Bishop Robert Reid lived from about 1490 to 1558. He was a churchman who became Bishop of Orkney and who left funds to establish the University of Edinburgh. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Little is known of the early life of Robert Reid. Presumably the younger son of nobility, and certainly highly educated, Reid first enters the historical records as Sub-Dean of Elgin Cathedral in the 1520s, suggesting he was probably born some time around 1490. In 1528 he was appointed Abbot of the Cistercian Kinloss Abbey, and in 1531 he was also appointed Commendator, or patron, of Beauly Priory. Robert Reid had a high regard for learning, and one of his first moves as Abbot at Kinloss was to ask the Italian scholar, Giovanni Ferrerio of Piedmont to come to Kinloss to establish a seat of learning. Over the following five years, Ferrerio developed Kinloss into a centre of academic excellence.
Reid also had a wider role in the affairs of Scotland at the time. On a number of occasions he was called upon to undertake diplomatic missions abroad for James V. This led to his spending time in England discussing peace terms with Henry VIII. He was also in France in 1537 and again in 1538 arranging the marriages of James V to Princess Madeleine of France and, following her death, to Madeleine's adopted sister, Marie de Guise.
In 1541, while retaining his position as Abbot of Kinloss, Reid was made Bishop of Orkney. On arrival in Kirkwall he began the extensive rebuilding of the Bishop's Palace, his official residence overlooking St Magnus Cathedral. In 1543, Reid added to his collection of posts when he was appointed Lord President of the Court of Session, the head of the judiciary in Scotland. He must have spent a considerable amount of his time on board ships travelling between his posts in Edinburgh, Kinloss and Kirkwall.
Robert Reid resigned his post at Kinloss Abbey in 1553, in favour of his nephew, Walter Reid, though he continued to be Bishop of Orkney and Lord President of the Court of Session until his death in 1558. On his death he left significant funds for the founding of a seat of learning in Edinburgh, and these formed the basis of the endowment of the University of Edinburgh when it was established by a Royal Charter granted by James VI in 1582, making it only the sixth university to be founded in the British Isles, and the fourth in Scotland.