Captain William L Renwick

Biography of Captain William L Renwick

William Lindsay Renwick was born in Glasgow on 6th January 1889, the youngest of five children. His father was a merchant and although William always maintained strong links with Glasgow, he had a strong affinity to the Borders where his paternal grandfather was a shepherd near Garvald. William was educated at Woodside School and matriculated at University of Glasgow in October 1907. His family home was in Arlington Street nearby.

Notable amongst his contemporaries while he studied for an MA were Walter Elliot, John Boyd and George Buchanan Smith. He was active in Union discussions, contributed to debates, in literary societies such as the Mermaid Club, and was in the O.T.C. He was subeditor of the Glasgow University Magazine 1909-1910 and some of his contributions appear in two anthologies of Glasgow University verse.

In 1911 he gained First Class Honours in English and was awarded the Clark Scholarship, for a four year tenure in 1912. This enabled him to pursue some rambles around France and then time studying, mainly at Toulouse and the Sorbonne. This reflective time allowed his to focus his future studies on Edmund Spenser, making good use of his knowledge of the French and Italian languages.

His war service began on 27th September 1914 when he volunteered for active service and was commissioned to the Tenth Battalion of the Cameronians, the Scottish Rifles. He was adept at administration and this led to rapid promotion, however he remained a staunch supporter of his junior ranks. He went to France with the battalion and took part in the Battle of Loos. With four other junior officers he was in the reserve lines when the attack was made. Surviving this bloody attack he was then put in charge of two companies feeling (ipse dixit) ‘like a ghost, an old ghost, sceptical and disillusioned.’ His service in France ended six months later when he was invalided back to Britain for hospital treatment, after which he was to take over instructional duties.

During the Second World War he was a commander of a local Home Guard, but also served his country using his academic prowess representing the British Council in 1943-4 on a tour of Chinese Universities offering support to academic staff. Japanese advances meant academic staff had been evacuated westward into underdeveloped mountain regions where they were cut off from cultural contacts. This was an exacting experience in rural conditions that took its toll on William’s health. However his contact with the Chinese academics, colleges and schools was highly valued and friendly contact was maintained with groups in China for many years.

William married Margaret Lang, also a Glasgow Graduate, in 1917. Margaret’s brother Arthur Lang, another Glasgow honours graduate, was killed in action in August 1916. After the war William graduated from Merton College with a B. Litt in 1920 and then, after a short spell lecturing at Glasgow he was appointed as Joseph Cowan Professor of English Literature at Armstrong College, Newcastle, then in the University of Durham. He remained there for twenty four years, pursuing his work on Spenser. His publication Edmund Spenser: An Essay on Renaissance Poetry remains a standard text. Following several further studies on Spenser he was awarded honorary degrees by Glasgow in 1926 and Bordeaux in 1934. He was appointed to the chair of Regis Professor of Rhetoric and English Literature at Edinburgh University in 1945, remaining there until his retirement in 1959.

Although they had no children of their own William and Margaret were loved and admired by the family who were regular visitors to their home in Edinburgh, which over looked Arthur’s Seat. Friends, students and visiting academics were always made most welcome too. The Renwicks gathered a valuable collection of artwork which was bequeathed to the University of Glasgow following Margaret’s death.


Captain William L Renwick
Rank: Captain
Regiment: 10th Cameronians - Scottish Rifles
Degree: MA
Awards: N/A
Comments: N/A
Note/Press Clipping: N/A
Photo ID: N/A


Recollections of William based on William Lindsay Renwick 1889-1970 by Winifred Maynard From the Proceedings of the British Academy, Vol LVII London: Oxford University Press Ely House, W.1

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