BRUCE, Charles, Lord Bruce (1682-1747), of Ampthill, Beds. and Savernake Park, Wilts.
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Family and Education
b. 29 May 1682, 2nd but o. surv. s. of Thomas Bruce†, 2nd Earl of Ailesbury and 3rd Earl of Elgin [S], by his 1st w. Elizabeth, da. of Henry Seymour, Lord Beauchamp, and h. to her bro. William. educ. privately; academy at Brussels 1698. m. (1) 7 Feb. 1706 (with approx. £45,000), Lady Anne (d. 1717), da. and coh. of William Savile*, 2nd Mq. of Halifax, 2s. d.v.p.; (2) 2 Feb. 1720, Lady Juliana (d. 1739), da. of Charles Boyle I*, 2nd Earl of Burlington, s.p.; (3) 18 June 1739, Caroline (d. 1747), da. of John Campbell*, later 4th Duke of Argyll [S], 1da. summ. to House of Lords in fa.’s barony as Lord Bruce of Whorlton 29 Dec. 1711; suc. fa. 16 Dec. 1741; cr. Baron Bruce of Tottenham, Wilts. 17 Apr. 1746.1
Recorder, Bedford 1711–d.; burgess 1711.2
Lord Bruce, for whom Charles II had stood godfather, was left under the guardianship of his uncle Hon. Robert Bruce* on his father’s exile in 1698, and eventually, on attaining his majority, assumed responsibility for his family’s interests. For all the expanse of the Bruce estates, spread over several counties, he faced very considerable problems, with debts of some £70,000. Encouraged by his uncle Robert, he put to his father in 1703 a set of detailed proposals for future management, involving the sale of outlying properties, the reserving of the profits of the Bedfordshire and Yorkshire estates to provide an income for the Earl, and his own removal to Wiltshire, to the lands acquired from his mother’s family, which he asked be made over to him in fee simple. He hoped thereby to put himself in the way of marrying and acquiring ‘such a portion . . . as may save the Wiltshire estate’. Ailesbury seems to have agreed, and by 1705 Bruce had made enough progress with his plans to permit himself to risk matrimony. He found a bride, Lady Anne Savile, with a fortune variously estimated at between £50,000 and £60,000, and which he himself counted on as amounting to at least £45,000. The arrangements were almost finalized in the spring of 1705, but there were hitches, and this ‘great match which has been so long depending’ was not concluded until February of the following year. Still, however, he complained of the ‘great . . . load of debt’ weighing upon him. Evidently not all his earlier proposals had been carried out: the Somerset estates, expected to raise £15,000, had yet to be sold, and neither had he left the family seat at Ampthill in Bedfordshire. It was for reasons of sentiment and filial piety that he clung to Ampthill, but at last, in 1707, he was obliged to inform his father regretfully that, while he had done all he could to
bring my affairs to such a compass that I might have been able to have continued at this place, both for your lordship’s sake and my own, until such times as you had returned into England . . . I find it impossible to support my manner of living here . . . all this will force me to leave a place I very much love, to seek some other place where I may live at a much less expense.
After apparently residing for some time in another of the Bruce houses, Henley Park near Guildford, he eventually settled on the former Seymour estate at Savernake in Wiltshire.3
With the reform of the family finances came a reassertion of electoral influence, principally if not solely in the three Wiltshire boroughs of Great Bedwyn, Ludgershall and Marlborough, where the Bruces had long since taken over the old Seymour interest. Lord Bruce, when he became qualified to stand in 1705, seems to have thought of himself first as a county knight, and for Wiltshire rather than Bedfordshire, in spite of efforts to persuade him to contest the latter: in June 1705 Anne, Lady Nottingham, had written to him ‘wishing . . . your Lordship would make your appearance, where I cannot but think you would have success, for though bribery has mightily prevailed in corporations, . . . yet a county will not be so managed, where so many gentlemen are concerned’. Nevertheless, Bruce reverted to Bedwyn, where he and uncle James were both defeated. Halifax, Bruce’s future father-in-law, commented dryly that the family ‘are of no consequence here, but I think abroad they will believe the election has not gone favourably to them, when neither Lord Ailesbury’s son or brother could be chosen’. Their petition was soon withdrawn when a vacancy occurred, and Lord Bruce came in unopposed at the by-election. Like his uncles he probably inclined to the moderate wing of the Tory party, for all his new connexions with Lord Nottingham (Daniel Finch†), his wife’s great-uncle. His father’s friendship with the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†), and the family’s desire to secure Ailesbury’s return from exile, drew them at this time towards the Court. In 1703 Bruce had solicited Lord Treasurer Godolphin’s (Sidney†) help in promoting a petition from his father to the Queen, and even though this attempt had failed, Godolphin had offered hope for the future. Bruce is not known to have made a speech in his first Parliament, but was nominated to bring in a Wiltshire estate bill. He gave an indication of his other parliamentary activity in a letter to his father in which he explained his attitude to the 1706 popery bill. Far from sympathizing with Ailesbury’s conversion to Rome, he had himself remained staunch to the Protestantism in which he had been reared, and had reacted bitterly to signs from his sister that she might follow their father’s path. Her clandestine courtship by the Duke of Norfolk had aroused his particular wrath. But he could not, for all this, bring himself to acquiesce in a measure which he felt to be ‘in some points too severe’ and ‘resolved not to be there, but coming into the House unknowingly just as the question was putting [for passing the bill on 4 Mar. 1706], divided against it’. In a list of early 1708 he was marked as a Tory. By the time of the general election of that year he had made himself a force in Ludgershall as well as at Bedwyn and Marlborough. He received much encouragement from the mayor of Marlborough, who throughout April 1708 was anxious for Bruce to accept a seat for the borough. Farewell Perry, minister at St. Peter’s, Marlborough, who worked closely with Charles Becher, Bruce’s principal agent, asserted that Bruce’s consent to contest the election would ‘establish your interest so firmly in this town, as that it would be out of the power of any person for the future to shake it’. Bruce did not immediately reply, at which Perry warned him to write to the mayor, ‘especially considering how matters now stand at Great Bedwyn where I am afraid your Lordship will meet with greater difficulties than in this town’. However, he chose to sit for Bedwyn, where he was easily re-elected, and secured the return of one uncle at Ludgershall and the other at Marlborough. Although Godolphin made good the earlier promise and in May 1709 obtained, at Bruce’s request, a licence for Ailesbury to return to England, the family was not persuaded to go against its Tory principles, and all three Bruces voted against the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell. However, perhaps on account of their earlier voting record over the Tack, which Robert and James had opposed, a ‘scandalous’ and mischievous report that Lord Bruce and his uncles had supported the impeachment received credence in Wiltshire and required strenuous denials from their election agents: given the evident popularity of Dr Sacheverell in Marlborough and surrounding towns, it was suggested by Perry that Bruce give him some money to ‘convince all gainsayers that his lordship is still in earnest for that cause which his accusers say he deserted’.4
The 1710 election in fact saw Bruce returned in two constituencies, Bedwyn and Marlborough, and on his behalf his uncle James quickly offered Robert Harley* the nomination to the spare seat. Classed as a Tory in the ‘Hanover list’ of this Parliament, Bruce was listed among the ‘worthy patriots’, who in the first session helped to detect the mismanagements of the previous ministry, but he did not join the October Club. At the end of December he was summoned to the Upper House in his father’s barony as one of Harley’s ‘dozen’ new peers. According to Ailesbury he would have preferred to stay in the Commons, and only accepted the honour in deference to the Earl’s opinion. Although regarded by one authority as possibly a Jacobite at this time, there is no actual evidence as to his views on the succession.5
Bruce remained an active Tory partisan after his translation to the Lords, both in Parliament itself and at elections, financing Thomas Gibson† at Marlborough and Viscount Lewisham (George Legge†) at Bedwyn in the 1720s. Although he had moved to Wiltshire, where he consolidated his family’s holdings by a series of purchases and sales, he also retained an interest in Bedfordshire elections, promoting Sir Pynsent Chernock, 3rd Bt.*, and John Harvey* for the county seat there, as well as in Yorkshire where he managed the return of the Tory Sir Miles Stapylton†. In 1721 his name figured at the head of the Wiltshiremen listed for the Pretender as likely sympathizers to the Jacobite cause. A sober individual, not much given to social gatherings, he was something of a bibliophile and dilettante antiquarian, corresponding with, among others, Thomas Hearne. He wrote his will on 15 May 1746, leaving a marriage portion of £15,000 to his only daughter, Mary, together with £1,800 to named relatives, miscellaneous legacies to a number of servants, and a stipulation that occupiers of Tottenham Park give £20 annually to the poor of Great Bedwyn. His wife was left his London house in Warwick St. All other property was secured to trustees, including the 3rd Earl of Oxford (Edward Harley†), Edward Popham† and John Ivory Talbot†. After his death, on 10 Feb. 1747, his remains were conveyed back to the family vault at Maulden, near Ampthill, for burial. His English titles were now extinct, save for the recently created barony of Bruce of Tottenham, which passed by a special remainder to his nephew and principal heir, Thomas Bruce-Brudenell, later Earl of Ailesbury by a subsequent creation. The Scottish earldom of Elgin went to a distant cousin, while his Scottish barony of Kinloss lay dormant until successfully claimed in the 19th century.6