William Robertson, a Scottish historian, born at Borthwick, Edinburghshire, Sept. 19, 1721, died at Grange house, near Edinburgh, June 11, 1793. He graduated at the university of Edinburgh in 1741, was licensed to preach, and in 1743 was presented to the living of Gladsmuir in Haddingtonshire. In 1745 he volunteered to serve in the army against the pretender. In the general assembly of the church of Scotland he was one of the leading advocates of lay patronage, which at that time was the great dividing question. In 1757 he defended Home, who was persecuted by the ultra Calvinist party for writing the tragedy of "Douglas," and also the clergymen who had attended the theatre to witness its representation. In 1759 he was made chaplain of the garrison at Stirling, in 1761 a dean of the chapel royal, in 1762 principal of the university of Edinburgh and minister of the old Greyfriars, and in 1764 historiographer of Scotland with a salary of £200. About this time he entertained the project of writing the history of England; but after the resignation of Lord Bute, who had been his friend, he gave it up. His histories vie with those of his contemporaries Hume and Gibbon in diction and liberal sentiment, and surpass them in impartiality.
They are: "History of Scotland during the Reigns of Mary and James VI." (2 vols. 4to, 1759); "History of the Reign of the Emperor Charles V." (3 vols. 4to, 1769); and "History of America" (2 vols. 4to, 1777); besides "An Historical Disquisition concerning the Knowledge which the Ancients had of India" (4to, 1791). His life was written by Dugald Stewart (8vo, 1801), and by Lord Brougham.