Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Adam of Caithness

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ADAM of Caithness (d. 1222), Scottish bishop, was probably a native of the south of Scotland. The tradition is that he was a foundling exposed at the church door. He first appears in 1207, when we find that he, already prior of the Cistercians at Melrose, became abbot. On 5 Aug. 1213 he was elected bishop of Caithness, and consecrated on 11 May 1214 by William Malvoisin, bishop of St. Andrews. In 1218 he went to Rome to receive the pallium, with the bishops of Glasgow and Moray. The interest of his life belongs to its tragic close, which is celebrated in Saga as well as recorded in church chronicle. It seems that the people of his diocese had reason to complain of the excessive exaction of tithes. The old rule was ‘every score of cows a spanin [12 lbs. Scots] of butter;’ Adam extorted the spanin from fifteen cows, from twelve, from ten. The Northmen remonstrated and appealed in vain; at length an angry mob sought the bishop at the episcopal manor of Halkirk in Thorsdale. He sent out Rafn the lawman to parley with them, but they began to use clubs, stones, and fire, and at length fell upon Adam and his deacon Serlo, a Cistercian of Newbattle, and murdered them both. This occured on Sunday, 11 Sept. 1222. The king, Alexander II, is said to have executed fearful vengeance on the murderers; the Saga says the hands and feet were hewn off eighty men. Adam was buried at Skinnet, but his remains were transferred to Dornoch in 1239.

[Chronica de Mailros and Records of Bishopric of Caithness (Bannatyne Club); The Orkneyinga Saga, London, 1873; Grub's Ecc. Hist. of Scotland, 1861, i. 305, 318.]

A. G.