William Robertson - Principal of the University of Edinburgh

William Robertson

Born Sep 21, 1721
Died Jun 11, 1793


William RobertsonHistorian and theologian. Born at Borthwick Manse in Midlothian, the son of Rev. William Robertson. He received his education at Dalkeith Grammar School, Married (1751) to Mary Nisbet, with whom he had three sons. Ordained minister of Gladsmuir in 1743. Joint minister, with Dr. Erskine, of Greyfriars, Edinburgh (1761-1793). Principal of the University of Edinburgh (1762-1793). In 1761 he was appointed royal chaplain, and in 1764 he became the King's Historiographer. Also a Member of The Poker Club.

Robertson wrote some influential historical works in his time, including History of Scotland 1542-1603 (1759), History of Charles V (1769), History of America (1777) and The Knowledge which the Ancients had of India (1791).

In 1768 Robertson had published a pamphlet, Memorial relating to the University of Edinburgh arguing for the rebuilding of the University. Nothing much happened until 1789, when the famous architect Robert Adam, a cousin and lifelong friend of Robertson, was appointed architect of the University.1

Life with Boswell: 

Boswell met Dr. Robertson at Dempster's in London on July 2, 1763, and they saw a bit of each other for the next month. They probably knew each other in advance, although they don't seem to have talked much before. Boswell mentions Robertson observing that he [Boswell] was "a pleasant man".


Some of William Robertson's writings are still available via the AbeBooks.com used books search engine, including History of the Reign of Charles the Fifth. His works were occasionally reprinted well into the 19th century, and in 1821(at least) a ten volume Works of William Robertson, D.D. were released, which is also sometimes available, as are later 6 and 8 volume editions. In 1801(?) a biography of Robertson, was written by Dugald Stewart, titled Account of the Life and Writings of William Robertson, which can also occasionally be found. When searching for Robertson it is wise to include the D.D. or DD in some form, to distinguish him from numerous other William Robertsons.

Dr. Robertson and his cousin Robert Adam belonged to the same social circles, and a great account of Adam and the people and society they both belonged to can be found in John Fleming's (1962) Robert Adam and his Circle: In Edinburgh & Rome.

1 Comment

Willliam Robertson had a daughter

Please note that he also had a daughter whom he and Mary named Eleanora. I have a copy of the birth certificate! He was my 6th great grandfather.