Hector Boece

Hector Boece

Boece or Boethius, Hector, 1465?-1536?, Scottish historian. He studied at the Univ. of Paris, where he knew Erasmus, and in 1498 he went to Aberdeen as the first principal of the new university. The most important of his works is a Latin history of Scotland (1527); it is a vast collection of historical fables from medieval chronicles, generously sprinkled with myths and miracles. Despite its shortcomings it was held in high repute until the 18th cent. It supplied Holinshed with the Duncan-Macbeth tale from which Shakespeare took his plot. In the 16th cent. it was translated into a metrical Scottish version by William Stewart and a better-known prose Scottish version by John Bellenden.

See Boethius: His Life, Thought, and Influence (ed. by M. Gibson, 1982); R. McInerny, Boethius and Aquinas (1990).

Hector Boece (sometimes spelt Boethius, or Boyce) (1465-1536) was a Scottish philosopher.

He was born in Dundee where he attended school. Later he left to study at the University of Paris where he met Erasmus, with whom he became close friends while they were both students at the austere Collège de Montaigu, to whose reforming Master, Jan Standonck Boece later became Secretary. By 1497 he had become a professor of philosophy at the university.

In 1500, he was induced to leave Paris for Aberdeen by a generously financed offer to become the first principal of the newly established University of Aberdeen, created at the behest of James IV by William Elphinstone, Bishop of Aberdeen under the authority of a Papal bull issued by Pope Alexander VI.

From then onwards, he worked closely with Elphinstone, to set up the new university and by 1505, regular lectures were taking place at King's College. The university structure was modelled on those of Paris and of Orléans. As intended, Boece was installed as the first principal of the university and gave lectures on medicine and on divinity.

Apart from his work on creating the university, Boece also wrote and published two books, one of biography and one of history. In 1522 he published the Vitae Episcoporum Murthlacensium et Aberdonensium (Lives of the Bishops of Murthlack and Aberdeen) and in 1527 the Historia Gentis Scotorum (History of the Scottish People) to the accession of James III of Scotland. The latter is his most famous publication. It was only the second scholarly history of the Scots to be written.

By modern standards it is overly patriotic and has many inaccuracies. However it was very well received at the time, both in Europe and in Scotland after its translation from Latin into French and then in 1536 from Latin into Scots by John Bellenden, and into English for Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland. The only predecessor of the work was the compendium of Major, and as it was written in a flowing and pleasing style it became very popular, and led to ecclesiastical preferment and Royal favour. This is the oldest book of prose written in Scots to survive into modern times. The historical account of Macbeth of Scotland flattered the antecedents of Boece's patron King James IV of Scotland, and greatly maligned the real Macbeth. This story as incorporated into Holinshed's Chronicle was used by William Shakespeare as the basis of his play Macbeth.

In the early 1530s the scholar Giovanni Ferrerio, engaged by abbot Robert Reid at the monastery at Kinloss, wrote a continuation of Boece's history, extending it to the end of the reign of James III of Scotland. At the end of 1534, Boece became Rector of Fyvie. He died in Aberdeen two years later at the age of 71.

Boece shared in the credulity of his age, but the charge of inventing his authorities formerly brought against him has been shown to be, to some extent at any rate, unfounded.

References

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