Basic Biographical Details

Name: (Sir) William Bruce
Designation: Architect
Born: c. 1625
Died: 1 January 1710
Bio Notes: Sir William Bruce was born about 1625, the second son of a Perthshire laird, Robert Bruce, Lord Bruce of Blairhall, and Catherine Preston, daughter of Sir John Preston of Valleyfield. He may be the William Bruce who matriculated at St Salvator’s College, University of St Andrews in 1637 who must have been born in the 1620s. The Bruces were closely connected with other more prominent branches of the family including the Earls of Elgin, Kincardine and Ailesbury.

Bruce’s early life is still obscure but it is known that by the 1650s he and his cousin Alexander Bruce (later to become 2nd Earl of Kincardine) were trading from Rotterdam where there was an established community of English and Scottish merchants. William Bruce traded in timber, wine and coal, transporting timber from Norway to La Rochelle and wine from France to Holland. He also began the process of supplying coal from Scotland to Rouen. He did not simply direct the trade from Rotterdam; he actually travelled himself, participating in the triangular trade that existed between the hinterland of Germany and the South Netherlands, France, England, Scotland and Ireland. To conduct their business, the cousins acquired the vessel ‘de Weijenboem’.

Alexander Bruce married the daughter of a Dutch merchant, Cornelius van Aressen Sommerlsdyck, in 1659, just after William Bruce’s return to Scotland. Through his wife’s family Alexander imported luxuries to Scotland, such as fine furniture and carriages. It is Alexander Bruce’s correspondence with Sir Robert Moray from the 1650s until the 1670s that helps shed light on the Bruces’ activities in the 1650s. It is not clear if the Bruces’ commercial ventures at this time were profitable as William Bruce toyed with other projects such as sailing to the West Indies and becoming involved with the whaling industry in Greenland.

Through his commercial contacts in Holland where the royal court was in exile, Bruce became involved in politics, in particular the negotiations which preceded the restoration of Charles II. Bruce was reputed to have played a part in persuading General Monk to join the Royalists. In September 1759 Monk signed a passport for Bruce to travel to various parts of Scotland prior to his return to Holland.

The Earl of Moray seems to have been a confidante of both William and Alexander Bruce and advised on the details of court life. He was also the link between the Bruces and the Earl of Lauderdale and important in the latter’s political ambitions. William Bruce acted as a messenger between the Scottish lords and Charles II before the Restoration. Was that role engineered by Moray? After the Restoration, Bruce was knighted and with the Earl of Lauderdale as patron he was appointed to various posts including those of Clerk of the Bills, receiver of fines (whereby he was responsible for collecting the indemnity imposed on the supporters of the Commonwealth and other fines imposed by the new regime against those, such as the covenanters who did not submit to the new settlement). He was also commissioner of excise in Fife in 1682 and 1684 and collector-general of a cess imposed on the whole of Scotland to finance the army there in 1667. His most lucrative post was the ‘farm’ of customs and excise duty. This had been put up for sale at a public auction where it was won in 1671 by a syndicate headed by Sir William Bruce. The syndicate had paid the very large sum of £26,000 for a five year contract. Bruce also had various commercial interests such as a share in the Royal Fishery Company.

In 1665 he was in a financial position to purchase a small estate at Balcaskie in Fife and in 1675 a larger one on the shores of Loch Leven at Kinross. In 1668 in accordance with his new status as a landed gentleman he was granted a baronetcy. He had also hoped for a viscountcy but this did not materialise.

Bruce was active in the administration of justice at a local level. He was JP in Fife from 1673, and sheriff in Kinross from 1682 and in 1685 he was appointed to the Privy Council. However his political career was short and stopped with the death of Charles II. He was removed from the Privy Council in 1686, only a matter of months after securing the post. Bruce was mistrusted by King James VII and II and the regimes of William III and Queen Anne believed him to be a Jacobite sympathiser. From 1694 onwards he spent periods of time under house arrest or in prison. In 1702 he was declared a rebel but was reprieved by the intercession of David, second Earl of Melville and saved from being taken to the Tower of London.

After 1686 when he lost his place on the Privy Council, he spent most of his time and energy in the management of his estates and to the completion of his country house at Kinross. However Kinross was a drain of his resources. He no longer had an income from his political appointments and to advance the works at Kinross he had to burden the estate with debt. He had already spent £10,000 on the building work at Kinross by 1700 and the upkeep of the formal gardens which he had designed were expensive.

Bruce’s architectural career began in the 1660s. At the beginning he was simply a knowledgeable amateur but as time went on his architectural interests became increasingly important and his knowledge went far beyond that of a dilettante. His early work was confined giving advice to relatives and other Scottish aristocrats.

Bruce’s career as an official architect was limited to the years 1671-8. During that period he held the post of ‘Surveyor-general and overseer of the King’s Building in Scotland’. This was an updated title for the old office of ‘Master of Work’ to the Scottish Crown which had lain vacant since 1668. The appointment was for the particular purpose of rebuilding the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Apart from this and some repair work to Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle and to the fortifications on the Bass Rock, he does not appear to have undertaken other work while in this post. The work at Holyrood involved completion of the 16th century design begun by James V about 1530. The new palace was a symbol of the presence of the monarch in his Scottish capital. Bruce was assisted by Robert Mylne, master mason to the Scottish crown, and created from the irregular cluster of buildings, of which the north west tower was the principal feature, a symmetrical front by constructing a duplicate tower to the south and linking the two with a lower balustraded section and with an entrance portico flanked by twin Doric columns. The James V design had been French in character. Bruce’s formal design reinforced this French character, the main sources being the contemporary French baroque palaces and hotels. But the design is also significant because it is the first time in Scotland where the classical orders were used in accordance with the correct canonical rules, long-established in Italy. It was also the first use of the hipped roof which became a feature of country house design. The interior decoration was in the Anglo-Dutch style of contemporary Restoration England.

The Holyrood project was halted abruptly on the pretext that it was complete which was far from true. However the scheme probably originated with Lauderdale and political differences between Lauderdale and others may have led to the warrant being revoked.

Arguably Bruce’s most important commission after Holyrood was Thirlestane for the Duke of Lauderdale. Many of the craftsmen employed at Holyrood also worked at Thirlestane. French sources are also in evidence here, and French workmen including le Muet and du Cerceau.

Bruce’s actual output was relatively small. However as noted before he gave advice to a number of friends and relatives on their building projects and his influence was therefore more widespread than the number of projects he completed might suggest. He advised the Earl of Tweeddale in 1670 and the Earl of Cassilis in 1673-4 on their new houses. He was consulted on the proposed remodelling of Drumlanrig and in 1692 he was consulted on Hamilton Palace prior to commencement of building work there. He also influenced those who worked with him such as Robert Mylne and Tobias Bachop. Alexander Edward seems to have begun his architectural career as a draughtsman for Bruce. As regards James Smith, there was probably an interchange of ideas and influences.

Bruce has been credited with being the founder of classical architecture in Scotland and in changing the taste of Scottish lairds away from the tower and turret mentality. At Kinross House he used the double pile plan with two main storeys and attic over a semi-basement which was widely used in contemporary England along with a sophisticated interpretation of European classical architecture. This classicism was developed at Hopetoun which employed the Greek-cross-in-square plan, the ultimate source being Palladio. The quadrant wings which link the main house with the service wings were also Palladian in origin. Hopetoun can be seen as a precursor to the main Palladian movement in Britain in the early 18th century.

Bruce saw house and garden as one overall concept. He has been credited with the introduction of the baroque formal garden into Scotland. Many of his designs were aligned so that the main vista terminated on a distant feature in the landscape. In the case of Kinross this was Loch Leven Castle, at Balcaskie it was the Bass Rock and at Hopetoun it was North Berwick Law.

Outwith his architectural career, Bruce had wide interests which included horticulture, music and painting. He also seems to have had a reading knowledge of a number of languages as well as Latin and Greek.

Bruce died on 1 January 1710. Bruce’s ambition had been to found an aristocratic dynasty with Kinross as the family seat. He married Mary, daughter of John Halket of Pitfirrane in Fife about 1660 and they had two children. Their son, John, was given a good education and went on the Grant Tour. He married the daughter of the seventh Earl of Rothes in 1687. In that same year Bruce made over Kinross to his son. The house was unfinished at this stage. However the estate was a bone of contention between father and son as they argued over the furniture and furnishings. Furthermore John failed to produce an heir which jeopardised the older Bruce’s dynastic ambitions. After the death of Mary in 1699, William Bruce married a second time in 1700 to Magdalen Scott or Clerk, widow of an Edinburgh merchant. The family were dismayed by the speed of his re-marrying and feared for their inheritance. The property passed from John to Bruce’s daughter, Anne, who married Sir Thomas Hope of Craighall.

A portrait of Bruce by Michael Wright is in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

For a full bibliography see Colvin's 'Biographical Dictionary'.

Employment and Training

Employees or Pupils

The following individuals were employed or trained by this architect (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate fromDate toPositionNotes
Item 1 of 1Alexander EdwardMid 1680s Assistant 

Buildings and Designs

This architect was involved with the following buildings or structures from the date specified (click on an item to view details):
 Date startedBuilding nameTown, district or villageIslandCity or countyCountryNotes
Item 1 of 36c. 1664Tweeddale Lodging  EdinburghScotlandAlterations and improvements
Item 2 of 361667Leslie HouseMarkinch FifeScotlandSupervised enlargement and remodelling by Robert Mylne
Item 3 of 36c. 1670BalcaskiePittenweem FifeScotlandEnlarged and altered
Item 4 of 36c. 1670Thirlestane CastleLauder BerwickshireScotlandSupervised remodelling for Robert Mylne
Item 5 of 361671Ham House  SurreyEnglandGateways
Item 6 of 361671Palace of Holyroodhouse  EdinburghScotlandWith Robert Mylne
Item 7 of 361672Panmure House and ancillary estate buildingsCarnoustie AngusScotlandWest Gate
Item 8 of 36c. 1672Brunstane HouseDuddingston EdinburghScotlandEnlargement and remodelling
Item 9 of 361673Lauder Parish ChurchLauder BerwickshireScotland 
Item 10 of 361673LennoxloveLennoxlove East LothianScotlandAlterations, including new stable block
Item 11 of 361674City water supply  EdinburghScotlandFive cisterns or fountains as part of new system of water supply
Item 12 of 361675Ham House  SurreyEnglandGateways
Item 13 of 361676LennoxloveLennoxlove East LothianScotlandAlterations, including new stable block
Item 14 of 36c. 1676Dunkeld House  PerthshireScotland 
Item 15 of 361679Moncrieffe House  PerthshireScotlandAttribution
Item 16 of 36c. 167Cassillis HouseMaybole AyrshireScotlandRemodelling
Item 17 of 361680The Exchange  EdinburghScotland 
Item 18 of 361683Kinross House and Home Farm  Kinross-shireScotland 
Item 19 of 361686Invermay House  PerthshireScotland 
Item 20 of 36c. 1690BlairhallCulross FifeScotlandAttribution
Item 21 of 36c. 1690Gibson's Land, Saltmarket Street  GlasgowScotlandAttribution - cannot be regarded as authoritative.
Item 22 of 36c. 1694South Queich BridgeKinross Kinross-shireScotland 
Item 23 of 36c. 1695CraigiehallCramond EdinburghScotland 
Item 24 of 361696Wemyss HallCupar (near) FifeScotlandAttribution. Stylistically not close enough to other works by Bruce to be certain. No documentary evidence.
Item 25 of 361697Craighall CastleCeres FifeScotland 
Item 26 of 361697Melville House  FifeScotlandDrew up design. May or may not have been the design executed by James Smith.
Item 27 of 361698Kinnaird Castle, with stables and lodgeBrechin AngusScotlandScheme for enlargement - with Alexander Edward
Item 28 of 361699Hopetoun HouseAbercorn West LothianScotland 
Item 29 of 361702Auchendinny HouseAuchendinny MidlothianScotlandAttributed to Sir William Bruce by Henry Mackenzie who lived at Auchendinny.
Item 30 of 361702BroomhallLimekilns, Dunfermline FifeScotlandPossibly (see James Ramsay of Ochtertyre reference)
Item 31 of 361702Parliament House, Supreme Courts of Scotland  EdinburghScotlandFitting up of library for Faculty of Advocates in the Laigh Hall.
Item 32 of 361703Mertoun HouseMertoun BerwickshireScotlandBegun.
Item 33 of 361703Town HouseStirling StirlingshireScotland 
Item 34 of 361706Hopetoun HouseAbercorn West LothianScotlandFurther work
Item 35 of 361707Abercorn Parish ChurchAbercorn West LothianScotlandThe Hope Aisle
Item 36 of 36c. 1709House of Nairne  PerthshireScotlandExtent of Bruce's responsibility for the building is uncertain.


Bibliographic References

The following books contain references to this architect:
Item 1 of 9Colvin, Howard2008A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600-1840 London: YUP. 4th edition 
Item 2 of 9Dunbar, J G1970Sir William Bruce exhibition catalogue   
Item 3 of 9Fenwick, Hubert1970Architect royal: the life and works of Sir William Bruce, 1630-1710   
Item 4 of 9Frew, John and Jones, David (eds)1988Aspects of Scottish Classicism St AndrewsChapter by John Lowrey: 'Bruce and his Circle at Craigiehall 1693-1708'
Item 5 of 9Gifford, John2012The Buildings of Scotland: Angus and Dundee Yalep551 656
Item 6 of 9Miller, R1895The Municipal Buildings of Edinburgh   
Item 7 of 9Mylne, R S The Master Masons to the Crown of Scotland   
Item 8 of 9New DNB New Dictionary of National Biography  Article by John Lowrey.
Item 9 of 9Privy Council of Scotland Acts of the Privy Council of Scotland  3rd series, volumes 1-13

Periodical References

The following periodicals contain references to this architect:
 Periodical NameDateEditionPublisherNotes
Item 1 of 3Architectural Heritage2005XVI Article by Charles Wemyss.
Item 2 of 3Proceedings of the Soc. of Antiquaries of Scotland2002132 Article by Aonghus Mackechnie 'Sir William Bruce: the chief introducer of Architecture in this country'.
Item 3 of 3RIAS Quarterly1924 Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS)Article by H F kerr.

Archive References

The following archives hold material relating to this architect:
 SourceArchive NameSource Catalogue No.Notes
Item 1 of 9British LibraryAdd MSSAdd. MSS 23134, f.170Also 23135, ff.32-6
Item 2 of 9British LibraryEgerton MSSMSS 2870-2871Holyrood contracts and drawings
Item 3 of 9Buckminster Park, Grantham, LoncolnshireCorrespondence with the Duke of Lauderdale  
Item 4 of 9Hopetoun HouseHopetoun House drawings and archiveNRA MSS 888 
Item 5 of 9National Archives of Scotland (formerly SRO)Gifts and depositsGD 29Bruce of Kinross Papers
Item 6 of 9National Archives of Scotland (formerly SRO)Gifts and depositsGD 242Bruce of Arnot papers
Item 7 of 9National Archives of Scotland (formerly SRO)Gifts and depositsGD 406Hamilton MSS
Item 8 of 9National Records of Scotland (formerly NAS)Annandale Manuscripts  
Item 9 of 9University of Edinburgh LibrarySpecial Collections, Laing MSS