Honorary Fellow

BA, LLB, FRHist S, Solicitor


David Sellar is a graduate of the Universities of Oxford and Edinburgh in history and law respectively. He qualified as a solicitor in 1966. After two years with the Scottish Land Court, he joined the Faculty of Law at the University of Edinburgh where he is now an honorary fellow. His main interests lie in Scots law and Scottish history, including legal history and family history. He is joint author of the Saltire Society's Scottish Legal Tradition (1991) and has written on the history of various branches of Scots law, including marriage, divorce, incest, homicide and unjust enrichment. He has published on the Lordship of the Isles and on the origins of many Highland families, including the Campbells, MacDonalds, MacDougalls, MacLeods, Lamonts, MacLachlans, MacNeills and Nicolsons. He was O’Donnell Lecturer (in Celtic studies) at Edinburgh in 1985, and a Rhind Lecturer in 2000. He has been a Member of the Ancient Monuments Board for Scotland, Vice-President of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Literary Director of the Stair Society and Chairman of the Conference of Scottish Medievalists. He has also served on the Council of the Scottish Genealogy Society and the Heraldry Society of Scotland. He has held the office of Bute Pursuivant of Arms since 2001, and was appointed Lord Lyon King of Arms in 2008.


W. David H. Sellar, MC Meston The Scottish Legal Tradition (Saltire and Stair Society, 1991)
Abstract: An enlarged edition of a concise introduction to the Scottish legal system.

Edited Books

W. David H. Sellar Moray, Province and People (Scottish Society for Northern Studies, Edinburgh, 1993)

W. David H. Sellar Miscellany Two (Stair Society, 1984)

Journal Articles

W. David H. Sellar 'The great land debate and the Land Reform (Scotland) Act' (2006) Norsk Geografisk Tidsskrift / Norwegian Journal of Geography Vol 60 (1) 100-109
Abstract: This article seeks to give a flavour of the contemporary land debate in Scotland; a debate which emphatically concerns land and landscape, law and justice. It considers the historical background to that debate, including the tragedy of the Highland Clearances, and follows the progress through the recently re-established Scottish Parliament of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. This ground-breaking and controversial Act falls into three parts: the first provides for a general public right of access to land throughout Scotland; the second gives communities a right of pre-emption over land coming on the market; and the third empowers crofting communities to acquire land.

W. David H. Sellar 'Spens of Lathallan - the Campbell Connection' (2005) The Double Tressure No 28 pp 10-20

W. David H. Sellar 'Somerled to John of Islay: Ragnall and Alexander Og' (2001) Clan Donald Magazine No 14 pp 25-30

W. David H. Sellar 'William Forbes Skene (1809-92): historian of Celtic Scotland' (2001) Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland Vol 131 pp 3-21

W. David H. Sellar 'Scots Law: Mixed from the Very Beginning? A Tale of Two Receptions' (2000) Edinburgh Law Review Vol4 pp3-18

W. David H. Sellar 'Origins and Ancestry of Somerled' (1966) Scottish Historical Review


Hector MacQueen, W. David H. Sellar 'Scots law: Ius quaesitum tertio, promise and irrevocability' in Eltjo Schrage (eds) Ius Quaesitum Tertio (Duncker & Humblot, Berlin, 2008) 357-383
Abstract: History of the development of the doctrine of ius quaesitum tertio in Scots law, in particular its debt to canon law and the concept of the enforceable unilateral promise.

W. David H. Sellar 'Legal Writing, 1314-1707' in Ian Brown, Thomas Owen Clancy and Murray Pittock (eds) The Edinburgh History of Scottish Literature: Volume 1: From Columba to the Union (Until 1707) (Edinburgh University Press, 2007) pp. 236-244

W. David H. Sellar 'Law, Courts and People' in Neil Baxter (eds) A Tale of Two Towns: A History of Medieval Glasgow (Neil Baxter Associates, Glasgow, 2007) pp. 30-37

W. David H. Sellar 'Succession Law in Scotland - a Historical Perspective' in Kenneth Reid, Reinhard Zimmermann, M. J. De Waal (eds) Exploring the Law of Succession: Studies National, Historical and Comparative (Edinburgh University Press, 2007) pp. 49-66

W. David H. Sellar 'The Significance of Names: Scandinavian Personal Names in the Northern and Western Isles' in Peder Gammeltoft, Carole Hough and Doreen Waugh (eds) Cultural Contacts in the North Atlantic Region: The Evidence of Names (NORNA, Scottish Place-Name Society and Society for Name Studies in Britain and Ireland, 2005) pp. 199-208

W. David H. Sellar 'A castle and its landscape: The case of Castle Tioram' in Tiina Peil and Michael Jones (eds) Landscape, Law and Justice (Oslo, 2005) pp. 118-123

W. David H. Sellar 'Birlaw courts and birleymen' in Paul Brand, Kevin Costello and W. N. Osborough (eds) Adventures of the Law: Proceedings of the Sixteenth British Legal History Conference, Dublin, 2003 (Irish Legal History Society/Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2005) pp. 70-87

W. David H. Sellar 'The Highland Clearances and the Scottish Land Court' in M. Jones and A. Schanche (eds) Landscape, Law and Customary Rights (Nordic Saami Institute, Kautokeino, Norway, 2004) pp. 93-101

W. David H. Sellar 'Forflissa/Forbflaith/Hvarflo?ð' in David Edwards (eds) Regions and Rulers in Ireland, 1100-1650 (Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2004) pp. 51-53

W. David H. Sellar 'Contributions on: 'Somerled', 'Ewen of Argyll', 'Alexander of Argyll', 'John of Argyll', 'Sir Alexander Falconer', 'George Dallas', 'John Dundas', 'Alexander Bruce', 'George Fergusson, Lord Hermand', 'William Morison' and 'William Forbes Skene'' in H.C.G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004)

Martin Hogg, W. David H. Sellar 'Unjustified Enrichment in Scots Law' in Beatson, Jack (eds) Cases, Materials and Texts on Unjustified Enrichment (Hart Publishing, 2003)
Abstract: Scottish contribution to a comparative casebook on Unjustified Enrichment

Hector MacQueen, W. David H. Sellar 'History of Negligence in Scots law' in EJ H Schage (ed) (eds) Negligence: The Comparative Legal History of the Law of Torts (Duncker & Humblot, Berlin, 2001) pp. 273-307
Abstract: The paper discusses the development of the concept of negligence in Scots law from medieval times down to Donoghue v Stevenson (1932).

Hector MacQueen, W. David H. Sellar 'Negligence' in Kenneth Reid, Reinhard Zimmermann (eds) A History of Private Law in Scotland, II: Obligations (Oxford University Press, 2000) 517-47
Abstract: This chapter focuses on the year 1795 until 1932, a period which marks a great shift and change in the history of the law of delict in Scotland. In the early period of Scots' law of delict, negligence does appear however it was treated as an element of particular claim rather than as a general basis for liability. This concept of negligence changed as the Scottish courts became increasingly aware of the jurisdictions of the concept of duty, reasonableness, and foreseeability. The chapter also outlines the convergence of the Scots and English law of negligence during the 19th century which affected the radical shift and orientation of the Scots law on negligence and duty. DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198299288.003.0017

W. David H. Sellar 'Promise' in Kenneth Reid, Reinhard Zimmermann (eds) A History of Private Law in Scotland, II: Obligations (Oxford University Press, 2000) 252-82
Abstract: For several hundred years, Scots law has held to the proposition that a promise is legally binding without the need for acceptance. Stair discussed promise and the rationale behind the claim of promise as being legally binding in his Institutions. And although later writers lacked the clarity of Stair's vision and capacity of analysis, the law remained unchanged until the Requirements of Writing Act in 1995. This chapter considers Stair's treatment of promise against the background of the canon law and jus commune, and actual practice in Scotland. It probes into the state of Scots law in the years between the Scottish Reformation in 1159-60 and the appearance of Stair's Institutions in 1681. It also investigates the influence of the pre-Reformation canon law on the creation of the Scottish law of obligations. In addition, the chapter also addresses the questions of Stair's use of the term 'pollicitation' which bedevilled the entire area of this law. DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198299288.003.0010

W. David H. Sellar 'Hebridean Sea-Kings: The Successors of Smerled 1164-1316' in E. J. Cowan and R. Andrew McDonald (eds) Alba: Celtic Scotland in the Medieval Era (Tuckwell Press, East Linton, 2000) pp. 187-218

W. David H. Sellar 'The Ancestry of the MacLeods Reconsidered' in (eds) Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness: Vol. LX 1997-1998 (Inverness, 2000) pp. 233-258

W. David H. Sellar 'The Resilience of the Scottish Common Law' in D. L. Carey Miller, R. Zimmermann (eds) The Civilian Tradition and Scots Law: Aberdeen Quincentenary Essays (Duncker and Humblot, Berlin, 1997) pp. 149-164

W. David H. Sellar 'Marriage, Divorce and the Forbidden Degrees: Canon Law and Scots Law' in WN Osborough (eds) Explorations in Law and History: Irish Legal History Society Discourses, 1988-1994 (Irish Academic Press, Dublin, 1995)

W. David H. Sellar, Hector MacQueen 'Unjust Enrichment in Scots Law' in Eltjo J. H. Schrage (eds) Unjust Enrichment The Comparative Legal History of the Law of Restitution (Duncker & Humblot, 1995)

W. David H. Sellar 'Unjust Enrichment' in Robert Black, Hamish Henderson, Joseph M. Thomson, Kenneth Miller (eds) The Laws of Scotland: Stair Memorial Encyclopaedia (Butterworths, 1988) vol.15, pp. 11-65

Notes and Reviews

W. David H. Sellar 'Shilliday v Smith: Unjust Enrichment through the Looking Glass?' (2001) Edinburgh Law Review Vol 5 pp 80-84