Bishop of Orkney

Bishop of Orkney
The Romanesque interior of St. Magnus' Cathedral, the seat of the bishops of Orkney.

The Bishop of Orkney was the ecclesiastical head of the Diocese of Orkney, one of thirteen medieval bishoprics within the territory of modern Scotland. It included both Orkney and Shetland. It was based for almost all of its history at St. Magnus' Cathedral, Kirkwall.

The bishopric appears to have been suffragan of the Archbishop of York (with intermittent control exercised by the Archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen) until the creation of the Archbishopric of Trondheim (Niðaros) in 1152. Although Orkney itself did not become politically part of Scotland until 1468, the Scottish kings and political community had been pushing for control of the islands for centuries. The see, however, remained under the nominal control of Trondheim until the creation of the Archbishopric of St. Andrews in 1472, when it became for the first time an officially Scottish bishopric. The Bishopric's links with Rome ceased to exist after the Scottish Reformation. The bishopric 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, but in 1878 the Catholic Church re-established the bishopric system, and Orkney came under the resurrected and reformatted Diocese of Aberdeen. A Scottish Episcopal Church bishopric encompassing Orkney was created in 1865, as the Bishopric of Aberdeen and Orkney.

List of known bishops of Orkney

Tenure Incumbent Notes
x 1035 (?) Henry of Lund Keeper of the treasury of King Cnut; probably the latter's appointee. Name unusual for an Englishman; may have been a German or a Frenchman.
fl. 1043 x 1072 Thorulf of Orkney Sent as bishop by Archbishop Adalbert of Hamburg.
fl. 1043 x 1072 John (elder) Appointee of the Archbishop of Bremen. Perhaps the same as Johannes Scotus, bishop of Glasgow.
fl. 1043 x 1072 Adalbert Sent as bishop to Iceland, Greenland and Orkney, by Adalbert, Archbishop of Hamburg.
fl. 1073 Radulf
fl. 1100 x 1108 Roger
1109 x 1114-1147 Radulf Novell He was consecrated by Thomas, Archbishop of York. There is no evidence that Radulf ever took possession of his see, nor that he ever visited Orkney. Subordinate of the Archbishop of York. Served as the vicar of the Bishop of Durham.
c. 1112-1168 William the Old (I)
1168-1188 William (II)
1188 x 1194-1223 Bjarni Kolbeinsson Skald
1223 x 1224-1246 Jofreyrr Jofreyrr is Godfrey.
1247-1269 Henry/Hervi
1270-1284 Peter
1286-1309 Dolgfinnr
1309-1339 x 1440 William (III)
x 1369-1382 x 1383 William (IV)
el. 1382 (?); prov. 1384 John (younger) The Roman bishop. He was elected by the cathedral chapter. His election was declared null and void by Pope Urban VI, but the latter provided him to the see in 1384. Pope Boniface IX translated him to the Bishopric of Greenland.
1383-1391 Robert Sinclair The Avignon bishop, in contrast to John, the candidate of the Roman Pope. The doubling of bishops was a product of the Western Schism. His election drew hesitancy from the Avignon Pope Clement VII, but had been confirmed by January 27th, 1384. He was translated to the Bishopric of Dunkeld sometime before March, 1391.
1394 Henry (II or III) Second Roman bishop. Previously Bishop of Greenland, he exchanged bishoprics with Bishop John.
1396-1397 x 1418 John Pak of Colchester The third Roman bishop of the Western Schism. He had been a monk of Colchester. He appears as "Johannes Anglus, bishop of Orkney" in the Union Treaty of Kalmar.
1398 x 1407-1414 Alexander Vaus Second Avignon bishop. Provided by Pope Benedict XIII, but was not consecrated within the canonical time. He was translated to the Bishopric of Caithness in 1414.
1415-1419 William Stephani Third Avignon bishop, provided by Pope Benedict XIII. He was translated to the Bishopric of Dunblane in 1419.
1418-1461 Thomas Tulloch Fourth Roman bishop. He was accepted by both sides after the recognition of the "Roman" Popes by the Scottish king.
1461-1477 William Tulloch
1477-1503 x 1506 Andrew Pictoris It is not known what Andrew's surname was. Scottish historians have assumed, wrongly, that he was a Scot called Painter. Andrew was German, and his illegitimate son was called Henry Phankouth.
1503 x 1506-1524 x 1525 Edward Stewart Coadjutor since 1498 x 1500.
1523-1525 x 1526 John Benston
1526-1540 x 1541 Robert Maxwell
1541-1558 Robert Reid O. Cist.
1559-1593 Adam Bothwell He became a Protestant, and in 1568 exchanged the temporalities of the see (which went to Robert Stewart, 1st Earl of Orkney) for Holyrood Abbey. He died in 1593, still styling himself "Bischop of Orkney, Commendatair of Halyrudhous". He was an uncle of the mathematician John Napier.
1605-1615 James Law Became Archbishop of Glasgow.
1615-1638 George Graham Translated from Bishopric of Dunblane.
1662-1663 Thomas Sydserf Translated from Bishopric of Galloway. Between 1638 and the Restoration, Episcopacy in Scotland was temporarily abolished.
1664-1676 Andrew Honyman
1677-1688 Murdoch MacKenzie Translated from the Bishopric of Moray.
1688 Andrew Bruce Episcopacy abolished in Scotland. Bruce died in 1700.


  • 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, (third expanded edition: Edinburgh, 1824; reprinted Piscataway, NJ 2010)
  • Watt, D.E.R., Fasti Ecclesiae Scotinanae Medii Aevi ad annum 1638, 2nd Draft, (St Andrews, 1969)

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