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Heriot, George (DNB00)


HERIOT, GEORGE (1563–1624), founder of Heriot's Hospital, Edinburgh, was born in that city 15 June 1563. His father, George Heriot, who belonged to the old Haddingtonshire family, the Heriots of Trabourn, settled early as a goldsmith in Edinburgh, which he represented repeatedly in the Scotch parliament. The younger Heriot was brought up in the business of his father, who, on his marriage in 1586 to the daughter of a respectable Edinburgh tradesman, gave him fifteen hundred merks Scots, about 80l. sterling, ‘for the setting up of ane buith to him.’ This booth, seven feet square, one of several on the site of the entrance hall of the present Signet Library, was identified long afterwards as Heriot's, when his name was found carved over the door, while inside were the forge, bellows, and crucible of a working goldsmith, now preserved in the museum of Heriot's Hospital (Grant, i. 175). He was admitted on 28 May 1588 a member of the incorporation of Edinburgh goldsmiths. In January 1594 mention is made of ‘George Heriot the younger’ as ‘deacon convener’ of the incorporated trades of Edinburgh (Scotch Privy Council Reg. v. 124). In July 1597 James VI of Scotland appointed Heriot goldsmith for life to his consort Anne of Denmark [q. v.], and in April 1601, with complimentary references to his past services, jeweller to the king, considerable fees being attached to the two offices, which he held conjointly. In the official records of the time he is described as advancing money to the king and queen, who when pressed for it deposited jewels with him, at the same time permitting him to pawn them. At one time he held, apparently as security for loans to the royal pair, the title-deeds of the chapel royal of Stirling (ib. iv. 542–3; Steven, p. 7). His services to them were deemed so valuable that an apartment was assigned to him in Holyrood Palace. It is computed that during the ten years preceding the accession of James to the throne of England the queen's dealings with Heriot must have amounted to 50,000l. sterling. In December 1601 Heriot figures as a member of a syndicate commissioned by the government to issue a new Scotch currency in substitution of one much debased (Scotch Privy Council Reg. vi. 314, &c.). In January 1603 he is referred to as one of the ‘tacksmen,’ i.e. farmers of the customs (ib. vi. 516).

Soon after the arrival in London of James as king of England, in the spring of 1603, Heriot followed him thither, and is represented as ‘dwelland foreanent the New Exchange,’ which stood on part of the site now occupied by the Adelphi. In May 1603 he was one of three persons appointed jewellers to the king, with a joint yearly salary of 150l. (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 15 May 1616). About 1608 his first wife died, and Heriot went to Scotland to marry, on 24 Aug. 1609, Alison, eldest daughter of James Primrose of Carrington, clerk to the Scotch privy council, and grandfather of the first Earl of Rosebery. In 1609, after Heriot's return to England, his business appears to have grown so large that he could not find workmen to execute the orders given him, and in the March of that year an official notification, in which he is styled ‘His Majesty's Jeweller,’ was issued to the local authorities throughout the kingdom, directing them to assist him in ‘taking up of such workmen as he shall necessarily use for the furthering of the service,’ with the proviso that they were to receive the customary wages (Steven, p. 11). At this time the queen seems to have been some 18,000l. in his debt for jewels, &c., and she offered interest at the rate of ten per cent. to any person who would advance her the money to pay off Heriot and his fellow-creditors (cf. Cal. State Papers, Dom. 18 Dec. 1609; Steven, p. 12). In 1613 he lost his second wife, to whom he was deeply attached. About the same time he petitioned the king and queen for payment of the greater part, still outstanding, of the 18,000l., and some satisfaction seems to have been made. In 1620 a grant was made to him of the imposition on sugar for three years (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 18 Nov. 1620). He was then possessed of house property in the parish of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, as well as of an estate at Roehampton; and in 1622 he had interviews in London with countrymen who wished to dispose of land in Scotland.

A widower without legitimate offspring, Heriot resolved to devote the bulk of his property to found a charitable institution in Edinburgh. Partly from a fear that if this intention were not made known during his lifetime a claim to his wealth might be set up by a niece, he executed, on 3 Sept. 1623, a ‘disposition and assignation’ of his property to the town council of Edinburgh. They were to devote it mainly to the education of the children of decayed burgesses and freemen of Edinburgh ‘for the honour and due regard,’ he wrote, ‘which I bear to … Edinburgh, and in imitation of the public, pious, and religious work founded within the city of London called Christ's Hospital.’ His intentions in this respect were more fully expressed in his will, which was executed 10 Dec. 1623, and in which the ministers of Edinburgh were added to the town council as managers of the hospital, he leaving them to call it by his name. He made provision for two youthful illegitimate daughters, and bequeathed suitable legacies to his near relatives. Heriot died in London 12 Feb. 1623–1624, and was buried in his parish church, St. Martin's-in-the-Fields. A eulogium on him is said to have been pronounced at the funeral by his friend Walter Balcanquhall, D.D. (1586?–1645) [q. v.] In his will Heriot empowered Balcanquhall to arrange with the town council of Edinburgh for the fulfilment of his wishes respecting the hospital, and to draw up its statutes. The property bequeathed for this object included debts due by the royal family and the nobility and gentry of both kingdoms, and yielded a net capital sum of 23,625l., which was so judiciously administered that in 1880 the annual income alone of Heriot's trust was 24,000l. The hospital, a noble building, was opened in 1659, when thirty boys were admitted. In 1880 it gave a sound middle-class education to 180. With a surplus income of 3,000l. a year its governors established in 1838 a number of free schools in Edinburgh for the primary education of the children of poor parents. In 1885 these were handed over to the Edinburgh School Board, and effect was given to an extensive scheme framed by the Scotch Endowed Schools Commissioners, with the object of promoting secondary and higher education. This scheme included the establishment of a day-school within the walls of the hospital, and of technical, scientific, and general schools in other parts of the city.

An original portrait of Heriot, taken in his twenty-sixth year, is in the hospital, together with a copy by Scougall of Paul Vansomer's portrait of Heriot in his maturity. The latter portrait is said to be ‘indicative of the genuine Scottish character,’ and of ‘a personage fitted to move steadily and wisely through life’ (Steven, p. 25). An idealised, it might be called an imaginary, Heriot is a central figure in the ‘Fortunes of Nigel,’ where Scott makes James I address him as ‘Jingling Geordie.’

[Hist. of George Heriot's Hospital, with a Memoir of the Founder, and an Account of the Heriot Foundation Schools, by William Steven, D.D., third edition, revised and enlarged by F. W. Bedford, House Governor of Heriot's Hospital, 1872; Oliver and Boyd's Edinburgh Almanack for 1888, in which (article ‘George Heriot's Trust’) is given an account of the reconstitution of the governing body of the hospital, and the extended application of its funds under the scheme of 1885; Inventory of Original Documents in the Archives of George Heriot's Hospital, 1857; Cassell's Old and New Edinburgh, by James Grant; authorities cited.]

F. E.