Architect and merchant. Born at Blairhall in West Fife. Bruce came to note when he acted as negotiator between General Monk (1608-70) and the exiled King Charles II (1630-85) to bring about the Restoration of the Stuart dynasty. This role endeared him to the King resulting in several appointments and sufficient wealth to enable him to purchase Balcaskie Estate (Fife) in 1665. Bruce became King's Surveyor and Master of Works in 1671 and one of the richest men in the country.
He was a pioneer of the Palladian style and rebuilt and extended the Palace of Holyroodhouse (1671-81). He was commissioned by land-owners to design and build some of Scotland's greatest country houses, including Hopetoun and Thirlestane.
An ambitious man, wishing to better his social position, he sold Balcaskie in 1684 and bought the estate of Kinross from the Earl of Morton, including the ancient Loch Leven Castle with its associations with Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-87). He built Kinross House as his new home with the old castle forming part of a designed landscape. He had hoped to rise to the nobility but instead, with the death of his King and patron in 1685, he lost favour and money. Following the Glorious Revolution, Bruce was seen as a supporter of the previous regime, arrested and brought to Edinburgh Castle. Although never convicted, he was a broken man and his project at Kinross House was never completed. He is buried in a small mausoleum in the adjacent kirkyard.