before his early death at the age of thirty-two years and seven months. In 1568, he had played a leading role in Mary's escape. His part is said to have been to steal the horses ridden by Mary and her party after they came ashore from Castle Leven. Following his death at Chatsworth, Mary wrote his brother James Beton, the Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow, who was living in exile in Paris, and asked him to send another brother, Andrew Beton, to replace John as Master of her Household.

Although his month's brass was mentioned in many guidebooks in the century before the First World War it has since received rather less attention but relates directly to one of the major problems faced by Elizabeth I during her reign.

    The brass that commemorates John Beton also evidently came from Paris to Derbyshire. Originally set in a stone frame close to the chancel rails on the north wall of the chancel of St Peter's church, which is a short distance across the park from Chatsworth House,it is now similar position following the rebuilding in the latter half of the 1860s. A framed rubbing at the west end of the church near the font gives a better idea of the brass than the plate itself, which was mistaken for black marble by Agnes Strickland and others in the nineteenth-century. Its design is far in advance of English-made brasses of the same date and represents the absorption into French art of the Renaissance style brought into France by Italian artists such as Francesco Primaticcio to decorate the interior of François I's new palace at Fontainebleau in the 1530s. A central upright oval frame is set between strapwork spandrels. Suspended from the lower corners of the upper spandrels, trails of fruit and other vegetation covers the sides of the frame. Inside the top of the frame two winged semi-reclining putti with books turn towards each other, separated by an achievement of the arms of Beton. Below them is the inscription in Latin, completed by an epitaph is three lines signed AB, probably John's brother Andrew. In the base of the frame beneath the motto DOMI ET FORIS lies the figure, resting his head on a cushion, of John Beton in armour on a rectangular chest surrounded by books and military equipment, including a Roman breastplate. The inscription, mostly in lower-case Roman lettering and reads:



 Ioanni Betonio Scoto, nobilis & optimi viri Ioannis Betonii ab
 Anthmwthy filio, Dauidis Betonii Illustriss. S. R. E. Cardinalis
 nepoti, Iacobi Betonii Reuerendiss S.Andræe Archiepiscopi et Regni
 Scotiæ Cancellarii digniss pronepoti ab ineunte ætate in huma-
 nioribus disciplinis, & philosophia, quo facilior ad ius Romanu (cuius
 ipse Consultiss fuit) aditus pateret ab optimis quibusqz preceptoribs
 & liberaliter & ingenue, educato: omnibus morum facilitate, fide pru-
 dentia, & constantia charo : vnde a Sereniss Principe Maria Scotoru,
 Gallorumqz Regina in prægustatoris primu, mox Oeconomi munus
sussecto, eiufdemqz Sereniss. Regime, vna cum aliis, evinculis trucu
lentiss. Tiranni, apud leuini lacus castrum liberatori fortiss quem

poft varias legationes, & ad Carolurn .9. Galliarum Regem Chrifti-
aniss & ad Elizabetham Sereniss Anglorum Reginam foeliciter &
non fine laude susceptas : satis properantibus, in fure ætatis flore,
fors aspera immani dy-senterias morbo, e numero viuentiu exemit
Iacobus Reuerendiss. Glasquensis Archiepiscopus, & Andreas
Betonii eiusdem sereniss. Reginæ ille apud Regem Christianiss
Legatus hic vero Oeconomus in ppetuam rei memoria, exvolutate
& pro imperio sereniss. Reginæ heræ clemetiss frs mœstiss posuerut
Obiit anno salutis 1570 Vixit annos 32 menses 7. &

diem dni expectat apud Chathworth in Anglia.
 immatvra tibi legervnt fila sorores.

Betoni, vt svmmvm ingenivm svmmvmqz periret

  ivdicivm, et nobis ivcvndvm nil foret vltra.


Llewellyn Jewitt translated the inscription but with a couple of inaccuracies that are corrected below:

To God the best and greatest and to posterity sacred.

To John Beton, a Scot, son of the most noble and excellent man John Beton, of Anthmwthy ; nephew of the illustrious David Beton, Cardinal of the Holy Roman Empire; great nephew of the most Reverend James Beton, Archbishop of St. Andrews, and most worthy Chancellor of the kingdom of Scotland. From his earliest youth educated by the foremost of preceptors of every kind both liberally and nobly, so that the entrance might be the more easy to the Roman Law (in which he was highly skilled) ; He endeared himself to all by the gentleness of his manners and by faithfulness, prudence and constancy, for which he was appointed by the most serene Princess Mary, Queen of Scotland and France, first to the office of Taster, afterwards to that of Comptroller of the Household. In fine he was, with others, the most gallant liberator of the same most serene Queen from the prison of a most truculent tyrant at the castle of Loch Leven. Having been sent on a mission to Charles the IX, the most Christian King of France, and to Elizabeth, the most serene Queen of England, which he successfully performed and with great credit to himself, the fates hurrying on removed him from the number of the living in the flower of his age by the cruel disease of dysentery. The most Reverend James (Beton) Archbishop of Glasgow, and Andrew Beton—the former Ambassador from the same most serene Queen to the most Christian King, and the latter Comptroller of the Household—his most sorrowful brothers, erected this in perpetual remembrance of the event by the will and command of the most serene Queen his most kind mistress. He died in the year of salvation 1570. He had lived thirty-two years and seven months, and awaits the Day of the Lord at Chatsworth, in England.

Although Jewitt also translated the epitaph, he also gave an alternative rendering, as given below:


The Fates, O, Beton, envious of thy worth, Have snatched thee prematurely from earth ;

With thee have gone bright genius, judgment sound, And we thy friends are left in grief profound.

The Scottish antiquary, Henry Laing told Jewitt that the place-name referred early in the inscription was Auchmithie, Forfarshire, a property of the Betons which descended to James, the archbishop, when John Beton, John's father died in 1597. James VI continued to employ the archbishop as ambassador to the King of France despite their religious differences. As the inscription makes clear, the archbishop and Andrew Beton provided their brother's memorial. The archbishop died on 25 April 1603 and was commemorated by a monument and brass in St Jean de Latran in Paris, the latter still surviving in Musée Carnavalet.  

    Very few, if any, brasses of similar date survive in France and that commemorating John Beton is a very precious survival indeed.


Llewellyn Jewitt, FSA, ‘Sepulchral Brass to John Beton in Edensor Church, Derbyshire’, The Reliquary, October 1872, pp 65-66

Copyright: Jon Bayliss