Bute, John Stuart, Third Earl of
Bute, John Stuart, Third Earl Of
BUTE, JOHN STUART, THIRD EARL OF. (1713–1792). British prime minister. John Stuart was born in Edinburgh on 25 May 1713 and inherited his father's earldom on 23 January 1723. He was educated at Eton (1724–1728) and at Leiden, where he graduated in 1732. For some years he lived quietly on his estates, raising a family and studying botany. When the Jacobite rebellion of 1745 began, Bute moved to London and two years later met Frederick, prince of Wales, father of the future George III. Bute was appointed tutor to young George, in whom he encouraged an abhorrence of "party." He became George's indispensable mentor, friend, and adviser.
On George III's accession to the throne in 1760, Bute became a privy councillor and, on 25 March 1761, secretary of state for the northern department. After Pitt's intemperate resignation on 5 October, Bute presided over the war effort. As first lord of the Treasury from 27 May 1762, he directed the negotiations that led to the Treaty of Paris in 1763. Unlike Pitt, he was alarmed by the size of the national debt, recognized the futility of trying to permanently cripple French sea power, and disliked subsidizing European allies. Consequently, although the French Empire in North America was destroyed, he restored Manila and some key West Indian conquests and gradually withdrew from the Prussian alliance. Again recognizing financial realities, to say nothing of known Bourbon plans for revenge, he also decided in principle to tax the American colonies in part payment for their own defense, a policy Grenville later put into practice.
Bute, whom historians used to deride, has become recognized as an able, idealistic, and patriotic prime minister. However, he had no following in the Commons, depending wholly upon favor at court. This provoked the established Whig elite to attack him as a corrupt apostle of royal absolutism and maker of a soft peace with the Bourbon powers, who favored only Scots aspirants to office. He was also falsely accused of owing his influence to an affair with Princess Augusta, the king's mother; demonstrators against the peace often carried a boot and petticoat on a gibbet. All this made him extremely unpopular, and Bute was insufficiently thick-skinned to ride out the storm. He resigned on 8 April 1763, but in August, Grenville refused to remain in office should the king continue to consult Bute in private. Bute withdrew from the court in September though he continued writing to the king until 1766, when his influence ended.
revised by John Oliphant