ALEXANDER CAIRNCROSS (1637 - 1701). M. A. , D. D.

Archbishop of Glasgow, etc.

Here is a link to the family tree for this family.

Alexander was the son of George Cairncross, litster or dyer burgess of the Canongate, and his wife Christian Ogilvie. George died in 1667 and Christian in 1668, Alexander inheriting their estate, valued at 259.12.0d.

Alexander studied at the University of the City of Edinburgh, and was laureated on July 26th, 1657. He became so reduced in circumstances at one time that he was forced to take lap employment as a dyer in the Canongate for many years. In this he was so successful that he was enabled to regain part of the estate which had belonged to his ancestors. On October 31st, 1662, he was licensed by George, Bishop of the diocese of Edinburgh, and was elected by the Town Council on April 29th, 1663. He was presented to Ayton by Charles II on October 13th, 1664, but did not remove. In 1668 he was translated to Dumfries from Edinburgh Trinity College Church, and was admitted before August 30th.

The following letter, written by Alexander from Dumfries in June, 1670, was discovered among the records of the Privy Council: "To the right honourable and noble Lords of his Majesty's Privy Council - Thisse ar testiefieing to your noble lordships thatt whereas John Irwine, present provost of Dumfries, being commanded by your lordships to compair before you the last day of this instant month of June, that the said provost John Irwine not only through his known and ordinary infirmity of body, but likewise by ane extraordinary defluxion fallen down upon his right ey, is under ane utter disability and incapacity to travel, without manifest hazard both as to his small strength of body yet remaining, as also to the manifest loss of his sight of his said eye, and this is not only notour to all who daily converse with him and sees the same, but perfectlie consists with my knowledge upon my credit, as is witnessed to your noble lordships by me - Mr. Alexander Cairncross, Minister at Dumfries."


On March 5th, 1675, Alexander was given sasine in the lands of Langlie on a heritable bond by Andrew Cairncross of Langlie for 1,000 merks. William Cairncross in Langlie appeared as procurator for Alexander,

In August, 1684, Alexander was promoted to the Bishopric of Brechin, but did not hold that office for long, for in December of the same year he was again promoted, this time to the Archbishopric of Glasgow, through the influence of William, Duke of Queensbury. His election to the see was ratified by letters patent of December 3rd, On December 6th a mandate was issued for his consecration, and a precept was issued for his admission to the temporal estate of the see. On December 18th, he was appointed, and on December 25th he was installed (at St. Andrews).

The following extract is taken from the Journal of the Hon. John Erskine of Carnock:- 25th December, 1684. James Drummond, minister at Muthill, was consecrated Bishop of Brechin, and Ross, Bishop of Glasgow, translated to St. Andrews; and Cairncross, Bishop of Brechin, translated to Glasgow. It was solemnly done in the Abbey Church; the Bishop of Edinburgh performed the ceremony, being chief actor; They made use of the service book. I went not out till night, and was in Mr. Patrick Crighton's. December 26th: The consecrated and translated bishops had yesterday a sumptuous feast and had it at the offices of State, and many nobleman, the Lords of Session and Magistrates of the City, with not a few clergymen, there being many now in town from the country for fear of trouble from those people who were (as was said) troubling some of that sort."

In 1686 Alexander strenuously opposed the projected repeal of the penal laws and the test; and having otherwise displeased the Chancellor, the Earl of Perth, he was removed from the Archbishopric of Glasgow by the irregular and uncanonical mode of a letter, dated January 13th, 1687, from the King to the Privy Council. In the "Ecclesiastical History of Scotland" by George Grub, M.A., the incident is thus related: - "Among the clergy of the diocese of Glasgow was Dr. James Canaries, who having abjured the errors of Popery in 1682, and conformed to the established church, had been appointed minister at Selkirk.


On February 4th, 1686, he preached a sermon in the cathedral church of St. Giles at Edinburgh, in the presence off the Privy Council and several of the bishops, in which he condemned in strong language the corruptions of Rome.

The chancellor (Lord Perth, who had now joined the Roman Catholic communion) reprimanded him for his conduct, and not satisfied with this, enjoined his ordinary to proceed with the infliction of ecclesiastical censure. Archbishop Cairncross hesitated, unwilling either to offend the government or to incur popular odium by obeying the injunction. He therefore advised Canaries to leave Scotland for some time; and that clergyman accordingly went to London, where he showed his sermon to the Bishop of Ely and others, who highly approved of it, and caused it to be printed under the title of "Rome's Additions to Christianity". The Earl of Perth, more indignant than before, remonstrated with the Archbishop, who in consequence suspended Dr. Canaries. The timidity of Archbishop Cairncross led to the very consequence he wished to avoid. Both he and Canaries (who had returned to Scotland) were examined by the Chancellor in presence of the primate and two other bishops, and the circumstances having been reported to the King, the Archbishop was deprived, although he offered to submit to whatever might be required by his Majesty. The deprivation took place in January, 1687, and immediately afterwards Dr, Paterson, Bishop of Edinburgh, was appointed to the archiepiscopal see of Glasgow. Alexander Cairncross lived in retirement until the Revolution, obtaining a pension from his Majesty of 300 sterling from the rents of the Archbishopric on December 26th, 1690.

When the convention met at Edinburgh on March 14th, 1689, the representative of the burgh of Kintore protested on behalf of Alexander the late Archbishop of Glasgow that the calling of John, the archbishop of Glasgow, in the rolls of the meeting should not prejudice Alexander of the right to the archbishopric of Glasgow. John, the archbishop in possession, who was present, protested on the contrary. But episcopacy being abolished in 1689 and Alexander Cairncross showing a disposition to comply with the new government and thereby to regain his archbishopric, he was appointed to the Bishopric of Raphoe in Ireland by William III on May 16th, 1693. Alexander continued in that see until his decease in May, 1701, at the age of sixty-four, and in the thirty-eighth year of his ministry. This was the only instance of such promotion after the abolition of Episcopacy in Scotland.


By his will Alexander left 20 to the poor of the parish of Raphoe, and the tenth part of his personal estate to the Episcopal clergy of the Kingdom of Scotland. In his will, which was dated at Raphoe, on January 12th, 1701, he stated that he had long been in infirm health, and appointed his nephew George Home of Whitefield his sole executor. Legacies were left to Alexander and David Craw, the two sons, and Margaret and Christian, the two daughters, of Mr. Patrick Craw of Hartshead and Margaret Home his wife, lawful daughter of Alison Cairncross, and sister to Alexander, who died on January 24th, 1670. Alexander Cairncross was buried in the cathedral of Raphoe.

The only disparaging remark that has been discovered about Alexander Cairncross is contained in Black's "History of Brechin", where Black tells that Archbishop Cairncross incurred the displeasure of the Lord Chancellor, the Earl of Perth, and adds "deservedly too, if all be true which Dr. James Canaries, minister at Selkirk, relates ". It is only necessary to read what Dr. Grub relates about this Dr. James Canaries, in his "Ecclesiastical History of Scotland", to prove the worthlessness of Black's remark.

This history of Alexander Cairncross, to be complete, wants only a little book published in Edinburgh in 1692, and entitled "Vindication of Dr. Alexander Cairncross, late Archbishop of Glasgow, by himself."

The meagre details regarding his family seem to be as set out below. No definite identification in either of the Trees set out in pp. 168 or 169. In the latter there are three named George of approx. same age, in the column under William, 3rd Laird of Colmslie, but no info. at all regarding their have had only one sister??

Date: 28 Oct 2016. Links sent by Jon Toohey from Library Ireland, as follows:

He has found information which seem to indicate that Alexander, 1637-1701, the Archbishop had a brother called Austin who went to Ireland with him and Austin had at least two sons (Alexander and George) who remained in Ireland and in/near Dublin.

Alexander Cairncross.

Son of Austin Cairncross of Naas, yeoman, who was brother of Alexander Cairncross, Bishop of Raphoe. He resided in Mary Street, and was a Freeman of the Guild of St. Luke in 1751, and Warden in 1760. He died in 1763.

George Cairncross.

Was brother of the foregoing Alexander Cairncross. He was apprenticed to Alexander Gordon, painter, in 1745; was admitted to the Freedom of the Guild of St. Luke in 1755, and became Warden in 1763. He lived in Liffey Street, and from 1769 in Cole's Lane. He died after 1783.

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