James Bryce, 1st Viscount Bryce
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James Bryce, 1st Viscount Bryce

The Viscount Bryce

1st Viscount Bryce 1902b.jpg
1st Viscount Bryce in 1902
British Ambassador to the United States

MonarchEdward VII
George V
PresidentTheodore Roosevelt
William Howard Taft
Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman
H. H. Asquith
Sir Henry Mortimer Durand
Sir Cecil Spring Rice
Chief Secretary for Ireland

10 December 1905 (1905-12-10) - 23 January 1907 (1907-01-23)
MonarchEdward VII
Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman
Walter Long
Augustine Birrell
President of the Board of Trade

28 May 1894 (1894-05-28) - 21 June 1895 (1895-06-21)
The Earl of Rosebery
A. J. Mundella
Charles Thomson Ritchie
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

18 August 1892 (1892-08-18) - 28 May 1894 (1894-05-28)
William Ewart Gladstone
The Duke of Rutland
The Lord Tweedmouth
Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs

7 February 1886 (1886-02-07) - 20 July 1886 (1886-07-20)
Hon. Robert Bourke
Sir James Fergusson, Bt
Personal details
Born(1838-05-10)10 May 1838
Belfast, Ireland
Died22 January 1922(1922-01-22) (aged 83)
Sidmouth, Devon, South West England
Political partyLiberal
Alma materUniversity of Glasgow,
University of Oxford

James Bryce, 1st Viscount Bryce, (10 May 1838 - 22 January 1922) was an Ulster-born academic, jurist, historian, and Liberal politician.[1]

Background and education

Bryce was born in Arthur Street in Belfast, County Antrim, in Ulster, Ireland, the son of Margaret, daughter of James Young of Whiteabbey, and James Bryce, LLD, from near Coleraine, County Londonderry. The first eight years of his life were spent residing at his grandfather's Whiteabbey residence, often playing for hours on the tranquil picturesque shoreline. Annan Bryce was his younger brother.[2] He was educated under his uncle Reuben John Bryce at the Belfast Academy,[3]Glasgow High School, the University of Glasgow, the University of Heidelberg and Trinity College, Oxford.

He was elected a fellow of Oriel College, Oxford, in 1862 and was called to the Bar, Lincoln's Inn, in 1867.[4] His days as a student at the University of Heidelberg gave him a long-life admiration of German historical and legal scholarship. He became a believer in "Teutonic freedom", an ill-defined concept that was held to bind the German Empire, Britain and the United States together. For him, the United States, the British Empire and Germany were "natural friends".[5]

Academic career

Bryce was admitted to the Bar and practised law in London for a few years[6] but was soon called back to Oxford to become Regius Professor of Civil Law, a position he held from 1870 to 1893. From 1870 to 1875 he was also Professor of Jurisprudence at Owens College, Manchester.[] His reputation as an historian had been made as early as 1864 by his work on the Holy Roman Empire.[7]

In 1872 Bryce travelled to Iceland to see the land of the Icelandic sagas, as he was a great admirer of Njáls saga. In 1876 he ventured through the Russian empire to Mount Ararat, climbed above the tree line and found a piece of hand-hewn timber, 4 feet (1.2 m) long and 5 inches (13 cm) thick. He agreed that the evidence fit the Armenian Church's belief that it was from Noah's Ark and offered no other explanations.[6]

In 1872 Bryce, a proponent of higher education, particularly for women, joined the Central Committee of the National Union for Improving the Education of Women of All Classes (NUIEWC).

Member of Parliament

James Bryce c1895
The Rt. Hon. James Bryce and Prof. Goldwin Smith 1907.

In 1880 Bryce, an ardent Liberal in politics, was elected to the House of Commons as member for the constituency of Tower Hamlets in London.[] In 1885 he was returned for South Aberdeen and he was re-elected there on succeeding occasions. He remained a Member of Parliament until 1907.[8]

Bryce's intellectual distinction and political industry made him a valuable member of the Liberal Party. As early as the late 1860s he served as Chairman of the Royal Commission on Secondary Education.[] In 1885 he was made Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs under William Ewart Gladstone but had to leave office after the Liberals were defeated in the general election later that year. In 1892 he joined Gladstone's last cabinet as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster[9] and was sworn of the Privy Council at the same time.[10]

In 1894 Bryce was appointed President of the Board of Trade in the new cabinet of Lord Rosebery,[11] but had to leave this office, along with the whole Liberal cabinet, the following year.[] The Liberals remained out of office for the next ten years.

In 1897, after a visit to South Africa, Bryce published a volume of Impressions of that country that had considerable influence in Liberal circles when the Second Boer War was being discussed. He devoted significant sections of the book to the recent history of South Africa, various social and economic details about the country, and his experiences while travelling with his party.

The "still radical" Bryce was made Chief Secretary for Ireland in Prime Minister Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's cabinet in 1905 and remained in office throughout 1906.[4] Bryce was critical of many of the social reforms proposed by this Liberal Government, including old-age pensions, the Trade Disputes Act and the redistributive "People's Budget," which he regarded as making unwarranted concessions to socialism.[12]

Ambassador to the United States

1911 - The Right Hon. James Bryce (far left) beside Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn the Governor-General of Canada (also wearing top hat)

In February 1907 Bryce was appointed British Ambassador to the United States.[13] He held this office until 1913, and was very efficient in strengthening Anglo-American ties and friendship. He made many personal friends among American politicians, such as President Theodore Roosevelt.[] The German ambassador in Washington, Graf Heinrich von Bernstorff, later stated how relieved he felt that Bryce was not his competitor for American sympathies during the First World War, even though Bernstorff helped to keep the United States from declaring war until 1917.[]

Robert Baden-Powell, William Taft and James Bryce at the White House in 1912

Bryce quickly became well known in America for his book The American Commonwealth (1888), a thorough examination of the institutions of the United States from the point of view of a historian and constitutional lawyer. Bryce painstakingly reproduced the travels of Alexis de Tocqueville, who wrote Democracy in America (1835-1840). Tocqueville had emphasised the egalitarianism of early-19th-century America, but Bryce was dismayed to find vast inequality: "Sixty years ago, there were no great fortunes in America, few large fortunes, no poverty. Now there is some poverty ... and a greater number of gigantic fortunes than in any other country of the world"[14] and "As respects education ... the profusion of...elementary schools tends to raise the mass to a higher point than in Europe ... [but] there is an increasing class that has studied at the best universities. It appears that equality has diminished [in this regard] and will diminish further."[15] The work was heavily used in academia, partly as a result of Bryce's close friendships with men such as James B. Angell, President of the University of Michigan and successively Charles W. Eliot and Abbott Lawrence Lowell at Harvard.[16] The work also became a key medium for certain Americans to popularise a view of American history as distinctively Anglo-Saxon.[17]


In 1914, after his retirement as Ambassador and his return to Britain, Bryce was raised to the peerage as Viscount Bryce of Dechmount in the County of Lanark.[18] Thus he became a member of the House of Lords, the powers of which had been curtailed by the Parliament Act 1911.

The First World War

Following the outbreak of the First World War Bryce was commissioned by Prime Minister H. H. Asquith to write what became known as The Bryce Report, in which he described German atrocities in Belgium. The report was published in 1915 and was damning of German behaviour against civilians.[19] Bryce's account was confirmed by Vernon Lyman Kellogg, then Director of the American Commission for Relief in Belgium, who told the New York Times that the German military had enslaved hundreds of thousands of Belgian workers, and abused and maimed many of them in the process.[]

Bryce strongly condemned the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire, mainly in the year 1915. Bryce was the first person to speak on the subject in the House of Lords, in July 1915. Later, with the assistance of the historian Arnold J. Toynbee, he produced a documentary record of the massacres, published as a Blue Book by the British government in 1916. In 1921 Bryce wrote that the Armenian genocide had also claimed half of the population of Assyrians in the Ottoman Empire and similar cruelties were perpetrated upon them.[20][21]

Later life

During the last years of his life Bryce served as a judge at the International Court in The Hague, supported the establishment of the League of Nations and published a book, Modern Democracy (1921), in which he was rather critical of post-war democracy.

Honours and other public appointments

Bryce received numerous academic honours from home and foreign universities. In September 1901, he received the degree of Doctor of Laws from Dartmouth College,[22] and in October 1902 he received an honorary degree (LLD) from the University of St Andrews.[23] He became a fellow of the Royal Society in 1894.[24]

In earlier life, he was a notable mountain climber, ascending Mount Ararat in 1876, and published a volume on Transcaucasia and Ararat in 1877; in 1899 to 1901, he was the president of the Alpine Club. From his Caucasian journey, he brought back a deep distrust of Ottoman rule in Asia Minor and a distinct sympathy for the Armenian people.[25]

In 1882, Bryce established the National Liberal Club, whose members, in its first three decades, included fellow founder Prime Minister Gladstone, George Bernard Shaw, David Lloyd George, H. H. Asquith and many other prominent Liberal candidates and MP's such as Winston Churchill and Bertrand Russell.[26][4] In April 1882 Bryce was elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society.[27]

In 1907, he was made a Member of the Order of Merit by King Edward VII.[28] At the King's death, Bryce arranged his Washington Memorial Service.[29] At the time of Bryce's memorial service at Westminster Abbey, his wife, Elizabeth, received condolences from King George V, who "regarded Lord Bryce as an old friend and trusted counsellor to whom I could always turn."[30][31]Queen Victoria had said that Bryce was "one of the best informed men on all subjects I have ever met".[32][33]

From 1907 through 1908, Bryce served as the president of the American Political Science Association. He was the fourth person to hold this office.[34] He was president of the British Academy from 1913 to 1917.[4] In 2013, the Ulster History Circle unveiled a blue plaque dedicated to him, near his birthplace in Belfast.

Personal life

Memorial to Viscount Bryce, Grange Cemetery, Edinburgh

Bryce married Elizabeth Marion, daughter of Thomas Ashton and sister of Lord Ashton, 1st Baron Ashton of Hyde, in 1889. They had no children.[35]

Bryce died on 22 January 1922, aged 83, in Sidmouth, Devon, on the last of his lifelong travels. The viscountcy died with him. He was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium.[36]

There is a large monument to Viscount Bryce in the southwest section of the Grange Cemetery in Edinburgh, facing north at the west end of the central east-west avenue. It is presumed that his ashes are buried there.

There is a bust of Viscount Bryce in Trinity Church on Broadway, near Wall Street. A similar bust is in the U.S. Capitol Building and there is a commemorative Bryce Park in Washington DC.

Lady Bryce died in 1939. Her papers are held at the Bodleian Library.[37]

In 1965 the James Bryce Chair of Government was endowed at the University of Glasgow. "Government" was changed to "Politics" in 1970.


1st Viscount Bryce in 1893
  • The Flora of the Island of Aran, 1859
  • The Holy Roman Empire, 1864
  • Report on the Condition of Education in Lancashire, 1867
  • The Trade Marks Registration Act, with Introduction and Notes on Trade Mark Law, 1877
  • Transcaucasia and Ararat, 1877
  • The American Commonwealth, 1888,[38]Volume I, Volume II, Volume III
  • Impressions of South Africa, 1897
  • Studies in History and Jurisprudence, 1901, Volume I, Volume II
  • Studies in Contemporary Biography, 1903
  • The Hindrances to Good Citizenship, 1909 Reissued by Transaction Publishers, 1993, edited and with a new Introduction by Howard G. Schneiderman
  • South America: Observations and Impressions 1912
  • University and Historical Addresses: Delivered During a Residence in the United States as Ambassador of Great Britain. New York: Macmillan. 1913. Retrieved 2019 – via Internet Archive.
  • The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire 1915-16, 1916
  • Essays and Addresses in War Time, 1918
  • Modern Democracies, 1921 Volume I, Volume II

His Studies in History and Jurisprudence (1901) and Studies in Contemporary Biography (1903) were republications of essays.

Selected articles

Famous quotations

  • "Patriotism consists not in waving the flag, but in striving that our country shall be righteous as well as strong."
  • "No government demands so much from the citizen as Democracy and none gives back so much."
  • "Life is too short for reading inferior books."


  1. ^ "BRYCE, JAMES (1838- )". The Encyclopaedia Britannica; A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, Literature and General Information. IV (BISHARIN to CALGARY) (11th ed.). Cambridge, England: At the University Press. 1910. p. 699. Retrieved 2019 – via Internet Archive.
  2. ^ Russell, Iain F. (23 September 2004). "Bryce, (John) Annan". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/49022. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  3. ^ Fisher, H. A. L. (1927) James Bryce: Viscount Bryce of Dechmont, O.M., Vol. 2, London resp. New York. p. 13
  4. ^ a b c d Harvie, Christopher. "Bryce, James, Viscount Bryce". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/32141. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  5. ^ Robbins, Keith G. (1967). "Lord Bryce and the First World War". The Historical Journal. 10 (2): 255-278. doi:10.1017/S0018246X00027473.
  6. ^ a b James Bryce
  7. ^ Pollock, Frederick (April 1922). "James Bryce". The Quarterly Review. 237: 400-414.
  8. ^ "No. 27995". The London Gazette. 15 February 1907. p. 1066.
  9. ^ "No. 26319". The London Gazette. 23 August 1892. p. 4801.
  10. ^ "No. 26318". The London Gazette. 19 August 1892. p. 4742.
  11. ^ "No. 26518". The London Gazette. 1 June 1894. p. 3181.
  12. ^ Seaman, John T. (2006). A Citizen of the World: The Life of James Bryce. I. B. Tauris. p. 208. ISBN 9781845111267. Retrieved 2016.
  13. ^ "No. 27995". The London Gazette. 15 February 1907. p. 1065.
  14. ^ Bryce, Viscount James. "Chapter CXI: Equality". The American Commonwealth. III. p. 745.
  15. ^ James, Viscount Bryce, The American Commonwealth, p. 746
  16. ^ Prochaska, Frank (2012). Eminent Victorians on American Democracy: The View from Albion. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 97-98, 102. ISBN 978-0-19-965379-9.
  17. ^ Kirkwood, Patrick M. (2014). "'Michigan Men' in the Philippines and the Limits of Self-Determination in the Progressive Era". Michigan Historical Review. 40 (2): 63-86 [p. 80]. doi:10.5342/michhistrevi.40.2.0063.
  18. ^ "No. 28797". The London Gazette. 30 January 1914. p. 810.
  19. ^ Keith G. Robbins, "Lord Bryce and the First World War." Historical Journal 10#2 (1967): 255-78. online.
  20. ^ Travis, Hannibal. "Genocide in the Middle East: The Ottoman Empire, Iraq, and Sudan." Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2010, 2007, pp. 237-77, 293-294.
  21. ^ Travis, Hannibal. "'Native Christians Massacred': The Ottoman Genocide of the Assyrians During World War I Archived 16 July 2012 at Archive.today." Genocide Studies and Prevention, Vol. 1, No. 3, December 2006, pp. 327-371. Retrieved 2 February 2010.
  22. ^ "Court Circular". The Times (36570). London. 26 September 1901.
  23. ^ "University intelligence". The Times (36906). London. 23 October 1902. p. 9.
  24. ^ "Fellows 1660-2007" (PDF). Royal Society. Retrieved 2016.
  25. ^ On Bryce?s engagement with the Armenian question before the genocide, see Oded Steinberg, James Bryce and the Origins of the Armenian Question, Journal of Levantine Studies 5, No 2 (Winter 2015), p. 13-33.
  26. ^ "General Correspondence - Meeting at National Liberal Club - 1914. Ref No. Dell/2/3. British Library of Political and Economical Science". British Library (of Economical and Political Science). Retrieved 2014.
  27. ^ American Antiquarian Society Members Directory
  28. ^ "No. 27994". The London Gazette (Supplement). 12 February 1907. p. 963.
  29. ^ Lord Bryce, Viscount James (8 May 1910). "Telegram British Embassy, Washington" (PDF). Telegram British Embassy, Washington. Retrieved 2015.
  30. ^ Rayner, Gordon (21 June 2013). "How the family of 'commoner' Kate Middleton has been rubbing shoulders with royalty for a century". UK Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2016. regarded Lord Bryce as an old friend and trusted counsellor to whom I could always turn."
  31. ^ New York Times (28 January 1922). "Britain offers American President Bust of Lord Bryce" (PDF). New York Times. New York Times. Retrieved 2013.
  32. ^ Martin, Stanley (21 December 2006). One Hundred Years of Matchless Honour - The Order of Merit. I.B.Tauris. p. 315. ISBN 9781860648489.
  33. ^ "No. 27994". The London Gazette. 12 February 1907. p. 963.
  34. ^ APSA Presidents and Presidential Addresses: 1903 to Present
  35. ^ Burke's Genealogical and Heraldic History of Peerage, Baronetage and Knightage, Volume 1. Burke's Peerage Ltd. 1937.
  36. ^ The Complete Peerage, Volume XIII - Peerage Creations 1901-1938. St Catherine's Press. 1949. p. 187.
  37. ^ Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts - Papers of Lady Bryce, 1869-1939. Bodleian Libraries, Oxford University. Retrieved 2020.
  38. ^ "Review of The American Commonwealth by James Bryce". The Quarterly Review. 169: 253-286. July 1889.

Further reading

External links

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