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Advocate’s Close, Edinburgh – Pic of the Week

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Advocate's CloseDuring a recent vacation in Scotland I took several treks along the Royal Mile in Edinburgh’s Old Town. On one such walk, in the darkness of the late afternoon, I snapped a picture of Advocate’s Close and the plaque that provides brief information about it. All along the Royal Mile there are narrow alleyways called “closes,” often named for a former notable occupant of one of the private residences on the close, or for the type of trade that took place in that close.

Advocate’s Close, according to the plaque, is so-named because it was the former residence of Sir James Stewart of Goodtrees (1635-1713), who was Lord Advocate of Scotland from 1692 to 1709 (although it appears he resided at the close until his death). I found detailed information about this particular James Stewart — his father and son (a lawyer and member of the Scottish parliament) were also called Sir James Stewart (or Steuart) — in an 1883 book about Scotland’s Lord Advocates that is available both in our collection and online courtesy of the Internet Archive. This book provides interesting historical information about the role and those who held it over several centuries, as well as some of the key legislation and cases with which they were involved.

Sir James was called to the bar in 1661 and had a practice in Edinburgh. It seems that, in the years prior to becoming Lord Advocate, he had some run-ins with the ruling authorities and consequently spent time in France and London under false identities. His troubles initially related to the defense of his father, who was Lord Provost of Edinburgh during the Restoration period, which saw the monarchy being restored in Scotland. The elder Sir James was arrested on various charges, including treason. The younger Sir James was also said to have been involved in writings and activities against the government, resulting in warrants being issued for his arrest, a trial and conviction in absentia, and a sentence of death. He was later pardoned and became a key adviser to the Whig party in Scotland. Following the “Glorious Revolution” (1688-89), which saw the overthrow of King James II of England (James VII of Scotland) and the establishment of the supremacy of parliament over the monarchy, he was appointed Lord Advocate, an office that he held until his resignation in 1709.

The book on Lord Advocates notes that, during his lifetime, Lord Advocate Stewart had witnessed three important events: the Restoration, the Revolution, and the Union (i.e., of Scotland and England in 1707). The book also mentions that “[i]n person, Stewart is said to have been a big handsome man. His massive figure and dark face are to be seen in a portrait which hangs in Signet Library at Edinburgh.” I wonder if it is still there. Maybe I should have popped into the library for afternoon tea!

Other items in the Law Library’s collections with information on Sir James Stewart, Lord Advocate of Scotland, include:

Scotland continues to have the position of Lord Advocate, who is Scotland’s most senior law officer and the government’s principal legal adviser. The Lord Advocate heads Scotland’s prosecution service, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. He or she is nominated by the First Minister before being formally approved by the Scottish Parliament and then by the Queen.

Advocate's Close - Plaque

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