William Roy was born at Carluke in Lanarkshire on 4th May 1726. He was educated at the parish school and at Lanark Grammar school before gaining experience of surveying and and map making as a civilian draughtsman at the office of the Board of Ordnance at Edinburgh Castle.

When King George II commissioned a military survey of the Highlands in 1747 to help facilitate the subjugation of the clans following the Jacobite rising of 1745, Roy, by now an accomplished surveyor and map-maker, was appointed assistant to Lieutenant-Colonel David Watson, Deputy Quartermaster-General. During the Scottish Survey, Roy made detailed maps and drawings of Roman archaeological sites in Scotland, the first accurate and systematic study of the subject, sparking an interest that was to remain with him for the rest of his life.

In 1756, he was commissioned as a lieutenant and was posted to the south of England where he was involved in the preparation of maps and sketches in advance of an expected French invasion. During the Seven Years War that followed, Roy rose rapidly through the ranks, reaching Lieutenant-Colonel by 1763 when he was placed in charge of military surveys in Britain. He was promoted to Major-General in 1781.  Roy’s greatest legacy was the work of the Ordnance Survey which commenced in 1791, one year after his death, extending his work with the Anglo-French Survey (1784-1790) to cover all of Great Britain over the following sixty years.

Roy’s only historical work, Military Antiquities of the Romans in Britain, was published posthumously in 1793. Whilst his drawings and maps are held in the highest regard as valuable research sources, his scholarly historical discussions are of little value, thanks to his reliance on De Situ Britanniae, the forged text of Charles Bertram. He was a fellow of both the Royal Society and the Society of Antiquaries of London.

Major-General William Roy (1726 - 1790)