Royal High School, Edinburgh

Coordinates: 55°57′49″N 3°17′7″W / 55.96361°N 3.28528°W / 55.96361; -3.28528
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The Royal High School (RHS) of Edinburgh is a co-educational school administered by the City of Edinburgh Council. The school was founded in 1128 and is one of the oldest schools in Scotland. It serves around 1,400 pupils drawn from four feeder primaries in the north-west of the city: Blackhall primary school, Clermiston primary school, Cramond and Davidson's Mains. 55°57′49″N 3°17′7″W / 55.96361°N 3.28528°W / 55.96361; -3.28528

The Royal High School
Schola Regia Edinensis
Arms of the Royal High School
East Barnton Avenue


TypeState school
MottoMusis Respublica Floret
(The State Flourishes with the Muses)
Religious affiliation(s)Non-denominational Christian[1]
Established1128; 896 years ago (1128)
FounderAlwin, Abbot of Holyrood
Local authorityEdinburgh City
RectorPauline Walker (2014–present)
Staffaround 120 (2023)[2]
GenderMixed (all-boys previously)
Age11 to 18
Enrollmentaround 1,400 (2023)[3]
Houses  Angles
Colour(s)Black, white & purple
PublicationSchola Regia
SongVivas Schola Regia
Latin nameSchola Regia Edinensis
NicknameThe Tounis Scule, RHS

The school's profile has given it a flagship role in education, piloting such experiments as the introduction of the Certificate of Secondary Education, the provision of setting in English and mathematics, and the curricular integration of European Studies and the International Baccalaureate.[4] The Royal High School was last inspected by Education Scotland in February 2023.[5]

The rector is Pauline Walker who replaced Jane Frith, the first woman to head the school.


The Hall at Regent Road.
The Art Room before the First World War.

The Royal High School is, by one reckoning, the 18th-oldest school in the world, with a history of almost 900 years.[6] Historians associate its birth with the flowering of the 12th century renaissance. It first enters the historical record as the seminary of Holyrood Abbey, founded for Alwin and the Augustinian canons by David I in 1128.

The Grammar School of the Church of Edinburgh, as it was known by the time Adam de Camis was rector in 1378, grew into a church-run burgh institution providing a Latin education for the sons of landed and burgess families, many of whom pursued careers in the church.[7]

In 1505 the school was described as a high school, the first recorded use of this term in either Scotland or England.[8][9] In 1566, following the Reformation, Mary, Queen of Scots, transferred the school from the control of Holyrood Abbey to the Town Council of Edinburgh. James Lawson was a big influence in building work for the school in 1578 and from about 1590 James VI accorded it royal patronage as the Schola Regia Edimburgensis, or King's School of Edinburgh.[10]

In 1584 the Town Council informed the rector, Hercules Rollock, that his aim should be "to instruct the youth in pietie, guid maneris, doctrine and letteris".[11] As far as possible, instruction was carried out in Latin. The study of Greek began in 1614,[12] and geography in 1742.[13] The egalitarian spirit of Scotland and the classical tradition exerted a profound influence on the school culture and the Scottish Enlightenment.[14]

The Romantic era at the turn of the 19th century was for Scotland a golden age of literature, winning the Royal High School an international reputation and an influx of foreign students, among them French princes.[15] The historian William Ross notes: "Walter Scott stood head and shoulders above his literary contemporaries; the rector, Alexander Adam, held a similar position in his own profession."[16] By the end of the Napoleonic Wars, an old scholar remembered, 'there were boys from Russia, Germany, Switzerland, the United States, Barbadoes, St. Vincent, Demerara, the East Indies, besides England and Ireland.'[17] The Royal High School was used as a model for the first public high school in the United States, the English High School of Boston, in 1821.

Learning Greek ceased to be compulsory in 1836, and the time allotted to its study was reduced in 1839 as mathematics became recognised.[18] The curriculum was gradually broadened to include French (1834),[19][20] after-hours fencing and gymnastics (1843),[21] German (1845),[19][21] science (1848),[19] drawing (1853),[22] military drill (1865),[23] English (1866),[22][24] gymnastics as a formal subject and swimming (1885),[21] music (1908),[25] and history (1909).[26] In 1866 classical masters were confined to teaching Latin and Greek.[22] A modern and commercial course was introduced in 1873.[27][28] A school choir was instituted in 1895.[29]

Through the centuries, the school has been located at many sites throughout the city, including the Vennel of the Church of St. Mary in the Fields (c. 1503 – c. 1516); Kirk o' Field Wynd (c. 1516–1555); Cardinal Beaton's House in Blackfriars Wynd (1555–1569); the Collegiate Church of St. Giles or St. Mary in the Fields (1569–1578); Blackfriars monastery (1578–1777); High School Yards (1777–1829); the famous Regent Road building on Calton Hill (1829–1968); and Jock's Lodge (1931–1972). The Jock's Lodge site is now the Royal High Primary, and is no longer associated with the secondary school.

For many years the school maintained a boarding facility for pupils from outside Edinburgh. The boarders ranged in age from six to eighteen. The House, as it was known, was located at 24 Royal Terrace and in later years moved to 13 Royal Terrace. When the boarding house was closed the records of all boarders, the artefacts such as the board with the names of head boys, and the memorial to boarders killed in the 1939–1945 war, were lost.

The Royal High School moved to its current site at Barnton in 1968, vacating the Old Royal High School buildings. In 1973 it became a co-educational state comprehensive. The school's premises underwent extensive refurbishment between 2001 and 2003, funded by a £10 million public-private partnership project with Amey plc.[30][31]


The most recent report was February 2023. Education Scotland found "very high standard of attainment for all young people", "Young people have a very strong understanding of diversity and equality," and "exceptional contribution of young people to bringing about positive changes to the school." Pupils scored highly in national examinations, consistently outperforming those in comparator schools as well as the Edinburgh and national averages.[32]

130 university entrants from the Royal High School or 30.1% went to one of the ‘Sutton 13' top UK universities in the five years between 2002 and 2006, second among Scottish state schools and colleges.[33] In 2006 the Royal High School's ranking for Higher grades was joint third in the Edinburgh state school league tables (joint seventeenth nationally in the state school rankings).[34]

The school has dropped down 11 places, out of the top 20, in the Scottish schools rankings since 2009[35][36] since the new rector took over.


The school uniform is black and white, derived from the municipal colours of Edinburgh.[37] Girls wear a plain white blouse, school tie, black blazer with crest, black skirt or trousers, black tights and black polished shoes. The boys' uniform consists of a plain white shirt, school tie, black blazer with crest, black trousers and black polished shoes. The school blazer is a compulsory part of the uniform and children are allowed to wear other jackets as long as they are not worn inside the building. A black and white striped tie is standard for the lower years; a plain black tie denotes a Sixth Year. The school badge features the school motto and the embattled triple-towered castle of the school arms. When full colours are awarded to a pupil a new pocket is attached to the blazer with the school emblem embroidered in silver wire with the dates of the present academic year either side of the badge. Pupils wear uniform within school and at official functions where they represent the school.

Carved stone from the Blackfriars Pediment (1578)

The prefect system was established in 1915.

The Royal High School armorial bearings derive from the shield of the city arms, and antedate the Act of Parliament on the subject in 1672.[38] Their simple early form can be seen on a carved stone formerly set above the principal entrance to the school at Blackfriars in 1578.[39] The pediment from the 1578 building was incorporated into the Regent Road building in 1897.[28]

The present design was matriculated by the Lord Lyon in 1920. The description reads: 'Sable, a castle triple towered and embattled argent, masoned of the first, windows and doors open gules set upon a rock proper. Above the shield is placed a helmet befitting its degree with a mantling sable doubled argent and in a scroll over the same this motto Musis Respublica Floret (The State Flourishes with the Muses).'[40] The W.C.A. Ross memorial crest displaying the school arms was unveiled at the main entrance at Barnton in 1973.[28]

The Royal High School song is Vivas Schola Regia, written in 1895.

Sports and games[edit]

That Act of Council in 1851, which freed our Saturdays, should be held in high esteem by all our athletes, for it is the Magna Carta of our Cricket and Football Clubs. It rendered possible the formation of a cricket club in 1861, to be followed seven years later by a football club.[41]

RHS rugby team of 1871

The Royal High School had many sporting clubs which have mainly been disbanded. The RHS Cricket Club was formed in 1861.[42] The RHS Rugby Football Club was formed in 1868.[43] The RHS Golf Club was formed in 1876.[28] The RHS Athletic Club was formed in 1920.[44] The RHS Bike Club was formed in 2011. These clubs were pioneered by former and attending pupils, who originally played their games together.[41] Among the student founders of cricket and football at the school were Taverner Knott and Nat Watt, who undertook their labours with the encouragement of Thomson Whyte, reportedly the first master to take a serious interest in sport at the school.[41] The sporting clubs were formally integrated into the school body when, in 1900, at the request of the club captains, two masters undertook the management of cricket and rugby.

Holyrood Cricket Ground in the late 19th century.

The school's annual games date from the early 1860s,[41][45] following Queen Victoria's grant of Holyrood Field to the school for use as a cricket field in 1860.[46] At first the organisation of the games was undertaken by the masters, but at the request of the rector, James Donaldson, the burden was assumed by the cricket club, which carried it until the outbreak of the First World War.[41]

The nations system was introduced in 1912 by a later rector, William J. Watson. This has continued to the present day. On joining the school every pupil is allotted membership in one of four school houses, known as nations, named after the gentes or primordial peoples from the infancy of the Scottish state: Angles, Britons, Picts and Scots. Siblings are members of the same nation. The nations originally competed against each other in athletics, cricket and rugby, the champion nation being awarded the school shield for the annual session. This system has evolved over time to include other extracurricular interests, such as drama and music.

Conceived as a character-building exercise, the annual games and nations system were intended to foster a team spirit and encourage physical activity among all pupils. Within each nation, masters were appointed to committees to develop Under 15 and Under 13 cricket and rugby teams, and to broaden participation beyond the First XI and XV by training pupils of every level of ability.[47] The competitive scheme proved popular with pupils and teachers and has since been expanded to encompass a wide variety of games, sports and other extracurricular activities, held throughout the year. Nation badges were introduced in 1928.[48]

Today the nations compete for the Crichton Cup. This was first presented as a trophy for the inter-nation squadron swimming race in 1914 by J. D. Crichton, whose sons were at the school. In 1920 it was transferred to the nation championship in scholarship and athletics combined.[49]

Earlier generations of Royal High Scholars had played their own schoolyard game, known as clacken from the wooden bat used by players, and as late as the 1880s 'no High School boy considered his equipment complete unless the wooden clacken hung to his wrist as he went and came',[50] but the rise of national games, especially rugby, the grant of Holyrood Field for cricket in 1860,[46] and the construction of a gymnasium and swimming bath in 1885,[51] meant the ancient Royal High Schoolyard game was extinct by 1911.[50]

Notable alumni[edit]

Edward VII, who studied under Leonhard Schmitz, Rector of the School, in 1859.
Alexander Adam, Rector, 1768–1809.

Former pupils have made countless contributions to national life; amongst these names are:

Wartime service[edit]

Many former pupils won naval, military or air force awards. Schoolfellows who died in battle are commemorated by the memorial porch and brass tablets in the school hall. The upper architrave of the marble Doric portico is inscribed with a phrase from Simonides: ΟΥΔΕ ΤΕΘΝΑΣΙ ΘΑΝΟΝΤΕΣ. They died but are not dead.

Class clubs[edit]

The Royal High School clubs of the 18th and early 19th centuries were class clubs, formed by cohorts of old boys who had studied for four years under one master before being taken under the rector's wing in their fifth. The names of some of the last class clubs are immortalised in the school prizes they endowed, such as the Boyd Prize (1857) now awarded to the Dux of Form I,[52] the Macmillan Club Prize (1865), a gold watch now awarded to the Dux in English,[52] and the Carmichael Club Medal (1878), now given to the Dux of Form III.[53] However, because the traditional cohort system was governed by independent masters with separate student followings, the club classes did little to foster a common school spirit.[54]

Thus, even after 1808, when fourteen former pupils of Dr. Alexander Adam banded together as the first High School Club and commissioned Henry Raeburn to paint a portrait of their master as a gift to the school, the old independence resurfaced again, in 1859, when the five surviving members handed over the priceless masterpiece to the Scottish National Gallery.[55] The school instituted legal proceedings against the club,[56] but in the end had to make do with a Cruickshank copy of the original, presented in 1864.[22]

School clubs[edit]

Today the Royal High School has three flourishing former pupils' clubs in the United Kingdom. The present Royal High School Club was founded in 1849 under the presidency of Robert Dundas Haldane-Duncan, 1st Earl of Camperdown. The first annual report, dated July 1850, contains the original constitution,[57] clause IV of which states: 'The objects of the Club shall be generally to promote the interests of the High School, maintain a good understanding, and form a bond of union among the former Pupils of that institution.'[58] Known in the beginning, like its predecessor, simply as the High School Club, it adopted its full name in 1907.[59] Since 1863 the club has given an annual prize at the school games.[57] It also pays for the framings of engravings of former pupils and other art works which decorate the walls of the school.[60]

The Royal High School Club in London was founded in 1889. On the occasion of its 70th anniversary dinner (1959) the Scotsman reported: 'We believe the London Club is indeed the oldest Scottish School Club in existence in London – among the members are No. 111 The Prince of Wales, Sandringham.'[61]

The third former pupils club in the UK is the Royal High School Achievers Society.

The Royal High School (Canada) Club was formed in Winnipeg in 1914, and after lapsing into inactivity because of the war it was revived in British Columbia in 1939.[61] The Royal High School (India) Club was formed in 1925 to help former pupils in the east; it disbanded in 1959.[62] The Royal High School (Malaya) Club flourished between the two world wars and was revived in the 1950s.[63]

European partnerships[edit]

The Royal High School has international relationships through regular musical exchanges with sister cities on the Continent such as Florence (from 1975) and Munich (from 1979), and with other schools such as the Theodolinden-Gymnasium, Munich (from 1979), the Lycée Antoine-de-Saint Exupéry, Lyon (from 1991) and the Scuola di Musica ‘Giuseppe Verdi’, Prato (from 1993). In 1992 the school was awarded a European Curriculum Award by the British Government in recognition of its contribution to the development of European awareness in education, in part due to the Baccalaureate.[64]


Cover of the 1986 issue of Schola Regia, featuring the School's Memorial Door.

The official school magazine is Schola Regia. This is a vox discipuli that enables pupils to air their views and showcase their literary and artistic talents. It features news and creative input from all sections of the school community, including regular club reports and interviews with famous former pupils. The journal is produced by an editorial committee of student volunteers, usually with the assistance of a teacher from the English department. It is partly financed by commercial advertising and is published in the autumn. The Malcolm Knox Prize is awarded annually for the best contribution.

The first, short-lived, school magazine was published in 1886. Like its successor, it was subsidised by the school club.[65] The maiden issue of Schola Regia appeared in 1895 and the present series began in 1904. The magazine's archive is both a repository of irreverent anecdotes about school life and a valuable source for history in a larger sense. The wartime volumes contain many letters from former pupils serving at the front.[66]

The Royal High School also publishes an Annual Report at the end of the school session in June/July. As the school's main publication of record, it contains future session dates, a staff list, the rector's report, a programme for the commemoration day ceremony, a list of awards, and a report from each subject detailing staffing, academic achievement and general events that went on in that subject in the past academic year. The rector's report was first published in 1846.[56]


Official photo of the current rector, Pauline Walker

The school rector, or headteacher, is responsible for the overall running and function of the school, they play a critical role in enforcing the school's values and ideas. They are supported by a group of deputies, together the rector and their deputies make-up and form the school Senior Leadership Team (SLT). The current rector is Pauline Walker, she has been in this role since 2014. The school Rector is responsible for overseeing the overall administration and management of the school. This includes a wide range of duties and responsibilities, such as developing and implementing school policies, overseeing the curriculum, managing the school budget, and supervising the school's teaching and support staff.

One of the key roles of the Rector is to create a positive and supportive learning environment for students, where they can develop their academic skills and achieve their full potential. This involves working closely with teachers and support staff to ensure that students receive the best possible education and support. The Rector also plays an important role in fostering a sense of community within the school, by working closely with parents and alumni. They may be responsible for organizing school events, such as open days, leaving and joining ceremonies, and other special occasions. In addition, the Rector may also represent the school externally, attending meetings with local authorities, other schools, and educational organizations. They may also be responsible for fundraising and developing partnerships with other organizations to support the school's programs and initiatives.

Popular culture[edit]

Among the Royal High School's appearances in literature are the stories related in the Gentleman's Magazine, Walter Scott's Autobiography, Lord Cockburn's Memorials, Captain Basil Hall's Log Book of a Midshipman, George Borrow's Lavengro, George M'Crie's 1866 poem, The Old High School[70] and William Boyd's The New Confessions.

The most celebrated of all is the 'Green-Breeks' episode in Scott's novel, Waverley, Appendix III (1814). The author, a pupil from 1779 to 1783, reminisces wistfully about the bicker, or traditional mass brawl, humorously likened to a Homeric battle, fought in the streets of Edinburgh between pupils from different social classes.[71]

A school ballad, The Woeful Slaying of Bailie Macmoran, was founded on a school siege of 1595 known as the great barring-out.[72] This turbulent history continues to inspire new work. Gentlemen’s Bairns is a play by C. S. Lincoln which premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2006. It dramatises the fatal shooting during the siege of a chief magistrate, John Macmoran, by a pupil, William Sinclair, a grandson of the Earl of Caithness.[73][74] This incident is also taught as part of first year History curriculum.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Religious observance is required in state schools by the Education (Scotland) Act 1980, and current guidelines for non-denominational schools state that this should include general assemblies of a "broadly Christian" character at least once a month. Parents may ask for their child to opt out.
  2. ^ Education Scotland - Summarised inspection findings, Education Scotland, pp. 2. Retrieved on 10 March 2023.
  3. ^ Education Scotland - Summarised inspection findings, Education Scotland, pp. 2. Retrieved on 10 March 2023.
  4. ^ John Murray, A History of the Royal High School. Edinburgh, Royal High School, 1997, pp. 117–119.
  5. ^ School inspection page, Education Scotland, Retrieved on 10 March 2023.
  6. ^ Royal High School Club, History of the Club (June 2008). Accessed 24 September 2008.
  7. ^ Elizabeth Ewan, Town Life in Fourteenth-Century Scotland. Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 1990, pp. 12, 131. ISBN 0-7486-0151-1.
  8. ^ James J. Trotter, The Royal High School, Edinburgh (London: Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, 1911), p. 186.
  9. ^ J. B. Barclay, The Tounis Scule: The Royal High School of Edinburgh (Edinburgh: Royal High School Club, 1974), p. 137.
  10. ^ Murray, History, p. 142.
  11. ^ William C. A. Ross, the Royal High School (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1934), p. 74.
  12. ^ Ross, Royal High School, p. 41.
  13. ^ Ross, Royal High School, pp. 46, 144.
  14. ^ Murray, History, pp. 39–40.
  15. ^ Murray, History, p. 52.
  16. ^ Ross, Royal High School, p. 11.
  17. ^ Ross, Royal High School, p. 58.
  18. ^ Barclay, Tounis Scule, p. 18.
  19. ^ a b c Trotter, Royal High School, p. 190.
  20. ^ Ross, Royal High School, pp. 58, 145.
  21. ^ a b c Ross, Royal High School, pp. 59, 145.
  22. ^ a b c d Trotter, Royal High School, p. 191.
  23. ^ Ross, Royal High School, p. 146.
  24. ^ Ross, Royal High School, pp. 66, 145.
  25. ^ Ross, Royal High School, pp. 69, 147.
  26. ^ Ross, Royal High School, p. 70.
  27. ^ Ross, Royal High School, pp. 66–7, 146.
  28. ^ a b c d Barclay, Tounis Scule, p. 140.
  29. ^ Ross, Royal High School, pp. 69, 146.
  30. ^ Mark Smith, City school's private cash revamp stalls, The Scotsman (13 November 2002).
  31. ^ Ian Fraser, "£360m schools project row goes to high court", Sunday Herald (Glasgow, 10 July 2005).
  32. ^ Education Scotland - Summarised inspection findings, Education Scotland, pp. 2. Retrieved on 10 March 2023.
  33. ^ University admissions by individual schools September 2007, Sutton Trust, p. 39, 40.
  34. ^ Eke-Out Reach Newsletter (May 2007) Issue 22, Local News, p. 11. Retrieved on 3 November 2007.
  35. ^ School Profile: The Royal High School.
  36. ^ School Profile: The Royal High School.
  37. ^ The Royal High School: School History. Retrieved on 2 September 2007.
  38. ^ Barclay, Tounis Scule, p. 82.
  39. ^ William Steven, The History of the High School of Edinburgh. Edinburgh, Maclachlan and Stewart, 1849, p. 6.
  40. ^ Barclay, The Tounis Scule, pp. 82–3.
  41. ^ a b c d e Ross, Royal High School, p. 73.
  42. ^ Barclay, Tounis Scule, pp. 58–9.
  43. ^ Robert Ironside and Alexander M.C. Thorburn, Royal High School Rugby Football Club: Centenary 1868–1968. Edinburgh, Royal High School, 1968, p. 8.
  44. ^ Barclay, Tounis Scule, p. 141.
  45. ^ Barclay, Tounis Scule, p. 61.
  46. ^ a b Ross, Royal High School, p. 145.
  47. ^ Ross, Royal High School, p. 74.
  48. ^ Murray, History, pp. 68–9, 145.
  49. ^ William C. A. Ross, The Royal High School (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1934), p. 112.
  50. ^ a b Trotter, Royal High School, p. 66.
  51. ^ Ross, Royal High School, pp. 34–5, 146.
  52. ^ a b Ross, Royal High School, p. 106.
  53. ^ Ross, Royal High School, p. 108.
  54. ^ Anderson, 'Secondary Schools and Scottish Society', p. 183.
  55. ^ Ross, Royal High School, pp. 76.
  56. ^ a b Barclay, Tounis Scule, p. 139.
  57. ^ a b Ross, Royal High School, p. 77.
  58. ^ Ross, Royal High School, p. 80.
  59. ^ Ross, Royal High School, pp. 75–76.
  60. ^ Ross, Royal High School, p. 81.
  61. ^ a b Barclay, Tounis Scule, p. 77.
  62. ^ Barclay, Tounis Scule, pp. 77–8.
  63. ^ Barclay, Tounis Scule, p. 78.
  64. ^ Murray, History, pp. 123–124, 132.
  65. ^ Ross, Royal High School, pp. 80–1.
  66. ^ Murray, History, pp. 66, 71, 144.
  67. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am Murray, History, p. 137.
  68. ^ RHSC: Committee
  69. ^ Female first for Royal High, Evening News (Edinburgh, 19 October 2009).
  70. ^ Trotter, Royal High School, pp. 162–185.
  71. ^ Murray, History, p. 38.
  72. ^ Trotter, Royal High School, pp. 114–15.
  73. ^ Gareth Edwards, Infamous shooting by pupil to be relived in victim's home, Evening News (Edinburgh, 13 July 2005).
  74. ^ Philip Fisher, Review: Close Encounters, ‘Fringe 2005 Reviews’ (43), British Theatre Guide. Retrieved on 27 October 2007.

External links[edit]