Background on the Scottish Church

The original conception for the organisation of the church in Britain was quite simple, there was to be one archdiocese in Canterbury for the south and one at York for the north.

However the ability of the Archbishop of York to exercise his authority in the north was dependent on Northumbrian poltical leverage which rather disappeared with the conquest of that kingdom by the initally pagan Vikings in 866, and later frustrated by the emergence of the kingdom of Scotland and the growth in nationalist Scottish sentiment.

The bishops of Scotland continued to resist attempts by York to establish its authority and eventually William the Lion was able to persuade Pope Clement III to place the church in Scotland under the direct supervision of the see of Rome. (An announcment conformed by the papal bull Super Anxietatibus of 1192.) This did not however entirely stop the claims of York and particularly after the Scottish Wars of Independence there were attempts to place the Church in Scotland on the same footing as that of England.

The First Archbishop

Patrick Graham became the bishop of St Andrews in 1466 and later went to Rome where he managed to persuade Pope Sixtus IV to promote St Andrews to the status of an archbishopric and granting him metropolitan jurisdiction over the other twelve dioceses of Scotland. This was confirmed by a papal bull dated the 27th August 1472, making Patrick Graham the first Archbishop of St Andrews.

This aroused an almost unanimous chorus of disapproval; objections came from the Archbishop of York who belived that the Scottish dioceses rightly fell under his jurisdiction, the Archbishop of Trondheim who had thereby lost control of the diocese of Argyll and the Isles and every other bishop in Scotland who were naturally annoyed that it was St Andrews that had chosen and not their see.

Graham therefore made a lot of enemies and his enemies organised against him, eventually charging with a long list of crimes ranging from heresy to simony and back again. Graham was declared guilty, and by a bull of deposition, dated 9th January 1478, removed from office. His punishment was life imprisonment, and he was sent Lochleven Castle to serve his sentence where he died later that year.

Primate of all Scotland

On the 27th March 1487 his successor William Schevez was granted by Pope Innocent VIII the title of primate of all Scotland and essentially the same privileges as enjoyed by his English counterpart the Archbishop of Canterbury. However the position of St Andrews as the sole Scottish archbishopric did not last long as in 1492 Glasgow was also promoted to the same status. Hence the dioceses of Scotland were divided between St Andrews and Glasgow but St Andrews remained the senior of the two archbishoprics, much in same way as Canterbury was senior to York further south.

Those Archbishops of St Andrews

Life for an Archbishop of St Andrews was obviously more exciting than that of his counterparts in England. Apart from Patrick Graham himself, who was deposed and imprisoned for heresy, the list includes one, Alexander Stewart, who was killed in battle (Flodden in 1513); two who were themselves murder victims; David Beaton, attacked and killed in revenge for his over enthusiastic burning of Protestant heretics in 1546 and James Sharp, killed by Covenanters in 1679; and one John Hamilton who was hanged for murder in 1571.

There was also the little matter of the Protestant Reformation, when much of the Scottish population became influenced by the doctrines of Calvinism and consequence they spent much of the seventeenth century dithering over whether the church should be organised on Presbyterian or Episcopal lines. Eventually the former won out and they dispensed entirely with bishops and archbishops for good.

Note that as far as the Catholic Church is concerned John Hamilton was the last valid and properly consecrated archbishop, after whose time the arhbishopric fell into abeyance until revived on the 4th March 1878 as the Catholic Diocese of St. Andrews and Edinburgh.

Episcopal government abolished between 1592 and 1610

Episcopal government abolished between 1639 and 1661

Episcopal government abolished for the third and final time in 1689


Pieced together from information found at:

Catholic Encyclopedia at
1911 Encyclopedia Britannica at
The Historical Manuscripts Commission at

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