Laurence Bruce

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Laurence Bruce of Cultmalindie (20 January 1547 – August 1617) was the son of John Bruce of Cultmalindie and Eupheme Elphinstone. Easter Cultmalindie is a small hamlet or "fermtoun" in Tibbermore parish, Perthshire, Scotland.

The Bruces of Cultmalindie were a minor branch of the Bruce family in Scotland, and were descendants of Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland (1306-1329). Laurence Bruce was the half brother of Robert Stewart, 1st Earl of Orkney. Earl Robert was the recognized illegitimate son of James V, King of Scotland, and Eupheme Elphinstone.

About 1571 Laurence Bruce was appointed sheriff (the anglicised equivalent to the actual Norn-Scottish title of Foud or "faud", coming from the Norse term 'fogde', meaning approximately bailiff) of the Shetland Islands by Earl Robert. Accompanied by his nephew William Bruce of Crail (son of his full-brother Robert Bruce: although he may have been a son of Laurence) and other officials and armed men, Laurence Bruce moved to his new domain and set up his seat on the island of Unst. Once there he rapidly became unpopular due to his oppressive and corrupt rule. For example, it was alleged that he took bribes and that he had altered the official weights and measures to enhance the revenues of Earl Robert. His armed men felt free to seize control of ships and to billet themselves in the homes of the local people. Evidently Laurence Bruce helped himself to the local women, and is believed to have fathered approximately twenty-four illegitimate children beyond his ten legitimate children by his wives Helen Kennedy and Elizabeth Gray. Escalating conflict with the local Shetland Islanders resulted in a petition being sent to the royal court in Edinburgh. In response, a royal commission, the 'Mudy commission', travelled to Shetland and in February 1577 took evidence from 700 male Shetlanders. As a result, Laurence Bruce was removed from office. But by June of the following year, he had returned to the islands as "sheriff-depute".

Laurence Bruce is best known as the builder of Muness Castle, which was completed around 1598. Muness Castle, now a ruin, is the most northerly castle in Great Britain. It was built at the southeast end of Unst, just east of the town of Uyeasound, after Earl Robert was succeeded by his son Patrick Stewart, 2nd Earl of Orkney in 1593. Later events proved that Laurence Bruce had good reason to fear the aggression of Earl Patrick. In 1608 Earl Patrick sent a force to besiege the castle, but the attackers abandoned their assault. In 1610 Laurence Bruce testified against Earl Patrick before the Privy Council in Edinburgh. Following a rebellion in Orkney, in August 1614 the Privy Council appointed Laurence Bruce a Commissioner and charged him with apprehending any rebels who might seek shelter in Shetland.

Laurence Bruce died at Muness castle in August 1617 and was buried inside the old church at nearby Sandwick. Ownership of the castle passed to his second eldest son Andrew Bruce of Muness, a quieter and more popular man than his father. Laurence Bruce's eldest son, Alexander Bruce of Cultmalindie, returned to the mainland of Scotland to run the family's property in Perthshire.

Illegitimate sons include Scipio Bruce of Meikleure. William Bruce of Symbister, his nephew (possible son) married Marjorie Stewart, a daughter of John Stewart (an illegitimate son of James V) and Jean Hepburn.


  • Clark, John, Genealogy, Records and Intermarriages of the Fordyce, Bruce & Clark Families at Uyeasound, Unst, Shetland, 2nd ed., printed for private circulation by Thos. Paul, Grahamston Printing Works, Falkirk, 1902.
  • Ballantyne, John H. and Smith, Brian (eds.), Shetland Documents 1195 - 1579, Shetland Islands Council & The Shetland Times Ltd., Lerwick, 1999.
  • Ballantyne, John H. and Smith, Brian (eds.), Shetland Documents 1580 - 1611, Shetland Islands Council & The Shetland Times Ltd., Lerwick, 1994.
Preceded by
John Bruce
Laird of Cultmalindie
Succeeded by
Alexander Bruce
Preceded by
Sheriff of Shetland
c. 1571–1617
Succeeded by