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Robertson, William, 1721-1793 (historian, principal of the University of Edinburgh)



  • Existence: 1721 - 1793


Principal of Edinburgh University and historian, Sir William Robertson, was born on 19 September 1721 at the manse in Borthwick, Midlothian, where his father was minister. He received his early education at the parish school in Borthwick and then at the Burgh School in Dalkeith. In the autumn of 1733, Robertson entered the University of Edinburgh studying Arts and Divinity. After completion of his studies and earning his license to preach, he became minister of Gladsmuir in East Lothian in 1743. With the approach to Edinburgh of the Jacobite army in 1745, Robertson left his manse to offer his services, with some others, to Sir John Cope against the Rebellion. However, Cope declined to admit them. In 1746, Robertson was elected as member to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. This indicated steady advancement in his career. In 1753 he began work on a long writing project on the history of Scotland which culminated in his History of Scotland (1759). The work was a great success and shortly before its publication he received the degree of Doctor of Divinity from Edinburgh University. Shortly after publication of his work he was successively appointed Chaplain of Stirling Castle and Chaplain Royal in 1759, elected joint-minister of Greyfriars Church in Edinburgh in 1761, became Principal of the University in 1762, and in 1764 was appointed Historiographer Royal for Scotland. His next literary work was the History of Charles V (1769) which enhanced his reputation in Europe and earned him praise from Voltaire and the Empress Catherine of Russia. His last great work was the History of America (1777). His life was also filled by his work with the affairs of the General Assembly and with those of Edinburgh University. The initiative to rebuild the University - Old College - owed its origins to the influence of Robertson. He had launched a public appeal which won the support of successive Town Councils and Lords Provost, and he managed to secure the services of the architect Robert Adam. In 1791, Robertson's health began to decline and he died of jaundice on 11 June 1793.

Found in 4 Collections and/or Records:

Autograph letter signed by William Robertson, 28 February 1791

 Item — Box CLX-A-353
Identifier: Coll-1848/17-0163
Scope and Contents

Signed autograph letter from William Robertson, starting with 'Dear Sir', in part about his book on India and offering the sheets of his book to the French publisher he is addressing.

Dates: 28 February 1791

Certificates, Diplomas etc of Principal William Robertson

 Fonds — Multiple Containers
Identifier: Coll-71
Scope and Contents 1. King's College and University, Aberdeen. Award of the degree of Doctor of Divinity to W.R. 3 July 1764. Signed by the following professors: John Chalmers, John Lumsden, John Gregory, Alexander Burnet, Thomas Gordon, Thomas Reid, John Leslie, George Gordon. Vellum, approx. 60 cms x 68 cms, with small wax seal in metal box attached. 2. Edinburgh, Town Council. Commission of W.R. as Principal of the University of Edinburgh. 11 November 1762. Signed by George Drummond,...
Dates: 1743-1783

Letter from Joseph Black to his father, John Black, 30 June 1766

Identifier: Coll-16/V/17-18
Scope and Contents

Letter from Joseph Black, Glasgow to his father, John Black, dated 30 June 1766. The letter is about giving advice to preserve his health. He mentions that he is going to Edinburgh University on the invitation of Doctor Cullen and Principal William Robertson.

Dates: 30 June 1766

Letter from Joseph Black to Principal William Robertson, undated

Identifier: Coll-16/II/94
Scope and Contents

Letter from Joseph Black to Principal William Robertson, undated. The letter relates to Black asking how to address Prince Dashkov in a letter The item includes Robertson's reply.

Dates: undated