The Earl of Elgin
|Earl of Elgin|
Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin and 11th Earl of Kincardine, by Anton Graff (around 1788).
|Known for||Removal of the Marble Sculptures from the Parthenon|
|Born||20 July 1766|
Broomhall, Fife, Scotland
|Died||14 November 1841 (aged 75)|
|Spouse(s)||Mary Nisbet (m. 1799)|
Elizabeth Oswald (m. 1810)
|Parents||Charles Bruce, 5th Earl of Elgin|
Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin and 11th Earl of Kincardine (; 20 July 1766 – 14 November 1841) was a Scottish nobleman, soldier, politician and diplomat, known primarily for the controversial removal of marble sculptures (also known as the Elgin Marbles) from the Parthenon in Athens. Elgin's removal of the sculptures and the legality of his actions are the subject of dispute between the international community and the British Museum.
A member of the formerly royal house of Bruce, Elgin was born at the family seat, Broomhall House, Fife, the second son of Charles Bruce, 5th Earl of Elgin and his wife Martha Whyte. He succeeded his older brother William Robert, the 6th Earl, in 1771 when he was only five. He was educated at Harrow and Westminster, and studied at St Andrews and Paris.
He entered the army as an ensign in the Scots Guards in 1785. He transferred to 65th Foot in 1789, as Captain of a Company, by purchase. In 1793, he was appointed to the Staff as a Major of Foot by Brevet, holding the rank on the Continent only. In 1795, he transferred to 12th Foot as a Major. Later in 1795, he raised a regiment of Fencible Infantry and was appointed its Colonel, with the permanent rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Army. He was promoted to Colonel in the Army in 1802, to Major General in 1809 and to Lieutenant General in 1814.
In 1791, he was sent as a temporary envoy-extraordinary to Austria, while Sir Robert Keith was ill. He was then sent as envoy-extraordinary in Brussels from 1792 until the conquest of the Austrian Netherlands by France. After spending time in Britain, he was sent as envoy-extraordinary to Prussia in 1795. Elgin was appointed as ambassador to The Porte in December 1798.
On 11 March 1799, shortly before setting off to serve as ambassador at Constantinople, Elgin married Mary, daughter and heiress of William Hamilton Nisbet, of Dirleton; Elgin finally arrived at Constantinople on 6 November 1799. He was ambassador to the Ottoman Empire between 1799 and 1803; he showed considerable skill and energy in fulfilling a difficult mission, the extension of British influence during the conflict between the Ottoman Empire and France. He departed Turkey at last on 16 January 1803.
Acting on the advice of Sir William Hamilton, he procured the services of the Neapolitan painter, Lusieri, and of several skilful draughtsmen and modellers. These artists were dispatched to Athens in the summer of 1800, and were principally employed in making drawings of the ancient monuments, though very limited facilities were given them by the authorities. Elgin later claimed that about the middle of the summer of 1801, he had received a firman from the Porte which allowed his lordship's agents not only to "fix scaffolding round the ancient Temple of the Idols [the Parthenon], and to mould the ornamental sculpture and visible figures thereon in plaster and gypsum," but also "to take away any pieces of stone with old inscriptions or figures thereon." This firman has not been found in the Ottoman archives despite its wealth of documents from the same period and its veracity is disputed. The half not removed by Elgin is now displayed in the Acropolis Museum, aligned in orientation and within sight of the Parthenon, with the position of the missing elements clearly marked and space left should they be returned to Athens.
It was claimed later that the actual removal of ancient marbles from Athens formed no part of Elgin's first plan. The collection thus formed by operations at Athens, and by explorations in other parts of Greece, and now known by the name of the "Elgin Marbles", consists of portions of the frieze, metopes, and pedimental sculptures of the Parthenon, as well as of sculptured slabs from the Athenian temple of Nike Apteros, and of various antiquities from Attica and other districts of Hellas.
Part of the Elgin collection was prepared for embarkation for England in 1803, and considerable difficulties were encountered at every stage of its transit. Elgin's vessel, the Mentor, wrecked near Cerigo with its cargo of marbles, and it was not till after the labours of three years, and the expenditure of a large sum of money, that the marbles were successfully recovered by the divers. On Elgin's departure from Turkey in 1803, he withdrew all his artists from Athens with the exception of Lusieri, who remained to direct the excavations which were still carried on, though on a much reduced scale. Additions continued to be made to the Elgin collections, and as late as 1812, eighty fresh cases of antiquities arrived in England.
It was claimed later that the removal of about half of the frieze metopes, frieze and pedimental sculpture was a decision taken on the spot by Philip Hunt, Elgin's chaplain (and temporary private secretary, i.e. representative, in Athens). Under unclear circumstances, Elgin's agents were able to remove about half of the Parthenon frieze, fifteen metopes, and seventeen pedimental fragments, in addition to a caryatid and a column from the Erechtheion. The marbles remaining in Athens are generally considered to be in better condition than those removed by Elgin's agents.
Elgin's removal of the marbles was censured by some as vandalism, most famously Lord Byron. Elgin attempted to vindicate himself in a pamphlet Memorandum on the Subject of the Earl of Elgin's Pursuits in Greece, published in 1810. On the recommendation of a British parliamentary committee, which also "vindicated" their compatriot Elgin's conduct, the Marbles were "bought" by Great Britain in 1816 for £35,000, considerably below their cost to Elgin (estimated at £75,000), and deposited in the British Museum, where they remain for now. Internationally, the acquisition of the marbles continues to be widely seen as both illegal and immoral, although there still exist people who support Elgin's act, mostly in Britain. Polls indicate that even in the United Kingdom, a majority of people support the Marbles' return to Athens.
The marbles taken to Britain by Elgin were further damaged while in the British museum by British schoolboys and controversial whitening attempts. Those marbles which were not taken from Athens were not subject to this damage are generally considered to be better preserved.
Elgin, who had been "detained" in France after the rupture of the peace of Amiens, returned to Britain in 1806. Finding that he could not get the British Museum to pay what he was asking for the marbles, Elgin sued his wife's lover for an appropriately high sum. He divorced Mary, for adultery, by legal actions in 1807 and 1808 in the English and Scottish courts--and by act of parliament--which caused much public scandal. Then, on 21 September 1810, he married Elizabeth (1790-1860), youngest daughter of James Townsend Oswald of Dunnikier. Elgin moved to the European continent.
During 1815 Elgin became embroiled in the Tweddell remains affair, a controversy over the possessions of John Tweddell, a classical scholar who had died in 1799 in Athens and Elgin was accused of having appropriated Tweddell's belongings after his death, during his term as British ambassador in Constantinople. The full extent of the items were never recovered and their fate is unknown, but the matter was settled in late 1816 with the return of some of the items to Tweddell's family.
After their marriage ended in divorce, Mary later married Robert Ferguson of Raith (1777-1846), who had been cited in the divorce. Elgin, on 21 September 1810, married Elizabeth (1790-1860), youngest daughter of James Townsend Oswald of Dunnikier. They had four sons and three daughters:
Lord Elgin, a philanderer so racked by syphilis that his nose eventually fell off, died on 4 November 1841, aged 75, in Paris. His widow the Dowager Countess of Elgin died in Paris 1 April 1860.
Yet no researcher has ever located this Ottoman document and when l was in Instanbul I searched in vain for it or any copy of it, or any reference to it in other sorts of documents or a description of its substantive terms in any related official papers. Although a document of some sort may have existed, it seems to have vanished into thin air, despite the fact the Ottoman archives contain an enormous number of similar documents from the period.
Its iconic status was certainly helped by Lord Elgin's looting of the marbles...
| British Minister in Brussels
Lord Henry Spencer
| British Minister to Prussia
The Earl of Carysfort
| British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire
The 22nd Earl of Crawford
| Lord Lieutenant of Fife
The 22nd Earl of Crawford
|Peerage of Scotland|
| Earl of Elgin
Earl of Kincardine