BRUCE, Hon. Robert (1668-1729).
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Family and Education
bap. 11 Feb. 1668, 7th but 2nd surv. s. of Robert Bruce†, 1st Earl of Ailesbury; bro. of Thomas†, 2nd Earl of Ailesbury, and Hon. James Bruce*. educ. Queens’, Camb. fell. comm. 1684; M. Coulon’s acad. Paris 1685. unm.
Burgess, Bedford 1702.1
As the senior and more prudent of Lord Ailesbury’s two surviving brothers, Robert Bruce took charge of the family’s affairs when Ailesbury went into exile in 1698, and later counselled and assisted his nephew Lord Bruce (Charles*). He may have been implicated himself in the Assassination Plot, the testimony of Peter Cook mentioning a ‘Mr Bruce’, a Jacobite sympathizer, as attending a meeting at a Holborn tavern, but no further notice was taken of this evidence. Then in September 1699 he embarked for France with various other ‘persons of quality’ in order, it was said, ‘to go [to] see the jubilee at Rome’. He did not, however, follow Ailesbury into the Catholic church, initially regarding reports of his brother’s conversion as a ‘ridiculous’ calumny.2
Elected on the family interest at Marlborough in 1702, it is probable that, with his brother James, Bruce modified his political stance from an original High Toryism to accommodate himself to the Court. As the Journals fail to distinguish between the brothers, it is impossible to be sure of the identity of ‘Mr Bruce’. In the 1702–3 session a ‘Mr Bruce’ acted as a teller twice, including on 23 Dec. 1702, in favour of the Tories’ wrecking amendment to a motion by Sir John Holland, 2nd Bt., for a bill to provide that no placeman should sit in the House. In the next session ‘Mr Bruce’ acted as a teller on five occasions, all on the Court side, and in the third session he was recorded as a teller on two further occasions. Certainly Robert may be described as a ‘moderate’ Tory by 28 Nov. 1704, when, having been forecast as a likely opponent of the Tack and been lobbied by Robert Harley*, he did not vote for it.
Defeated at Marlborough in the 1705 general election, and in a by-election soon afterwards, Bruce turned his attention to Ludgershall, where with his nephew’s help he was victorious in a contest in 1708. Classed as a Tory on a list of early 1708 with the election returns added, he voted against the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell, though a malicious rumour that all the Bruces had supported the impeachment was subsequently circulated in Wiltshire, and, probably because of his and James’s earlier opposition to the Tack, was for a time widely believed. Both Robert and his nephew hedged their bets in the 1710 election by standing in two constituencies. He himself was returned at Marlborough after a close call, while losing narrowly at Ludgershall. Classed as a Tory in an analysis of the new House, he was listed among the ‘Tory patriots’ opposed to the war and the ‘worthy patriots’ who helped to detect the mismanagements of the previous administration. As the only ‘Mr Bruce’ in this Parliament, he can be positively identified as a teller in three divisions: on 17 Jan. 1712, in favour of the motion to declare Robert Walpole II* guilty of ‘corruption’; on 23 May 1712, for leave for a private bill; and on 14 May 1713, against the second reading of the place bill.3
Bruce signed the proclamation of George I at St. James’s on 1 Aug. 1714, as one of the ‘other principal gentlemen of quality’ joining with the peers and Privy Councillors. He was not a candidate at the 1715 election but was returned again on Ailesbury’s recommendation in 1722. On the accession of George II he ‘applied to’ Walpole and was for that reason dropped by his brother at Bedwyn. But his abilities were still useful to the family, as he showed that year in extricating James from a morass of debt, and in 1728 Ailesbury was seeking to provide for him once more in the Commons. He died before any seat could be secured, on 19 May 1729. In his will, written in May 1725, he gave his address as Dover Street, St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields and bequeathed all his estate to his nephew Charles, Lord Bruce, who was named the sole executor.4
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, 211–12, 219–20, 245, 252; CSP Dom. 1696, p. 110; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 564.
- 3. HMC 15th Rep. VII, 201–2; Herts. RO, Panshanger mss DEP F56, ff. 66–67, Somerset to William Cowper*, 22 Nov. 1705.
- 4. Boyer, Pol. State, viii. 118; Bruce, 281–2, 284, 287; HMC 15th Rep. VII, 228–33; PCC 126 Abbott.