Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Dunbar, Gavin (1455?-1532)

DUNBAR, GAVIN (1455?–1532), bishop of Aberdeen, was the fourth son of Sir Alexander Dunbar of Westfield, by his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Alexander Sutherland of Duffus. Keith states that he was the son of Sir John Dunbar of Cumnock, by Jane, eldest daughter of the Earl of Sutherland, but the express reference of Dunbar to his mother as Elizabeth Sutherland is in itself decisive. He was born about 1455. In 1487 he was appointed dean of Moray, and some time before 24 Nov. 1506 he became archdeacon of St. Andrews. In 1503 he was named a member of the privy council of James IV, and clerk register. On 10 July 1512 he confirmed a league between Scotland and France against England (Cal. State Papers, Henry VIII, vol. i. entry 3303). Along with Duplessis, the French ambassador, and Sir Walter Scott of Balwearie he was sent to meet the English ambassadors at Coldingham to negotiate a peace with England, when, although a general peace was not concluded, the renewal of a truce between the two kingdoms was signed on 16 Jan. 1515–16 (Bishop Lesley, Hist. of Scotland, p. 105). In June 1518 he became bishop of Aberdeen. For his adherence to the regent Albany he was, along with the chancellor, Archbishop Beaton, imprisoned by the queen-mother in August 1524. Their imprisonment led to a remonstrance on the part of Pope Clement VII (Cal. State Papers, Henry VIII, vol. iv. entry 784), and as ‘no great matter’ was found against them they were set at liberty some time in November. Lesley characterises Dunbar as ‘ane wyse godlie man,’ and states that he devoted the whole of the revenues of his see to works of charity and benevolence (Hist. Scotl. p. 112). He completed the work of his predecessor, Bishop Elphinstone, in regard to the foundation of the university of Aberdeen, and the erection of the class rooms and professors' houses of King's College (Album Amicorum Collegii Regii Aberdonensis, quoted in Fasti Aberdon. p. 533). Elphinstone having also begun a bridge across the Dee, to which his executors declined to contribute, Dunbar called them to account, and made them render the money left them in the legacy. This being insufficient to complete it, he supplemented it out of his own pocket, and in addition made provision for its permanent maintenance (Spotiswood, Hist. of the Church of Scotland, i. 110). He also spent large sums in improving and ornamenting the cathedral of St. Machar; he built two steeples on the western tower, erected the south transept, decorated the interior, and brought from abroad for use in the services chalices of gold and other vessels of silver. In 1529 he endowed two chaplaincies in the cathedral of Moray, and in 1531 he endowed a hospital in Old Aberdeen for the maintenance of twelve poor men. Dempster attributes to Dunbar ‘Contra Hereticos Germanos’ and ‘De Ecclesia Aberdonensi.’ The latter title is probably an erroneous designation for the ‘Epistolare de tempore et de Sanctis,’ which he caused to be compiled and written at his expense at Antwerp for the use of his cathedral. It is still preserved in the university, and is printed in ‘Reg. Episcop. Aberd.’ (ii. 236–54). In 1531 Dunbar opposed the grant of a yearly contribution by the clergy in support of the new College of Justice, and was appointed to prosecute an appeal to Rome against the tax. He died 10 March 1531–2 (Reg. Episcop. Aberd. ii. 211), and was buried in the aisle of the cathedral called Bishop Dunbar's aisle, where his tomb may still be seen, although the effigy in black marble was destroyed at the Reformation. When the reformers broke down the monument, they found, as not unfrequently happens, that the body presented no external symptoms of decay.

[Reg. Episcop. Aberd. (Maitland Club); Fasti Aberd. (Spalding Club); State Papers, Henry VIII; Register of the Great Seal of Scotland; Keith's Scottish Bishops; Dempster's Hist. Eccles. Gent. Scot., Lesley's Hist. of Scotland; Spotiswood's Hist. of the Church of Scotland.]

T. F. H.