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Bruce, James David


(16691735), one of Peter the Great's closest advisers.

A man of many métiers, James David Bruce ("Yakov Vilimovich Bruce") served Russia over the course of his lifetime as general, statesman, diplomat, and scholar. Bruce participated in both the Crimean and Azov expeditions. In 1698 he traveled to Great Britain, where he studied several subjects, including Isaac Newton's then-avant-garde philosophy of optics (i.e., that light itself is a heterogeneous mixture of differently refrangible rays) and gravity (i.e., that celestial bodies follow the laws of dynamics and universal gravitation). Upon return to Russia, Bruce enthusiastically established the first observatory in his native country.

In 1700, at the age of thirty-one, Bruce achieved the rank of major general and commanded forces in the Great Northern War against Sweden. After a humiliating defeat by the Swedes near Narva on November 19, 1700, after which Peter reputedly wept, Peter vowed to improve his army and defeat Sweden in the future. He concluded that a modern army needed a disciplined infantry equipped with the latest artillery (rifles). This infantry was supposed to advance while firing and then charge with fixed bayonets. (The Russian army had consisted mostly of cavalry, its officer corps composed of foreign mercenaries.)

Bruce was one of the new trainers Peter employed to improve the quality of the Russian army. On July 8, 1709, Russian artillery defeated Charles's army and sent it into retreat. That year Bruce was awarded the Order of St. Andrew for his decisive role in reforming artillery as master of ordnance in the Great Northern War. In 1712 and 1713 Bruce headed the allied artillery of Russia, Denmark, and Poland-Saxony in Pomerania and Holstein. In 1717 he became a senator and president of Colleges of Mines and Manufacture. He was also placed in charge of Moscow print and St. Petersburg mint. As first minister plenipotentiary at the Aland and Nystad congresses, Bruce negotiated and signed the Russian peace treaty with Sweden in 1721, the same year he became count of the Russian Empire. He retired in 1726 with the rank of field marshal.

Bruce corresponded with Jacobite kinsmen and took pride in his Scottish ancestry. He owned a library of books in fourteen languages and was known by many as the most enlightened man in Russia.

See also: great northern war; peter i


Chambers, Robert, and Thomson, Thomas. (1996). The Biographical Dictionary of Eminent Scotsmen. Bristol, UK: Thoemmes Press.

Fedosov, Dmitry. (1996). The Caledonian Connection: Scotland-Russia Ties, Middle Ages to Early Twentieth Century. Old Aberdeen, Scotland: Centre for Scottish Studies, University of Aberdeen.

Fedosov, Dmitry. (1992). "The First Russian Bruces." In The Scottish Soldier Abroad, ed. Grant G. Simpson. Edinburgh, Scotland: John Donald.

Johanna Granville

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