Alexander Bruce, Scotland's accidental 'Scientific Revolutionary'

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The mid-seventeenth century saw unprecedented scientific progress. With the Middle Ages well and truly over, the Scientific Revolution had begun. However, scientific advancement does not always proceed along
well-planned trajectories. Chance encounters and sheer luck have important roles to play, although more so in the seventeenth century than today. In this context, the Scottish businessman and erstwhile royalist exile, Alexander Bruce, found himself in the right place at the right time to contribute significant innovations to the nascent pendulum clock design championed by contemporary natural philosophers such as Christiaan Huygens, Robert Moray, and Robert Hooke as the solution to the perennial ‘longitude problem.’ Bruce’s fledgling interests in science and engineering were greatly boosted by his association with the brightest minds of the newly established Royal Society of London. From an underdog position, his innovations soon outdid the achievements of the era’s celebrated scholars, enabling him to conduct some of the first promising sea trials of viable marine timekeepers. International collaboration became international rivalry as time went on, with little known Scottish inventions soon becoming part of mainstream clock designs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)267-280
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Astronomical History and Heritage
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020


  • Scientific revolution
  • longitude determination
  • horology
  • Alexander Bruce
  • Christiaan Huygens


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