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Sir Henry Bruce was an officer in Dutch, Imperial, and Stuart service in the seventeenth century. He first appears in Dutch service as captain of a cavalry company and then in 1601 as a captain of a company of foot in the Scots-Dutch Brigade. In 1604, Bruce achieved notoriety for killing his fellow Scots-Dutch captain, William Hamilton in a duel at The Hague. He was apprehended by the provost of Utrecht, but it appears Bruce was not punished severely, or perhaps at all, for the Earl of Buccleuch [SSNE 5010] complained that Bruce was allowed to walk freely despite killing one of his captains. 

Sometime after this, for reasons that are unclear, Bruce left Dutch service and enlisted in Imperial service. David Worthington writes that by 1617, Bruce was fighting on the side of the Holy Roman Empire and Uskok bandits against Venice in the Adriatic, and it appears he commanded Imperial forces at the siege of Gradisca (CSPV, 1617-1619, p. 374). In 1618, on the death of Archduke Maximilian, Bruce approached Venice and offered his services to them, citing his twenty-five years of service in the "wars of Flanders" and his "intimate knowledge of Fortification," (CSPV, 1617-1619, pp. 374-375). Bruce appears to have stayed in Imperial service, as shortly before 1620, Bruce was promoted to commander of Nikolsburg on the Moravian-Austrian border. There, he was noted for his brutality, including the persecution of Jews and Anabaptists, and for plundering a neighboring town and holding its governor for ransom. By January 1620, Bruce fled to the Dutch Republic, where he attempted to rejoin the Scots-Dutch Brigade, saying that he would "not bear arms against his Majesty's [James VI] son-in-law [Frederick V of the Palatinate]," as the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War saw the Holy Roman Empire pitted against the Elector Palatine. Bruce's proposal was rejected on the grounds that he was "a hot papist," and so he returned to Scotland. 

On returning to Scotland, Bruce aroused the ire of the Hamilton family, who had not forgotten the duel that occurred nearly two decades before. Captain Hamilton's sister, Margaret, attempted to bring charges against Bruce in 1621, but the Privy Council wrote that it would be impossible to bring charges against Bruce, because the slaughter had occurred outwith "his Majesties dominionis." Furthermore, Bruce argued that he had no choice but to duel Hamilton, for the erstwhile captain "had frequently challenged [Bruce] to combat." By 1624, Hamilton's son returned to Scotland with the intention of challenging "Captane Harie Bruce to the single combat or otherwayes to watche the opportunitie to bereave him of his lyffe." Fearing the outbreak of a bloodfeud in Scotland between the kith and kin of the two men, the Privy Council ordered both men to be arrested and were cautioned to keep the peace under pain of 1000 merks.

No duel occurred, and Bruce, now a servitor to Prince Charles, went on to have a long military career in Scotland. He may have served at Cadiz in 1625, but certainly by 1626 he was knighted and commissioned as General of the King's Artillery. He may have been the same Colonel Bruce who was part of a "new wave of Scottish hispanophile activities" in 1636 (Worthington, p. 112), or perhaps, was the same Sir Henry Bruce who offered his services to the King at the outbreak of the rebellion in Scotland in 1638. Regardless, Bruce had a fascinating and tumultuous career. 



Calendar of State Papers Venetian, 1617-1619, pp. 374-375, 384.

Carleton, Sir Dudley, The Letters from and to Sir Dudley Carleton... (3rd Edition, London, 1780), p. 456.

Ferguson, J., Papers Illustrating the History of the Scots Brigade in theservice of the United Netherlands, 1572-1697 (Edinburgh, 1899), pp. xiii, 57, 63, 64, 66, 67, 199, 205, 211-213, 224. 

Register of the Privy Council of Scotland, 1619-1622, pp. 590, 688; RPCS, 1622-1625, pp. 658-659; RPCS, 1625-1627, pp. 308-309.

Resolutiƫn der Staten-General, 1604-1606, pp. 143, 338.

Worthington, David, Scots in Habsburg Service, 1618-1648 (Leiden, 2004), pp. 20, 73, 112, 147, 148, 265, 284.


This entry created by Mr Jack Abernethy.


Service record

Arrived 1599-01-01, as CAPTAIN
Departed 1608-12-31, as CAPTAIN
Capacity OFFICER, purpose MILITARY
Arrived 1617-01-01, as ?
Departed 1621-01-01, as GOVERNOR, COMMANDANT
Capacity OFFICER, purpose MILITARY
Arrived 1621-01-01, as COLONEL
Departed 1638-12-31, as GENERAL
Capacity OFFICER, purpose MILITARY