William Fraser Tytler

William Fraser Tytler was from a family of historians and drew a salary as Professor of History, but he appears to have been a man of action rather than theory: his father had been a 'new Tory' historian discovering liberty not in a mythical 'original constitution' or theoretical ideals, but in the pragmatic interactions of society with law and government. William demonstrates this Dundasian history in practice, enjoying government patronage in the Sheriffship of Inverness and in India appointments for his numerous sons; and returning the favour to society by being an active landlord and official working for the improvement of the Highlands.

10 September 1777 - 4 September 1853
Alexander Fraser Tytler, of Woodhouselee and Balnain, son of the historian William Tytler of Woodhouselee. One of the senators of the college of justice, and one of the lords commissioners of Justiciary in Scotland. William was his eldest son.
Anne Fraser, daughter and heiress of William Fraser, Esq of Belnain, co. Inverness, cadet of the house of Lovat. Married 1776.
From 1806-7 he lived in 7 South Castle Street. In 1810 he moved to Inverness although the fact that two of his children were subsequently baptised in Charlotte Chapel suggests he frequently returned to Edinburgh, probably staying with his mother at 108 Princes Street.
Balnain, four miles west of Drumnadrochit. In June 1808 he was mentioned in the newspaper playing the part of the good paternalist landlord:
William F. Tytler, Esq. younger of Balnain, has caused ten bolls of oatmeal to be distributed amongst the necessitous and indigent on his property, in Inverness-shire, at the reduced price of 1s. 6d. per pec. He also gave an equal quantity to them on the same terms about the beginning of March. (5)
Political views
Religious views
Isabel Anderson described him in St John's Episcopal Church Inverness, opposite John MacKenzie:
One of the two gallery pews immediately below the organ was occupied by the aristocratic-looking Sheriff Tytler of Aldourie ... The crimson rays from the stained-glass window gleamed on many a Christmas and Easter day on the long, silvery locks of the old Sheriff as they flowed over his drab overcoat. (3)
William's brother Patrick Fraser Tytler, who followed his father as a historian, was criticised for being 'the Episcopalian historian of a Presbyterian country'. Like Walter Scott and Ranald MacDonald, William Fraser Tytler was part of a Scottish nationalist movement based on a minority (Episcopalian) religion and marginal (Highland and Jacobite) culture. The Whig's alternative ideology of Scottish Improvement within a British and global context is often regarded as Presbyterian, although the number of Whig idealists in Charlotte Episcopal Chapel casts doubt on this denominalisation of politics.
Advocate 1799. Professor of Universal History Edinburgh Mar 1801. Sheriff of Inverness 4 Sep 1810. He was an active member of Highland society. In November 1812 he was a steward of the Northern Meeting, when,
though the weather presented unusual obstacles to travelling at this season of the year, the attraction which it has invariably afforded, induced the gay and fashionable from every part of the country to assemble on this interesting occasion. (6)
In 1813 he convened a meeting of Inverness-shire gentry about improving roads and bridges. (7) It was in Edinburgh that he was the absentee: one of a family of historians, he had succeeded his father as Professor of History at Edinburgh University in 1801, but by 1816 even his Tory friend Walter Scott was embarrassed by his treatment of the position as a sinecure and wrote to the poet Thomas Campbell in the hope of persuading him to apply to revive them:
There are two classes in our University, either of which, filled by you, would be at least 400l. or 500l. yearly; but which possessed by the present incumbents, are wretched sinecures, in which there are no lectures... The History class, being held by a gentleman who has retired for some years into the north country, and does not even pretend to lecture, (a mere stipend, often of a petty salary of 100l, being annexed to the office,) he would for shame's sake, be glad to accept a collegue... The said incumbent is a gentleman whom I wish well to in many respects; and though I censure, I do not derogate from my regard, in desiring the class he holds in my Alma Mater should be filled by such a collegue as you. Yet the story, in passing through two mouths, might be represented as a plan on my part, to oust an old friend, of whom I may certainly say, like the dog in the old child's tale, "The kid never did me nae ill".' (8)
William Fraser Tytler was finally replaced in 1821. He did, however, edit and publish his father Alexander Fraser Tytler's lectures, Universal History, from the Creation of the World to the Beginning of the Eighteenth Century (available online). Of Alexander's historiography Colin Kidd writes,
[He] comes from a strong tory background and supporting Dundas, a good example of the 'new tory' dimension of the Pittites, but concurring with a broad corps of historians in the approach to the history of liberty: preferring the historical interactions of societies with law and government to an original constitution undergoing vicissitudes. (9)
Wealth at death
£4,500. His wealth was mostly in land.
Chapel connection
baptisms, 1811, 1813.
Married on
12 March 1801, at Drumsheugh.
Margaret Cusans Grant
Alexander (East India Company Lieutenant, d.1832), George (Lieutenant), William Fraser (Bengal army), Charles Edward Francis (East India Civil Service, Bombay), James Macleod Bannantyne (East India military service, Bengal), Elizabeth Fraser, Jane Anne (m. Capt Patrick Grant, East India company), Mary Fraser (m. Charles Ruxton Esq), Margaret Fraser (b.1811), Christina (b.1813, m. Arthur Ruxton esq.), Emily Isabella Frances, (m. Richard Torin Esq).
Related to
Isabella Clementina Tytler and Christina Elizabeth Tytler, first cousins.


  1. Registers of Charlotte Chapel (NAS CH12/3)
  2. Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1818
  3. Isabel Harriet Anderson, Inverness before Railways (A and W MacKenzie, Inverness, 1885)
  4. William Fraser Tytler's will and inventory, National Archives of Scotland SC29/44/8/515 and SC29/44/8/511
  5. Caledonian Mercury 23 June 1808
  6. Caledonian Mercury 2 November 1812
  7. Caledonian Mercury 21 May 1813
  8. H.J.C. Grierson (ed), Letters of Sir Walter Scott vol.4, 1815-1817 (London, Constable and Co. 1933) p.200.
  9. Colin Kidd, Subverting Scotland's past: Scottish Whig historians and the creation of an Anglo-British identity 1689-1830 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993) p.277

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