Travel journal of John Allen, 1771-1843, historian and political writer

Scope and Content

Journal of a tour in France, c1825, in company with Lord and Lady Holland

Administrative / Biographical History

John Allen  was born at Redfoord, in the parish of Colinton, near Edinburgh, Scotland, on 3 February 1771 . He was apprenticed to an Edinburgh surgeon and in 1791 was awarded his MD from the University of Edinburgh.

He lectured on medical topics around Edinburgh and translated Cuvier's Introduction to the Study of the Animal Economy (1801). In private life he was known for his zeal in promoting the cause of political reform in Scotland, and through his sympathy with the principles of the Whig party and his knowledge of constitutional history, he was one of the select few to whom the plan of the Edinburgh Review was communicated by Jeffrey and his coadjutors.

In 1801 , Henry Richard Vassall Fox, 3rd baron Holland, desired the services of 'a clever young Scotch medical man to accompany him to Spain,' and Allen was recommended. With this family Allen remained abroad until 1805, and on his return to England became a regular visitor to Holland House. For a few months in 1806 he was under-secretary to the commissioners for treating with America; but that was the only official position which he ever held. Two years later Allen accompanied Lord Holland on a tour in Spain, and whilst there made a close and accurate study of the history and social characteristics of the Spanish people. He made some progress towards a volume 'on the interior economy and administration of Spain under the different periods of her history,' with the object of illustrating the different causes that have checked her progress; but it was never finished. Two of his articles on Spanish America appeared in the Edinburgh Review (April 1810), and in the previous year he printed in Spanish and English, though he did not publish, a pamphlet with the title Suggestions on the Cortes, containing his views on the principles which should guide the Spanish statesmen.

It is as a figure in the social life of Holland House, London, that he is best known where with Lord Holland he searched historical records for speech material, and to Allen's acute criticism he submitted the historic protests which appeared in the journals of the House of Lords.

Allen's best known work was an Inquiry into the Rise and Growth of the Royal Prerogative in England (1830). As a Scotsman, he resented Sir Francis Palgrave's opinion, that from the seventh century to the reign of Edward I, Scotland was a dependent member of the English monarchy, and he issued in 1833 a Vindication of the Ancient Independence of Scotland.

He was warden of Dulwich College, London, from 1811 to 1820 and master from that year until his death. He was auditor of the Duchy of Lancaster from 1841 till his death. He died at 33 South Street, London, at the London residence of Lady Elizabeth Vassall Fox, Lord hollands wife, on 10 April 1843 , and was buried at Millbrook, close by the third Lord Holland.

W P C, 'Allen, John, 1771-1843',Dictionary of National Biography ( 1885 )


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Related Material

GB 058 Papers and correspondence of John Allen 1799-1843 (British Library, Manuscripts Department)

GB 066 PRO 30/26/109-11 Papers and correspondence of John Allen (Public Record Office)

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