Advocates Library papers shine new light on Muir of Huntershill

14 Dec


The Faculty has been hailed for an “invaluable” contribution to a fresh study of the man known as the Father of Scottish Democracy.

A new book about Thomas Muir of Huntershill draws on court papers from the late 18th Century which are part of the extensive collection of the Advocates Library.

The papers have been scrutinised by Professor Gerry Carruthers, of Glasgow University, who has made a number of discoveries about Muir, an advocate, in the years leading up to his notorious trial for sedition in 1793.

“The assistance of the Faculty of Advocates to this book-project in locating and accessing the legal documents has been invaluable in the historic re-assessment of an individual who was once one of their own,” said Professor Carruthers, co-editor of the book.

“The Court of Session papers drawn upon for the first time in the book will undoubtedly provide the basis for much new research into the personality and ideas of Thomas Muir.”

Angela Grahame, QC, Vice-Dean of Faculty, said: “The Advocates Library is a treasure trove of fascinating, historical documents. We are delighted that the vast amount of published information which we preserve has provided a telling contribution to this book and to a new insight into the man who holds such a prominent place in Scottish history and culture.”

The book, Thomas Muir of Huntershill: Essays for the Twenty First Century, published by humming earth, is a collaboration between Glasgow Univeristy and the Friends of Thomas Muir, and includes contributions by former First Minister, Alex Salmond, and the leading historian, Sir Tom Devine.

Muir is one of five men commemorated on the Political Martyrs’ Monument at Old Calton Burial Ground, Edinburgh.

He was admitted to the Faculty of Advocates in 1787. He became a leading figure in reform movements and was arrested and charged with sedition. He was released on bail, and while in France he was declared a fugitive from justice, and was expelled from the Faculty.

After returning to Scotland, he stood trial and was convicted and sentenced to 14 years’ transportation.

One area covered by the Court of Session papers is a dispute between the congregation and  a local handowner over the appointment of a minister at Cadder Kirk.  Muir represented the congregation.

“Although the preferred candidate of the congregation eventually secured the appointment, what the papers show is that Muir lost the case, contradicting the usual biographical account,” said Professor Carruthers.

Another case featuring Muir involved Glasgow University, and Professor Carruthers said the papers were highly suggestive that Muir’s political trial had taken place against a background of his known form as a “troublemaker” in university and kirk spheres as well as in constitutional circles.

“The information that the papers on the Muir cases existed came to me via a chain of Glasgow and Edinburgh lawyers – the final confirmation being delivered in a kirkyard on a rainy November day last year! That may sound a bit cloak and dagger, but was just the way the chain of information worked,” said Professor Carruthers.

He discusses the book at