Published online by Cambridge University Press: 25 October 2017
Some seventy years ago, W C Dickinson drew attention in this journal to a document in what is now the British Library (MS Additional 33531, folios 207–208) that, he argued, explained the failure of the project initiated on 16 January 1589 by the Lords of Council and Session to found a chair in Law in the University of Edinburgh. This unsuccessful attempt had been noticed in the standard histories of the university, but no satisfactory explanation of the failure had been offered. Dickinson argued convincingly that the document showed the project failed because of the opposition of the Advocates, on whom the Lords of Session had relied (along with the Writers to the Signet) for help with the necessary endowment. This the Advocates had refused to provide. They eventually contributed a share of the finance in 1597, but then the endowment was converted to fund the chair of Humanity and some bursaries. This recognised that the first two professors, though advocates, had actually taught only humanity. Dickinson therefore glossed the contentions sustaining the Advocates’ opposition as follows:
The arguments set forth in the “Protest” need no comment. The attitude of the Advocates towards a possible increase in their numbers when already there is “als mekle law in Edinburgh as thar is silluer to pay for it” their fear that those who have attended two or three lectures “for the fassioun” will then set themselves up as compeers even to Bartolus and Jason; and their shrewd thrust that within a short space the Chair may cease to exist “And than peraduenture sum courteour gett our siluer to spend”, are all expressed in terms so neat and trenchant as alone to justify the publication of this delightful piece of special pleading.
R K Hannay supplemented Dickinson's view with the surmise that “the opposition to a ‘doctor of the laws’ in the Town's College, and the ultimate modification of the plan in 1597, whereby a ‘regent of humanity’ was substituted, had something to do with teaching interests established by the advocates and the probationary expectants”.