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

The Earl of Elgin
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).
Born(1766-07-20)20 July 1766
Broomhall, Fife, Scotland
Died14 November 1841(1841-11-14) (aged 75)
Paris, France
TitleEarl of Elgin
Known forRemoval of the Marble Sculptures from the Parthenon
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


Early lifeEdit

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 while he was only five.[1] He was educated at Harrow and Westminster, and studied at St Andrews and Paris. He entered the army as an ensign in the 3rd Guards, and eventually rose to the rank of major-general.[2]

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.

Diplomatic careerEdit

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 until the conquest of the Austrian Netherlands by France. After spending time in Britain, he was sent as envoy-extraordinary to Prussia in 1795.[3] 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;[4] Elgin finally arrived at Constantinople on 6 November 1799. He was ambassador to the Ottoman Empire between 1799 and 1803; he showed considerable skill and energy in fulfilling a difficult mission, the extension of British influence during the conflict between the Ottoman Empire and France.[5] He departed Turkey at last on 16 January 1803.

Elgin with Parthenon MarblesEdit

Acting on the advice of Sir William Hamilton, he procured the services of the 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. About the middle of the summer of 1801, Elgin received a firman from the 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."[3]

The actual removal of ancient marbles from Athens formed no part of Elgin's first plan. The collection thus formed by operations at Athens, and by explorations in other parts of Greece, and now known by the name of the "Elgin Marbles", consists of portions of the frieze, metopes, and pedimental sculptures of the Parthenon, as well as of sculptured slabs from the Athenian temple of Nike Apteros, and of various antiquities from Attica and other districts of Hellas.[3]

Part of the Elgin collection was prepared for embarkation for England 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 Turkey 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.[3]

The removal of about half of the frieze metopes, frieze and pedimental sculpture was a decision taken on the spot by Philip Hunt, Elgin's chaplain (and temporary private secretary, i.e. representative, in Athens), who persuaded the voivode (governor of Athens) to interpret the terms of the firman very broadly. Local Ottoman authorities permitted the removal of about half of the Parthenon frieze, fifteen metopes, and seventeen pedimental fragments, in addition to a caryatid and a column from the Erechtheion.

His removal of the marbles was censured by some as vandalism, and doubts were also expressed as to the artistic value of many of the marbles. He attempted to vindicate himself in a pamphlet Memorandum on the Subject of the Earl of Elgin's Pursuits in Greece, published in 1810.[6] On the recommendation of a parliamentary committee, which also vindicated Elgin's conduct, the "Marbles" were bought by Great Britain in 1816 for £35,000,[6] considerably below their cost to Elgin (estimated at £75,000), and deposited in the British Museum, where they remain.[1]

Later careerEdit

Elgin, who had been "detained" in France after the rupture of the peace of Amiens, returned to Britain in 1806.[3] 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.[7][8][9]


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:[4][10]

  • George Charles Constantine, Lord Bruce (5 April 1800 – 1840), died unmarried[11]
  • 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 (died 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:[4]

Elgin died, on 4 November 1841, aged 75, in Paris.[13] His widow the Dowager Countess of Elgin died in Paris 1 April 1860.[4]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c Encyclopædia Britannica, "Thomas Bruce, 7th earl of Elgin", O.Ed., 2008
  2. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Elgin and Kincardine, Earls of" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 9 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 267–268.
  3. ^ a b c d e Wroth 1886.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ Christopher Hitchens, The Elgin Marbles: Should They Be Returned to Greece?, 1998, p.p.10-11
  6. ^ a b Gosse, Edmund William (1911). "Biography" . In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. 3 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 954. The DNB is described in the last paragraph of this article.
  7. ^ St Clair, William (1967). Lord Elgin and The Marbles. Oxford University Press. p. 241.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ "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 staff 1841, p. 4)"
  11. ^ "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)"
  12. ^ Lang 1987, p. 350 footnote 1.
  13. ^ St Clair 2004.



External linksEdit

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Viscount Torrington
British Minister in Brussels
French Conquest
Preceded by
Lord Henry Spencer
British Minister to Prussia
Succeeded by
The Earl of Carysfort
Preceded by
Francis Jackson
British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire
Succeeded by
William Drummond
Honorary titles
Preceded by
The 22nd Earl of Crawford
Lord Lieutenant of Fife
Succeeded by
The 22nd Earl of Crawford
Peerage of Scotland
Preceded by
William Bruce
Earl of Elgin
Earl of Kincardine

Succeeded by
James Bruce