Bishop of Ross (Scotland)

The Bishop of Ross was the ecclesiastical head of the Diocese of Ross, one of Scotland's 13 medieval bishoprics. The first recorded bishop appears in the late 7th century as a witness to Adomnán of Iona's Cáin Adomnáin. The bishopric was based at the settlement of Rosemarkie until the mid-13th century, afterwards being moved to nearby Fortrose and Fortrose Cathedral. As far as the evidence goes, this bishopric was the oldest of all bishoprics north of the Forth, and was perhaps the only Pictish bishopric until the 9th century. Indeed, the Cáin Adomnáin indicates that in the reign of Bruide mac Der Ilei, king of the Picts, the bishop of Rosemarkie was the only significant figure in Pictland other than the king. The bishopric is located conveniently close to the heartland of Fortriu, being just across the water from Moray.

However, in the High and Later Middle Ages, the bishopric was only of medium-to-low status in the Scottish church. The Bishopric's links with Rome ceased to exist after the Scottish Reformation, but continued, saving temporary abolition between 1638 and 1661, under the episcopal Church of Scotland until the Revolution of 1688. Episcopacy in the established church in Scotland was permanently abolished in 1689.

List of known bishops and abbots of Ross maic Bairend

Tenure Incumbent Notes
fl. 690x710CuretánLater named or conflated with St Boniface. He is listed as one of the witnesses in the Cáin Adomnáin, where he is called "Curetan epscop". In the Martyrology of Tallaght he is called "of Ross Mand Bairend" and in the Martyrology of O'Gorman he is styled "bishop and abbot of Ross maic Bairend". It is modern histiography that places this location at Rosemarkie in the Black Isle, Ross.

List of known bishops of Ross

Tenure Incumbent Notes
fl. 1127 x 1131Mac Bethad of Rosemarkie
fl. 1147 x 1151-1155Symeon of Rosemarkie
1161-1195Gregoir of Rosemarkie
1195-1213Reinald MacerFormer monk of Melrose Abbey.
1213 x 1214Andreas de MoraviaWas elected, but got permission from the Pope to resign.
1214-1249Robert (elder)
1249-1271Robert (younger)
1275-1292 x 1295Robert de Fyvie
1292 x 1295-1295Adam de DarlingtonAfter the death of Bishop Robert (III.) de Fyvie, both Adam, precentor of Ross, and Thomas de Dundee were elected to the see. "Master Adam" voyaged to Rome resigned his claim in Thomas' favour; became Bishop of Caithness in the following year.
1293 x 1295-1325Thomas de Dundee
1325-1350RogerPerhaps the same as Roger de Balnebrich, unsuccessful Bishop-elect of Dunblane.
1350-1371Alexander Stewart
1371-1398Alexander de Kylwos
1398-1416 x 1418Alexander de Waghorn
1416 x 1418Thomas LyellIt appears that, although he appears briefly in the sources as "Bishop elect", he never appears to have been consecrated, namely because Avignon Pope Benedict XIII had reserved the see for his own appointment.
1418-1422Gruffydd YoungAnti-Bishop during schism. Welshman, formerly Bishop of Bangor. Never obtained possession, but retained title until made titular Bishop of Hippo.
1418-1439 x 1440John Bullock
1440-1441Andrew MunroPreviously, Archdeacon of Ross. He had been postulated by the chapter, but despite great expense and effort, Pope Eugene IV disallowed the postulation and appointed the bishopric to Thomas de Tulloch.
1440-1460 x 1461Thomas de Tulloch
1461-1476Henry Cockburn
1476-1480x1481John Woodman
1481-1483William ElphinstoneWas provided by Pope Sixtus IV, but in 1483 was translated to the Bishopric of Aberdeen.
1483-1488 x 1492Thomas Hay
1492-1492 x 1494John Guthrie
1497-1507John Fraser
1507-1524Robert CockburnTranslated to bishopric of Dunkeld in 1524.
1523-1538James Hay
1538-1545Robert Cairncross
1547-1558David Panter
1558-1565 Henry Sinclair
1566-1568/73/92John LesleyMost famous bishop of Ross, because of his work as a historian. He was forfeited on 19 August 1568 (though still acting as bishop in 1573) for his catholic and Marian sympathies by the Scottish church, but had his position reaffirmed by the Papacy. He was rehabilitated as Bishop between March 1587 and May 1589. He was translated as the Bishop of Coutances in 1592. Died 31 May 1596.
1574-1578Alexander HepburnSee above.
1600-1613David Lindsay
1613-1633Patrick LindsayBecame Archbishop of Glasgow.
1633-1638John MaxwellEpiscopacy abolished in December 1638. Maxwell became Bishop of Killala and Achonry in 1641 and Archbishop of Tuam in 1645.
1662-1679John PatersonFirst bishop in the "Restoration Episcopate".
1679-1684Alexander YoungPreviously Bishop of Edinburgh. Died 1684.
1684-1689James RamsayPreviously Bishop of Dunblane. Deprived of his see with the Abolition of Episcopacy in the Church of Scotland, 22 July 1689.


  • Anderson, Alan Orr, Early Sources of Scottish History: AD 500–1286, 2 Vols, (Edinburgh, 1922), vol. i
  • Dowden, John, The Bishops of Scotland, ed. J. Maitland Thomson, (Glasgow, 1912)
  • Keith, Robert, An Historical Catalogue of the Scottish Bishops: Down to the Year 1688, (London, 1824)
  • Lawrie, Sir Archibald, Early Scottish Charters Prior to A.D. 1153, (Glasgow, 1905)
  • Watt, D. E. R., Fasti Ecclesiae Scotinanae Medii Aevi ad annum 1638, 2nd Draft, (St Andrews, 1969)
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