William Sterling

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Sir William Stirling-Maxwell, c. 1870, photograph by Thomas Annan

Sir William Stirling-Maxwell, 9th Baronet, of Pollok (8 March 1818 - 15 January 1878), was an Scottish historical writer and art historian, politician and virtuoso.

He was the author of the book “The Canon - An Exposition of the Pagan Mystery Perpetuated in the Cabala as the Rule of all the Arts”, which had been printed anonymously in 1897 (modern edition, The Garnstone Press, London, 1974).

Early life

He was born at Kenmure, the son of Archibald Stilling, Esq., of Keir, and Elizabeth Maxwell, sister of Sir John Maxwell, 8th Baronet and Harriet Maxwell (d. 1812) and daughter of Sir John Maxwell, 7th Baronet and Hannah or Anne Gardiner, daughter of Richard Gardiner, of Aldborough, Suffolk, and studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, graduating a BA degree in 1839 and a MA degree in 1843. He travelled in Spain and the Levant and contributed to Fraser's Magazine and the Examiner. In 1848 he published his pioneering Annals of the Artists of Spain. He succeeded to the Keir estates in 1847.


He served as Member of Parliament for Perthshire from 1852 to 1858 and again from 1874 to 1878. He was appointed a Member of the Universities Commission in 1859 and of the Historical Manuscripts Commission from 1872 to 1878, as well as of the Scottish Education Board (a forerunner to the Scottish Office). He was Rector of the University of St Andrews in 1862 and of the University of Edinburgh in 1872.

He succeeded to the Maxwell Baronetcy (in the Baronetage of Nova Scotia) in 1865, assuming the additional name of Maxwell.

He was appointed Chancellor of the University of Glasgow in 1865 and was awarded an Honorary DCL from the University of Oxford in the same year. He was a member of the University of London Senate and a Trustee of the British Museum and the National Gallery.

He was a breeder of shorthorn s and Clydesdale horses, an ardent bibliographer and collector of works of art.


He married firstly Lady Anna Maria Leslie-Melville (d. 8 December 1874), daughter of David Leslie-Melville, 8th Earl of Leven and Elizabeth Anne Campbell. In March 1877 he married secondly noted author and society figure Caroline Norton, a granddaughter of the famous Irish playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan. She died three months later.