1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bute, John Stuart, 3rd Earl of
BUTE, JOHN STUART, 3rd Earl of (1713–1792), English prime minister, son of James, 2nd earl, and of Lady Jane Campbell, daughter of the 1st duke of Argyll, was born on the 25th of May 1713; he was educated at Eton and succeeded to the earldom (in the peerage of Scotland; created for his grandfather Sir James Stuart in 1703) on his father’s death in 1723. He was elected a representative peer for Scotland in 1737 but not in the following parliaments, and appears not to have spoken in debate. In 1738 he was made a knight of the Thistle, and for several years lived in retirement in Bute, engaged in agricultural and botanical pursuits. From the quiet obscurity for which his talents and character entirely fitted him Bute was forced by a mere accident. He had resided in England since the rebellion of 1745, and in 1747, a downpour of rain having prevented the departure of Frederick, prince of Wales, from the Egham races, Bute was summoned to his tent to make up a whist party; he immediately gained the favour of the prince and princess, became the leading personage at their court, and in 1750 was appointed by Frederick a lord of his bedchamber. After the latter’s death in 1751 his influence in the household increased. To his close intimacy with the princess a guilty character was commonly assigned by contemporary opinion, and their relations formed the subject of numerous popular lampoons, but the scandal was never founded on anything but conjecture and the malice of faction. With the young prince, the future king, Bute’s intimacy was equally marked; he became his constant companion and confidant, and used his influence to inspire him with animosity against the Whigs and with the high notions of the sovereign’s powers and duties found in Bolingbroke’s Patriot King and Blackstone’s Commentaries. In 1775 he took part in the negotiations between Leicester House and Pitt, directed against the duke of Newcastle, and in 1757 in the conferences between the two ministers which led to their taking office together. In 1756, by the special desire of the young prince, he was appointed groom of the stole at Leicester House, in spite of the king’s pronounced aversion to him.
On the accession of George III. in 1760, Bute became at once a person of power and importance. He was appointed a privy councillor, groom of the stole and first gentleman of the bedchamber, and though merely an irresponsible confidant, without a seat in parliament or in the cabinet, he was in reality prime minister, and the only person trusted with the king’s wishes and confidence. George III. and Bute immediately proceeded to accomplish their long-projected plans, the conclusion of the peace with France, the break-up of the Whig monopoly of power, and the supremacy of the monarchy over parliament and parties. Their policy was carried out with consummate skill and caution. Great care was shown not to alienate the Whig leaders in a body, which would have raised up under Pitt’s leadership a formidable party of resistance, but advantage was taken of disagreements between the ministers concerning the war, of personal jealousies, and of the strong reluctance of the old statesmen who had served the crown for generations to identify themselves with active opposition to the king’s wishes. They were all discarded singly, and isolated, after violent disagreements, from the rest of the ministers. On the 25th of March 1761 Bute succeeded Lord Holderness as secretary of state for the northern department, and Pitt resigned in October on the refusal of the government to declare war against Spain.
On the 3rd of November Bute appeared in his new capacity as prime minister in the House of Lords, where he had not been seen for twenty years. Though he had succeeded in disarming all organized opposition in parliament, the hostility displayed against him in the nation, arising from his Scottish nationality, his character as favourite, his peace policy and the resignation of the popular hero Pitt, was overwhelming. He was the object of numerous attacks and lampoons. He dared not show himself in the streets without the protection of prize-fighters, while the jack-boot (a pun upon his name) and the petticoat, by which the princess was represented, were continually being burnt by the mob or hanged upon the gallows. On the 9th of November, while proceeding to the Guildhall, he narrowly escaped falling into the hands of the populace, who smashed his coach, and he was treated with studied coldness at the banquet. In January 1762 Bute was compelled to declare war against Spain, though now without the advantages which the earlier decision urged by Pitt could have secured, and he supported the war, but with no zeal and no definite aim beyond the obtaining of a peace at any price and as soon as possible. In May he succeeded the duke of Newcastle as first lord of the treasury, and he was created K.G. after resigning the order of the Thistle. In his blind eagerness for peace he conducted on his own responsibility secret negotiations for peace with France through Viri, the Sardinian minister, and the preliminary treaty was signed on the 3rd of November at Fontainebleau. The king of Prussia had some reason to complain of the sudden desertion of his ally, but there is no evidence whatever to substantiate his accusation that Bute had endeavoured to divert the tsar later from his alliance with Prussia, or that he had treacherously in his negotiations with Vienna held out to that court hopes of territorial compensation in Silesia as the price of the abandonment of France; while the charge brought against Bute in 1765 of having taken bribes to conclude the peace, subsequently after investigation pronounced frivolous by parliament, may safely be ignored. A parliamentary majority was now secured for the minister’s policy by bribery and threats, and with the aid of Henry Fox, who deserted his party to become leader of the Commons. The definitive peace of Paris was signed on the 10th of February 1763, and a wholesale proscription of the Whigs was begun, the most insignificant adherents of the fallen party, including widows, menial servants and schoolboys, incurring the minister’s mean vengeance. Later, Bute roused further hostility by his cider tax, an ill-advised measure producing only £75,000 a year, imposing special burdens upon the farmers and landed interest in the cider counties, and extremely unpopular because extending the detested system of taxation by excise, regarded as an infringement of the popular liberties. At length, unable to contend any longer against the general and inveterate animosity displayed against him, fearing for the consequences to the monarchy, alarmed at the virulent attacks of the North Briton, and suffering from ill-health, Bute resigned office on the 8th of April. “Fifty pounds a year,” he declared, “and bread and water were luxury compared with what I suffer.” He had, however, before retiring achieved the objects for which he had been entrusted with power.
He still for a short time retained influence with the king, and intended to employ George Grenville (whom he recommended as his successor) as his agent; but the latter insisted on possessing the king’s whole confidence, and on the failure of Bute in August 1763 to procure his dismissal and to substitute a ministry led by Pitt and the duke of Bedford, Grenville demanded and obtained Bute’s withdrawal from the court. He resigned accordingly the office of privy purse, and took leave of George III. on the 28th of September. He still corresponded with the king, and returned again to London next year, but in May 1765, after the duke of Cumberland’s failure to form an administration, Grenville exacted the promise from the king, which appears to have been kept faithfully, that Bute should have no share and should give no advice whatever in public business, and obtained the dismissal of Bute’s brother from his post of lord privy seal in Scotland. Bute continued to visit the princess of Wales, but on the king’s arrival always retired by a back staircase.
The remainder of Bute’s life has little public interest. He spoke against the government on the American question in February 1766, and in March against the repeal of the Stamp Act. In 1768 and 1774 he was again elected a representative peer for Scotland, but took no further part in politics, and in 1778 refused to have anything to do with the abortive attempt to effect an alliance between himself and Chatham. He travelled in Italy, complained of the malice of his opponents and of the ingratitude of the king, and determined “to retire from the world before it retires from me.” He died on the 10th of March 1792 and was buried at Rothesay in Bute.
Though one of the worst of ministers, Bute was by no means the worst of men or the despicable and detestable person represented by the popular imagination. His abilities were inconsiderable, his character weak, and he was qualified neither for the ordinary administration, of public business nor for the higher sphere of statesmanship, and was entirely destitute of that experience which sometimes fills the place of natural aptitude. His short administration was one of the most disgraceful and incompetent in English history, originating in an accident, supported only by the will of the sovereign, by gross corruption and intimidation, the precursor of the disintegration of political life and of a whole series of national disasters. Yet Bute had good principles and intentions, was inspired by feelings of sincere affection and loyalty for his sovereign, and his character remains untarnished by the grosser accusations raised by faction. In the circle of his family and intimate friends, away from the great world in which he made so poor a figure, he was greatly esteemed. Samuel Johnson, Lord Mansfield, Lady Hervey, Bishop Warburton join in his praise. For the former, a strong opponent of his administration, he procured a pension of £300 a year. He was exceptionally well read, with a refined taste for books and art, and purchased the famous Thomason Tracts now in the British Museum. He was learned in the science of botany, and formed a magnificent collection and a botanic garden at Luton Hoo, where Robert Adam built for him a splendid residence. He engraved privately about 1785 at enormous expense Botanical Tables containing the Different Familys of British Plants, while The Tabular Distribution of British Plants (1787) is also attributed to him. Bute filled the offices of ranger of Richmond Forest, governor of the Charterhouse, chancellor of Marischal College, Aberdeen (1761), trustee of the British Museum (1765), president of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (1780) and commissioner of Chelsea hospital.
By his marriage with Mary, daughter of Edward Wortley Montagu of Wortley, Yorkshire, who in 1761 was created Baroness Mount Stuart of Wortley, and through whom he became possessed of the enormous Wortley property, he had, besides six daughters, five sons, the eldest of whom, John, Lord Cardiff (1744–1814), succeeded him as 4th earl and was created a marquess in 1796. John, Lord Mount Stuart (1767–1794), the son and heir of the 1st marquess, died before his father, and consequently in 1814 the Bute titles and estates came to his son John (1793–1848) as 2nd marquess. The latter was succeeded by his only son John Patrick (1847–1900), whose son John (b. 1881) inherited the title in 1900.