BOECE (or Boyce), HECTOR (c. 1465-c. 1536), Scottish historian, was born at Dundee about the year 1465, being descended of a family which for several generations had possessed the barony of Panbride in Forfarshire. He received his early education at Dundee, and completed his course of study in the university of Paris, where he took the degree of B.D. He was appointed regent, or professor, of philosophy in the college of Montaigu; and there he was a contemporary of Erasmus, who in two epistles has spoken of him in the highest terms. When William Elphinstone, bishop of Aberdeen, was laying his plans for the foundation of the university of Aberdeen (King's College) he made Boece his chief adviser; and the latter was persuaded, after receipt of the papal bull erecting the university (1494), to be the first principal. He was in Aberdeen about 1500 when lectures began in the new buildings, and he appears to have been well received by the canons of the cathedral, several of whom he has commemorated as men of learning. It was a part of his duty as principal to read lectures on divinity.
The emoluments of his office were poor, but he also enjoyed the income of a canonry at Aberdeen and of the vicarage of Tullynessle. Under the date of 14th July 1527, we find a "grant to Maister Hector" of an annual pension of £50, to be paid by the sheriff of Aberdeen out of the king's casualties; and on the 26th of July 1529 was issued a "precept for a lettre to Mr Hector Boys, professor of theology, of a pension of £50 Scots yearly, until the king promote him to a benefice of 100 marks Scots of yearly value; the said pension to be paid him by the custumars of Aberdeen." In 1533 and 1534, one-half of his pension was, however, paid by the king's treasurer, and the other half by the comptroller; and as no payment subsequent to that of Whitsuntide 1534 has been traced in the treasurer's accounts, he is supposed to have obtained the benefice soon after that period. This benefice was the rectorship of Tyrie.
In 1528, soon after the publication of his history, Boece received the degree of D.D. at Aberdeen; and on this occasion the magistrates voted him a present of a tun of wine when the new wines should arrive, or, according to his option, the sum of £20 to purchase bonnets. He appears to have survived till the year 1536; for on the 22nd of November in that year, the king presented John Garden to the rectory of Tyrie, vacant by the death of "Mr Hector Boiss." He died at Aberdeen, and was buried before the high altar at King's College, beside the tomb of his patron Bishop Elphinstone.
His earliest publication, Episcoporum Murthlacensium et Aberdonensium per Hectorem Boetium Vitae, was printed at the press of Jodocus Badius (Paris, 1522). The notices of the early prelates are of little value, but the portion of the book in which he speaks of Bishop Elphinstone is of enduring merit. Here we likewise find an account of the foundation and constitution of the college, together with some notices of its earliest members. His fame rests chiefly on his History of Scotland, published in 1527 under the title Scotorum Historiae a prima gentis origine cum aliarum et rerum et gentium illustratione non vulgari. This edition contains seventeen books. Another edition, containing the eighteenth book and a fragment of the nineteenth, was published by Ferrerius, who has added an appendix of thirty-five pages (Paris, 1574).
The composition of the history displays much ability; but Boece's imagination was, however, stronger than his judgment: of the extent of the historian's credulity, his narrative exhibits many unequivocal proofs; and of deliberate invention or distortion of facts not a few, though the latter are less flagrant and intentional than early 19th-century criticism has assumed. He professed to have obtained from the monastery of Icolmkill, through the good offices of the earl of Argyll, and his brother, John Campbell of Lundy, the treasurer, certain original historians of Scotland, and among the rest Veremundus, of whose writings not a single vestige is now to be found. In his dedication to the king he is pleased to state that Veremundus, a Spaniard by birth, was archdeacon of St Andrews, and that he wrote in Latin a history of Scotland from the origin of the nation to the reign of Malcolm III., to whom he inscribed his work. His propensity to the marvellous was at an early period exposed in the following verses by Leland: -
"Hectoris historici tot quot mendacia scripsit
Si vis ut numerem, lector amice, tibi,
Me jubeas etiam fluctus numerare marinos
Et liquidi Stellas connumerare poli."
Boece's History of Scotland was translated into Scottish prose by John Bellenden, and into verse by William Stewart. The Lives of the Bishops was reprinted for the Bannatyne Club, Edin., 1825, in a limited edition of sixty copies. A commonplace verse-rendering of the Life of Bishop Elphinstone, which was written by Alexander Gardyne in 1619, remains in MS. There is no modern edition of the history, though the versions of Bellenden and Stewart have been edited.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)