William Tytler

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William Tytler (1711–1792) was a Scottish lawyer, known as a historical writer. He wrote An Inquiry into the Evidence against Mary Queen of Scots, against the views of William Robertson. He discovered in manuscript the Kingis Quhair, a poem of James I of Scotland.

William Tytler
The Fraser Tytler family vault, Greyfriars Kirkyard


The son of Alexander Tytler, writer in Edinburgh, and Jane Leslie of Aberdeen, he was born on 12 October 1711. He was educated at Edinburgh high school and the university of Edinburgh, and became in 1744 a writer to the signet. He was successful in his profession, and acquired the estate of Woodhouselee on the south of the Pentland Hills.[1]

Tytler was interested in archæology and history. He joined the Select Society founded by Allan Ramsay the painter, in 1754, and took part in its debates. His prescription for a happy old age has been often quoted: "short but cheerful meals, music, and a good conscience". He died at Woodhouselee on 12 September 1792. He was an accomplished player on the harpsichord and on the flute, and was an original member of the Musical Society of Edinburgh.[1]

He is buried in the family vault in the sealed south-west section of Greyfriars Kirkyard known as the Covenanter's Prison. His son Alexander Fraser Tytler and grandson Patrick Fraser Tytler lie with him.


Tytler contributed papers to The Lounger, including one on the Defects of Modern Female Education in teaching the Duties of a Wife (No. 16). His first independent work, published in 1759, was The Inquiry, Historical and Critical, into the Evidence against Mary Queen of Scots, and an Examination of the Histories of Dr. Robertson and David Hume with respect to that Evidence. Anticipated in its stance of apologetics for Mary Queen of Scots in 1754 by Walter Goodall, his work held the field till the publication in 1869 of John Hosack's Mary Queen of Scots and her Accusers. It went through four editions, was translated into French in 1772, and again in 1860, and it was reviewed by Samuel Johnson and Tobias Smollett. He wrote a supplement on the Bothwell marriage, published in the Transactions of the Antiquarian Society of Scotland in 1792.[1]

In 1783 Tytler published The Poetical Remains of James I, King of Scotland, as the discoverer in a manuscript in the Bodleian Library of the Kingis Quair, the authorship of which he ascribed on grounds now widely accepted to the king.[1] John Thomas Toshach Brown contested the attribution (1896), and his views were followed up by Alexander Lawson, in The Kingis quair and the quare of jelusy (1910).[2] Christ's Kirk on the Green, a comic ballad, which Tytler also attributed to James, is now thought to be of a later date.[1]

Tytler also wrote Observations on the Vision, a poem first published in Ramsay's Evergreen, in which he defended Ramsay's title to its authorship; and An Account of the Fashionable Amusements and Entertainments of Edinburgh in the Last Century, with the Plan of a grand Concert of Music on St. Cecilia's Day, 1695.[1]


By his marriage to Ann, daughter of James Craig of Costerton, Tytler had eight children, four of whom predeceased him. The survivors were Alexander Fraser Tytler, Colonel Patrick Tytler, and Christina.[1][3]

His son, Lt Col Patrick Tytler married Isabella Erskine, daughter of James Erskine, Lord Alva (one of his legal colleagues).[4]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g  Lee, Sidney, ed. (1899). "Tytler, William". Dictionary of National Biography. 57. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 
  2. ^ Alexander Lawson, The Kingis quair and the quare of jelusy (1910) p. v;archive.org.
  3. ^ Couper, Sarah. "Tytler, William". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/27969.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  4. ^ Grave of James Erskine, Lord Alva, St Cuthbert's Churchyard, Edinburgh