Hubert Languet, Roger Ascham, and Walter Haddon. The greatest name in the list is that of Tycho Brahe, whom Buchanan thanks for his present of his book on the new star, and mentions that ill-health has prevented him from completing his astronomical poem on the Sphere, which was only published after his death. A portrait of Buchanan, presented probably by King James to Brahe, was seen by him when he visited the astronomer at Uranienberg on the occasion of his marriage. In the beginning of 1579 Buchanan published his tract ‘De Jure Regni,’ the most important of his political writings. The contents of this work—in the form of a dialogue between Buchanan and Thomas Maitland, brother of Lethington—are a defence of legitimate or limited monarchy, a statement of the duty of monarchs and subjects to each other, in which he lays stress chiefly on the former, and a plea for the right of popular election of kings, and of the responsibility of bad kings, in treating which he does not shrink from upholding tyrannicide in cases of extreme wickedness. The book had an immense popularity; three editions were published in three years. Similar doctrine was then in the air of Europe. ‘The three great sources of a free spirit in politics,’ remarks Hallam, ‘admiration of antiquity, zeal for religion, and persuasion of positive right, which animated separately La Boétie, Languet, and Hottoman, united their stream to produce the treatise of George Buchanan, a scholar, a protestant, and the subject of a very limited monarchy.’ Suppressed by an act of parliament in 1584, the ‘De Jure Regni’ was a standard work in the hands of the men of the Long parliament, and the writer possesses a copy carefully indexed by Sir Roger Twysden. As might be expected, Buchanan's work was not allowed to pass without criticism. It was answered in his own time by his catholic countrymen, Blackwood, Wynzet, and Barclay; by the lawyers of the Restoration, Craig, Stewart, and Mackenzie; and by Sir James Turner in an unpublished work; but the English writers who have formed the theory of the constitution now accepted, Milton and Sidney, Locke, Hallam, and Mackintosh, acknowledge most of its positions as well founded. Buchanan now addressed himself to his last, and in some respects greatest work, the history of his own country. This had been in his thoughts for more than twenty years, and was mainly composed several years before. His friends had often urged him to complete it, and it was at last published in 1582. He again addressed himself to James in the dedication. ‘An incurable illness having made me unfit,’ he says, ‘to discharge in person the care of your instructions committed to me, I thought that sort of writing which tends to inform the mind would best supply the want of my attendance, and resolved to send to you faithful narratives from history that you might make use of trew advice in your deliberations, and imitate trew virtue in your actions.’ This book was at once translated into the continental languages, and was long the chief, almost the only source from which foreigners knew the history of Scotland. Nineteen editions attest the value which succeeding generations attached to it, but it is significant that the last was published in 1762. Judged by a modern standard, the history of Buchanan is antiquated not merely on account of its Latin, but from the absence of criticism in the examination of authorities. Its different parts are of unequal merit, probably because they were composed at different times. The first three of its twenty books contain its best portions, a description of the physical characteristics of the country, and an erudite collection of passages from Greek and Latin writers relating to Britain. Buchanan proceeds, in the steps of Hector Boece, to narrate the reigns of the eighty-five kings down to Malcolm Canmore, in a manner not more deserving of credit than their portraits, painted to the order of Charles II, which hang in the gallery of Holyrood. But from Malcolm the history improves. The characters of the kings are well drawn, though the publication of the original records has enabled modern historians to present a larger and more exact picture of their reigns. From the middle of the thirteenth book to the close Buchanan's history still retains a certain value. This portion from James V to the death of Lennox, where it somewhat abruptly stops, is practically the work of a contemporary, and though it is that of a partisan who vilifies Mary, panegyrises Moray, hates all the Hamiltons, and dislikes Morton, no future historian can safely neglect the view of Scottish history which impressed such an intellect, and was the popular opinion, not merely in his own time, but for two centuries after. Of literary style Buchanan is an acknowledged master. It has even been rashly contended by his admirers that he surpassed Livy. More important than mere style is the clearness of his narrative, which dispenses with the rhetorical art, though he was capable of using it.
In September 1581, when his work was in the press, Andrew and James Melville, who had been his pupils at St. Andrews, and his cousin Thomas Buchanan, came to see him