Sir William Bruce lived from 1630 to 1710. The foremost architect of his generation and the man who did most to introduce classical architecture to Scotland, he left a small but very select legacy of buildings, and influenced the design of many more. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Bruce was born in 1630 in western Fife, the son of the local laird, Robert Bruce of Blairhall. He grew up to be a committed Episcopalian and a strong supporter of the Stuart kings: not necessarily a good career move during the Wars of the Covenant and Cromwell's later occupation of Scotland.
William Bruce first came to notice in the late 1650s following the death of Oliver Cromwell. At the time, General George Monck was the military governor of Scotland, and Bruce became an emissary, carrying messages backwards and forwards between Monck in Edinburgh. and King Charles II in Holland. Early in 1660 General Monck took decisive action that resulted in the restoration of Charles II to the thrones of England and Scotland: and Charles was duly grateful, both to Monck and to William Bruce. In 1688 Charles made Bruce a Baronet of Nova Scotia and Lord of Balcaskie, near St Monans in Fife, and in 1671 appointed him "King's Surveyor and Master of Works".
This was no honorary title, as with it came the commission to remodel the the King's seat of power in Scotland, the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. Sir William Bruce pioneered the Palladian style of architecture in Scotland and the prestige gained from his work for the King ensured he went on to build some magnificent houses. These include Thirlestane Castle near Lauder (with Lauder Old Church as a by-product) and the original phase of Hopetoun House near Queensferry. He also remodelled his own Balcaskie House.
However, as a "gentleman architect", Bruce was used more as an adviser to the Scottish nobility on suitable designs and the right architects to design them. As a result his influence spread much more widely than the list of his buildings would suggest. He was described as "the Christopher Wren of North Britain" by Daniel Defoe, and became best known for the way he emphasised the formal settings of great houses and their relationships with the garden and the wider landscape.
In many way's Sir William Bruce's greatest work was at Kinross House near Kinross. Bruce purchased the estate, including the island in Lochleven, on which Lochleven Castle stands, in 1675. He started work on Kinross House in 1685, after James VII had succeeded Charles II and Bruce no longer had official posts making demands on his time. The house was externally complete by 1693, placed deliberately so it looks directly across Loch Leven to the romantic ruin of Lochleven Castle. Financial constraints meant that Bruce had not completed work on the interior or moved into Kinross House at the time of his death in 1710.