Abbot George Durie

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George Durie - Archdeacon of St Andrews, Commendator and last Abbot of Dunfermline

Abbot George Durie (1496-1577, and definitely not 1560, 1565 etc. as printed in some places) was one of the leading churchmen and statesmen of his day - Archdeacon of St Andrews, the last Benedictine Abbot and Commendator of Dunfermline, Keeper of the Great Seal of Scotland, Lord of Articles  and Laird of Craigluscar.

He was the son of John Durie of Craigluscar (an estate outside Dunfermline) and nephew of the infamous Archbishop James Beaton (or Bethune), who was Abbot and Commendator of Dunfermline from 1522 until 1530.

The Dunfermline Abbey Seal
George Durie had a Seal-stamp engraved during the first year of his office as Abbot and Commendator of Dunfermline Abbey (1539).


The design is of three Gothic niches, with the Virgin and infant Jesus in the centre, St Andrew holding his Saltire cross on her right and St Margaret holding a sceptre on her left. The armorial bearings of Durie - the chevron between three crescents - sit in front of a crozier. Around the circumference is the inscription:
Seal of George, Abbot of Dunfermline & Archdeacon of St. Andrews

1527-1530 George was judge and executor of the monastery of Arbroath and assumed the title of Abbot of Dunfermline under the supervision of his uncle James Beaton, the true titular. When Beaton became Archbishop of Glasgow, the duties of Abbot of Dunfermline were devolved by James V on George, then Archdeacon of St Andrews (a post his brother, Andrew, also held). Nepotism was the in thing then. George made David Durie of that Ilk a Bailie in Dunfermline.

1527 Abbot George was among the judges of Patrick Hamilton, one of the earliest martyrs of the Protestant faith. He later brought to trial and condemned to death his cousin, John Durie, for heresy. John was rescued by the Earl of Arran (see below).

1539 On the death of Beaton, James V made George Abbot of Dunfermline. George, apart from being a senior churchman, was also an important politician. He was repeatedly chosen as a Lord of the Articles (whose job was to choose which legislation to lay before Parliament) and Extraordinary Lord in Parliament (1541). He sat in Parliament in 1540, 1542, 1543 and 1545. Due to him, Regent Arran did not accept the title of Earl of Hertford, and so he caused the battle of Pinkie (1547).

(Incidentally, Sir Robert Douglas of Lochleven died in this battle. He was the husband of Margaret, daughter of Lord Erskine. She had been the mistress of James V (by whom she had Mary Queen of Scots' half-brother, James Stewart, later Regent Moray) and was the mother by Sir Robert of Catherine Douglas, who married David Durie of that Ilk in 1557, and of George Douglas, known as Douglas the Postulate, who murdered Mary Queen of Scots lover, Rizzio, with Darnley's planted dagger and who married a Margaret Durie and - perhaps, secretly - Mary Queen of Scots).

1542 George was appointed one of the council of the Earl of Arran, the guardian of Queen Mary during her nonage.

1543 (30 September) George's two eldest natural children, Henry and Peter, were legitimated by an act passed under the great seal (of which he was by then the Keeper). They acted as guardians to the two younger sons, George and John, who were sent to the Scots College in France and later to Louvain. John at least became a Jesuit.

1545 (6 July) Cardinal David Beaton wrote to Pope Paul III that his prerogative as cardinal had been usurped by Archbishop Dunbar of Glasgow and named Robert, Bishop of Orkney and George Durie to examine witnesses and report to the Pope.

1546 Cardinal Beaton is murdered at St Andrews and George is active in trying to avenge the murder. After six months of the siege of St Andrews, George suggested those inside should be lured to submit by offering absolution from the Pope and their liberty.
1554 In this year, Mary of Guise took the title Queen Regent. George was one of her main counsellors.

1560 (29 January) George embarked for France with Mary of Guise after the Reformation where his cousin, Archbishop James Beaton of Glasgow, was residing as Queen Mary's ambassador. In 1564 the pope exhorted Durie to remain faithful to Catholicism, and two years later Queen Mary wanted him to accompany a papal nuncio to Scotland to represent her case. In August the Scottish Parliament voted for the abolition of the Catholic church and hierarchy and Sir James Sandilands went to France to get ratification from the Queen. His bad reception was due to George Durie, then at the French court.

1561 Francis II had died in December 1560. George and the Earl of Eglinton went to convince Mary Queen of Scots to return to Scotland and re-establish Catholic rule. Thus, he instigated the war between France and Scotland on one hand and England on the other. He is often said to have died (or was martyred?) on 27 January 1561, to be succeeded by Robert Pitcairn, but in fact he had escaped to France, returning in or soon after 1570, senile and effectively under house arrest.

There is a persistent rumour that George Durie was canonised ("Saint George") in the but this is unfounded, according to the Vatican. It is he case, however, that two years after George's death, Pope Pius beatified him (Dempster and others called him a saint and a martyr!) for "zeal against Reformers", meaning Protestants.

For instance:

bullethe had voted for the death of two early martyrs, Patrick Hamilton and Walter Mill
bullethe brought his cousin, John Durie, a Dunfermline monk, to trial for heresy and had him walled up (although John was rescued by the intercession of the Earl of Arran)
bulletsubscribed the sentence of death on Sir John Borthwick in 1540 (but he escaped to England)
bulletand he was responsible for the death of Sir John Melville, Laird of Raith.

M. Dilworth, 'Dunfermline, Duries and the Reformation’, Records of the Scottish Church History Society, 31 (2001), 37–67 ·
J. M. Webster, History of Carnock (Fife) (1938) ·
C. Innes, ed., Registrum de Dunfermelyn, Bannatyne Club, 74 (1842) ·
J. M. Anderson, ed., Early records of the University of St Andrews, Scottish History Society, 3rd ser., 8 (1926)
J. M. Webster and A. A. M. Duncan, eds., Regality of Dunfermline court book (1953), 192–3
Various Contemporary state, church, and local records ·  
Mark Dilworth, ‘Durie, George (d. 1577)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [ accessed 12 Oct 2006]


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