Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin

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The Earl of Elgin and Kincardine

7th Earl of Elgin by Anton Graff around 1788.jpg
Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin and 11th Earl of Kincardine, by Anton Graff (around 1788).
Known forThe controversial procurement of Marble Sculptures from the Parthenon, Acropolis in Greece
Born(1766-07-20)20 July 1766
Broomhall, Fife, Scotland
Died14 November 1841(1841-11-14) (aged 75)
Paris, France
Spouse(s)Mary Nisbet (m. 1799)
Elizabeth Oswald (m. 1810)
Issue11, including James, Robert, Thomas, and Augusta
ParentsCharles Bruce, 5th Earl of Elgin
Martha Whyte
SignatureSignatur Thomas Bruce, 7. Earl of Elgin.PNG

Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin and 11th Earl of Kincardine FSA Scot (/ˈɛlɡɪn/; 20 July 1766 – 14 November 1841) was a British nobleman, soldier, politician and diplomat, known primarily for the controversial procurement of marble sculptures (known as the Elgin Marbles) from the Parthenon in Athens.[1]

Early life and career[edit]

A member of the formerly royal house of Bruce, Elgin was born at the family seat, Broomhall House, Fife, the second son of Charles Bruce, 5th Earl of Elgin and his wife Martha Whyte. He succeeded his older brother William Robert, the 6th Earl, in 1771 when he was only five.[1] He was educated at Harrow and Westminster, and studied at St Andrews and Paris.[1]

Elgin entered the army as an ensign in the Scots Guards in 1785.[2] He transferred to 65th Foot in 1789, as Captain of a Company, by purchase.[3] In 1793, he was appointed to the Staff as a Major of Foot by Brevet, holding the rank on the Continent only.[4] In 1795, he transferred to 12th Foot as a Major.[5] Later in 1795, he raised a regiment of Fencible Infantry[6] and was appointed its Colonel, with the permanent rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Army.[7] He was promoted to Colonel in the Army in 1802, to Major General in 1809 and to Lieutenant General in 1814.[6]

He was elected as a Scottish Representative Peer in 1790. Although he formally remained a representative peer until 1840, shortly before his death, he took almost no part in Parliament after 1807.[citation needed]

Diplomatic career[edit]

Coats of arms of the Earl of Elgin

In 1791, he was sent as a temporary envoy-extraordinary to Austria, while Sir Robert Keith was ill. He was then sent as envoy-extraordinary in Brussels from 1792[8] until the conquest of the Austrian Netherlands by France. After spending time in Britain, he was sent as envoy-extraordinary to Prussia in 1795.[9][10] Elgin was appointed as ambassador to The Porte in December 1798.

On 11 March 1799, shortly before setting off to serve as ambassador at Constantinople, Elgin married Mary, daughter and heiress of William Hamilton Nisbet, of Dirleton;[11] Elgin arrived at Constantinople on 6 November 1799. He was ambassador to the Ottoman Empire between 1799 and 1803 and showed considerable skill and energy in fulfilling a difficult mission, the extension of British influence during the conflict between the Ottoman Empire and France.[12] He departed Turkey on 16 January 1803.

Elgin's procurement of the Parthenon Marbles[edit]

Acting on the advice of the diplomat and archaeologist Sir William Hamilton, Elgin procured the services of a Neapolitan painter, Lusieri, and of several skilful draughtsmen and modellers. These artists were dispatched to Athens in the summer of 1800, and were principally employed in making drawings of the ancient monuments, though very limited facilities were given them by the authorities. Elgin claimed that about the middle of the summer of 1801, he had received a firman from the Sublime Porte which allowed his lordship's agents not only to "fix scaffolding round the ancient Temple of the Idols [the Parthenon], and to mould the ornamental sculpture and visible figures thereon in plaster and gypsum," but also "to take away any pieces of stone with old inscriptions or figures thereon".[10] This firman has currently not been found in the Turkish government archives from the imperial era[13] and its veracity is disputed.[14]

The actual procurement of ancient marbles from Athens formed no part of Elgin's first plan. The decision to remove and take the marbles was made on the spot by Philip Hunt, Elgin's chaplain (and temporary private secretary, i.e. representative, in Athens).[dubious ] After receiving assent from the local, Elgin's agents were able to remove about half of the Parthenon frieze, fifteen metopes, and seventeen pedimental sculpture fragments, in addition to a caryatid and a column from the Erechtheion,[15] sculptured slabs from the Athenian temple of Nike Apteros, and various antiquities from Attica and other districts of Hellas.[10]

Part of the Elgin collection was prepared for embarkation for Britain in 1803, and considerable difficulties were encountered at every stage of its transit. Elgin's vessel, the Mentor, wrecked near Cerigo with its cargo of marbles, and it was not till after the labours of three years, and the expenditure of a large sum of money, that the marbles were successfully recovered by the divers. On Elgin's departure from the Ottoman Empire in 1803, he withdrew all his artists from Athens with the exception of Lusieri, who remained to direct the excavations which were still carried on, though on a much reduced scale. Additions continued to be made to the Elgin collections, and as late as 1812, eighty fresh cases of antiquities arrived in England.[10]

Elgin's procurement of the marbles was censured by some in Britain as vandalism, most famously Lord Byron.[16] Elgin attempted to vindicate himself in a pamphlet Memorandum on the Subject of the Earl of Elgin's Pursuits in Greece, published in 1810.[17] On the recommendation of a British parliamentary committee, which supported the conduct of Elgin in the face of public pressure, the Marbles were purchased by the British government in 1816 for £35,000,[17] considerably below their cost to Elgin (estimated at £75,000), and deposited in the British Museum, where they eventually went on display.[1]

UNESCO has offered unsuccessfully to remediate on the dispute[18][dubious ] and British politician Jeremy Corbyn has suggested that he would approve of repatriating the Marbles to Greece.[19] Polls conducted by the British government indicate the majority of the British public support the repatriation of the Marbles to Greece.[20]

Those parts of the Parthenon marbles, (about half) not removed by Elgin are now displayed in the Acropolis Museum, aligned in orientation and within sight of the Parthenon. The Greek government has undertaken steps to ensure that it will be possible to reattach the Marbles, should they be repatriated to Athens.[15]

Later career[edit]

Elgin, who had been "detained" in France after the rupture of the peace of Amiens, returned to Britain in 1806.[10] Finding that he could not get the British Museum to pay what he was asking for the marbles, Elgin sued his wife's lover for an appropriately high sum. He divorced Mary, for adultery, by legal actions in 1807 and 1808 in the English and Scottish courts—and by act of parliament—which caused much public scandal. Then, on 21 September 1810, he married Elizabeth (1790–1860), youngest daughter of James Townsend Oswald of Dunnikier. Elgin moved to the European continent.

During 1815 Elgin became embroiled in the Tweddell remains affair, a controversy over the possessions of John Tweddell, a classical scholar who had died in 1799 in Athens and Elgin was accused of having appropriated Tweddell's belongings after his death, during his term as British ambassador in Constantinople. The full extent of the items were never recovered and their fate is unknown, but the matter was settled in late 1816 with the return of some of the items to Tweddell's family.[21][22][23]


Mary, Countess of Elgin

Elgin married twice. On 11 March 1799, he married Mary (1778–1855), only child of William Hamilton Nisbet, of Dirleton. They had a son and three daughters:[11][24]

  • George Charles Constantine, Lord Bruce (5 April 1800 – 1840), died unmarried[25]
  • Lady Mary (died 21 December 1883), married on 28 January 1828, Robert Dundas
  • Lady Matilda Harriet (died 31 August 1857), married on 14 October 1839, John Maxwell, son of Sir John Maxwell, 7th Baronet
  • Lady Lucy (1806 – 4 September 1881), married on 14 March 1828, John Grant of Kilgraston

After their marriage ended in divorce, Mary later married Robert Ferguson of Raith (1777–1846), who had been cited in the divorce. Elgin, on 21 September 1810, married Elizabeth (1790–1860), youngest daughter of James Townsend Oswald of Dunnikier. They had four sons and three daughters:[11]

Lord Elgin died on 4 November 1841, aged 75, in Paris.[28] His widow the Dowager Countess of Elgin died in Paris 1 April 1860.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Encyclopædia Britannica, "Thomas Bruce, 7th earl of Elgin", O.Ed., 2008
  2. ^ London Gazette, # 12636, 5 April 1785, 171
  3. ^ London Gazette # 13095, 9 May 1789, 363
  4. ^ London Gazette, # 13508, 5 March 1793, 191
  5. ^ London Gazette, # 13772, 21 April 1795, 361
  6. ^ a b Philippart, J., ed. 1820. The Royal Military Calendar, or Army Service and Commission Book, Containing the Services and Progress of Promotion of the Generals, Lieutenant-Generals, Major-Generals, Colonels, Lieutenant-Colonels, and Majors of the Army, According to Seniority: With Details of Principal Military Events of the Last Century, Vol.2, p.343. 3rd edition. London, UK: T. Egerton, and Sherwood, Neely and Jones
  7. ^ London Gazette, 13788, 16 June 1795, 629
  8. ^ London Gazette, # 13451, 18 August 1792, 647
  9. ^ London Gazette, 13804, 11 August 1795, 836
  10. ^ a b c d e Wroth 1886.
  11. ^ a b c d Mosley, Charles, ed. (2003). Burke's Peerage, Baronetage & Knighthood (107 ed.). Burke's Peerage & Gentry. p. 1295. ISBN 978-0-9711966-2-9.
  12. ^ Christopher Hitchens, The Elgin Marbles: Should They Be Returned to Greece?, 1998, p.p.10-11
  13. ^ David Rudenstein (29 May 2000). "Did Elgin Cheat at Marbles?". Nation. 270 (21): 30. Yet no researcher has ever located this Ottoman document and when l was in Instanbul I searched in vain for it or any copy of it, or any reference to it in other sorts of documents or a description of its substantive terms in any related official papers. Although a document of some sort may have existed, it seems to have vanished into thin air, despite the fact the Ottoman archives contain an enormous number of similar documents from the period.
  14. ^ Professor Vassilis Demetriades. "WAS THE REMOVAL OF THE MARBLES ILLEGAL?".
  15. ^ a b "Parthenon Frieze".
  16. ^ Jenifer Neils (5 September 2005). The Parthenon: From Antiquity to the Present. Cambridge University Press. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-521-82093-6. Its iconic status was certainly helped by Lord Elgin's looting of the marbles...
  17. ^ a b Gosse, Edmund William (1911). "Biography" . In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 3 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 954. The DNB is described in the last paragraph of this article.
  18. ^ "UK has not written back to UNESCO Letter" (PDF). UNESCO.
  19. ^ Trend, Nick. "Why returning the Elgin Marbles would be madness". The Telegraph. Retrieved 25 December 2018.
  20. ^ "Return of the Parthenon Marbles". Ipsos MORI. Archived from the original on 9 April 2014. Retrieved 18 June 2012.
  21. ^ St Clair, William (1967). Lord Elgin and The Marbles. Oxford University Press. p. 241.
  22. ^ Hunt, Philip; Smith, A. H. (1916). "Lord Elgin and His Collection". The Journal of Hellenic Studies. 36: 163–372. doi:10.2307/625773. JSTOR 625773.
  23. ^ Lovell Augustus Reeve; John Mounteney Jephson; Shirley Brooks; Henry Christmas; George Augustus Frederick Fitzclarence (1817). The Literary Gazette: A Weekly Journal of Literature, Science, and the Fine Arts. H. Colburn. p. 38.
  24. ^ "Lord Bruce died, after a lengthened illness, ... at Talaton, Devon, where he had been residing for the benefit of his health. The deceased, George Charles Constantine Lord Bruce, who was eldest son of the Earl of Elgin, by his first marriage with Miss Nisbet, which marriage was dissolved by act of Parliament in 1808, was born the 5th of April, 1800, and was brother of Lady Mary Chichester, the lady of Mr. R. A. Chichester, M.P., Lady Matilda Maxwell, and Lady Lucy Grant. The Hon. James Bruce, the noble earl's eldest son' by his second marriage, born July 20, 1810, is now heir to the family honours.(Courier 1841, p. 4)"
  25. ^ "Dec, 1. 1840 At Talaton, where he had been residing for the benefit of his health, aged 40, George Charles Constantine, Lord Bruce, eldest son of the Earl of Elgin. He was of Christ Church, Oxford. He died unmarried, and his half brother, born in 1816, is now heir apparent to the Earldom(Urban 1841)"
  26. ^ H. Verney Lovett, "The Indian Governments, 1858–1918", The Cambridge History of the British Empire, Volume V: The Indian Empire, 1858–1918 (Cambridge University Press, 1932), p. 224.
  27. ^ Lang 1987, p. 350 footnote 1.
  28. ^ St Clair 2008.



External links[edit]

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by British Minister in Brussels
French Conquest
Preceded by British Minister to Prussia
Succeeded by
Preceded by British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire
Succeeded by
Honorary titles
Preceded by Lord Lieutenant of Fife
Succeeded by
Peerage of Scotland
Preceded by Earl of Elgin
Earl of Kincardine

Succeeded by