Eighteenth-Century Scotland Through Austrian Eyes


Count Karl von Zinzendorf (1739-1813)

Almost 250 years ago, on August 8th 1768 a nobleman, Count Karl von Zinzendorf first set foot in Scotland. His name is familiar to many historians of European history as the avid diarist and celebrated administrator of the Habsburg Monarchy. However, his name is far less known to Scottish historians of the same period. Yet Zinzendorf knew Scotland much more than Scotland knows about him; in fact he not just explored the land but studied it as well.

His sojourn to Scotland brought him into contact with established companions and new figures. One of closest friends, the future Governor of New York and ill-fated Governor of Virginia John Murray 4th Earl of Dunmore, nicknamed by Zinzendorf as “the Highlander” introduced him to The Poker Club in Edinburgh — one of the primary organs of the Scottish Enlightenment and meeting-place for many of the Scottish intelligentsia.

In ‘Auld Reekie’ he walked the cobbled streets and roamed the Meadows parkland with his admired acquaintance William Robertson, one of the most prestigious professors of history at the University of Edinburgh. The same sort of mingling occurred over in Glasgow at the end of his tour when he strolled the university gardens with the moral philosophy Prof. Thomas Reid and the Regius Prof. of Astronomy Alexander Wilson.

In between hikes in the Highlands with his “Highlander” Dunmore, he rested with at the Earl of Elgin’s estate, went to mass at St. Fillan’s Church with John Campbell 3rd Earl of Breadalbane, and dined with fellow freemasons — and later Grandmasters of the Ancient Grand Lodge of England — John Murray 3rd Duke of Atholl and his son, Lord Tuillibardine, whom he called the “jolly infant.”



z journey

The full route of Zinzendorf’s journey through Scotland in August 1768

In the eighteenth century travel became a more frequent exercise for petty aristocrats or the emerging ‘middle class’ and Zinzendorf was by no means the first in this period to travel through the glens and slums of Scotland. However, his trip to Scotland (and his visit to Great Britain as a whole) was in some ways very unique.

For one, Zinzendorf’s journey was sponsored by the Habsburg state; his first position in Vienna began in 1761 straight after he studies at the University of Jena but he departed in 1764 on extended leave to observe conditions of finance and state in foreign nations such as the Netherlands, France, Spain, Portugal and Great Britain. Zinzendorf’s time in Scotland then was just as much about reconnoissance as pleasure.

Secondly, unlike other eighteenth-century travelogues about Scotland such as the contemporary works like the Welsh naturalist Thomas Pennant’s 1769 A Tour of Scotland (which followed a very similar route) or the earlier published Tours in Scotland 1747, 1750, 1760 by Richard Pococke, Zinzendorf’s record of travel existed in the form of his personal diary — an item which he maintained throughout his life and in exquisite detail, listing the names of all individuals, meals, meteorological observations and, in this case, how the bagpipes reminded him of the sounds of “bear traders” in Germany.


Some Observations of Scotland’

In addition Zinzendorf compiled a nearly seven-hundred page report simply entitled ‘Observations‘ which is preserved today at the archives in Vienna. Scotland features heavily in the document and primarily within two sections: first in ‘Observations from my Journey‘ and a second — shown above — called ‘Some Observations of Scotland.’

Zinzendorf’s report focuses particularly on the economic situation of Scotland in the late 1760s. Some of his most detailed passages discuss the various banks of Scotland — including a hand-copied samples of banknotes, see below — and a description of the Carron Ironworks which he visited. A notable entry also compares the coal miners of the central belt of Scotland with the plantation slaves elsewhere in the British Empire.


During my time as a guest researcher at the INZ in Vienna, I stumbled across the document and cross-checked it with his diary, the relevant parts of which are only available to view at the archive. Zinzendorf’s section and analysis of the British colonies in North America greatly interested me and led me primarily to this chance personal discovery.

bank note.png

Scottish Banknotes of the Banks of Dumfries and Ayrshire

Although efforts have been underway to publish edited versions of Zinzendorf’s diary by the Historical Commission in Austria, my project here seeks to focus in on his time spent in Scotland and the ramifications of his visit.

I am intrigued by how Zinzendorf viewed Scotland and the lessons he took back to the Habsburg Monarchy; he later became one of the leading financial thinkers during the time of Enlightened Absolutism and institutional change in Central Europe. But I also think there is a wider story to be told here.

Zinzendorf clearly entered into a Scottish network of enlightened noblemen and figures. His interactions with them are illuminating not just for the detail recorded in his diary but also for he, as a Catholic foreigner (he converted in 1764), was treated. My project in this sense explores Zinzendorf’s visit along four distinct themes:

  • 1. Entanglement of Austrian (Catholic) and Scottish (Protestant) Enlightenment
  • 2. Wider connection of Scotland in the Age of Reason/Republic of Letters
  • 3. Scotland as an ‘international model of statehood’
  • 4. Travelling and hospitality in eighteenth-century Scotland

At this stage much of my research into his journey has only been done scantily whilst I was in Vienna. The main research for my PhD Empires on the Edge took precedent however, and I’m hoping to expand my source base both in Austria and Scotland. I want to collate further sources which will better contextualise both sides of the story. With the completion of my PhD later this year (2017), I intend to devote considerable time and energy into this project and bring ‘Eighteenth-Century Scotland through Austrian Eyes‘ into full view.

Please feel free to contact me about any potential research enquiries, leads, funding or collaboration with this project or any other of my projects and research interests.

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