Sir Archibald Alison, 1st Baronet

Sir Archibald Alison, Bt

Sir Archibald Alison
Born (1792-12-29)29 December 1792
Parsonage of Kenley, Shropshire
Died 23 May 1867(1867-05-23) (aged 74)
Possil House, Glasgow
Resting place Dean Cemetery, Edinburgh
Occupation Advocate
Nationality Scottish
Citizenship United Kingdom
Alma mater Edinburgh University
Genre Law
Notable works Principles of the Criminal Law of Scotland (1832)
The Practice of the Criminal Law (1833)
History of Europe, 19 volumes (1833–1843)
Spouse Elizabeth Glencairn Tytler (m. 1825) (d. 1874)
Relatives Father: Rev Archibald Alison
Brother: Professor William Alison
Uncle: Professor James Gregory
Cousin: Professor William Gregory


Sir Archibald Alison, 1st Baronet, GCB, FRSE (29 December 1792 – 23 May 1867) was a Scottish advocate and historian. He held several prominent legal appointments. He was the younger son of the Episcopalian cleric and author Archibald Alison. His elder brother was the physician and social reformer William Alison.


He was born at the parsonage at Kenley, Shropshire, to the Rev. Archibald Alison and his wife Dorothea Gregory, daughter of John Gregory, and granddaughter of James Forbes, 17th Lord Forbes.[1] In 1800 his parents moved the family back to Edinburgh, as his father thought that he could give his sons a better education and more independent careers in Scotland.[2]

After studying under a private tutor, and at the University of Edinburgh, he was, in 1814, admitted to the Faculty of Advocates, at which he ultimately attained some distinction, becoming in 1834 Sheriff of Lanarkshire. In 1853, he received a Honorary Doctorate of Civil Law by the University of Oxford.[1]

The University College London, Legacies of British Slave-ownership, two projects based at UCL tracing the impact of slave-ownership on the formation of modern Britain:[3] (the ESRC-funded Legacies of British Slave-ownership project, now complete, and the ESRC and AHRC-funded Structure and significance of British Caribbean slave-ownership 1763-1833, running from 2013-2015), highlight that, Sir Archibald Alison 1st Bart., benefited from the compensation paid out following the abolition of slavery in 1833. According to the record, he benefited from a payment of £4,081,18s,10d, an approximate £346,000 in 2015, made by the government of United Kingdom and Great Britain as recorded by the Slave Compensation Commission and the records held at the National Archives in London. The record containing the facts discovered can be found at the UCL's Legacies of British Slave-ownership database,[4][5] and the National Archive and the records of the Slave Compensation Commission.[6]


When travelling in France in 1814 he conceived the idea of his expansive History of Europe from the commencement of the French revolution to the restoration of the Bourbons. This multi-volume set is usually regarded as Alison's chief historical work and is considered to be the first scholarly English-language study of the French Revolution.[7] Published in ten volumes between 1833 and 1843, History of Europe was revised and reprinted many times throughout the century,[7] including numerous foreign language editions.[8] The work is one of vast industry, "contain[ing] a wealth of information communicated in a vigorous though wordy style."[7]

Disraeli satirises the author in Coningsby as Mr. Wordy, who wrote a history to prove that Providence was on the side of the Tories.[9] Such criticism notwithstanding, History of Europe proved to be a huge commercial success.[7] By 1848 100,000 copies had been sold in the United States. It was translated into French, German, and even Arabic, in which language 2,000 copies were published "under the auspices of the Pasha of Egypt."[10] Alison also composed a comprehensive survey of the military campaigns of the Duke of Marlborough, as well as two standard works on the criminal law of Scotland.


Title page of Alison's History of Europe.
Sir Archibald Alison, by J. Watson Gordon.
Bust of Alison, by Patric Park.
The grave of Sir Archibald Alison, 1st Baronet, Dean Cemetery.

He was elected Lord Rector successively of Marischal College, Aberdeen, and of the University of Glasgow. In 1852 he was created a baronet, during Lord Derby's administration.

Family and death

In 1825, he married Elizabeth Glencairn, the daughter of Patrick Tytler; the children from the marriage were Archibald, Frederick and Ella Frances Catherine who married James Charlemagne Dormer. Both sons became distinguished British officers. The 1st Baronet's autobiography was published in 1883; his portrait was painted by Robert Scott Lauder.

Alison died at Possil House, Glasgow, at the age of 74, and was interred in Dean Cemetery, Edinburgh.[11] He enjoyed great popularity in Glasgow. His funeral was attended by a crowd of from 100,000 to 150,000 people.[12] His grave lies amid the "Lord's Row" against the western wall, and is modest in comparison to most in this section.

He was succeeded in the baronetcy by his elder son, Sir Archibald Alison, 2nd Baronet.


  • History of Europe from the Commencement of the French Revolution in 1789 to the Restoration of the Bourbons in 1815 (1833–1843, 10 vol.)
  • Principles of the Criminal Law of Scotland (1832)
  • Practice of the Criminal Law of Scotland (1833)
  • Principles of Population, and Their Connection with Human Happiness (1840, 2 vol.)
  • England in 1815 and 1845 (1845)
  • Free Trade and a Fettered Currency (1847)
  • The Military Life of John, Duke of Marlborough (1848)
  • Essays; Political, Historical and Miscellaneous (1850, 3 vol.)
  • History of Europe from the Fall of Napoleon in 1815 to the Accession of Louis Napoleon in 1852 (1852–1859, 8 vol.)
  • The Currency Laws (1859)
  • Lives of Lord Castlereagh and Sir Charles Stewart (1861)
  • Some Account of My Life and Writings: An Autobiography (1883, 2 vol.)



  1. 1 2 Dod, Robert P. (1860). The Peerage, Baronetage and Knightage of Great Britain and Ireland. London: Whitaker and Co. p. 88.
  2. Stephen, Leslie (1885). "Alison, Sir Archibald (1792–1867)." In: Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. 1. New York: Macmillan & Co., p. 286–7.
  7. 1 2 3 4 Derry, John (1988). Cannon, John, ed. The Blackwell Dictionary of Historians. Oxford; New York: Basil Blackwell Ltd. p. 7. ISBN 063114708X.
  8. "It was by far the best-selling history of the French Revolution in England and America almost to the end of the century, and was translated into most European and several oriental languages." — Ben Israel, Hedva (1968). English Historians of the French Revolution. London: Cambridge University Press, p. 152.
  9. Disraeli, Benjamin (1844). Conningsby, Vol. 1. London: Henry Coulburn, p. 265.
  10. Stephen (1885), p. 289.
  11. MacLehose, James (1886) [2012]. "Sir Archibald Alison, 1792–1867". Glasgow Digital Library. University of Strathclyde. Retrieved 19 May 2012.
  12. Stephen (1885), p. 290.

Further reading

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Archibald Alison (1792-1867)
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Academic offices
Preceded by
John Campbell, 2nd Marquess of Breadalbane
Rector of Marischal College, Aberdeen
1845 – ?
Succeeded by
Patrick Robertson, Lord Robertson
Preceded by
Thomas Babington Macaulay
Rector of the University of Glasgow
Succeeded by
Earl of Eglinton
Baronetage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baronet
(of Possil House)
1852 1867
Succeeded by
Archibald Alison
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