Bute, John Stuart, 3rd earl of

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

Bute, John Stuart, 3rd earl of [S] (1713–92). Prime minister. Bute served as tutor to the prince of Wales from 1755, thereby acquiring a level of influence which gave rise to political controversy after the latter's succession as George III in 1760. Initially holding only a court appointment, Bute rose to become secretary of state in 1761 and then 1st lord of the Treasury in May 1762 until his resignation the following April. Disheartened by the difficulties in implementing the theoretical reign of virtue which had so impressed his royal pupil, Bute gave up the struggle. If he therefore appears a political coward, some mitigating circumstances can be found in the campaign of vilification conducted against him. This offensive was grounded in blatant anti-Scottish prejudice and included the scurrilous accusation of sexual involvement with the king's mother. Political antagonism towards Bute continued after his resignation; and exaggerated fears about his influence (as a ‘minister behind the curtain’) destabilized the administrations of both Grenville and Rockingham. The Bute myth provided some understandable consolation for politicians who found themselves excluded from power, but, in the case of the Rockinghamites, it also supplied the starting-point for a broader ideology of opposition to secret influence. The precise date at which Bute ceased to hold any sway over the king cannot be absolutely determined; that his influence was waning towards extinction from as early as 1765 is plausible, not least because the king outgrew his earlier dependence. Bute was by no means an incompetent statesman and his diplomacy leading to the peace of Paris of 1763 is now recognized on its merits. Beyond the sphere of politics, he was not only a patron of education, literature, and the fine arts, but also a keen student of science, with a particular interest in botany.

David Wilkinson