BRUCE, Hon. James (c.1670-c.1732).

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1702 - 1705
1708 - 1710

Family and Education

b. c.1670, 8th but 3rd surv. s. of Robert Bruce†, 1st Earl of Ailesbury and 2nd Earl of Elgin [S], by Lady Diana, da. of Henry Grey†, 1st Earl of Stamford; bro. of Thomas†, 2nd Earl of Ailesbury, and Hon. Robert Bruce*.  educ. Queens’, Camb. fell. comm. 1684. unm.

Offices Held

Burgess, Bedford 1705.1

Commr. equivalent, 1707, R. Hosp. Chelsea 1711–d; jt. comptroller of army accts. 1711–d.2


James and Robert Bruce, younger brothers of the 2nd Earl of Ailesbury, had both served as volunteers against William of Orange in 1688. After Ailesbury’s exile in 1698 James assisted Robert in attempting in vain to find some legal means by which the Earl might be enabled to return to England. Both brothers were elected to the 1702 Parliament through family influence, and for the most part their parliamentary careers are indistinguishable. It is highly likely, however, that in the House, as outside, the brothers acted together, High Tories to begin with but by early 1704 occupying places on the Court wing of the party, their ‘moderation’ perhaps to be explained by the difficult circumstances in which the family found itself, both financially and in respect of Ailesbury’s continued exile, or perhaps by their brother’s friendship with the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†), which had survived the events of the 1690s. Forecast as a likely opponent of the Tack, James Bruce figured on Robert Harley’s* lobbying list, and on 25 Nov. 1704 Harley was reassured by Lord Treasurer Godolphin (Sidney†) that ‘the two Bruces’ would ‘not easily . . . fail us’. Nor did they, as neither voted for the Tack in the crucial division three days later.3

Defeated at Great Bedwyn in 1705, despite being reassured of the support of Sir Edward Seymour, 4th Bt.*, Bruce briefly turned his attention to Ludgershall, where he was advised by Charles Becher, Lord Bruce’s (Charles*) agent, to spend money generously if he hoped to carry a seat. Encouraged by Becher’s report in December 1707 that he ‘yet stands fair with the people, and there seems a general inclination to choose him’, Bruce nevertheless retired in favour of his elder brother, Robert. He had also considered standing again at Great Bedwyn, and was advised how much he should spend on each vote, but was returned instead for another borough in which his family had a strong interest, Marlborough. Classified as a Tory on a list of early 1708 with the election returns added, he voted against the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell, and in October 1710, though he had not sought re-election himself, wrote to Harley to offer his services to the new ministry in some capacity. The offer of employment, when it came in late June 1711, was as joint comptroller of army accounts, with a salary of £1,500 p.a. By accepting this post Bruce might conceivably have imperilled the family’s cordial relations with Marlborough, yet, as Ailesbury was to recall, ‘although in his heart [James] wished well to the Duke of Marlborough, yet he refused not the task they gave him’, and he succeeded so well in retaining the Duke’s goodwill that, again according to Ailesbury, it was thanks to Marlborough that Bruce kept his office on the Hanoverian succession. While apparently ‘esteemed by all for his integrity and good conduct in the execution of his office’, his private life was less salubrious, and in 1727 he had reached the brink of bankruptcy, with gambling debts of around £12,000. To evade imprisonment for debt he was obliged to join Ailesbury in Brussels, beyond extradition. The crisis had come suddenly, before he could perfect his own scheme of escape by marrying the ‘discreet, elderly’ lady with a fortune of £9,000 p.a. whom he had cynically been pursuing, and he had instead to be extricated by the skill of his brother Robert, in negotiating a settlement with his creditors. No more was heard of marriage.4

Bruce was reappointed joint comptroller in September 1731, by which time he was living in St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields. He may have died by August 1732, when the paymaster of the forces was ordered to make over his arrears to his colleague. The first unambiguous reference to his being deceased occurs in a Treasury warrant of 26 Jan. 1733. As he died intestate, the Prerogative Court of Canterbury appointed an administrator to his estate. By his death, he had been unable to complete a £20,000 bond with the Earl of Cardigan, which he had secured on the lease of manors in Yorkshire at Cardigan’s marriage to Bruce’s niece, Elizabeth, in 1707.5

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. N. Beds. Bor. Council, Bedford bor. recs. B2/3, corp. act bk. 1688–1718, f. 69.
  • 2. C. S. C. B. Bruce, Life and Loyalties of Thomas Bruce, 20; Boyer, Pol. State, i–ii. 452; Cal. Treas. Bks. and Pprs. 1731–4, p. 426; Add. 17677 EEE, f. 235v; CJ, xv. 419.
  • 3. Bruce, 131, 212, 220, 261; Wilts. RO, Ailesbury mss 1300/1010, Ld. Bruce to Ailesbury, 14 Apr. 1706; HMC 15th Rep. VII, 200; Bull. IHR, xli. 182.
  • 4. HMC Portland, iv. 614; Add. 17677 EEE, f. 235; 61458, f. 163; Newton Corresp. v. 326n, 341–3; Ailesbury Mems. 648; Bruce, 281–5; HMC 15th Rep. VII, 189, 199, 200–1, 230, 232.
  • 5. Cal. Treas. Bks. and Pprs. 1731–4, pp. 307, 426, 516; PROB 6/112, pp. 107–11.