Royal High School (Edinburgh)

Royal High School (Edinburgh)

color box|yellow Picts
color box|blue Scots
colours = Black and White
color box|black color box|white
publication = "Schola Regia"
free_label_1 = Song
free_1 = "Vivas Schola Regia"
free_label_2 = Latin name
free_2 = "Schola Regia Edinensis"
free_label_3 = Nickname
free_3 = The Tounis Scule, RHS
website =
website_name =

The Royal High School (RHS) of Edinburgh can trace its roots back to 1128, and is one of the oldest schools in Scotland. It is a co-educational state comprehensive school, administered by the City of Edinburgh Council. It serves about 1200 pupils, largely from the north-west suburbs of the city, in the EH4 postcode: Barnton, Cramond, Davidson's Mains, Blackhall, Cammo, Silverknowes, some areas of Muirhouse and Clermiston. It was last inspected by Her Majesty's Inspectors in April 2007. [ [ The Royal High School Edinburgh Inspection 04/09/2007] , Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education. Retrieved 3 November 2007.]

The Royal High School's national profile has at times given it a flagship role in public education, piloting such experiments as the introduction of the Certificate of Secondary Education, the provision of setting in English and mathematics, and the curricular integration of European studies and, formerly, the International Baccalaureate. [John Murray, "A History of the Royal High School". Edinburgh, Royal High School, 1997, pp. 117-119.]

The Latin tradition on which the school was established almost a millennium ago also endures: it is the only state school in Edinburgh to offer classical studies as a course option to those in their third year of secondary study; it is one of the few in Scotland to provide a classical education. It is also unusual in teaching geology as a subject.

The incumbent rector is George Smuga. He is currently working with the Scottish Government to reform the national curriculum, and in his absence the senior depute, David Simpson, is acting head. [ [ Information Zone Index & Latest News ] ]


The Royal High School is, by one reckoning, the eighteenth-oldest school in the world. [Royal High School Club, [ History of the Club (June 2008).] Accessed 24 September 2008.] Historians associate its birth with the flowering of the twelfth-century renaissance. Building on a tradition of teaching by the Augustinian Order at Edinburgh Castle, the school first enters the historical record as the seminary of the Abbey of Holyrood, founded for Alwin and the canons by David I in 1128. However if also considered as a castle body on the continuity of its personnel, the school might be said to predate the abbey by a century. [Murray, "History", pp. 1-2.]

The Grammar School of the Church of Edinburgh, as it was known by the rectorship of Adam de Camis in 1378, grew into a church-run burgh institution providing a Latin education for the sons of burgess families, many of whom pursued careers in the Church. [Murray, "History", pp. 3, 142.] [Elizabeth Ewan, "Town Life in Fourteenth-Century Scotland". Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 1990, pp. 12, 131. ISBN 0-7486-0151-1.] In 1505 it became the first school in Great Britain to be designated a high school. [James J. Trotter, "The Royal High School, Edinburgh" (London: Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, 1911), p. 186.] [J. B. Barclay, "The Tounis Scule: The Royal High School of Edinburgh" (Edinburgh: Royal High School Club, 1974), p. 137.] In 1566, following the Reformation, Mary, Queen of Scots, transferred the school from the control of the Abbey to the Town Council, and from about 1590 James VI accorded it royal patronage as the "Schola Regia Edinburgensis". [Murray, "History", p. 142.]

In 1584 the Town Council informed the rector, Hercules Rollock, that his aim should be 'to instruct the youth in pietie, guid maneris, doctrine and letteris'. [William C. A. Ross, "The Royal High School" (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1934), p. 74.] As far as possible, instruction was carried out in Latin. The study of Greek began in 1614, [Ross, "Royal High School", p. 41.] and geography in 1742. [Ross, "Royal High School", pp. 46, 144.] The egalitarian spirit of Scotland and the classical tradition exerted a profound influence on the school culture and the Scottish Enlightenment. [Murray, "History", pp. 39-40.] A former pupil recalled: cquote|I used to sit between a youth of ducal family and the son of a poor cobbler. But what I conceive was the chief characteristic of our School as compared with the great English Schools was its semi-domestic, semi-public constitution, and especially our constant intercourse at home with our sisters and other folks of the other sex, these too being educated in Edinburgh, and the latitude we had for making excursions in the neighbourhood. [Trotter, "Royal High School", p. 58.]

The turn of the nineteenth century was for Edinburgh a golden age of literature, bringing the Royal High School worldwide fame and an influx of foreign students: [Ross, "Royal High School", p. 11.] 'Walter Scott stood head and shoulders above his literary contemporaries; the Rector, Alexander Adam, held a similar position in his own profession.' [Ross, "Royal High School", p. 11.] By the end of the Napoleonic Wars, an old scholar remembered, 'there were boys from Russia, Germany, Switzerland, the United States, Barbadoes, St. Vincent, Demerara, the East Indies, besides England and Ireland.' [Ross, "Royal High School", p. 58.] The Royal High School was used as a model for the first public high school in the United States, the English High School founded in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1821.

Greek ceased to be compulsory in 1836, and the time allotted to its study was reduced in 1839 as mathematics became recognised. [Barclay, "Tounis Scule, p. 18.] The curriculum was gradually broadened to include French (1834), [Trotter, "Royal High School", p. 190.] [Ross, "Royal High School", pp. 58, 145.] after-hours fencing and gymnastics (1843), [Ross, "Royal High School", pp. 59, 145.] German (1845), [Trotter, "Royal High School", p. 190.] [Ross, "Royal High School", pp. 59, 145.] science (1848) [Trotter, "Royal High School", p. 190.] drawing (1853), [Trotter, "Royal High School", p. 191.] military drill (1865) [Ross, "Royal High School", p. 146.] English (1866), [Ross, "Royal High School", pp. 66, 145.] [Trotter, "Royal High School", p. 191.] gymnastics as a formal subject and swimming (1885), [Ross, "Royal High School", pp. 59, 145.] music (1908), [Ross, "Royal High School", pp. 69, 147.] and history (1909). [Ross, "Royal High School", p. 70.] In 1866 classical masters were confined to teaching Latin and Greek. [Trotter, "Royal High School", p. 191.] A modern and commercial course was introduced in 1873. [Ross, "Royal High School", pp. 66-7, 146.] [Barclay, "Tounis Scule, p. 140.] A school choir was instituted in 1895. [Ross, "Royal High School", pp. 69, 146.] The prefect system was established in 1915. [Ross, "Royal High School", p. 147.] The Royal High School remained a boys-only, selective school until 1973, when it began to admit girls and became a co-educational state comprehensive. [Murray, "History", p. 146.]

Through the centuries, the school has been located at many sites throughout the city, including the Vennel of the Church of St. Mary in the Fields (c. 1503 - c.1516), Kirk o' Field Wynd (c. 1516-1555), Cardinal Beaton’s House in Blackfriars Wynd (1555-1569), the Collegiate Church of St. Giles or St. Mary in the Fields (1569-1578), Blackfriars Monastery (1578-1777), Infirmary Street (1777-1829), the famous building on Calton Hill (1829-1968), Jock's Lodge – now the Royal High Primary School (1931-1972), and its current site at Barnton, to which it moved in 1968.


In their last report on the Royal High School of April 2007, HM Inspectors found ‘very high levels of attainment at all stages’, ‘motivated pupils who took a pride in their school’, and ‘a very positive school ethos’. Pupils scored highly in national examinations, consistently outperforming those in comparator schools as well as the Edinburgh and national averages. [ [ The Royal High School Edinburgh Inspection 04/09/2007] , Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education, pp. 1, 17-18. Retrieved on 3 November 2007.]

130 university entrants from the Royal High School or 30.1% went to one of the ‘Sutton 13’ top UK universities in the five years between 2002 and 2006, second among Scottish state schools and colleges. [ [ University admissions by individual schools September 2007] , Sutton Trust, p. 39, 40.] In 2006 the Royal High School’s ranking for Higher grades was joint third in the Edinburgh state school league tables (joint seventeenth nationally in the state school rankings). [ [ "Eke-Out Reach Newsletter"] (May 2007) Issue 22, Local News, p. 11. Retrieved on 3 November 2007.]


The Royal High School's armorial bearings derive from the shield of the city arms, and antedate the Act of Parliament on the subject in 1672. [Barclay, "Tounis Scule", p. 82.] Their simple early form can be seen on a carved stone formerly set above the principal entrance to the school at Blackfriars in 1578. [William Steven, "The History of the High School of Edinburgh". Edinburgh, Maclachlan and Stewart, 1849, p. 6.] The pediment from the 1578 building was incorporated into the Regent Road building in 1897. [Barclay, "Tounis Scule, p. 140.]

The present design was matriculated by the Lord Lyon in 1920. The description reads: 'Sable, a castle triple towered and embattled argent, masoned of the first, windows and doors open gules set upon a rock proper. Above the shield is placed a helmet befitting its degree with a mantling sable doubled argent and in a scroll over the same this motto "Musis Respublica Floret" (The State Flourishes with the Muses).' [Barclay, "The Tounis Scule", pp. 82-3.] The W.C.A. Ross memorial crest displaying the school arms was unveiled at the main entrance at Barnton in 1973. [Barclay, "Tounis Scule, p. 140.]


The school uniform is black and white, derived from the municipal colours of Edinburgh. [ [ The Royal High School: School History] . Retrieved on 2 September 2007.]

The school retains the now traditional uniform of a blazer and tie, in which students continue to take great pride. Boys are required to wear a plain white shirt, official tie, black blazer with school badge, black trousers and black leather school shoes. There is the option of a black pullover. Girls must wear a white blouse, official tie, black pullover or cardigan, black blazer with school badge, black skirt or trousers, black tights and black leather school shoes. A black and white striped tie is standard; a plain black tie denotes a 6th-former.

The school badge features the school motto and the embattled triple-towered castle of the school arms. Prefects are presented with a silver badge (gold for school captain) to pin on their blazer. A select few 5th-formers are also awarded this badge.

These dress regulations, which were introduced to include those for girls as well as boys, date from 1973. [Barclay, "Tounis Scule", p. 82, Appendix X: 'School Rules of Discipline', pp. 134-6.]

The school garb worn at the end of the eighteenth century is described by Lord Cockburn:

Clothing patterns were gradually standardised from the 1860s, [Robert Anderson, 'Secondary Schools and Scottish Society in the Nineteenth Century', "Past and Present", No. 109 (November 1985), p. 195.] and an outfitter, Aitken & Niven, was appointed for the school after 1905. The blazer became part of the regular uniform in the early 1930s. The school badge was introduced in 1921, superseding an intertwined monogram RHS in silver thread on a black school cap, which had been standard wear since the turn of the twentieth century. The cap became a casualty of the clothes rationing and wartime austerity of the 1940s, since when pupils have gone bareheaded. [Barclay, "Tounis Scule", pp. 81, 82.] Long trousers replaced shorts by the 1970s.

Like the uniform, the school sports colours are black and white. They were adopted from the city in 1875. Prior to 1866 the sports colours had been white with an orange scarf; between 1866 and 1869, white with a blue and orange scarf; between 1869 and 1871, blue and orange; and between 1871 and 1875, scarlet and blue. [Barclay, "Tounis Scule", p. 82.] This rapid mid-Victorian evolution was prompted by the innovation of annual games

Sports and games

The Royal High School boasts many venerable sporting clubs. The RHS Cricket Club was formed in 1861. [Barclay, "Tounis Scule", pp. 58-9.] The RHS Rugby Football Club was formed in 1868. [Robert Ironside and Alexander M.C. Thorburn, "Royal High School Rugby Football Club: Centenary 1868-1968". Edinburgh, Royal High School, 1968, p. 8.] The RHS Golf Club was formed in 1876. [Barclay, "Tounis Scule", p. 140.] The RHS Athletic Club was formed in 1920. [Barclay, "Tounis Scule", p. 141.] These clubs were pioneered by former and attending pupils, who originally played their games together. [Ross, "Royal High School", p. 73.] Among the celebrated student founders of cricket and football at the school were Taverner Knott and Nat Watt, who undertook their labours with the encouragement of Thomson Whyte, reportedly the first master to take a serious interest in sport at the school. [Ross, "Royal High School", p. 73.] The sporting clubs were formally integrated into the school body when, in 1900, at the request of the club captains, two masters undertook the management of cricket and rugby.

The school's annual games date from the early 1860s, [Ross, "Royal High School", p. 73.] [Barclay, "Tounis Scule", p. 61.] following the acquisition of Holyrood Field for use as a cricket field in 1860. [Ross, "Royal High School", p. 145.] At first the organisation of the games was undertaken by the masters, but at the request of the rector, Dr. James Donaldson, the burden was assumed by the Cricket Club, which carried it until the outbreak of the First World War. [Ross, "Royal High School", p. 73.]

The nations system was introduced in 1912 by a later rector, Dr. William J. Watson. This has continued to the present day. On joining the school every pupil is allotted membership in one of four school houses, known as nations, named after the "gentes" or primordial peoples from the infancy of the Scottish state: Angles, Britons, Picts and Scots. Siblings are usually members of the same nation. The nations originally competed against each other in athletics, cricket and rugby, the champion nation being awarded the school shield for the annual session.

Conceived as a character-building exercise, the annual games and nations system were intended to foster a team spirit and encourage physical activity among all pupils. Within each nation, masters were appointed to committees to develop Under 15 and Under 13 cricket and rugby teams, and to broaden participation beyond the First XI and XV by training pupils of every level of ability. [Ross, "Royal High School", p. 74.] The competitive scheme proved popular with pupils and teachers and has since been expanded to encompass a wide variety of games, sports, and other extracurricular activities, held throughout the year. Nation badges were introduced in 1928. [Murray, "History", pp. 68-9, 145.]

Today the nations compete for the Crichton Cup. This was first presented as a trophy for the inter-nation squadron swimming race in 1914 by J. D. Crichton, whose sons were at the school. In 1920 it was transferred to the nation championship in scholarship and athletics combined. [William C. A. Ross, "The Royal High School" (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1934), p. 112.]

Earlier generations of Royal High Scholars had played their own schoolyard game, known as clacken from the wooden bat used by players, and as late as the 1880s 'no High School boy considered his equipment complete unless the wooden clacken hung to his wrist as he went and came', [Trotter, "Royal High School", p. 66.] but the rise of national games, especially rugby, the grant of Holyrood Field for cricket in 1860, [Ross, "Royal High School", p. 145.] and the construction of a gymnasium and swimming bath in 1885, [Ross, "Royal High School", pp. 34-5, 146.] meant the ancient Royal High Schoolyard game was extinct by 1911. [Trotter, "Royal High School", p. 66.]

Former pupils clubs

The Royal High School clubs of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were class clubs, formed by cohorts of old boys who had studied for four years under one master before being taken under the rector's wing in their fifth. The names of some of the last class clubs are immortalised in the school prizes they endowed, such as the Boyd Prize (1857) now awarded to the Dux of Form I, [Ross, "Royal High School", p. 106.] the Macmillan Club Prize (1865), a gold watch now awarded to the Dux in English, [Ross, "Royal High School", p. 106.] and the Carmichael Club Medal (1878), now given to the Dux of Form III. [Ross, "Royal High School", p. 108.] However, because the traditional cohort system was governed by independent masters with separate student followings, the club classes did little to foster a common school spirit. [Anderson, 'Secondary Schools and Scottish Society', p. 183.]

Thus, even after 1808, when fourteen former pupils of Dr. Alexander Adam banded together as the first High School Club and commissioned Henry Raeburn to paint a portrait of their master as a gift to the school, the old independence resurfaced again, in 1859, when the five surviving members handed over the priceless masterpiece to the Scottish National Gallery. [Ross, "Royal High School", pp. 76.] The school instituted legal proceedings against the club, [ Barclay, "Tounis Scule", p. 139.] but in the end had to make do with a Cruickshank copy of the original, presented in 1864. [Trotter, "Royal High School", p. 191.]

Today the Royal High School has three flourishing former pupils' clubs in the United Kingdom. The present Royal High School Club was founded in 1849 under the presidency of the Earl of Camperdown. The first annual report, dated July 1850, contains the original constitution, [Ross, "Royal High School", p. 77.] clause IV of which states: 'The objects of the Club shall be generally to promote the interests of the High School, maintain a good understanding, and form a bond of union among the former Pupils of that institution.' [Ross, "Royal High School", p. 80.] Known in the beginning, like its predecessor, simply as the High School Club, it adopted its full name in 1907. [Ross, "Royal High School", pp. 75-6.] Since 1863 the club has given an annual prize at the school games. [Ross, "Royal High School", p. 77.] It also pays for the framings of engravings of former pupils and other art works which decorate the walls of the school. [Ross, "Royal High School", p. 81.]

The Royal High School Club in London was founded in 1889. On the occasion of its seventieth anniversary dinner (1959) the "Scotsman" reported: 'We believe the London Club is indeed the oldest Scottish School Club in existence in London – among the members are No. 111 HRH The Prince of Wales, Sandringham.' [Barclay, "Tounis Scule", p. 77.]

The third former pupils club in the UK is the Royal High School Achievers Society.

The Royal High School (Canada) Club was formed in Winnipeg in 1914, and after lapsing into inactivity because of the war it was revived in British Columbia in 1939. [Barclay, "Tounis Scule", p. 77.] The Royal High School (India) Club was formed in 1925 to help former pupils in the east; it disbanded in 1959. [Barclay, "Tounis Scule", pp. 77-8.] The Royal High School (Malaya) Club flourished between the two world wars and was revived in the 1950s. [Barclay, "Tounis Scule", p. 78.]

European partnerships

Since the United Kingdom's accession to the European Union, the Royal High School's historic association with the City of Edinburgh has led it to cultivate international relationships through regular musical exchanges with sister cities on the Continent such as Florence (from 1975) and Munich (from 1979), and with other schools such as the Theodolinden-Gymnasium, Munich (from 1979), the Lycée Antoine-de-Saint Exupéry, Lyon (from 1991), and the Scuola di Musica ‘Giuseppe Verdi’, Prato (from 1993). In 1992 the school was awarded a European Curriculum Award by the British Government in recognition of its contribution to the development of European awareness in education. [Murray, "History", pp. 123-124, 132.]


The official school magazine is "Schola Regia". This is a "vox discipuli" that enables pupils to air their views and showcase their literary and artistic talents. It features news and creative input from all sections of the school community, including regular club reports and interviews with famous former pupils. The journal is produced by an editorial committee of student volunteers, usually with the assistance of a teacher from the English department. It is partly financed by commercial advertising and is published in the autumn. The Malcolm Knox Prize is awarded annually for the best contribution.

The first, short-lived, school magazine was published in 1886. Like its successor, it was subsidised by the school club. [Ross, "Royal High School", pp. 80-1.] The maiden issue of "Schola Regia" appeared in 1895 and the present series began in 1904. The magazine’s archive is both a repository of irreverent anecdotes about school life and a valuable source for history in a larger sense. The wartime volumes contain many letters from former pupils serving at the front. [Murray, "History", pp. 66, 71, 144.]

The Royal High School also publishes an "Annual Report" at the end of the school session in July. As the school’s main publication of record, it contains future session dates, a staff list, the rector’s report, a programme for the commemoration day ceremony, a list of awards, and a roll of pupils. The rector's report was first published in 1846. [Barclay, "Tounis Scule", p. 139.]

School song

The Royal High School song is "Vivas Schola Regia" (1895).


The VC recipients were Philip Bent and Harcus Strachan. [Murray, "History", pp. 70-1.]

Second World War

In 1949 memorial windows in the school hall were dedicated to the dead of the Second World War. [Barclay, "Tounis Scule", pp. 35-6.] Made with stained glass, they were the work of former pupils William Wilson and William G. Dey. Their theme is Scottish heritage. The west window is called the Heroes Window. It carries the school crest and military insignia of former pupils, and features famous warriors. The centre window is called the Royal Window. It depicts royal patrons of the school and symbols of constitutional and technological evolution. Beneath the arms of Scotland is Barbour's line: 'Fredom is ane nobil thing'. The east window is called the Thinkers Window. It displays the city arms and portrays poets and visionaries of Scotland. The lower corner panels of each window show a child training to maintain the national inheritance. [William C. A. Ross (ed.), "1939-1945 Roll of Honour of the Royal High School of Edinburgh" (Edinburgh: C. J. Cousland, 1949), p. vii.]

The Roll of Honour 1939-1945 contains 1243 names. The number of those who fell is 131. [Ross, "1939-1945 Roll", p. v.] The following are among the decorations and awards: [Ross, "1939-1945 Roll".] [Barclay, "Tounis Scule", pp. 76-7.]

The VC recipient was John Cruickshank. [Ross, "1939-1945 Roll", p. 24.] The GC recipient (posthumous) was Douglas Ford. [Ross, "1939-1945 Roll", p. 39.]

Popular culture

Among the Royal High School's innumerable appearances in literature are the stories related in the "Gentleman's Magazine", Walter Scott's "Autobiography", Lord Cockburn's "Memorials", Captain Basil Hall's "Log Book of a Midshipman", George Borrow's "Lavengro", and George M'Crie's 1866 poem, "The Old High School". [Trotter, "Royal High School", pp. 162-185.]

The most celebrated of all is the ‘Green-Breeks’ episode in Scott’s novel, "Waverley", Appendix III (1814). The author, a pupil from 1779 to 1783, reminisces wistfully about the bicker, or traditional mass brawl, humorously likened to a Homeric battle, fought in the streets of Edinburgh between pupils from different social classes. [Murray, "History", p. 38.]

A school ballad, "The Woeful Slaying of Bailie Macmoran", was founded on a school siege of 1595 known as the great barring-out. [Trotter, "Royal High School", pp. 114-15.] This turbulent history continues to inspire new work. "Gentlemen’s Bairns" is a play by C. S. Lincoln which premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2005. It dramatises the fatal shooting during the siege of a chief magistrate, John Macmoran, by a pupil, William Sinclair, a younger son of the Earl of Caithness. [Philip Fisher, [ Review: "Close Encounters", ‘Fringe 2005 Reviews’ (43), "British Theatre Guide"] . Retrieved on 27 October 2007.]

See also

*List of the oldest schools in the world


External links

* [ Official website]
* [ The Royal High School's page on Scottish Schools Online]
* [ The Royal High School Club]
* [ The Royal High School Club in London]
* [ The Royal High School Building on Calton Hill at]

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