William Robertson (historian)

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This article is about the Scottish historian. For other people of the same name, see William Robertson (disambiguation).
William Robertson
William Robertson (1721-93)
Born (1721-09-19)19 September 1721
Borthwick, Midlothian,
Died 11 June 1793(1793-06-11) (aged 71)
Nationality Scottish
Education Dalkeith Grammar School
Alma mater University of Edinburgh
Known for Principal of the University of Edinburgh;
Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland;
Historiographer Royal

William Robertson FRSE FSA Scot (19 September 1721 – 11 June 1793) was a Scottish historian, minister in the Church of Scotland, and Principal of the University of Edinburgh. "The thirty years during which [he] presided over the University perhaps represent the highest point in its history."[1]


Robertson was born at the Manse of Borthwick, Midlothian, and educated at Borthwick Parish School, Dalkeith Grammar School, and at the University of Edinburgh (1733–41), where he studied divinity (DD 1759).[2] He became minister at Gladsmuir (East Lothian) in 1743 and later at Lady Yester's Kirk and Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh. A staunch Presbyterian and Whig, he volunteered to defend the city against the Jacobites led by Prince Charles Edward Stuart in 1745.

Rev. William Robertson (1721-1793) from a 1777 German edition of his History of America
Cameo of Rev. William Robertson (1721-93), 1791, Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Robertson became royal chaplain to George III (1761), principal of the University of Edinburgh (1762), Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1763, and Historiographer Royal in 1764, reviving a role within the Royal household in Scotland that had been in abeyance from 1709 until 1763. He was also a member of The Poker Club.[3] His most notable work was perhaps his History of Scotland 1542 - 1603, begun in 1753 and first published in 1759. He was a significant figure in the Scottish Enlightenment and also of the moderates in the Church of Scotland.[4]

Robertson is buried at Greyfriars Kirkyard, Edinburgh and he now gives his name to the nearby William Robertson Wing of the Old Medical School buildings at the University of Edinburgh on Teviot Place, home to the School of History, Classics and Archaeology.

Books by William Robertson[edit]


  1. ^ Horn, D. B., A Short History of the University of Edinburgh: 1556-1889, 1967, p.76
  2. ^ Waterston, Charles D; Macmillan Shearer, A (July 2006). Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783-2002: Biographical Index (PDF) II. Edinburgh: The Royal Society of Edinburgh. ISBN 978-0-902198-84-5. Retrieved 29 September 2010. 
  3. ^ The Poker Club
  4. ^ Shefr, R. B., Church and Society in the Scottish Enlightenment: The Moderate Literati of Edinburgh, Princeton, 1985.

Further reading[edit]

  • Brown, S. J. (ed.), William Robertson and the Expansion of Empire, Cambridge, 1997

External links[edit]

Preceded by
John Gowdie
Principal, University of Edinburgh
Succeeded by
George Husband Baird