Biography

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John Stuart, third Earl of Bute (1713-92)

The Earl of Bute was born in Edinburgh on 25 May 1713 although the family home was on the Isle of Bute. He was the eldest son and second of eight children born to the second Earl of Bute and his wife Anne Campbell. In 1736 he married Mary Wortley Montagu and they had five sons and six daughters. Not all Scottish Peers were entitled to a seat in the House of Lords so they elected sixteen of their number to represent them. Bute was elected as one of the Scottish Peers in April 1736, May 1761, April 1768 and November 1774. Between 1741 and 1761 he did not sit in the House of Lords. Bute was the first Scottish born British Prime Minister and the first Tory to be PM after the Glorious Revolution. Along with a number of other prominent politicians of the day, such as the Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes, Bute was a member of Sir Francis Dashwood's "Hell Fire Club".

Bute was educated at Eton and the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, where he was awarded a Degree in civil and public law. He did not undertake the Grand Tour as most of his contemporaries did. Bute was tall, slim and was deemed to be very handsome. He was renowned for his "fine pair of legs", of which he was very vain. He was passionately interested in botany and studied the subject extensively, along with making studies of agriculture and architecture. Prior to his marriage, he was not wealthy and his father-in-law (who was a miser) unsuccessfully attempted to prevent the marriage. Bute acquired all his wife's wealth upon his marriage, in accordance with the law at that time.

In 1747 Bute was introduced to Frederick, Prince of Wales whilst attending Egham races. Bute was asked to make up a foursome at cards; this saw the start of a friendship with the Prince of Wales that laid the foundations of Bute's future personal and political career. In 1751 the Prince of Wales died and the dowager Princess Augusta began to rely heavily on the advice of Bute, to the point where rumours abounded that the two were more than just "friends".

In 1754, Bute bought a house on Kew Green in London and built an extension to accommodate his botanical library. The house had a private gate into the grounds of Kew Palace where he helped Princess Augusta to create Kew Gardens. The following year, Bute was appointed "finishing tutor" to Prince George, the future George III. In 1756, Bute was appointed Groom of the Stole in Prince George's household. On the accession of George III in 1760, Bute became a Privy Counsellor and the following year he was made Secretary of State for the Northern Department . In May 1762 he became Prime Minister and in December of that year began the "Massacre of the Pelhamite Innocents" in which the Dukes of Newcastle and Grafton and the Marquis of Rockingham were dismissed from their Lord Lieutenancies. In April 1763, Bute resigned as PM, on the grounds that he had always said he would stay in office until peace was achieved. He was relieved to give up public office because he had not had the support of his colleagues, he was extremely unpopular with the public and was greatly disliked in parliament.

Bute bought the Luton Hoo estate in Bedfordshire in 1763 and went to live there towards the end of that year although he continued to sit in the House of Lords. However, ill health caused him to travel in Europe between 1768 and 1771. In 1773 he bought land near Christchurch in Hampshire and built Highcliffe House, overlooking the sea. In 1780, he retired from parliament because of his age - he was 67. In November 1790 he slipped and fell about 30 feet down the cliffs at Highcliffe whilst collecting plants. This fall is thought to have contributed to his death in March 1792.


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Last modified 12 January, 2016

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