William Gordon, Last Catholic Bishop of Aberdeen

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William Gordon

Birthdate: (99)
Birthplace: Probably Huntly, Aberdeenshire, Scotland
Death: August 6, 1577 (95-103)
Bishop's Palace, Old Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland
Place of Burial: Old Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, United Kingdom
Immediate Family:

Son of Alexander Gordon, 3rd Earl of Huntly and Jean Stewart, Countess of Huntly
Husband of Daughter of Duncan Forbes and Janet Ogilvy
Partner of Janet Knowles
Father of Matilda Udny and Margaret Gordon, of Achanachie
Brother of George Gordon; Alexander Gordon of Strathavon; John Gordon, Lord Gordon; Lady Jean Campbell; Christian Gordon and 2 others

Managed by: Private User
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About William Gordon, Last Catholic Bishop of Aberdeen

From Darryl Lundy's Peerage page on William Gordon:


William Gordon [1]

  • M, #329434
  • Last Edited=25 Apr 2011
  • Consanguinity Index=0.78%

William Gordon is the son of Alexander Gordon, 3rd Earl of Huntly and Lady Jean Stewart.[1]

He held the office of Bishop of Aberdeen between 1547 and 1577.[1]


  • 1. [S37] Charles Mosley, editor, Burke's Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage, 107th edition, 3 volumes (Wilmington, Delaware, U.S.A.: Burke's Peerage (Genealogical Books) Ltd, 2003), volume 2, page 2012. Hereinafter cited as Burke's Peerage and Baronetage, 107th edition.

From the English Wikipedia page for William Gordon, Bishop of Aberdeen:


William Gordon (died 1577) was a 16th century Scottish noble and prelate, the last of the pre-Reformation bishops of Aberdeen owing allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church.

Born in Aberdeenshire, he was the son of Janet Stewart, the daughter of John Stewart, 1st Earl of Atholl, and her husband Alexander Gordon, 3rd Earl of Huntly.[1]

As a youth, Gordon studied at the University of Aberdeen, the University of Paris and the University of Angers, graduating in Civil law and Canon Law.[2]

His high aristocratic birth and educational record brought him to the attention of King James V of Scotland, who in 1537 wrote to Pope Paul III, requesting that the latter reserve benefices for Gordon.[2] He had in fact been Archdeacon of Caithness, briefly in 1529.[3]

William Gordon was Chancellor of the diocese of Moray between 1540 and 1546,[4] and for a short time Archdeacon of Dunblane in 1545.[5] In either March or April 1545, Mary of Guise, the mother of Mary, Queen of Scots, wrote to the Pope requesting that Gordon be made coajutor (designated successor) to Bishop William Stewart of Aberdeen, as the latter was suffering from bad health.[6] Stewart in fact died on 10 April, and with the support of Governor Châtellerault, Gordon was provided to the see on 17 May, receiving consecration in either late December 1545 or early January of the following year.[7]

In the first few years of his episcopate, Gordon made a determined, unsuccessful effort to stamp out the growth of Presbyterianism. In 1549 the Scottish provincial council convened to reform the Scottish church.[2] Bishop Gordon was, arguably, part of the problem, as he had fathered eight children by an unmarried woman named Janet Knowles whom he supported with episcopal revenues.[2]

In 1560 the Scottish Church broke its ties to Rome, banned mass and established an independent Scottish Church.[2] Gordon was not an enthusiastic supporter of the latter and after the return of Mary, Queen of Scots - a Roman Catholic - to Scotland and her takeover of the kingdom, he assumed a low profile and the Queen issued a decree of protection to the University of Aberdeen, of which Gordon was chancellor; Gordon's nephew, moreover, was the staunchly Catholic George Gordon, 4th Earl of Huntly.[2]

After the downfall of Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1567, Bishop Gordon appears to have accepted the authority of the Church of Scotland since he retained his see until his death on 6 August 1577.[8] He died at Old Aberdeen, in the Bishop's Palace, and was buried in St Machar's Cathedral.[2]


  • 1. ^ Dowden, Bishops of Scotland, p. 141; Macfarlane, "Gordon, William (d. 1577)".
  • 2. ^ Macfarlane, "Gordon, William (d. 1577)".
  • 3. ^ Watt, Fasti Ecclesiae, p. 72.
  • 4. ^ Watt, Fasti Ecclesiae, p. 228.
  • 5. ^ Watt Fasti Ecclesiae, p. 90.
  • 6. ^ Dowden, Bishops of Scotland, p. 141.
  • 7. ^ Macfarlane, "Gordon, William (d. 1577)"; Watt, Fasti Ecclesiae, p. 4.
  • 8. ^ Keith, Historical Catalogue, p. 122; Macfarlane, "Gordon, William (d. 1577)"; Watt, Fasti Ecclesiae, p. 4.


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, 1924)

Macfarlane, Leslie J., "Gordon, William (d. 1577)", 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)

Religious titles

  • Bishop of Aberdeen (1545–1577)
  • Preceded by William Stewart
  • Succeeded by David Cunningham
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William Gordon, Last Catholic Bishop of Aberdeen's Timeline

Probably Huntly, Aberdeenshire, Scotland
Age 36
Scotland, United Kingdom
Age 52
August 6, 1577
Age 99
Old Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland
Bishop of Aberdeen
Old Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, United Kingdom