William Cunningham (2 October 1805 – 14 December 1861) was a Scottish theologian.[1]

William Cunningham
Cunningham in 1847
OccupationPastor, theologian
Theological work
Tradition or movementPresbyterianism
William Cunningham DD.jpg



Cunningham was born in Hamilton, Lanarkshire and studied at the University of Edinburgh. He was ordained a minister in the Church of Scotland, but left in the Disruption of 1843 to become one of the founders of the Free Church of Scotland. Towards the end of 1843 he visited America to make the case for the Free Church and he raised some money there.[2] Cunningham was appointed Professor of Theology at the New College, Edinburgh, before transferring to the chair of Church History in 1845, replacing Rev David Welsh.[3] He succeeded Thomas Chalmers as Principal in 1847 and served in that position until his death.

Cunningham specialised in historical theology, and wrote a two volume work on the subject.[4][5] An open source audio narration of the book is available.[6] He also wrote The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation. William Garden Blaikie suggests that he was the "ablest defender of Calvinism in his day" and that the "gentleness of his personal character was a striking contrast to his boldness and vehemency in controversy."[7] Cunniingham has been described as a scholar and controversialist.[8]

Cunningham's grave at Grange Cemetery, Edinburgh

In later life Cunningham lived at 17 Salisbury Road in south Edinburgh.[9] He died in Edinburgh and is buried beneath a large sarcophagus-style grave in the Grange Cemetery alongside the north path.


In 1834 he married Janet Deniston.[10]


A marble bust of Cunningham, sculpted by William Brodie stands in New College in Edinburgh.[11]

Portraits by William Bonnar,[12] Sir John Watson Gordon[13], and Edward Burton[14] are held by the National Gallery of Scotland.


  1. ^ Wylie, James Aitken (1881). Disruption worthies : a memorial of 1843, with an historical sketch of the free church of Scotland from 1843 down to the present time. Edinburgh: T. C. Jack. pp. 193–200. Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  2. ^ Brown, Thomas (1883). Annals of the disruption. Edinburgh: Macniven & Wallace. pp. 545–550. Retrieved 1 May 2017.
  3. ^ "William Cunningham". Banner of Truth Trust. Retrieved 10 September 2014.
  4. ^ Cunningham, William (1864). Historical theology : a review of the principal doctrinal discussions in the Christian church since the apostolic age (Vol 1 ed.). Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark. Retrieved 15 September 2018.
  5. ^ Cunningham, William (1863). Historical theology; a review of the principal doctrinal discussions in the Christian church since the apostolic age (Vol 2 ed.). Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark. Retrieved 15 September 2018.
  6. ^ Cunningham, William. "Historical Theology". Retrieved 15 September 2018.
  7. ^   Blaikie, William Garden (1885–1900). "Cunningham, William (1805-1861)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  8. ^ Bayne, Peter (1893). The Free Church of Scotland : her origin, founders and testimony. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark. pp. 334–338. Retrieved 7 May 2017.
  9. ^ Edinburgh and Leith Post Office Directory 1860-61
  10. ^ Ewings Annals of the Free Church
  11. ^ http://orapweb.rcahms.gov.uk/wp/00/WP000421.pdf
  12. ^ "William Cunningham". Retrieved 15 September 2018.
  13. ^ "William Cunningham". Retrieved 15 September 2018.
  14. ^ "Rev. William Cunningham, 1805 - 1861. Theologian". Retrieved 15 September 2018.

Further readingEdit