The Viscount Bryce
Bryce in 1902
British Ambassador to the United States
In office
MonarchsEdward VII
George V
Prime MinisterSir Henry Campbell-Bannerman
H. H. Asquith
Preceded bySir Henry Mortimer Durand
Succeeded bySir Cecil Spring Rice
Chief Secretary for Ireland
In office
10 December 1905 (1905-12-10) – 23 January 1907 (1907-01-23)
MonarchEdward VII
Prime MinisterSir Henry Campbell-Bannerman
Preceded byWalter Long
Succeeded byAugustine Birrell
President of the Board of Trade
In office
28 May 1894 (1894-05-28) – 21 June 1895 (1895-06-21)
Prime MinisterThe Earl of Rosebery
Preceded byA. J. Mundella
Succeeded byCharles Thomson Ritchie
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
In office
18 August 1892 (1892-08-18) – 28 May 1894 (1894-05-28)
Prime MinisterWilliam Ewart Gladstone
Preceded byThe Duke of Rutland
Succeeded byThe Lord Tweedmouth
Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
In office
7 February 1886 (1886-02-07) – 20 July 1886 (1886-07-20)
Prime MinisterGladstone
Preceded byHon. Robert Bourke
Succeeded bySir 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
EducationUniversity of Glasgow
Heidelberg University
Trinity College, Oxford

James Bryce, 1st Viscount Bryce, OM, GCVO, PC, FRS, FBA (10 May 1838 – 22 January 1922), was a British academic, jurist, historian, and Liberal politician. According to Keoth Robbins, he was a widely traveled authority on law, government, and history whose expertise led to high political offices culminating with his successful role as ambassador to the United States, 1907–13. His intellectual influence was greatest in The American Commonwealth (1888), an in-depth study of American politics that shaped the understanding of America in Britain and in the United States as well.[1]

Background and education

Bryce was born in Arthur Street in Belfast, County Antrim, in Ulster, the son of Margaret, daughter of James Young of Whiteabbey, and James Bryce, LLD, from near Coleraine, County Londonderry.[2] 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.[3] He was educated under his uncle Reuben John Bryce at the Belfast Academy,[4] 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.[5] 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 Germany, Britain and the United States together. For him, the United States, the British Empire and Germany were "natural friends".[6]

Academic career

Bryce was admitted to the Bar and practised law in London for a few years[7] but was soon called back to Oxford to become Regius Professor of Civil Law, a position he held from 1870 to 1893.[8] From 1870 to 1875 he was also Professor of Jurisprudence at Owens College, Manchester. His reputation as a historian had been made as early as 1864 by his work on the Holy Roman Empire.[9]

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 Russia 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.[7]

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
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.[10]

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[11] and was sworn of the Privy Council at the same time.[12]

In 1894 Bryce was appointed President of the Board of Trade in the new cabinet of Lord Rosebery,[13] 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.[8] 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. In 1900 he introduced a Private Member's Bill to secure access for the public to the mountains and moorlands in Scotland.[14]

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.[5] 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.[15]

The American Commonwealth (1888)

Bryce had become 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.[8] 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"[16] 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."[17] 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.[18] The work also became a key text for American writers seeking to popularise a view of American history as distinctively Anglo-Saxon.[19] The American Commonwealth contains Bryce's observation that "the enormous majority" of American women opposed their own right to vote.[20]

Ambassador to the United States

1911 - Bryce (far left) beside Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, Governor General of Canada (also wearing top hat)

In February 1907 Bryce was appointed Ambassador to the United States.[21] He held this office until 1913, and was very efficient in strengthening Anglo-American ties and friendship. The appointment, criticised at the time as withdrawing from the regular diplomatic corps one of its most coveted posts, proved a great success. The United States had been in the habit of sending, as minister or ambassador to the Court of St James's, one of its leading citizens: a statesman, a man of letters, or a lawyer whose name and reputation were already well known in Great Britain. For the first time Great Britain responded in kind. Bryce, already favourably regarded in America as the author The American Commonwealth, made himself thoroughly at home in the country; and, after the fashion of American ministers or ambassadors in England, he took up with eagerness and success the role of public orator on matters outside party politics, so far as his diplomatic duties permitted.[22]

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

Most of the questions with which he had to deal related to the relations between the United States and Canada, and in this connection he paid several visits to Canada to confer with the Governor General and his ministers. At the close of his embassy he told the Canadians that probably three-fourths of the business of the British embassy at Washington was Canadian, and of the eleven or twelve treaties he had signed nine had been treaties relating to the affairs of Canada. "By those nine treaties," he said, "we have, I hope, dealt with all the questions that are likely to arise between the United States and Canada questions relating to boundary; questions relating to the disposal and the use of boundary waters; questions relating to the fisheries in the international waters where the two countries adjoin one another; questions relating to the interests which we have in sealing in the Behring Sea, and many other matters." He could boast that he left the relations between the United States and Canada on an excellent footing.[22]


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.[23] Thus he became a member of the House of Lords, the powers of which had been curtailed by the Parliament Act 1911.

First World War

Along with other English scholars, who had ties of close association with German learning, he was reluctant in the last days of July 1914 to contemplate the possibility of war with Germany, but the violation of Belgian neutrality and the stories of outrages committed in Belgium by German troops brought him speedily into line with national feeling.[22] 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.[24] Bryce's account was confirmed by Vernon Lyman Kellogg, the 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.[25]

Bryce strongly condemned the Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire mainly in 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 that was 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 the Assyrians in the Ottoman Empire and that similar cruelties had been perpetrated upon them.[26][27]


According to Moton Keller:

Bryce believed in Liberalism, the classic 19th century Liberalism of John Bright and William Gladstone, of free trade, free speech and press, personal liberty, and responsible leadership. This notably genial gregarious man had his hates, chief among them illiberal regimes: the Turkish oppressors of Bulgars and Armenians, and, later the Kaiser's Reich in World War I.[28]

Bryce had a distrust of current democratic practices seen as late as his Modern Democracy (1921), which was a comparative study of a certain number of popular governments in their actual working.[22] On the other hand, he was a leader in promoting international organizations. During the last years of his life Bryce served as a judge at the International Court in The Hague, and promoted the establishment of the League of Nations.[29][30]

Honours and other public appointments

Arms as displayed at Lincoln's Inn[31]

Bryce received numerous academic honours from home and foreign universities. In September 1901, he received the degree of Doctor of Laws from Dartmouth College,[32] and in October 1902 he received an honorary degree (LLD) from the University of St Andrews,[33] and in 1914 he received an honorary degree from Oxford.[22] He became a fellow of the Royal Society in 1894.[34]

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.[8] From his Caucasian journey, he brought back a deep distrust of Ottoman rule in Asia Minor and a distinct sympathy for the Armenian people.[35]

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.[36][5] In April 1882 Bryce was elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society.[37] He was elected an International Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1893 and an International Member of the American Philosophical Society in 1895.[38][39]

In 1907 he was made a Member of the Order of Merit by King Edward VII,[40] At the King's death, Bryce arranged his Washington Memorial Service.[41] 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."[42][43] Queen Victoria had said that Bryce was "one of the best informed men on all subjects I have ever met".[44][45] In 1918 he was appointed GCVO.[22]

Bryce was president of the American Political Science Association from 1907 to 1908. He was the fourth person to hold this office.[46] He was president of the British Academy from 1913 to 1917.[5] In 1919 he delivered the British Academy's inaugural Raleigh Lecture on History, on "World History".[47][48]

Bryce chaired the Conference on the Reform of the Second Chamber in 1917–1918.[49]

Personal life

Memorial to Bryce, Grange Cemetery, Edinburgh
Lady Bryce (nee Elizabeth Ashton) - wife of James, Viscount Bryce

Bryce married Elizabeth Marion, daughter of Thomas Ashton and sister of Thomas Ashton, 1st Baron Ashton of Hyde, in 1889. Lord and Lady Bryce had no children.[50]

Bryce died while on holiday on 22 January 1922, aged 83, of heart failure in his sleep at The Victoria Hotel, Sidmouth, Devon, on the last of his lifelong travels. The viscountcy died with him. He was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium, following which his ashes were buried near to his parents at Grange Cemetery, Edinburgh.[5]

Lady Bryce is recalled in the memoirs of Captain Peter Middleton, grandfather of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge who wrote, "Nor will I forget my terror of Lady Bryce", who was the aunt of his mother's first cousins, sisters Elinor and Elizabeth Lupton.[51][52]

Lady Bryce died in 1939. Her papers are held at the Bodleian Library.[53]


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. His ashes are buried there.[5]

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

In 1965 the James Bryce Chair of Government was endowed at the University of Glasgow. "Government" was changed to "Politics" in 1970.[54]

In 2013 the Ulster History Circle unveiled a blue plaque dedicated to him, near his birthplace in Belfast.[55]

On the occasion of the 160th anniversary of Bryce's birth, a small street off of Baghramyan Avenue in Yerevan, Armenia was named "James Bryce Street" in 1998.[56]


1st Viscount Bryce in 1893

His Studies in History and Jurisprudence (1901) and Studies in Contemporary Biography (1903) were republications of essays.[8]

Selected articles

Famous quotations

See also

"A Wine of Wizardry" - Poem by George Sterling which Bryce indirectly made controversial.


  1. ^ Keith Robbins, "History and politics: the career of James Bryce." Journal of Contemporary History 7.3 (1972): 37–52.
  2. ^ "Death of Lord Bryce. Statesman and Diplomatist. Great Historian". The Times: 10. 23 January 1922.
  3. ^ 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.)
  4. ^ Fisher, H. A. L. (1927) James Bryce: Viscount Bryce of Dechmont, O.M., Vol. 2, London resp. New York. p. 13
  5. ^ a b c d e f 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.)
  6. ^ Robbins, Keith G. (1967). "Lord Bryce and the First World War". The Historical Journal. 10 (2): 255–278. doi:10.1017/S0018246X00027473. S2CID 159537330.
  7. ^ a b James Bryce
  8. ^ a b c d e  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Bryce, James". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 4 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 699.
  9. ^ Pollock, Frederick (April 1922). "James Bryce". The Quarterly Review. 237: 400–414.
  10. ^ "No. 27995". The London Gazette. 15 February 1907. p. 1066.
  11. ^ "No. 26319". The London Gazette. 23 August 1892. p. 4801.
  12. ^ "No. 26318". The London Gazette. 19 August 1892. p. 4742.
  13. ^ "No. 26518". The London Gazette. 1 June 1894. p. 3181.
  14. ^ "Private Members' Bills". The Manchester Guardian. 3 February 1900. p. 6.
  15. ^ Seaman, John T. (2006). A Citizen of the World: The Life of James Bryce. I. B. Tauris. p. 208. ISBN 978-1-84511-126-7. Retrieved 21 May 2016.
  16. ^ Bryce, Viscount James. "Chapter CXI: Equality". The American Commonwealth. Vol. III. p. 745.
  17. ^ James, Viscount Bryce, The American Commonwealth, p. 746
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ Bryce, Viscount James. "Chapter XCVI: Woman Suffrage". The American Commonwealth. Vol. II. p. 560.
  21. ^ "No. 27995". The London Gazette. 15 February 1907. p. 1065.
  22. ^ a b c d e f  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1922). "Bryce, James Bryce". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 30 (12th ed.). London & New York: The Encyclopædia Britannica Company. p. 514.
  23. ^ "No. 28797". The London Gazette. 30 January 1914. p. 810.
  24. ^ Keith G. Robbins, "Lord Bryce and the First World War." Historical Journal 10#2 (1967): 255–78. online.
  25. ^ Robbins, 1967.
  26. ^ 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.
  27. ^ Travis, Hannibal. "'Native Christians Massacred': The Ottoman Genocide of the Assyrians During World War I Archived 16 July 2012 at" Genocide Studies and Prevention, Vol. 1, No. 3, December 2006, pp. 327–371. Retrieved 2 February 2010.
  28. ^ Keller, Morton (1988). "James Bryce and America". The Wilson Quarterly. 12 (4): 92. JSTOR 40257378.
  29. ^ Pollard, 1923.
  30. ^ Kaiga, Sakiko (2021). Britain and the Intellectual Origins of the League of Nations, 1914–1919. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-108-48917-1.
  31. ^ "Lincoln's Inn Great Hall, Ec20 Bryce". Baz Manning. 13 July 2009. Retrieved 15 June 2022.
  32. ^ "Court Circular". The Times. No. 36570. London. 26 September 1901.
  33. ^ "University intelligence". The Times. No. 36906. London. 23 October 1902. p. 9.
  34. ^ "Fellows 1660–2007" (PDF). Royal Society. Retrieved 6 October 2016.
  35. ^ 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.
  36. ^ "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 14 January 2014.
  37. ^ American Antiquarian Society Members Directory
  38. ^ "James Bryce | American Academy of Arts and Sciences". 9 February 2023. Retrieved 15 March 2024.
  39. ^ "APS Member History". Retrieved 15 March 2024.
  40. ^ "No. 27994". The London Gazette (Supplement). 12 February 1907. p. 963.
  41. ^ Lord Bryce, Viscount James (8 May 1910). "Telegram British Embassy, Washington" (PDF). Telegram British Embassy, Washington. Retrieved 29 November 2015.
  42. ^ 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 31 October 2016. regarded Lord Bryce as an old friend and trusted counsellor to whom I could always turn.
  43. ^ New York Times (28 January 1922). "Britain offers American President Bust of Lord Bryce" (PDF). New York Times. Retrieved 23 May 2013.
  44. ^ Martin, Stanley (21 December 2006). One Hundred Years of Matchless Honour – The Order of Merit. I.B.Tauris. p. 315. ISBN 978-1-86064-848-9.
  45. ^ "No. 27994". The London Gazette. 12 February 1907. p. 963.
  46. ^ APSA Presidents and Presidential Addresses: 1903 to Present
  47. ^ Viscount Bryce (1976). "World History". Proceedings of the British Academy, 1919–1920. 9: 187–211.
  48. ^ "Raleigh Lectures on History". The British Academy.
  49. ^ Lees-Smith, H. B. (October 1922). "The Bryce Conference on the Reform of the House of Lords" (PDF). Economica (6): 220–227. doi:10.2307/2548315. JSTOR 2548315.
  50. ^ Burke's Genealogical and Heraldic History of Peerage, Baronetage and Knightage, Volume 1. Burke's Peerage Ltd. 1937.
  51. ^ Joseph, Claudia (6 March 2022). "We kid you not! Kate really does descend from goat breeders (but very posh ones)". UK Daily Express. Retrieved 8 March 2022.
  52. ^ Lupton, Francis (2001). "The Next Generation: A Sequel to The Lupton Family in Leeds by C.A. Lupton by Francis Lupton 2001". Wm Harrison and Sons. Retrieved 8 July 2019.
  53. ^ Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts – Papers of Lady Bryce, 1869–1939. Bodleian Libraries, Oxford University. Retrieved 13 December 2020.
  54. ^ "James Bryce 1st Viscount Bryce". The University of Glasgow Story. University of Glasgow. Retrieved 3 October 2021.
  55. ^ "James Viscount Bryce". Ulster History Circle. 11 April 2015. Retrieved 3 October 2021.
  57. ^ See online copy
  58. ^ "Review of The American Commonwealth by James Bryce". The Quarterly Review. 169: 253–286. July 1889.
  59. ^ See online copy.
  60. ^ "Review of Studies in Contemporary Biography by James Bryce". The Athenaeum (3939): 522–523. 25 April 1903.

Further reading

Parliament of the United Kingdom Preceded byJoseph d'Aguilar Samuda Member of Parliament for Tower Hamlets 1880–1885 Constituency abolished New constituency Member of Parliament for Aberdeen South 1885–1907 Succeeded byGeorge Esslemont Political offices Preceded byRobert Bourke Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs 1886 Succeeded bySir James Fergusson Preceded byThe Duke of Rutland Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster 1892–1894 Succeeded byThe Lord Tweedmouth Preceded byA. J. Mundella President of the Board of Trade 1894–1895 Succeeded byCharles Thomson Ritchie Preceded byWalter Long Chief Secretary for Ireland 1905–1907 Succeeded byAugustine Birrell Diplomatic posts Preceded bySir Henry Mortimer Durand British Ambassador to the United States 1907–1913 Succeeded bySir Cecil Spring Rice Peerage of the United Kingdom New creation Viscount Bryce 1914–1922 Extinct