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William Couper, or Cowper (1568 – 1619), bishop of Galloway, son of John Couper, merchant-tailor, of Edinburghmarker, was born in 1568. After receiving some elementary instruction in his native city, and attending a school at Dunbarmarker for four years, he entered in 1580 the university of St. Andrewsmarker, where he graduated M. A. in 1583. He then went to Englandmarker, where he was for some years assistant-master in a school at Hoddesdonmarker, Hertfordshiremarker.

Returning to Edinburgh he was licensed a preacher of the church of Scotlandmarker in 1586, and admitted minister of the parish of Bothkennar, Stirlingshiremarker, in August 1587, whence he was translated to the second charge of Perthmarker in October 1595. He was a member of six of the nine assemblies of the church from 1596 to 1608. Although one of the forty-two ministers who signed the protest to parliament, July 1, 1606, against the introduction of episcopacy, in 1608 he attended the packed assembly regarded by the presbyterians as unconstitutional, and from this time concurred in the measures sanctioned by the royal authority in behalf of episcopacy. When present at court in Londonmarker in the latter year, he was sent by the king to the Towermarker to deal with Andrew Melville, but as he was unable to influence him the matter was left to John Spottiswood. He was promoted to the bishopric of Galloway July 31, 1612, and was also made Dean of the Chapel Royal.

His character as delineated by Calderwood is by no means flattering, but the portrait is doubtless coloured by party prejudice. "He was", says Calderwood, "a man filled with self-conceate, and impatient of anie contradiction, more vehement in the wrong course than ever he was fervent in the right, wherein he seemed to be fervent enough. He made his residence in the Canongate, neere to the Chapell Royall, whereof he was deane, and went sometimes but once in two years till his diocese. When he went he behaved himself verie imperiouslie". Spottiswood, on the other hand, was of opinion that he "affected too much the applause of the people".

He died February 16, 1619, and was interred in Greyfriars churchyardmarker, Edinburgh. He had the chief part in the composition of the prayer-book completed in 1619, but never brought into use. He produced extensive religious writings. In his lifetime were published:
  • The Anatomy of a Christian Man, 1611
  • Three Treatises concerning Christ, 1612
  • The Holy Alphabet of Zion's Scholars; by way of Commentary on the cxix. Psalm, 1613
  • Good News from Canaan; or an Exposition of David's Penitential Psalm after he had gone in unto Bathsheba, 1613;
  • A Mirror of Mercy; or the Prodigal's Conversion expounded, 1614
  • Dikaiologie; containing a just defence of his former apology against David Hume, 1614
  • Sermon on Titus ii. 7, 8, 1616
  • Two Sermons on Psalm cxxi. 8, and Psalm lxxxviii. 17, 1618

His Works, among which was included A Commentary on the Revelations, and to which was prefixed an account of his life, appeared in 1623, 2nd ed. 1629, 3rd 1726; and the Triumph of the Christian in three treatises appeared in 1632.


  1. CALDERWOOD, History, vi. 820.
  2. ib. vii. 349.
  3. Article cites the following sources: Life prefixed to his Works; Histories of Calderwood and Spotiswood; Thomas Murray's Literary History of Galloway, 86–101; m'Crie's Life of Andrew Melville; Keith's Catalogue of Scottish Bishops; Hew Scott's Fasti Eccles. Scot. ii. 614, 693.


This article incorporates text from the Dictionary of National Biography (1887)
  • Henderson, T. F., "Cowper or COUPER, William (1568–1619), bishop of Galloway", in Dictionary of National Biography, (Oxford, 1887)
  • Keith, Robert, An Historical Catalogue of the Scottish Bishops: Down to the Year 1688, (London, 1824)
  • Watt, D. E. R., Fasti Ecclesiae Scotinanae Medii Aevi ad annum 1638, 2nd Draft, (St Andrews, 1969)

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