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Earl Of Bute

First Lord of the Treasury November 1762 - July 1763

Eton College Chapel

John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute, was born 25th May 1713, elder son of the 2nd Earl. After Eton, Bute considered himself an intellectual. He got on with quiet intellectual pursuits, such as corresponding with historians and naturalists about the flora and fauna, and economic history of the Isle of Bute, where he was born. No doubt he would have been quite happy with this kind of life, if it wasn't for a chance meeting with Prince Frederick, eldest son of George II. In 1747 there was a rain shower at Egham races. To pass the time until racing recommenced the royal party organised a card game, and needed a fourth player. Bute stepped into the breach. Thus began an involvement with the royal family, which continued beyond Prince Frederick's early death in 1751. Following their chance meeting Bute became tutor to Frederick's brother George, the new heir to the throne. In the privacy of the classroom Bute, always prone to pomposity and self importance, held forth about the corruption and wastefulness of government, and the evils of the Seven Years War being waged with France. George, an impressionable youngster, hung on his tutor's every word. In his own little world Bute seemed to have all the answers. Unfortunately George continued to believe his tutor had all the answers, even after succeeding to the throne in 1760 as George III.

 

Bute was clearly unsuited to a political career. Lord Shelburne said of him: "He was insolent and cowardly, at least the greatest political coward I ever knew. He was rash and timid, accustom'd to take advice of different persons, but had not sense and sagacity to distinguish and digest, with a perpetual apprehension of being governe'd...He was always on stilts... he felt all the pleasure of power to consist either in punishing or astonishing" (quoted by John Brewer in The Prime Ministers Vol 1 P 105). Bute was one of those people who constantly moaned about government, and then had his comeuppance when he was suddenly offered the chance to have a go himself. Naturally he was terrified, but perhaps out of a misplaced loyalty to George III Bute had a go, and became one of the most detested prime ministers ever. At George III's succession Bute had no experience of government, except for a few years in the House of Lords as a peer. On this shaky basis Bute was secretary of state within a year of George III coming to the throne. A year after that he was prime minister. In his short administration, which lasted less than a year, Bute moved to end the Seven Years War with France, and to end what he saw as political corruption. His desire to end the war culminated in Bute's only political achievement, the Peace of Paris, completed in February 1763. Today we might look upon these peace efforts more favourably, but at the time the Peace of Paris was not popular with a public who had enjoyed giving the French a hiding for the previous few years. This was also an age when mercantilist economics were still influential. The mercantilists believed that the key to fortune was to seize resources by military force and then establish a monopoly over that resource. The ideal of free trade between independent nations was still in its infancy. Stopping the war, and allowing the French to recover important economic resources, such as fishing grounds off Newfoundland, did not go down well with the merchant community. Meanwhile Bute's campaign against corruption didn't really change anything. In the mid eighteenth century there was no party structure to help maintain government discipline. In an endless and unequal struggle to achieve some kind of unity in Parliament, intimidation, bribery, the use of constituencies where one or a few men had control, were, quite frankly, the only tools available. Bute did make changes in the use of all these "corrupt" tricks of patronage, but all he really did was move the power of patronage away from the Commons to the Crown.

Hated by politicians and the public, Bute resigned after eleven months.

 

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