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The Scottish Nation

ELGIN, a surname derived from the parish or town of that name in the county of Moray or Elgin, which is generally supposed to have been so called from Helgy, one of the chiefs of the army of Sigurd the Norwegian earl of Orkney, who about 897 conquered Caithness, Ross, Sutherland, and Moray, and probably made a settlement at Elgin. As the word Helgyn is still used in the inscription on the incorporation seal of the town, it is probable that this etymology is correct.


ELGIN, Earl of, a title in the peerage of Scotland, possessed by a branch of the illustrious and royal house of Bruce, first conferred on 21st June 1633, by Charles the First on Thomas, third Lord Bruce of Kinloss, second son of the celebrated lawyer Sir Edward Bruce, created in 1602 Lord Bruce of Kinloss. The earl’s elder brother, Edward, second Lord Bruce of Kinloss, one of the gentlemen of the bedchamber to King James the First of England, was killed in a duel near Bergen-op-Zoom, in August 1613, by Sir Edward Sackville, afterwards earl of Dorset. The earl was, on 1st August 1641, created a peer of England by the title of Baron Bruce of Whorlton, in the county of York, and died in 21st December 1663, in the 65th year of his age.

      His only son, Robert, second earl, was, with Thomas Wentworth, earl of Cleveland, appointed in 1660, lord lieutenant of the county of Bedford, and having given proofs of his loyalty to Charles the First, and been active in the restoration of Charles the Second, he was, 18th March 1663-4, created, in the English peerage, Baron Bruce of Skelton, in the county of York, Viscount Bruce of Ampthill, in the county of Bedford, and earl of Ailesbury, in the county of Buckingham. He was afterwards constituted sole lord lieutenant of the county of Bedford, and in 1678 appointed one of the six peers who, with twelve members of the House of Commons, were nominated commissioners for taking the account of such monies as had been raised and assigned to his majesty during his war with the Dutch. He was sworn of the privy council, 18th October 1673, and was one of the gentleman of the bedchamber. He was also a commissioner for executing the office of earl-marshal of England, as deputy of Henry, duke of Norfolk, and at the coronation of James the Second was one of the lords who carried St. Edward’s staff. On 20th July 1685, he was appointed lord chamberlain of the household. He died at Ampthill, 20th October 1685. Wood, in his Fasti Oxoniensis, says that he was well versed in English history and antiquities, a lover of all such as were professors of those studies, and a curious collector of manuscripts, especially of those which related to England and English antiquities. He married Diana, daughter of Henry Grey, first earl of Stamford, by whom he had eight sons and nine daughters. Of the sons, five died young.

      The sixth son, Thomas, third earl of Elgin and second of Ailesbury, by which title he is known in history, was amongst the first in 1688, to invite the prince of Orange to come to England, as a mediator between the king and the people, but on learning the prince’s designs, he refused to sanction his dethronement of his father-in-law, and offered his services to King James, on the prince of Orange’s embarking his troops for England. He accompanied the king in his barge on his departure for Rochester. He never took the oaths to King William and Queen Mary, and on Jul7 5, 1690, a proclamation was issued by the latter, during the absence of the king, in Ireland, for his apprehension and that of several other persons who, like him, had incurred the suspicion of the government. His lordship, however, was not imprisoned on that occasion, and in 1691, King William gave the royal assent to an act to enable Thomas, earl of Ailesbury, and his countess, to make provision for payment of debts and to make leases of their estates. In 1695 the earl was accused of having been at a meeting held in May, at the Old King’s Head Tavern, in Aldersgate Street London, with other friends of the exiled family, for the purpose of consulting how to restore King James, whereupon he was committed to the Tower in February 1695-6. His countess, (Elizabeth Seymour, sister and heiress of William, duke of Somerset, with whom he got large estates in England,) was so afflicted at his confinement that she died in childbed soon after. The earl was admitted to bail, on 12th February following, and obtained King William’s permission to reside at Brussels. He there married, secondly, charlotte, countess of Sannu, of the ancient and noble house of Argenteau, in the duchy of Brabant. He died at Brussels in November 1741, in the 86th year of his age. By his first wife he had four sons and two daughters, and by the second he had an only daughter, charlotte maria, married in 1722 to the prince of Horne, one of the princes of the empire. One of this lady’s daughters, Elizabeth Philippina, married Prince Gustavus Adolphus of Stolberg Guedern, and was the mother of Louisa Maximillana, the wife of the pretender, Prince Charles Edward Stuart.

      The second and only surviving son, Charles, fourth earl of Elgin, and third of Ailesbury, was, on December 31, 1711, in the lifetime of his father, summoned by writ to the house of peers (being one of the twelve peers created and summoned that day, to secure a majority in the House of Lords for the Tory administration), by the title of Lord Bruce of Whorlton, and by letters patent, in 1746, he was created Lord Bruce of Tottenham in Wiltshire, to him and his heirs male, with limitation of that honour to his nephew, the Hon. Thomas Bruce, youngest son of George, earl of Cardigan, and the lady Elizabeth Bruce, his wife, the earl of Elgin’s sister. His lordship was thrice married, and by his first wife, Lady Anne Saville, eldest daughter and one of the coheiresses of William marquis of Halifax, he had two sons, who both died young, and two daughters. By his second wife, a daughter of the earl of Burlington, he had no issue; and by his third countess, a daughter of the fourth duke of Argyle, he had a daughter, Lady Mary, who married Charles third duke of Richmond and Lennox.

      In the fourth earl of Elgin ended the male line of Edward Lord Bruce of Kinloss, second son of Sir Edward Bruce of Blairhall, and by his leaving no male issue the title of earl of Ailesbury became extinct, and that of earl of Elgin devolved on the heir male, Charles Bruce, ninth earl of Kincardine in the Scottish peerage, [See KINCARDINE, earl of,] while the title of Lord Bruce of Tottenham reverted to his nephew, the Hon. Thomas Bruce Brudenell, already mentioned, created earl of Ailesbury 18th June 1776. The son of the latter was created marquis of Ailesbury, Earl Bruce, and Viscount Savernake in 1821.

      Charles, fifth earl of Elgin, and ninth earl of Kincardine, (descended from Sir George Bruce of Carnock, third son of Edward Bruce of Blairhall, father of the first Lord Bruce of Kinloss,) was born about 1732, succeeded his father in the earldom of Kincardine in 1740, and his kinsman the earl of Elgin and Ailesbury, in his Scottish titles, in 1747, and was thenceforth styled earl of Elgin and Kincardine. He was a nobleman distinguished by the goodness of his heart, his amiable manners, and many virtues. Residing almost constantly at his seat of Broomhall, in Fife, he devoted himself to the improvement of his lands, and was highly instrumental in promoting the agriculture of both parts of the United Kingdom. Discovering a very extensive limestone rock on his estate, he employed about four hundred men in working it, built a town of a hundred houses for their accommodation, erected a number of kilns for burning the stone, and at a very considerable expense opened a fine harbour. He married Martha, only child of Thomas White, Esq., an eminent merchant and banker, London, and had issue three daughters and four sons. His lordship died 14th May 1771. From the judicious manner in which his countess had educated her own children, she was selected to fill the important office of governess to the Princess Charlotte of Wales.

      The eldest son, William Robert, sixth earl of Elgin and tenth of Kincardine, enjoyed the title only two months, dying at Broomhall 15th July 1771, in the eighth year of his age, and was succeeded by his next brother, Thomas, seventh earl. The Hon. Charles-Andrew Bruce, the third son of the fifth earl of Elgin, was placed on the Bengal civil establishment in 1783, and after being a senior merchant, second judge of the provincial court of appear and circuit for the division of Calcutta, was appointed governor of Prince of Wales’ Island, and died 27th December 1810. The Hon. James Bruce, the fourth son, M.P. for Marlborough, and subsequently precis writer in the office of Lord Grenville, secretary of state, was drowned while crossing the Don in Yorkshire 10th July 1798, aged 28.

      The second son, Thomas, seventh earl of Elgin, and eleventh earl of Kincardine, celebrated as the collector of the Elgin marbles, was born 20th July 1766, and received his education at Harrow and Westminster schools, and at the university of St. Andrews. On leaving the university, he went to Paris, and for nearly two years studied there under a professor of public law. He then proceeded to Germany, where he continued a considerable time, in the prosecution of military studies. In 1785 he entered the army as ensign in the third regiment of foot guards, and in 1789 he purchased a company in the 65th regiment of foot. In 1793, he had the brevet rank of major in the army, and, in 1795, was appo0inted major to the 12th regiment of foot. On raising a fencible regiment the same year, he obtained the rank of lieutenant-colonel. In 1802 he became colonel, and on 25th October 1809, major-general. He attained to the full rank of general in 1837. He was also a lieutenant-general of the Royal Archers in Scotland.

      In 1790 lord Elgin was sent on a special mission to Leopold the Second, emperor of Germany, whom, in the following year, he accompanied on a tour to his Italian dominions. When the British embassy quitted Paris in 1792, Lord Elgin was appointed envoy extraordinary to the court of Brussels, and when the French armies occupied the Netherlands in the end of that year, he was employed first at the court of the elector of Hesse Cassel, and afterwards with the Prussian army during their active operations in Germany, in the beginning of 1793. He was attached to the Austrian forces until the final evacuation of the Netherlands in 1794. In the following year he was appointed envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to the king of Prussia. In 1799 he was constituted ambassador to Turkey, and he continued in the east till the French were finally driven out of Egypt. On that occasion he was invested with the Turkish order of the crescent.

      His embassy to the Sublime Porte was the cause of his being able to preserve those magnificent relics of ancient Grecian sculpture to which his name has been given, and the removal of which to this country has been of so much service in promoting the study of the arts. On proceeding to Constantinople he visited Greece, which then formed part of the Turkish dominions, and anxious to rescue those beautiful remains of antiquity from that destruction to which they were evidently destined, availing himself of the opportunities of his station, he succeeded in forming, principally from the ruins of the Parthenon at Athens, a splendid collection of statues, basso-relievos, specimens of architecture, and other valuable fragments of ancient art, besides medals, and a very curious series of inscriptions, beginning with the famous Boustrophedon, which he was so fortunate as to procure at Cape Sigaeum on the plain of Troy, containing specimens of all the variations in the Greek alphabet. These were safely brought over to England in 1814, and ultimately purchased by government for thirty-five thousand pounds, not half the sum spent by his lordship in collecting and transporting them to Great Britain, which, with the interest of the money expended, amounted to seventy-four thousand pounds. These invaluable specimens of art are now in the British Museum, under the name of the Elgin Marbles. When first brought over from Greece, they were placed in a stable-like apartment in the corner of Burlington House, London, where the kindness of his lordship admitted artists of all classes to view and draw from them.

      Much unmerited obloquy has been thrown on the earl of Elgin by Lord Byron and others, for removing these antiquities from Athens. ‘The Curse of Minerva,’ one of Lord Byron’s most stinging satires, was especially directed against his lordship for this patriotic act. The noble poet also has an allusion to Lord Elgin’s conduct in this respect, in his ‘English Bards and Scotch Reviewers,’ and he inserted some indignant remarks, on what he considered his plunder of the Parthenon, in a note to the second Canto of Childe Harold. In an ode to ‘The Parthenon,’ in James and Horace Smith’s series of poetical imitations, entitled ‘Horace in London,’ published in 1813, Minerva is made to say, in reference to Lord Elgin’s removal of these ancient monuments of Athens and Lord Byron’s satire:

                        “All who behold my mutilated pile,
                        Shall brand its ravager with classic rage;
                        And soon a titled bard from Britain’s isle
                        Thy country’s praise and suffrage shall engage,
                        And fire with Athens’ wrongs an angry age.”

But in despite of poetic ire the verdict of the public and of posterity on the subject is that Lord Elgin conferred a service on art, by bringing to England what has furnished, and will long continue to furnish, models of study for artists, of the very highest character. Destruction would have been their fate had they not been removed by his lordship. Their removal was effected with the express sanction of the rulers of the country, and no dissatisfaction was evinced by the natives. The dispersion of these invaluable remains, however, could only be prevented by their becoming the property of a nation, and the possession of them is a glory and an honour to Britain. In the Vatican at Rome, in Wirtemberg, Russia, and other continental states, are casts in plaster of these superb relics of ancient Grecian art.

      Lord Elgin established excellent schools at his lime and coal works in Fife, and somewhat embarrassed his fortune by improvements on his estate. He was one of the sixteen representatives of the Scottish peerage, having been first chosen at the general election of 1790. He was also president of the Society of Antiquaries in Scotland. He was twice married: first, 11th March 1799, to Mary, only child of William Hamilton Nisbet, Esq. of Dirleton, Haddingtonshire, by whom he had issue two sons and three daughters. This marriage was dissolved in 1808, when Lady Elgin married Robert Fergusson, Esq. of Raith. His lordship married, secondly, 21st September 1810, Elizabeth, youngest daughter of James Townsend-Oswald, Esq. of Dunikier, Fifeshire, and by her ha had issue four sons and three daughters. He died 14th Nov. 1841, and his two elder sons having predeceased him, he was succeeded by his eldest son by his second marriage.

      This nobleman, James, eighth earl of Elgin and twelfth earl of Kincardine, born in Park Lane, London, 20th July 1811, was educated at Christ Church, Oxford, where he was first class in classics in 1832. He afterwards became a fellow of Merton. In August 1841 he was elected M.P. for Southampton, and succeeded his father as earl in November of the same year. Governor-general of Canada 1846 to 1854. In March 1857 he was sent to China as plenipotentiary, and concluded there the treaties of 1858; Postmaster-general in June 1859. Married, first, in April 1841, Elizabeth Mary, only child of Charles Lennox-Cumming-Bruce, Esq. of Kinnaird and Roseisle; issue, a daughter, Lady Elma. The countess died 7th July 1843. His lordship married, 2dly, 7th Nov. 1846, Lady Mary Louisa, a daughter of the earl of Durham; issue, four sons and a daughter.

Narrative of the Earl of Elgin's Mission to China and Japan
In the years 1857, '58, '59, by Laurence Oliphant, Esq., Private Secretary to Lord Elgin, Author of the "Russian Shores of the Black Sea," etc. (1860) (pdf)

Earl of Elgin and Kincardine, Chancellor of Aberdeen University (pdf)


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