BRUCE, Robert (1795-1864), of Kennet House, nr. Alloa, Clackmannan.
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Family and Educationb. 8 Dec. 1795, 1st s. of Alexander Bruce of Kennet and Hugh,1 da. of Hugh Blackburn of Glasgow. educ. ?Eton 1811; ?St. John’s, Camb. 1813. m. (1) 12 Apr. 1825, Anne (d. 19 May 1846), da. of William Murray of Touchadam and Polmaise, Stirling, s.p.; (2) 22 Apr. 1848, Jane Dalrymple Hamilton, da. of Sir James Fergusson, 4th bt., of Kilkerran, Ayr, 1s. 1da. suc. fa. 1808. d. 13 Aug 1864.
Ensign 1 Ft. Gds. 1813, lt. and capt. 1821, ret. 1824.
Bruce’s ancestors had owned the Kennet estate since the mid-sixteenth century. His great-grandfather, Alexander Bruce, married in 1714 Mary Balfour, younger sister of Robert, 5th Lord Balfour of Burleigh, a convicted murderer who had escaped from custody in 1709 by disguising himself in his sister’s clothes. Balfour came out for the Pretender in the ’15, was attainted and died without issue in 1757. Mary Bruce died the following year and her sister Margaret died unmarried in 1769 when, but for the attainder, Alexander Bruce’s son Robert (Lord Kennet SCJ) would have succeeded her as Lord Balfour of Burleigh. His only surviving son Alexander was sometime a merchant in China before he inherited Kennet in 1785. On his death in 1808 his son Robert, the subject of this biography, became laird of Kennet at the age of 12. Bruce’s grandfather, Lord Kennet, had married a sister of the military hero, Sir Ralph Abercromby† (1734-1801) of Tullibody, whose widow was created Baroness Abercromby. Her son, George Abercromby†, who succeeded her in the peerage in 1821, may have had some responsibility for Bruce, his second cousin, during his minority. Bruce’s brief military career included service at Waterloo, where he was wounded. At the general election of 1820 he was returned unopposed for Clackmannanshire on Abercromby’s interest, as a locum for Abercomby’s only son, a minor.
He gave general support to Lord Liverpool’s administration, but occasionally took an independent line. He voted against economies in revenue collection, 4 July 1820, and in defence of ministers’ conduct towards Queen Caroline, 6 Feb. 1821. He was one of the Scottish county Members who divided for repeal of the additional malt duty, 21 Mar., and he stood his ground when government exerted themselves to defeat the repeal bill, 3 Apr. 1821. He voted against the disfranchisement of ordnance officials, 12 Apr., and parliamentary reform, 9, 10 May 1821. He divided against the opposition’s call for more extensive tax reductions, 21 Feb., but voted for admiralty economies, 1 Mar., and a cut in the army estimates, 20 Mar. 1822. He voted against abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar., and inquiry into the lord advocate’s dealings with the Scottish press, 25 June 1822. He sided with government against repeal of the assessed taxes, 10, 18 Mar., and of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr., and against Scottish parliamentary reform, 2 June, and inquiry into the currency, 12 June 1823. He voted against the production of information on the Dublin Orange theatre riot, 24 Mar., but was one of the anti-Catholics (he had voted against relief, 28 Feb. 1821, 30 Apr. 1822) who divided with opposition to secure an investigation of the prosecution of the miscreants, 22 Apr. 1823. He voted against reform of Edinburgh’s representation, 26 Feb. 1824. He presented constituency petitions against the duty on notaries’ licences, 5 Apr., for the abolition of slavery, 11 May, and against the beer bill, 13 May 1824.2
In 1823 Bruce sought an interview with Lord Liverpool to press his claim to the forfeited Balfour peerage in view of government’s plans to restore the lineal descendants of attainted peers to their ancestors’ honours. He had petitioned the king on this during his visit to Scotland in August 1822:
Mine is a case of peculiar aggravated hardship ... Both Lord Melville and the lord advocate are of opinion that it is a singular case ... and that it will by no means interfere with the claim of any other collateral branch.3
He got no satisfaction, and when government introduced bills to reverse the attainders of five peers, 14 June 1824, he complained in the House of the preference given to lineal over collateral descendants:
He yielded to no man in loyalty to the House of Hanover, and most painfully did he feel the distinction by which he suffered on the present occasion. Though the blood from which he was collaterally descended from ... [Lord Balfour] was pure and untainted, yet still was he, and those who were to succeed him, excluded from the royal grace.
Many of his audience evidently sympathized with him, but the home secretary Peel stated that as an indiscriminate reversal of all attainders was impracticable, ministers had felt obliged to select only those which were free from uncertainty over the legitimacy of the original patent. Soon afterwards Bruce sold his army commission and vacated his seat for Abercromby’s son.
In 1832 and 1835 he unsuccessfully contested the reformed constituency of Clackmannan and Kinross as a Conservative. He was thought to have a ‘good chance’ of success in 1837, but did not stand.4 In 1841, as a member of the committee of the general assembly of the Church of Scotland, he wrote to Peel of his alarm at the growing schism within the church and pledged his support for any ‘healing measure’ which recognized the principle of non-intrusion. The following year, when vainly seeking to have his brother Hugh made sheriff of Renfrewshire, he told Peel that he was only deterred from challenging the Liberal candidate for Clackmannan and Kinross at the impending by-election ‘by the conviction, that any Conservative could not succeed, from the nature of the constituency, and number of towns and villages opposed to the agricultural interest’.5
In 1860 Bruce, having accidentally discovered the patent of the Balfour peerage in a chest at Kennet, petitioned Queen Victoria on his claim to the titles of Lord Balfour of Burleigh and Lord Kilwinning. The petition was referred to the Lords’ committee of privileges in 1861, when his claim to the Balfour peerage was disputed by Francis Walter Balfour of Fernie, a descendant of a younger son of the 3rd Lord Balfour. Nothing had been decided by the time of Bruce’s death in August 1864. The following year his only son, Alexander Hugh Bruce, a minor (Bruce had been 54 when he was born) renewed the claim. His right to the Balfour peerage was allowed, 23 July 1868, but he was ruled not to have made out his case regarding the Kilwinning title, which had been challenged by Lord Eglinton in 1863. He was created Lord Balfour of Burleigh by private Act, 19 Mar. 1869.6
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: David R. Fisher
- 1. She was named in memory of her fa., who d. on the day of her birth (Gent. Mag. (1864), ii. 528).
- 2. The Times, 6 Apr., 12, 14 May 1824.
- 3. Add. 38295, f. 78.
- 4. Scottish Electoral Politics, 223, 234, 246.
- 5. Add. 40501, f. 77; 43061, f. 270.
- 6. LJ, xcii. 367; xciii. 178, 316, 538; xcv. 350; xcvii. 162; c. 454; ci. 116.