Scholar and tutor to James VI
George Buchanan was born near Stirling in 1506 and lived through a turbulent period in the history of Scotland. He was a humanist, historian, poet and scholar who was, during his lifetime, a controversial figure. He spent much of his life on the continent, principally in France, lecturing and writing Latin poems, plays and treatises. He was said to be the best Latin scholar of his age. He was appointed Principal of St. Andrews University in 1568 and resigned in 1570 on his appointment as a tutor to James VI, then in his 4th year. He was instrumental in encouraging the King to found the Tounis College of Edinburgh (the University of Edinburgh). It was granted its Royal Charter in 1582, and the first students were admitted in the following year.
Buchanan, who died in poverty, had directed that what little money he had should be given to the poor, rather than be spent on the erection of a tombstone. The location of his burial plot was known to the Reverend John Adamson who was Principal of Edinburgh University from 1623 to 1653 and a great admirer of Buchanan.
It had been suggested that Adamson obtained the skull from either the sexton or possibly one of the grave-diggers when they were involved in an internment close by. The skull was eventually found in Adamson's study after his death, inscribed with the name of Buchanan. In 1653, or shortly afterwards, the skull was transferred to a place of honour in the University library and then sent to the anatomy museum in 1817.
The features of the skull are consistent with the age of Buchanan at the time of his death, as it is the skull of a male of extreme age.