Monday, 2 November 2020

1st Viscount Bryce

The family of BRYCE was settled at Dechmont Law, Lanarkshire, as early as 1659. 

It is known that two members of the family fought in the covenanting army at the battle of Bothwell Bridge in 1679.

ALEXANDER BRYCE, of Dechmont, died about sixty years later, and was father of

JOHN BRYCE, the last of the family to reside at Dechmont.

His eldest son,

THE REV JAMES BRYCE (1767-1857) died at Killaig, near Coleraine, County Londonderry.

His third son,

JAMES BRYCE (1806-77), married, in 1836, Margaret, daughter of James Young, of Abbeyville, County Antrim, and had issue,
JAMES, of whom hereafter;
John Annan;
Mary; Katharine.
Mr Bryce's elder son,


One of the most remarkable men of his era; eminent in many fields, including politics, law, academia, diplomacy and history, as well as mountaineering.

Born at (Upper) Arthur Street, Belfast, on the 10th May, 1838, he spent most of his early years at his grandfather’s home on the shores of Belfast Lough.

After a period in Glasgow, he returned to Belfast at the age of fourteen, where he studied at the Belfast Royal Academy while staying with his uncle, Reuben Bryce, the school’s headmaster.

He completed his education at the University of Glasgow and Trinity College Oxford, where he became a Doctor of Civil Law in 1870, and where he wrote an essay on the Holy Roman Empire, which later became an internationally acclaimed book.

Bryce was called to the Bar in 1867, and from 1870 to 1893 he served as Regius Professor of Civil Law at Oxford. But that was just one facet of his extraordinary career.

Passionately committed to the Liberal Party, he became MP for Tower Hamlets in East London in 1880, later representing South Aberdeen for over twenty years.

He briefly held the post of Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs under William Gladstone; and also served in Gladstone’s last cabinet. 

A reluctant "Home Ruler" at the time, he contributed his expertise to the second Home Rule Bill, nevertheless warning Gladstone of the opposition he would encounter from Liberal Presbyterians in Ulster.

Bryce was appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland in 1905 by the Prime Minister, Henry Campbell-Bannerman.

Never afraid to speak his mind, he was an outspoken critic of the treatment of women and children during the Second Boer War, which saw the introduction of concentration camps.

In 1907, Bryce was appointed HM Ambassador to the United States of America (above), a country of which he was a great admirer.

Indeed he had written a well-received book about US political institutions, The American Commonwealth, in 1888, which proved to be very influential.

He served in this post until 1913, and it is said that his role was crucial in strengthening British relations with the US during an important time.

One of the many friends he made during this period was the US President, Theodore Roosevelt, but he was also very popular with the ordinary American public.

Not long after retiring from diplomatic service, in 1913, James Bryce was elevated to the peerage, in the dignity of VISCOUNT BRYCE, of Dechmont, Lanarkshire.

He supported the temporary exclusion of Ulster from the terms of the third Home Rule bill while in the House of Lords and became a member of the International Court of Justice at The Hague.

Such was Lord Bryce's reputation in the US that his report on alleged German atrocities against civilians was used to influence American public opinion to push for involvement in the First World War.

He was also a strong advocate for the establishment of an American-backed League of Nations following the war.

His final speech in the House of Lords was in support of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December, 1921.

Lord Bryce died the following year, when the title became extinct.

Lord and Lady Bryce lived at Hindleap, Forest Row, Sussex, and 3 Buckingham Gate, London. 

First published in April, 2011.

1 comment :

Handelian said...

Looking at the picture of Lord Bryce, and other distinguished figures from the past featured in your posts, it strikes me there’s a lot to be said for elderly gentlemen dressing as such. Such presence and authority. Diplomatic and Court dress will never come back but a little tailoring never goes amiss.