Papers of the Principals of the University of St Andrews.

Scope and Content

These papers were created by each of the Principals of the University in the performance of the duties of their office. They can cover any area of the life of the University and cover a broad range of subjects. The papers become more comprehensive in their survival after 1953 and, indeed, are voluminous for the last two incumbents. The most recent material is in the form of files relating to all aspects of the role of Principal, both within and outwith the University. There is some overlap between Principals' papers and those of other senior officers within the University such as the Secretary. The papers also include early material of a similar nature to files which are now held as discrete series such as development, external relations, alumni relations, public relations and personnel. Some of the most recent material is sensitive and subject to closure. In some instances there are additional academic or personal papers of individual Principals to be found within the manuscript holdings of the University.

Administrative / Biographical History

The office of Principal of the University, although only created as such in 1953, dates in effect from 1858. The Provosts of St Salvator's College and Principals of St Leonard's and St Mary's Colleges were originally responsible for the oversight of their own institutions. The three college heads were reduced in number to two Principals after the creation of the United College of St Salvator and St Leonard in 1747.

The Universities (Scotland) Act of 1858, by introducing a division of functions between the University Court and the Senatus Academicus and by removing the Rector from the latter body, made it necessary to devise a new official to direct the academic business of the University. This duty the Act assigned to the senior of the two college Principals. The Universities (Scotland) Act of 1889 amended this provision by declaring that the Principal of the United College of St Salvator and St Leonard should also "possess the title and status and discharge the functions of Principal of the University'. This arrangement persisted until the Act of 1953 which instituted the office of Principal of the University in its own right and assigned its patronage to the Crown. By the Education (Scotland) Act of 1981 the Crown relinquished its power of appointing the Principal in favour of the University Court.

The Principal, by the Act of 1858, is the ordinary President of the Senatus Academicus. By the Act of 1889 he presides over the University Court in the absence of the Rector and, by the Act of 1858, over the General Council in the absence of the Chancellor and the Rector. By University Court Resolution 1968 no. 2, the appointment of a Principal terminates not later than the end of the academic year in which he attains the age of 70 years.

Principals of the University:

  • Sir David Brewster, Principal of the United College (Senior Principal), 1859
  • Rev. John Tulloch, Principal of St Mary's College (Senior Principal), 1859-1886
  • Sir James Donaldson, Principal of the United College (Senior Principal, 1886-1890), 1886-1915
  • Sir John Herkless, Principal of the United College, 1915-1920
  • Sir James Colquhoun Irvine, Principal of the United College, 1921-1952
  • Sir Thomas Malcolm Knox, 1953-1966
  • Professor John Steven Watson, 1966-1986
  • Professor Struther Arnott, 1986-1999
  • Dr Brian Lang, 2001-[ongoing]


The papers are arranged chronologically by Principal and those of the later Principals are then arranged alphabetically by file title. There are no surviving papers held as principal's papers for Sir David Brewster or Sir John Herkless, although other material may be held as manuscripts within the University Library.

Lower level descriptions can be found for:

  • UYUY875/Tulloch
  • UYUY875/Donaldson
  • UYUY875/Irvine
  • UYUY875/Knox
  • UYUY875/Watson
  • UYUY875/Arnott

Access Information

By appointment with the Archivist. Access to unpublished records less than 30 years old and other records containing confidential information may be restricted. Some of the files contain sensitive information and are closed. Some of the files require permission from the Principal's Office before consultation is allowed.

Acquisition Information

University of St Andrews.


Description compiled by Rachel Hart, Archives Hub Project Archivist.

Other Finding Aids

There are hand lists available in the Reading Room. In addition, the papers of later Principals are available on database. Partial slip-index to file titles is available. The cataloguing of these papers is presently being completed.

Alternative Form Available

No known copies.

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the Keeper of Muniments. Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use and condition of documents.

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with standard GB 227 procedures.

Custodial History

Retained in the custody of the University of St Andrews.



Related Material

Papers of the Vice-Principals are held at GB 227 UYUY876. Papers of the Executive are held at GB 227 UYUY877. Subjects can also be covered within the papers of the Secretaries of the University. The personal and academic papers of Principals can be held as manuscripts.


No known publications using this material.

Additional Information

This material is original.

Geographical Names