Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bruce, William (d.1710)

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1316489Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 07 — Bruce, William (d.1710)1886George Wardlaw Burnet

BRUCE, Sir WILLIAM (d. 1710), of Kinross, architect in Scotland to Charles II, was the second son of Robert Bruce of Blairhall, by his wife, Catherine, daughter of Sir John Preston of Valleyfield, and was born in the early part of the seventeenth century. Though too young to have played a part in the troublous reign of Charles I, no one in Scotland probably contributed more in a private capacity to bring about the restoration of the royal family, to whom he proved a firm and constant friend. He is said to have been the channel of communication between General Monk and the young king, and to have had the honour of first conveying to the latter the inclination of the former to serve him. Being a man of ability and address, he retained the friendship of the monarch, who rewarded him in the very year of the restoration with the office of clerk to the bills, a very beneficial one in those days. Eight years after, having acquired the lands of Balcashie in Fife, he was created a baronet by royal letters patent dated 21 April 1668. He soon after acquired possession of the lands of Drumeldrie, in the same county, his title to which is dated 18 April 1670, and having afterwards acquired from the Earl of Morton the lands and barony of Kinross in that county, he was, says Douglas,' ever after designed by that title.' His skill and taste in building led to his appointment, in 1671, as 'the king's surveyor and master of works,' and to his employment in the restoration of Holyrood House, the ancient palace of the Stuarts in Edinburgh. He designed the quadrangular edifice as it now stands. The work was not completed till 1679, and latterly not altogether under Bruce's supervision. In 1681 he was summoned as representative in parliament of the county of Kinross, by royal letters dated at Windsor on 13 Aug. in that year. In 1685 he built his own house at Kinross, a mansion which appears to have been originally intended for the residence of the Duke of York (afterwards James II), should he have eventually been excluded from succeeding to the throne. He also built Harden House in Teviotdale, and in 1698 the mansion house of Hopetoun in Linlithgowshire was commenced from his designs. It was finished four years later, and the design, 'given by Sir William Bruce, who was justly esteemed the best architect of his time in that kingdom (Scotland),' as says Colin Campbell, will be found delineated in his ' Vitruvius Britannicus.' The house, however, was at a later date considerably altered and modified, even in some particulars of the plan, by the better-known architect, William Adam [see Adam, Robert]. Bruce is also said to have designed a bridge over the North Loch, a sheet of water which formerly occupied the site of the gardens now extending from the foot of the Castle Rock to Princes Street in Edinburgh; but it was never executed, and the works already enumerated (with the addition of Moncrieffe House in Perthshire, also designed by him) are the chief if not the only known proofs of their author's architectural skill. It is impossible to say that they exhibit any amount of originality or artistic genius; but these were probably little regarded in his time, when the architect's merit consisted mainly in suiting the requirements of modern life to the supposed rules of ancient construction. At the end of two centuries, however, Holyrood House is still a quaint and interesting enough structure. Bruce died at a very great age in 1710, and was succeeded by his son, who, according to Douglas, was 'also a man of parts, and, as he had got a liberal education, was looked upon as one of the finest gentlemen in the kingdom when he returned from his travels.' Neither his parts nor his education, however, prompted him to distinguish himself, and they are both useful now only as indices of the qualities of the 'king's master of works,' his father. On his death the title went to his cousin, with whom it became extinct.

[Adam's Vitr. Scot., fol., 1720-40; Campbell's Vitr. Brit., fol., 1767 (vol. ii. 1717); Kincaid's Hist, of Edinburgh, 12mo, 1787; Anderson's Scottish Nation, 1860; Douglas's Baronage of Scotland, 1798.]

G. W. B.