Foundation of Faculty of Law, 1707

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The creation of a Regius Professorship of Public Law in 1707 led to the creation of the Faculty of Law.

Some controversy surrounds the creation of the Regius Professorship. It resulted from a sign-manual issued by Queen Anne, which amended the terms of an annual grant of £300 awarded by her predecessor William III. The grant had hitherto funded twenty bursaries in theology to supply ministers for the many vacancies in the Church of Scotland following the 'Glorious Revolution' of 1688. Anne's sign-manual stated that this purpose had now been met, and that it would be of greater public benefit to employ £150 from the grant to endow a chair of 'Public Law and the Law of Nature and Nations'. The number of theology bursaries was reduced to five, and Charles Erskine, 1680-1763 was appointed to the newly created Chair.

For some of the University's historians, such as Andrew Dalzel (1742-1806) and Roger L. Emerson, the creation of the Professorship was essentially a cynical means of creating a sinecure for Charles Erskine who enjoyed much influence at Court. Dalzel points to the protest raised by the Town Council of Edinburgh and to the fact that Erskine was immediately granted leave of absence to pursue his studies abroad and did not commence teaching until 1711. Another historian Sir Alexander Grant (1826-1884) is more inclined to believe that the Chair was a deliberate first step towards the creation of a law faculty. He argues that it was consistent with the programme of reforms initiated by Principal William Carstares (1649-1715) which aimed to remodel Edinburgh University along European lines. These reforms would lead in 1708 to the abolition of the regenting system and the creation of the Faculty of Arts. Grant notes too the growing desire for a Scottish law school which would prevent the need for Scots to study abroad at centres such as Leiden, Groningen, Utrecht, or Halle if they wished to practise law. There was certainly a strong argument for instituting a chair in a discipline that was popular among Scottish students, but which they had hitherto been forced to go abroad to study.

The Faculty of Law was indubitably constituted by 1710, when James Craig (1672-1732) was appointed to the newly created Chair of Civil Law. This was elevated to a Regius Professorship of Civil and Canon Law in 1715.

Other Key Events of Carstares's Principalship


  • Alexander Bower, The History of the University of Edinburgh. 3 vols. Edinburgh, 1817-1830.
  • Andrew Dalzel, History of the University of Edinburgh from its Foundation, 2 vols (Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas, 1862)
  • Roger L. Emerson, Academic Patronage in the Scottish Enlightenment: Glasgow, Edinburgh and St Andrews Universities (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008)
  • Sir Alexander Grant, The Story of the University of Edinburgh during its First Three Hundred Years, 2 vols (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1884)