Robert Rollock

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Robert Rollock (c. 1545 – 8 February 1599) was the first regent and first principal of the University of Edinburgh, and an influential Biblical scholar and theologian of the Scottish Reformation following after the work and ministry of John Knox. He was second only to Andrew Melville in influence in Scotland during the Elizabethan era.


He was the son of David Rollock of Powis, near Stirling. He received his early education at the school of Stirling from Thomas Buchanan, a nephew of George Buchanan, and, after graduating from the University of St Andrews in 1577,[1] became a regent there in 1580. In 1583 be was appointed by the Edinburgh town council sole regent of the towns college (Academia Jacobi Sexti, afterwards the University of Edinburgh), and three years later he received from the same source the title of principal, or first master, and was engaged in lecturing on philosophy.

When the staff of the young college was increased by the appointment of additional regents, he assumed with consent of the presbytery the office of professor of theology. From 1587 he also preached regularly in the East Kirk every Sunday at 7 am, and in 1596 he accepted one of the eight ministerial charges of the city. He took a prominent part in the somewhat troubled church politics of the day, and distinguished himself by gentleness and tact, as well as ability. He was appointed on several occasions to committees of presbytery and assembly on pressing ecclesiastical business. He was elected moderator of the General Assembly held at Dundee in May 1597. In 1598 he was translated to the parish church of the Upper Tolbooth, Edinburgh, and immediately thereafter to that of the Grey Friars (then known as the Magdalen Church). He died in Edinburgh on 8 February 1599.

Rollock had a significant influence in his day on Biblical and theological scholarship, especially in the development of the reformed doctrine of the covenant. Following the lead of John Calvin, Henry Bullinger, and Theodore Beza, Rollock was one of the first theologians to make the distinction between the covenant of works (made between God and Adam prior to the fall), from the covenant of grace (made between God and believers in Christ for salvation). This is further developed in the English Puritans of the 17th century and codified in the Westminster Standards.


Rollock wrote Commentaries on the Epistles to the Ephesians (1590) and Thessalonians (1598) and Hebrews (1605), the book of Daniel (1591), the Gospel of St John (1599) and some of the Psalms (1598); an analysis of the Epistle to the Romans (1594), and Galatians (1602); also Questions and Answers on the Covenant of God (1596), a Treatise on Effectual Calling (1597), and "Lectures on the Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus Christ" (1599).

Soon after his death eleven Sermons (Certaine Sermons upon Several Places of the Epistles of Paul, 1599) were published from notes taken by his students. His Select Works were edited by W Gunn for the Wodrow Society (1844-1849). They are made available today by Reformation Heritage Books in 2 volumes.

A Life by George Robertson and Henry Charteris was reprinted by the Bannatyne Club in 1826. See also the introduction to the Select Works, and Sir Alexander Grant's History of the University of Edinburgh.



  • Masson, David (1892). "Robert Rollock and the Beginnings of Edinburgh University". Edinburgh Sketches and Memories. London: Adam and Charles Black. pp. 35–60. 

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Preceded by
Edinburgh University Principals
Succeeded by
Henry Charteris