BRUCE, Robert, Lord Bruce (1626-85), of Houghton Park, Ampthill, Beds.
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Family and Education
bap. 19 Mar. 1626, o.s. of Thomas, 1st Earl of Elgin [S] and 1st Baron Bruce of Whorleton, by 1st w. Anne, da. and h. of Sir Robert Chichester of Raleigh, Devon. educ. travelled abroad (Italy, Switzerland, France) 1642-6 m. 16 Feb. 1646, Lady Diana Grey (d. 8 Apr. 1689), da. of Henry Grey, 1st Earl of Stamford, 8s. (6 d.v.p.) 9da. suc. fa. as 2nd Earl of Elgin 21 Dec. 1663; cr. Earl of Ailesbury 18 Mar. 1664.1
J.p. Dorset 1647-9, Beds. Mar. 1660-d.; commr. for militia and c.-in-c. Beds. Mar. 1660, col. of militia horse, Beds. Apr. 1660; ld. lt. Beds. (jt.) July 1660-7, (sole) 1667- d. , Hunts. 1681-d., Cambs. 1685-d.; commr. for assessment, Beds. Aug. 1660-3, Bedford and Yorks. (N. Riding) 1661-3; freeman, Bedford 1661; commr. for loyal and indigent officers, Beds. London, Westminster and Yorks. 1662; constable, Tutbury Castle 1663-7; steward, honour of Leicester 1667-d., Ampthill 1670-d.; custos rot. Beds. and Hunts. 1681-d.; recorder, Bedford and Godmanchester 1684-d.; high steward, Kingston-upon-Thames Aug. 1685-d.2
Jt. dep. Earl Marshal 1673-d.; PC 10 Oct. 1678-9, 26 Jan. 1681-d.; ld. chamberlain July 1685-d.3
Bruce’s grandfather, a Scottish judge, came south with James I and was given a Yorkshire estate and the mastership of the rolls. His father, ‘of a very good understanding, and of a pious, but timorous and cautious mind’, received from Charles I a grant of Houghton Park, besides property in Dorset which he later sold to Sir Edward Nicholas. But he took the side of Parliament in the Civil War, serving on the county committee from 1644 to Pride’s Purge. Bruce himself was looked upon as a frivolous young man, chiefly interested in horses; but under the influence of his father’s chaplain, the future Bishop Frampton, he became a strong Anglican, and after a visit to France in 1658 played an active part in royalist conspiracy. He sent £1,000 to the King in June 1659, and was arrested a few months later during the rising of his wife’s brother-in-law, Sir George Booth. He was treated with civility, and soon released on £20,000 bail.4
Sir Edward Hyde instructed Bruce to stand for the county in 1660, and he was duly returned. A moderately active Member of the Convention, he was named to 28 committees, made eight speeches and once acted as teller. He was among those chosen on 7 May to deliver the House’s answer to the King’s letter and to consider the assessment ordinance. On 11 July he supported the motion of Lord Falkland (Henry Carey) for restoring the lands of the queen mother. He was appointed to the committees on the bills for settling eccelesiastical livings and reducing the maximum rate of interest to 6 per cent. He was ordered on 13 Aug. to tell the Lords that the Commons agreed to a joint committee, on which he served, to float a £10,000 loan in the City. He opposed double taxation of Papists. On 8 Sept. he was sent to desire a conference on disbanding the army. After the recess he spoke in favour of the use of the Book of Common Prayer in the House, and was appointed to the committees for the militia and attainder bills. He was one of the managers of the conference of 22 Nov. on the King’s message about dissolving Parliament. He spoke against the bill for a modified episcopacy. On 27 Dec. he carried to the Lords the bill to enable the sale of the estates of Lord Cleveland, who shared with him the lieutenancy of the county.5
Bruce was re-elected to the Cavalier Parliament and became a very active Member of the Lower House in the first and second sessions. He was appointed to 89 committees, taking the chair in four, acted as teller in three divisions, and carried five bills to the Lords and five addresses to the King. In the opening months of the Parliament he was named to the committees for the security, corporations, uniformity and regicides bills, and on that for restoring the temporal jurisdiction of the clergy. As chairman on the naturalization bill he presented two reports recommending that (Sir) Lancelot Lake should be heard by counsel at the bar of the House. On 9 July 1661 he carried to the Lords the bill to confirm the Cleveland Estate Act of the previous Parliament, and he was among those chosen to present the Marquess of Winchester’s petition to the King and to ask for the royal assent to the subsidy bill. On 18 Feb. 1662 he helped to prepare reasons for a conference on confirming ministers in their livings. But his most important work was to make provision for distressed Cavaliers. As chairman of the committee he presented four reports, and on 4 Apr. was among those ordered to draft a clause to raise £60,000 for the purpose by a tax on office-holders and to ask the King to distribute it to the loyal and indigent officers by Michaelmas. He brought the King’s answer to the House three days later. He was also chairman for the Wye and Lugg navigation bill, and carried both bills to the Upper House. He was one of the Members appointed to consider the Lords’ proviso to the Cavaliers bill, and was twice sent to desire conferences, which he helped to manage.6
In the 1663 session Bruce was named to the committees to bring in a bill to prevent the growth of Popery, to consider a petition from the loyal and indigent officers, and to report defects in the laws against conventicles. On 5 May he told the House that in the unsettled condition of the nation it was essential that all offices should be in trusty hands, and was the first to be named to the committee to bring in a bill restricting office to ‘such persons as have been loyal subjects, and conformable to the Church of England’. He was also appointed to the committees to bring in a clause against the sale of honours and to provide remedies against the meetings of sectaries, and on 27 May carried to the Lords the bill to resolve differences between Lord Winchester and his heir (Charles Powlett I). He reported on 8 July an additional bill for the Cavaliers, and was appointed to the committee to draft a time clause. On 11 July he carried the militia bill to the Lords.7
Soon after succeeding his father, Bruce was given an English earldom. His son attributed his failure to achieve office to his patriotic opposition in Parliament to ‘the pernicious projects of double-dealing ministers’, presumably in the Cabal period. It is probable however that he preferred country life and his collections of manuscripts and other antiquities, though he became one of Danby’s most reliable friends both during and after his ministry. On one occasion in 1675 his vote in the Upper House averted a government defeat. As an electoral manager for the Court in an area with a strongly anti-royalist tradition, he was no match for the Russells and the other Whig magnates. He voted against exclusion in the Lords, and urged Danby’s release in 1681. He succeeded Lord Arlington (Sir Henry Bennet) as lord chamberlain, but held the post for only three months. ‘You will see melancholy days’, he told his son prophetically; ‘God be thanked, I shall not.’ He died on 20 Oct. 1685, and was buried at Maulden.8
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Authors: M. W. Helms / Leonard Naylor
- 1. E. A. Webb, Recs. of St. Bartholomew Smithfield, ii. 279; N. and Q. cc. 193; Evelyn Diary, ii. 480, 530.
- 2. Cal. Cl. SP, iv. 629; Merc. Pub. 12 Apr. 1660; Beds. Hist. Rec. Soc. xxvi. 147; Sir Robert Somerville, Duchy of Lancaster Official Lists, 170, 179; HMC 8th Rep. pt. 1, p. 439; CSP Dom. 1671, pp. 131-2; SP44/335/100, 389; Manning and Bray, Surr. i. 342.
- 3. CSP Dom. 1673, p. 414.
- 4. Scots Peerage, iii. 475-6; P. Warwick, Mems. 169; Lysons, Beds. 96; Hutchins, Dorset, iii. 650; HMC 15th Rep. VII, 161; Life of Frampton, 12, 18; CSP Dom. 1658-9, pp. 449, 580; 1659-60, pp. 77, 112; 1660-1, p. 457; Cal. Cl. SP, iv. 250.
- 5. Cal. Cl. SP, iv. 580, 672; Bowman diary, ff. 74, 140; Old Parl. Hist. xxiii. 5, 30.
- 6. CJ, viii. 284, 290, 368, 389, 397, 399, 403, 406, 426, 433.
- 7. CSP Dom. 1663-4, p. 132; CJ, viii. 476.
- 8. Ailesbury. Mems. i. II, 33, 124; CSP Dom. 1675-6, p. 413; HMC 14th Rep. IX, 430.