BRUCE, John (d. 1711), of Kinross House, Kinross.
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Family and Education
o. s. of Sir William Bruce, 1st Bt., MP [S], of Balcaskie, Fife, clerk of bills [S] 1660–81 and master of works [S] 1671–c.1680, by his 1st w. Mary, da. of Sir James Halkett of Pitfirrane, Fife, MP [S]. educ. travelled abroad (France, Low Countries). m. contr. 3 May 1687 (with £6,000 Scots), Lady Christian (d. 1710), da. and coh. of John Leslie, 1st Duke of Rothes [S] and wid. of James Graham, 3rd Mq. of Montrose [S], s.p. suc. fa. 1 Jan. 1710.1
MP [S] Kinross-shire 1702–7.
Burgess, Glasgow 1702; hereditary sheriff, Kinross ?1702–d.
Commr. Equivalent [S] 1707–d.2
The most significant event in Bruce’s political life was his marriage, which brought him eventually into the following of his stepson, the 1st Duke of Montrose, and thus into the ranks of the Squadrone. Like others in Montrose’s connexion, his family had been strongly attached to the Stuart court, and his father found it difficult to abandon traditional loyalties after the Revolution. An eminent architect (‘the Kit Wren of North Britain’ according to Defoe) Sir William Bruce boasted in 1702 that he had served Charles II and James II faithfully for half a century. He had played a part in promoting the Restoration, by acting as a channel of communication between the King and General Monck (George†), and was rewarded with offices and a baronetcy. In the 1670s, at the height of his prestige and influence, he purchased the Kinross barony, upon which, and upon the town of Kinross, he lavished improvements. He built Kinross House, ‘a stately building’, in the words of Sir Robert Sibbald, ‘which for situation, contrivance, prospects . . . parks and planting, is surpassed by few in this country’. The mansion was intended as a residence for the Duke of York in the event of the passage of the Exclusion bill. Bruce was appointed to the Scottish privy council at the accession of James II, but removed a little over a year later for his inflexibility on the issue of Catholic toleration. But he kept the sheriffdom of Kinross, granted by Charles I, in the face of hostile interest from more pliant courtiers, and evidently retained his devotion to King James. Although he passed through the Revolution with estate and office intact, there were soon signs of restlessness, most notably in a dispute with the local presbytery over the appointment of a minister for Kinross, where he had sought to intrude deprived episcopalian preachers. He became for a time the ‘chief organizer’ of the Scottish Jacobites, and during the scare over the Assassination Plot in 1696 was briefly interned. An appeal in 1702 to the new Scottish secretary, Lord Tarbat, for assistance in recovering his former post as master of the works showed that Sir William still kept an eye to the main chance, but shortly afterwards, in December 1702, he was ‘declared a rebel’ and his goods (though not his real property) confiscated. Thereafter the Pretender’s agents took his zeal for the Jacobite cause as axiomatic.3
Of Bruce himself, it was said that like his father he was ‘a man of parts’, and that, ‘as he had got a liberal education, [he] was looked upon as one of the finest gentlemen in the kingdom when he returned from his travels’ abroad. He was active in countering the Earl of Argyll’s rebellion in 1685, marching with government troops to Glasgow only to be summoned home by his anxious father. Relations between father and son deteriorated after the Revolution, an event the younger Bruce thoroughly welcomed. An avid Presbyterian, he informed his father in June 1690 that he would have no truck with ‘liberty of conscience to all Protestants’, preferring rather that the Scottish parliament should demonstrate its ‘zeal for the true Protestant and Presbyterian religion by allowing no other to be professed’. Financial problems increased the tension in the relationship between father and son. Sir William’s estate, estimated at 22,000 merks p.a. in the late 1680s, was to have been divided equally with his son as part of his marriage settlement. The arrangement was not properly implemented, however, and it emerged that Sir William had concealed the true extent of his debts.4
Bruce was returned to the Scottish parliament for Kinross-shire in 1702, and may already have assumed the hereditary sheriffdom. An investor of £500 in the Darien scheme, he joined the Country party, remaining in opposition during the ‘New Party’ experiment of 1704 and following Montrose’s line of voting for the Duke of Hamilton’s motion for postponing a decision on the succession. George Lockhart’s* retrospective assessment that Bruce had supported his future Squadrone colleagues in office was mistaken. Bruce did, however, vote with the Squadrone over the Union, with only one or two absences, and was nominated for a seat in the first Parliament of Great Britain and a place on the Equivalent commission.5
Bruce seems to have been moderately useful to the Squadrone in the Commons, even though he did not cut much of a figure. He joined his fellow Equivalent commissioners in petitioning the Treasury over the non-payment of their salaries, and on 11 Mar. 1708 was nominated to draft a bill to discharge Highlanders from their obligations to disloyal clan chiefs. His father, by contrast, was placed in preventive detention during the invasion scare. Bruce did not stand in 1708, when the family’s electoral interest was in any case divided: Sir William was ‘running about’ to assist the Tory cause wherever he could, while Bruce himself remained loyal to Montrose and the Squadrone, whose members, he felt, ought to try to ‘get themselves into posts by all the means they can’. He was content to remain an Equivalent commissioner for the time being, though the conditions of the appointment, especially the absence of remuneration, made it an ‘unhappy’ one. The fact that he was simultaneously putting forward to Montrose proposals for reform of the Scottish customs suggests that he did not despair of alternative employment. In 1710 he gave his backing to the candidacy of Montrose’s factor, Mungo Graham* in Kinross-shire, bending the rules to such a degree in his conduct of the freeholders’ courts that he was fortunate to escape censure when the House overturned Graham’s election on petition.6
After apparently recovering from illness in the winter of 1710–11, Bruce died on 19 Mar. 1711. The baronetcy became extinct, but his estates passed to a sister, and eventually to her son, John Hope, who represented the county under George II.7
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: D. W. Hayton
- 1. Hist. Scot. Parl. 75, 79; Lauder of Fountainhall, Hist. Notices (Bannatyne Club, lxxxvii), 344; SRO, Kinross House mss GD29/1220, contr.
- 2. Scot. Rec. Soc. lvi. 251; Boyer, Anne Annals, vi. 234; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxiii. 234.
- 3. DNB (Bruce, Sir William); Hist. Scot. Parl. 75; Defoe, Tour ed. Cole, 777–8; R. Sibbald, Hist. of Sheriffdoms of Fife and Kinross (1710), 107–8; Fountainhall, 633, 724, 730, 750; Reg. PC Scotland, 1685–6, p. 13; 1686, p. 221; 1690, p. 496; 1691, p. 135; CSP Dom. 1684–5, p. 113; 1696, p. 19; 1703–4, p. 399; HMC Mar and Kellie, i. 219; P. A. Hopkins, Glencoe, 423; HMC Le Fleming, 323; HMC 12th Rep. VIII, 51–52; Fraser, Melvilles, i. 272; Cromartie Corresp. i. 161–4; Hooke Corresp. (Roxburghe Club), i. 230, 440; ii. 26, 141; Orig. Pprs. ed. Macpherson, ii. 14–15, 19.
- 4. DNB (Bruce, Sir William); Kinross House mss catalogue (GD29), p. 160; GD29/1918/2–4, 8, 16, 24–25, John to Sir William Bruce, 1, 14, 15 June , 9 June 1690, 9 Sept., 2 Nov. 1700, Sir William to John Bruce, 27 Sept. 1704.
- 5. Darien Pprs. (Bannatyne Club, xc), 372; info. from Dr P. W. J. Riley on members of Scot. parl.; SRO, Ogilvy of Inverquharity mss, letter of Sir William Bennet, 28 Jan. 1703, ex inf. Dr Riley; Lockhart Mems. ed. Szechi 67; Boyer, Anne Annals, iii. app. 42; HMC 4th Rep. 511; W. Fraser, Earls of Haddington, i. 244; Hooke Corresp. i. 440; Orig. Pprs. 19; Baillie Corresp. 104; Riley, Union, 334; R. Walcott, Pol. Early 18th Cent. 234.
- 6. SRO, Montrose mss GD220/5/142/2, Rothes to Montrose, 16 Dec. 1707; GD220/5/159/5, same to same, [?1708]; GD220/5/196/1–2, 4a, Bruce to same, 8, 17 Feb., 1 Mar. 1709; GD220/5/807/5–6, Graham to same, 2, 7 Dec. 1710; GD220/5/808/18a–b, same to same, 13 Feb. 1711; HMC Mar and Kellie, 435, 475–7; Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 291; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxii. 79; L. Inn Lib, MP100/145, Controverted Election for . . . Kinross .
- 7. Montrose mss GD220/5/808/1a, Graham to Montrose, 2 Jan. 1711; Hist. Scot. Parl. 79; Scot. Hist. Soc. Misc. i. 484.