Thomas Sydserf

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Thomas Sydserf [Sydserff] (1581 – 1663) was a Scottish prelate.

The eldest son of an Edinburgh merchant, Sydserf graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1602 before travelling to continental Europe to study at the University of Heidelberg. After returning to Scotland, he entered the ministry, beginning at St Giles' parish, Edinburgh in 1611. 15 years later, in 1626, he was translated to Trinity College Kirk, Edinburgh, before being admitted Dean of Edinburgh on 19 February 1634.

However, in the same year, and on the recommendation of William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, he ascended to episcopal rank, receiving consecration as Bishop of Brechin on 29 July. In the following year, on 30 August 1635, he was translated as Bishop of Galloway.

Sydserf was very much a royalist, pro-Episcopacy, and inclined to be highly sympathetic towards Arminianism. These views brought him much conflict in Scotland, and a Bishop of Galloway he exercised his episcopal powers against his ideological opponents. He supported the introduction in 1637 of an English-style Book of Common Prayer, and for this he was attacked on several occasions by mobs in Falkirk, Dalkeith and Edinburgh. Some went further and accused him of being a Roman Catholic: he was alleged to wear a crucifix. He was finally deposed by the General Assembly of the Scottish church on 13 December 1638.

Sydserf thereafter went to England, briefly becoming a follower of King Charles I, before moving continental Europe. He returned to Scotland, and after the Restoration and reimposition of Episcopacy in Scotland, was reinstated as a Bishop, though on this occasion becoming Bishop of Orkney. He was the only pre-1638 bishop to be reinstated as a bishop in Scotland after the Restoration. Sydserf died in Edinburgh on 29 September 1663. In 1624 he had married Rachel Byers, the daughter of an Edinburgh magistrate. He was responsible for remodelling the nave of Whithorn Priory in line with the new styles or worship he tried to promote.

Although not formally a member of the Hartlib Circle, he was on friendly terms with some of its members including Arnold Boate, who dedicated to Sydserf his memoir of his wife Margaret Dongan.


  • Adams, Sharon, "Sydserff, Thomas (1581–1663)", in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, May 2006 accessed 4 May 2007
  • Keith, Robert, An Historical Catalogue of the Scottish Bishops: Down to the Year 1688, (London, 1824), pp. 228, 281
  • Watt, D.E.R., Fasti Ecclesiae Scotinanae Medii Aevi ad annum 1638, 2nd Draft, (St Andrews, 1969), pp. 42, 127, 133
Church of Scotland titles
Preceded by
William Struthers
Dean of Edinburgh
Succeeded by
James Hannay
Preceded by
David Lindsay
Bishop of Brechin
Succeeded by
Walter Whitford
Preceded by
Andrew Lamb
Bishop of Galloway
Succeeded by
next succeeded by
James Hamilton
Preceded by
last preceded by
George Graham
Bishop of Orkney
Succeeded by
Andrew Honyman