David Cunningham (bishop)

David Cunningham (c. 1540–1600) was a 16th-century Scottish prelate and diplomat. He was the first Bishop of Aberdeen fully independent of the Roman Catholic Church. His predecessor, William Gordon began as a Roman Catholic bishop, but accepted the Church of Scotland's authority.

David Cunningham
Bishop of Aberdeen
ChurchChurch of Scotland
SeeDiocese of Aberdeen
In office15771600
PredecessorWilliam Gordon
SuccessorPeter Blackburn
Personal details
Bornc. 1540
Cunninghame, North Ayrshire
Previous postProvost of Bothwell Collegiate Church

Born around 1540, he graduated in the early 1560s as Master of Arts from St Leonard's College, St Andrews.[1] Cunningham also studied Civil Law in France, at the University of Paris and the University of Bourges.[2]

He became a Protestant sometime before 1562, when he was made minister of Lanark; he held this position until 1570, when he took over Lesmahagow, moving to Cadder in 1572 and then to Lenzie in 1574.[2] Additionally, on 22 March 1572, Cunningham became Provost of Bothwell Collegiate Church.[3]

After the appointment of Patrick Adamson as Archbishop of St Andrews in December 1576, Cunningham replaced Adamson as the chaplain of James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton, Regent of Scotland.[4] With access to such high level magnate patronage,[5] on either 5 October or 5 November 1577, Cunningham was elected as Bishop of Aberdeen, receiving consecration on 11 November.[6] In this year, too, he became Chancellor of King's College, Aberdeen.[2]

Cunningham would eventually enjoy a good relationship with the king, but his association with Regent Morton initially made him suspect. The death of his patron, Morton, in 1581, put his position under pressure, and he was forced to flee into the west for a little time.[2] He was also under pressure from the a large section of the Scottish church, which was becoming more hostile to episcopacy; in 1586, the General Assembly accused him of adultery, a charge which the king cleared him of in 1587.[2]

He became a trusted servant of the king, James VI of Scotland, and it was Cunningham who was chosen to baptise the king's son, Prince Henry, on 30 August 1594.[2] Cunningham helped negotiate reconciliation between the king and the devoutly Catholic George Gordon, 6th Earl of Huntly, and in 1598 was sent to Denmark and Germany to promote King James' claims to the throne of the Kingdom of England. [7]

Cunningham died on 30 August 1600, at Aberdeen. [8] He was once married, but had no children. He left assets of £3052 (Scots).[2] He founded a grammar school in Banff.[2]


  1. At some point between 1560 and 1562 - see Riis, "Cunningham, David (c.1540–1600)".
  2. Riis, "Cunningham, David (c. 1540–1600)".
  3. Watt, Fasti Ecclesiae, p. 346.
  4. Riis, "Cunningham, David (c.1540–1600)"; Watt, Fasti Ecclesiae, p. 299.
  5. Keith, Historical Catalogue, p. 131.
  6. Watt, Fasti Ecclesiae, p. 4.
  7. Keith, Historical Catalogue, p. 131; Riis, "Cunningham, David (c. 1540–1600)".
  8. Watt, Fasti Ecclesiae, p. 299; Riis, "Cunningham, David (c. 1540–1600)", gives 3 August as the date of death.


  • Keith, Robert, An Historical Catalogue of the Scottish Bishops: Down to the Year 1688, (London, 1924)
  • Riis, Thomas, "Cunningham, David (c.1540–1600)", in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 , accessed 22 Feb 2007
  • Watt, D.E.R., Fasti Ecclesiae Scotinanae Medii Aevi ad annum 1638, 2nd Draft, (St Andrews, 1969)

See also

Religious titles
Preceded by
William Gordon
Bishop of Aberdeen
Succeeded by
Peter Blackburn
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