Gordon Donaldson

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Gordon Donaldson, CBE , FRHistS , FBA , FRSE (13 April 1913 16 March 1993) was a Scottish historian.



He was born in a tenement at 140 McDonald Road [1] off Leith Walk in northern Edinburgh on 13 April 1913 the son of Rachel Swan and Magnus Donaldson. [2]

He was of Shetland descent. Donaldson attended Broughton Elementary School (adjacent to his home) and then the Royal High School of Edinburgh (1921–31), before being awarded a scholarship to study at the University of Edinburgh. He also supplemented his income by undertaking some tutoring. After graduating in 1935 with a first-class Honours Degree in History (MA), he gained his PhD in 1938 at the Institute of Historical Research in London, where he also won the David Berry Prize from the Royal Historical Society. Donaldson also has a DLitt degree.

After working as an archivist at the General Register Office for Scotland 1938–1947, he was appointed to a lectureship in Scottish History at the University of Edinburgh, largely through the offices of William Croft Dickinson. This marked the beginning of Donaldson's 32-year academic career at the University.

He served as a Reader from 1955, before succeeding Dickinson as Sir William Fraser Professor of Scottish History and Palaeography in 1963, which he held until his retirement in 1979. During his academic career, Professor Donaldson wrote or co-wrote over thirty books, and numerous articles and addresses. He also served at various times as President of the Scottish Ecclesiological Society, the Scottish Church History Society, the Scottish History Society, the Scottish Record Society, the Scottish Records Association, and the Stair Society.

In 1978 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. His proposers were Norman Gash, Geoffrey Barrow, Sir Fraser Noble, and John Cameron, Lord Cameron.

He was also an Honorary Vice-President of the Royal Historical Society, and in 1992 he received the St Olav's Medal from the King of Norway. When Professor Donaldson retired, he was appointed Historiographer Royal in Scotland.

He could talk about any character in Scottish history as if he knew them personally. It was his love of the sea and ships, born from his childhood in Shetland, that took him to Dysart in Fife in his retirement, where he lived in a 17th-century Pan Ha' apartment. "I cannot pass my old age without the sight of the sea and ships," he said.

He died in Windygates in Fife on 16 March 1993. He never married and left no family. [2]


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  1. Edinburgh and Leith Post Office Directory, 1912
  2. 1 2 Biographical Index of Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783–2002 (PDF). The Royal Society of Edinburgh. July 2006. ISBN   0-902-198-84-X. Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 January 2013. Retrieved 19 February 2016.