Sir Archibald Alison, Bt
Sir Archibald Alison
Sir Archibald Alison
Born(1792-12-29)29 December 1792
Parsonage of Kenley, Shropshire, England
Died23 May 1867(1867-05-23) (aged 74)
Possil House, Glasgow, Scotland
Resting placeDean Cemetery, Edinburgh, Scotland
CitizenshipUnited Kingdom
Alma materEdinburgh University
Notable worksPrinciples of the Criminal Law of Scotland (1832)
The Practice of the Criminal Law (1833)
History of Europe, 19 volumes (1833–1843)
SpouseElizabeth Glencairn Tytler (m. 1825) (d. 1874)
RelativesFather: Rev Archibald Alison
Brother: Professor William Alison
Uncle: Professor James Gregory
Cousin: Professor William Gregory

Sir Archibald Alison, 1st Baronet, FRSE (29 December 1792 – 23 May 1867) was a Scottish advocate (attorney) 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 an Honorary Doctorate of Civil Law by the University of Oxford.[1]

Alison actively opposed the abolition of slavery in the British Empire.[3] Following the United Kingdom's Slavery Abolition Act 1833 and the Slave Compensation Act 1837 he benefited from a Government payout of more than £4,000 (equivalent to £346,000 in 2015).[4][5]


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.[6] Published in ten volumes between 1833 and 1843, History of Europe was revised and reprinted many times throughout the century,[6] including numerous foreign language editions.[7] The work is one of vast industry, "contain[ing] a wealth of information communicated in a vigorous though wordy style."[6]

Disraeli satirises the author in Coningsby as Mr. Wordy, who wrote a history to prove that Providence was on the side of the Tories.[8] Such criticism notwithstanding, History of Europe proved to be a huge commercial success.[6] 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."[9] Alison's book collection grew exponentially while he wrote the History as he acquired more and more source material over the years. By the 1840s, the author's collection had grown into an enormous library worth, in his estimation, £4,000 — a massive sum for that period.[10] Alison evidently "feared that 'one of the race of critics' would discover an obscure book, pronounce it indispensable, and charge him with neglecting it."[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 Sir Archibald Alison by Patric Park, Scottish National Portrait Gallery
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. On 25 June 1852 he was created a baronet,[11] during Lord Derby's administration.

Family and death

In 1825, he married Elizabeth Glencairn Tytler (1799-1874), the daughter of Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Duff Tytler (1760-1849); the children from the marriage were Archibald, Frederick and Ella Frances Catherine who married James Charlemagne Dormer. Both sons became distinguished British military officers. The 1st Baronet's autobiography was published in 1883;[12] 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.[13] He enjoyed great popularity in Glasgow. His funeral was attended by a crowd of from 100,000 to 150,000 people.[14] 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.




  1. ^ a b 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.
  3. ^ Phillips, Kate (2022), Bought & Sold: Scotland, Jamaica and Slavery, Luath Press Ltd., pp. 275 & 276, ISBN 9781910022559
  4. ^ "Summary of Individual | Legacies of British Slave-ownership".
  5. ^ "Sir Archibald Alison, 1792 - 1867. Historian". National Galleries of Scotland. Retrieved 16 February 2022.
  6. ^ a b c d Derry, John (1988). Cannon, John (ed.). The Blackwell Dictionary of Historians. Oxford; New York: Basil Blackwell Ltd. p. 7. ISBN 063114708X.
  7. ^ "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.
  8. ^ Disraeli, Benjamin (1844). Conningsby, Vol. 1. London: Henry Coulburn, p. 265.
  9. ^ Stephen (1885), p. 289.
  10. ^ a b Michie, Michael (1997). An Enlightenment Tory in Victorian Scotland: The Career of Sir Archibald Alison. Canada: McGill-Queen's University Press and Tuckwell Press. pp. 132, 133. ISBN 1-86232-034-9.
  11. ^ "No. 21327". The London Gazette. 11 June 1852. p. 1648.
  12. ^ "Review of Some Account of my Life and Writings: an Autobiography by the late Sir Archibald Alison, Bart., ed. by his Daughter-in-law, Lady Alison". The Quarterly Review. 155: 35–74. January 1883.
  13. ^ MacLehose, James (1886) [2012]. "Sir Archibald Alison, 1792–1867". Glasgow Digital Library. University of Strathclyde. Retrieved 19 May 2012.
  14. ^ Stephen (1885), p. 290.

Further reading