BRUCE, Thomas, Lord Bruce (1656-1741), of Tottenham House, Wilts.
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Family and Education
b. 26 Sept. 1656, 5th but 1st surv. s. of Robert Bruce, 1st Earl of Ailesbury, and bro. of Hon. Robert Bruce. educ. privately; travelled abroad 1679. m. (1) 24 Aug. 1676, Lady Elizabeth Seymour (d. 12 Jan. 1697), da. of Henry, Lord Beauchamp, and h. to her bro. William, 3rd Duke of Somerset, 4s. (3 d.v.p.) 2da.; (2) 27 Apr. 1700, Charlotte Jacqueline (d. 13 July 1710), da. and h. of Louis Conrad, Comte d’Esneux, 1da. suc. fa. as 2nd Earl of Ailesbury 20 Oct. 1685.
Commr. for assessment, Beds. and Bedford 1679-80; dep. lt. Beds. 1679-85, Hunts. 1685, Cambs. 1685-9; col. of militia ft. Beds. by 1680-?85; j.p. Oxon. 1680-3, Berks. 1680-9, Beds. 1681-9; ld. lt. and custos rot. Beds. and Hunts. 1685-9; recorder, Bedford 1685-9; high steward, Huntingdon 1686-Oct. 1688.1
Gent. of the bedchamber Jan.-Feb. 1685, Oct. 1685-Dec. 1688.2
Capt. Earl of Peterborough’s Horse 1685-6.3
By his first marriage Bruce acquired a dominant interest in the Wiltshire boroughs of Marlborough, Great Bedwyn and Ludgershall. At the first general election of 1679, however, he did not stand for any of them, in the mistaken confidence that his father’s influence as lord lieutenant of Bedfordshire would secure his election for that county; but he was heavily defeated by the leader of the country party, the Hon. William Russell. In the next two Parliaments he sat as a court supporter for Marlborough, five miles from Tottenham House, but he made no speeches, except to call for a division on the exclusion bill, and was named to no committees. In the next few years he was active in procuring loyal addresses, and in January 1685 bought a place in the bedchamber for £5,000. This proved a poor investment, for the post lapsed on Charles II’s death in the following month.4
Bruce was returned to James II’s Parliament for Wiltshire, with his purse ‘pretty well emptied’, though this he attributed solely to the difficulty of persuading the electors to vote for his colleague Lord Cornbury (Edward Hyde). As a non-official Member he was given the task of summoning the court supporters to the preliminary meeting at the Fountain tavern, in which the government measures were outlined. According to his own Memoirs, he proposed Sir John Trevor as Speaker, but the Journals show that the motion originated with the Earl of Middleton (Charles Middleton). An active Member, he was appointed to nine committees, including that to recommend expunctions from the Journals, and was four times employed on messages to the Lords. On 5 June 1685, he obtained leave to introduce an estate bill, but its effects were widely believed to be detrimental to his children, no second reading could be obtained, and he abandoned it before the end of the session. In the supply debate, Bruce proposed a tax on new buildings, although the King had explicitly told him ‘that he would not have one farthing laid on land’. He was not appointed to the committee to estimate its yield, and was disavowed by the Government, whereupon he flung up his instructions. Neither was he appointed to the committee to draft the loyal address on Monmouth’s landing, though on 15 June he was sent to ask the Lords to continue sitting until the attainder bill had passed the Lower House. He reported the bill for the rebuilding of Lord Powys’s town house on 24 June, and carried it to the Lords. He also twice carried the bill for the continuance of certain expiring laws, and was appointed to the committee on the bill for the general naturalization of Huguenot refugees.5
Bruce succeeded his father as Earl of Ailesbury during the recess, and was reappointed gentleman of the bedchamber. He was not required to declare his attitude on the King’s religious policy, and retained office to the end of the reign, although the regulators were much displeased by his report on the answers from Bedfordshire and Huntingdonshire on the Test Act and Penal Laws. He was ordered to secure the return of the court candidates in these counties and at Marlborough in 1688. He attended the meeting of the peers at the Guildhall on 11 Dec. which agreed to send messengers to William of Orange. He attended James at Faversham, and begged him not to leave the country. His advice was disregarded, and he took the oath to the new regime in 1689. But he soon became an active Jacobite and was arrested after the assassination plot in 1696. On his release he settled in Flanders and became a Roman Catholic, though he attempted to conceal his conversion from his English friends, and especially from his son Charles, who sat for Bedwyn and Marlborough as a Tory before being called up to the House of Lords in 1711. Lord Ailesbury died on 16 Dec. 1741, and was buried in the church of the Brigittines in Brussels.6
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Author: John. P. Ferris
This biography is based on the Ailesbury Mems.
- 1. Bedford corp. min. bk.; CSP Dom. 1686-7, p. 46.
- 2. CSP Dom. 1684-5, p. 290; 1685, p. 363.
- 3. CSP Dom. 1686-7, p. 149.
- 4. BL, M636/32, Edmund to Sir Ralph Verney, 24 Feb. 1679; PRO 31/3, bdle. 160, f. 20; London Gazette, 22 Aug. 1681, 8 Nov. 1683.
- 5. CSP Dom. 1685, p. 238; CJ, ix. 748, 754.
- 6. CSP Dom. 1687-9, p. 273.