BRUCE, Robert (1795-1864), of Kennet House, nr. Alloa, Clackmannan.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Constituency

Dates

1820 - 24 June 1824

Family and Education

b. 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.

Offices Held

Ensign 1 Ft. Gds. 1813, lt. and capt. 1821, ret. 1824.

Biography

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