LAURENCE BRUCE of Cultmalindie came to Shetland in 1571, and having been appointed underfowde thereof by his half brother, Lord Robert Stewart, he entered on a career of oppression and extortion of the unfortunate islanders until, at last in 1575, through the patriotic efforts of Arthur Sinclair of Aith, the Regent Morton and the Privy Council interfered, and a Commission was issued on 9th November 1575, to William Mudie of Breckness, an Orkney gentleman, and to William Henderson, Dingwall Pursuivant, to inquire into the same. They forthwith proceeded to Shetland, where they held several courts, took evidence, and heard complaints. The Record of their proceedings has been printed at length by the late Mr David Balfour of Trenaby, but it may not be out of place here to briefly recapitulate some of the charges made against Cultmalindie. The principal complaint was that he had changed the ancient standard weights and measures in order to increase the skat and other duties which the udallers and other tenants paid to the Earldom. As the duty of keeping the standard weights and measures belonged to the lawrightman, among whose other duties was included that of acting as assessor in parochial courts, it became necessary to remove the then holders of this office in order that he might fill them with creatures of his own. This he forthwith did, and immediately the length of the cuttel was increased “such that for each three score (60) cuttel which we ought to have paid, he has compelled us to pay four score (80) cuttel wadmaill”. He also increased the weight of the butter duty by altering the bismar or kind of steel-yard on which it was weighed from 12 lispund to 15. Further, he entered into an arrangement with the Dutch merchants upon whom the islanders chiefly depended for victuals, cloth, iron, hemp, and other necessaries, whereby, for a consideration, he permitted them to cheat by using unjust measures. Accompanied by a band of “broken men”, he went throughout the islands billeting himself on the inhabitants, and helping himself to their provisions, and among other imposts which he levied, few were so unpopular as that on swine, so much so that people slaughtered their pigs rather than pay it. As a result of the Commission, he was deprived of his office of Foude. He had by this time become a considerable owner of land, and appears to have lived a life of constant disturbance and interference with the rights of others, as may be seen from the Register of the Privy Council. In 1598, he commenced building the Castle of Muness in the Island of Unst. The ruins of this work are still standing, and over the door may be read the following lines :--
Laurence Bruce was on the 30th June 1597, ordained to find caution by the Privy Council to the extent of 5000 merks, and in 1610, he appeared as a witness against Patrick, Earl of Orkney. On 14th August 1614, the Privy Council appointed him a Commissioner to apprehend any of the rebels from Orkney who might seek refuge in Shetland. He died in August 1617.
He married (first) in 1559, Helen, daughter of Alexander Kennedy of Girvan Mains, by whom he had issue:
Listen to know this building who began,
Laurence the Bruce he was that worthy man,
Who ernestly his heirs and offspring prays
To help and not to hurt this work always.
The year of God 1598.
He married (second) contract dated 16th April 1568, Elizabeth daugther of Patrick, 5th Lord Gray, but had no issue.
He had several illegitimate children, among whom may be mentioned Scipio Bruce of Meikleure, in the Parish of Walls, Notary Public.
- Alexander, his heir.
- Andrew of Muness
- Helen, married 1588, Adam Sinclair of Brew
- Margaret, married Alexander Fordyce.
- Marjory, married Malcolm McInroy.