George Heriot

George Heriot

George Heriot (1563 - 12 February 1624) was a Scottish goldsmith and philanthropist.

He is chiefly remembered today as founder of George Heriot's School, a large private school in Edinburgh; his name has also been given to Heriot-Watt University, as well as several streets (and one pub) in the same city. The latter, at least, is named for his contemporary nickname, Jingling Geordie; this was popularised again by the use of it in Sir Walter Scott's historical novel "The Fortunes of Nigel".

He was the oldest of ten children, and entered the family goldsmithing trade in Edinburgh; he married in 1586, having two sons, and at around the same time set up business on his own with 1500 merks (£80) from his father. In 1588 he became a member of the Goldsmiths' Company and burgess of the City of Edinburgh, and in 1597 Deacon Convenor of the guilds of Edinburgh. His portrait (now lost) was painted by Paul van Somer, which was copied in 1698 by John Scougal.

He became jeweller to Anne of Denmark, the wife of King James VI, in 1597, and then to the King in 1601, positions which brought him great wealth; the young Queen was a notorious spendthrift. By 1599, however, he had become a moneylender to the Crown and to the Scottish nobility; this proved even more lucrative, as the contemporary extravagances of the court provided a constant demand for money. The Dictionary of National Biography estimated his dealings with the Queen between 1593 and 1603 as totalling up to £50,000; this can be compared to his annual salary, as a jeweller to the King, of around £150.

In 1603, he moved with the royal court to London when James was crowned as King James I of England, and remained in London for much of the rest of his life, amassing yet more wealth as a banker and tradesman. His wife having died, he remarried in 1609, with his second wife dying in 1612, leaving no children. He died in 1624, having no recognised children, and left the bulk of his fortune to found a hospital in Edinburgh to care for "faitherless bairns" (Scots: orphaned children). The bequest ran to around £25,000. The remainder went to provide for two women, surmised to be illegitimate daughters, and for a number of relatives.

It should be noted that accounts differ on whether he had children; however, he certainly died with no legal heirs. It seems that the relation to him of the women thought to be daughters is unclear, mainly based on their status in his will, and that his two legitimate sons died around 1603 - some sources mention an accident at sea, perhaps whilst travelling to London.

Heriot's Hospital was begun in 1628, and duly constructed outside the city walls of Edinburgh, immediately to the south of Edinburgh Castle, adjacent to Greyfriars Kirk. It was completed just in time to be occupied by Oliver Cromwell's forces during the English Civil War. The hospital opened in due course in 1659, with thirty pupils; its finances grew, and it took in other pupils in addition to the orphans for whom it was intended. In the 1880s, it began to charge fees; however, to this day it serves its charitable object, providing free education to a sizable number of fatherless children.


*"The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography"

ee also

*William Fettes, another Edinburgh businessman, after whom Fettes College is named.
*List of universities named after people

External links

* [ Contemporary image of George Heriot] at the National Portrait Gallery.
* [ Biography]
*cite book| url=| author=James Grant| year=1882| location=Oxford University| publisher=Cassell, Petter, Galpin, & Co.| title=Cassell's Old and New Edinburgh| pages= 363-376

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