William Falconar 1707-1784

From Book Owners Online

William FALCONAR or FACLONER 1707-1784

Biographical Note

He was the son of Alexander Falconar, merchant in Elgin, and Jean King. He was ordained priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church in 1728 in Morayshire, and was appointed chaplain at Balgowan in Perthshire, where he served until 1735. He was afterwards at Forres, and Elgin, and was consecrated Bishop of Moray in 1742. From 1746 he resided in Edinburgh, where he was consecrated bishop of the diocese in 1776, a position he retained until his death. He served as Primus of the Church between 1776 and 1782.


One of the earliest books identified as Falconar’s is a copy of Lancelot Andrewes Preces privatae (Oxford, 1675), which is inscribed with his name and “Balgowan," alongside the date 21st July 1730,. The deaths of his father in 1737 and mother in 1740 are recorded on an end leaf. Opposite the title page he has transcribed quotes from Seneca including “illi mors gravis incubat, qui, notus nimis omnibus, ignotus moritur sibi” (Death presses heavily on that man who, being but too well known to others, dies in ignorance of himself). He also quotes from Tertullian, and there are multiple unidentified inscriptions in Greek. It was clearly a highly valued and presumably much used book by Falconer. Significantly, the Rattray clan motto Super Sidera Votum is written on the front leaf in Bishop Thomas Rattray’s handwriting, suggesting this was a gift from Rattray to Falconer (Dundee University Br U 248.37).

While residing in Edinburgh, Falconar was infamous for attending book auctions. His Leith based colleague the Rev. Robert Forbes (1708-1775), who nicknamed him “Modestus,” was worried about the financial difficulties the bishop’s book buying had caused, calling it a “miserable disease.” He writes to the Rev. Alexander that “In a word Modestus & the auctions are becoming a common proverb now.” (NRS National Records of Scotland, CH12/23/1063)

His library was sold by auction at his home in Edinburgh on 26th July 1784. A Copy of the auction catalogue survives at Glasgow University library (Mu34 c.23)


  • Bertie, David M. Scottish Episcopal Clergy 1689–2000, Edinburgh, T & T Clark, 2000
  • A catalogue of the library of the Right Rev. Mr William Falconar, late one of the episcopal clergymen in Edinburgh; which begins to be sold by auction, at his house, Fountain Close, Nether Bow... Edinburgh, 1784, ESTC T163710
  • National Records of Scotland, CH12/23/1063 Robert Forbes to John Alexander12 Mar [1759]
  • Rutherford, Mhairi. 'Intellectual Culture and Episcopal Identity in Scottish Episcopal Libraries: The Case of the Brechin Library, 1780–1880,' unpublished PhD thesis, University of Stirling, 2022