STUART, Hon. Charles (1753-1801), of Branser, Bute and Stone Lodge, Richmond Park, Surr.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



20 May 1776 - 1790
1790 - May 1794
1796 - 25 Mar. 1801

Family and Education

b. Jan. 1753, 4th s. of John, 3rd Earl of Bute [S], by Mary, da. of Edward Wortley Montagu of Wharncliffe, Yorks.; bro. of Hon. Frederick Stuart* and Hon. James Archibald Stuart*. educ. ?partly at di Graffiani’s acad. Kensington. m. 20 Apr. 1778, Ann Louisa, da. and coh. of Lord Vere Bertie, 3rd s. of Robert, 1st Duke of Ancaster, 2s. KB 8 Jan. 1799.

Offices Held

Ensign, 37 Ft. 1768; lt. 7 Ft. 1770; capt. 35 Ft. 1773; maj. 43 Ft. 1775; lt.-col. 26 Ft. 1777, col. 1782; lt.-col. (half-pay) 101 Ft. 1784; maj.-gen. 1793; col. 68 Ft. 1794-5; lt.-gen. (Mediterranean) 1794; col. 26 Ft. 1795-d.; lt.-gen. 1798; gov. Minorca 1799-d.

Dep. ranger, Richmond Park 1784-92.


Charles Stuart was the favourite son of Lord Bute, who had personally supervised his education and had taken him abroad in 1768. A very close correspondence continued between them until Bute’s death.1 A soldier by profession, Stuart had been disillusioned by the ‘shameful treatment’ he had received after service in America, and before 1790 he spent a number of years travelling on the Continent ‘where principal military movements could afford instruction’. Returning home in the expectation of being usefully employed, he had been further disillusioned by the indifference with which his pretensions had been received and he continued on half-pay.2 His politics were doubtful owing to the length of time he had spent abroad, but he had supported Pitt on the Regency.

In 1790, having been defeated on a scrutiny at Poole, where he had been put to some expense, as a friend of government, he was returned for the Ayr burghs on the interest of his father in alliance with that of the Duke of Argyll, a relation of the Stuart family. He is not recorded as having taken an active part in politics, but it is likely that he continued to support Pitt in the House. He was absent from the division on the exemption of Scotland from the Test Act, 10 May 1791, the forecast of his attitude being ‘doubtful’. His opportunity for professional employment came after the outbreak of war with revolutionary France. Promoted to major-general, he was given the command of the forces in the Mediterranean after General Alured Clarke refused the post in 1794. His reputation for intractability caused the King, acquiescing in this arrangement, to appeal to Henry Dundas:

I trust Mr Dundas will not fail to hint to Stuart the necessity of keeping up harmony with the commander of the fleet [Lord Hood] ... I know Stuart is a zealous and active officer but not wanting of high feelings, therefore a little caution recommended may avoid future trouble.

Dundas answered that he had already ‘talked very seriously to Major-General Stuart on the necessity of cordial co-operation between the different branches of your Majesty’s service’ and assured George III that he had repeated the lecture ‘after the receipt of your Majesty’s intimation on the subject’. Stuart resigned his seat in Parliament and proceeded to the Mediterranean. He distinguished himself in this theatre, capturing Corsica, but he soon quarrelled with Hood.3 In 1796, in accordance with a compromise reached in 1794, Stuart was returned to Parliament for Poole on the government interest. An investor in East India Company stock, he subscribed £1,000 to the loyalty loan.

It had become necessary to reinforce the Portuguese by November 1796 and the Duke of York offered the command to Stuart, who trained the forces there and secured the country against invasion. Returning home at the end of 1797, he voted in support of Pitt on the third reading of the assessed taxes bill, 4 Jan. 1798. Promoted to lieutenant-general, he was given command of the force to be sent to Minorca. He captured the island without the loss of a man on 7 Nov. and in recognition of his services he was knighted and appointed governor of the island. In 1799 he organized the defences of Sicily against a likely French attack and at the end of the year produced a paper on the strategic implications of Minorca. Stuart believed that a force of 20,000 men would be able to threaten the French from Gibraltar to Naples and at first the plan was received with enthusiasm, but the needs of other theatres became paramount and Stuart was offered a force of only 5,000. He promptly threatened to resign ‘from dissatisfaction at his treatment at the Horse Guards’, but the treaty granting Malta to the Russians was the immediate cause of his relinquishing his Mediterranean command. He wrote to Dundas that he would not be a party to this disposal of the island. Dundas, who also disliked the terms of the treaty, wrote to Grenville:

I sincerely regret the loss of so valuable an officer, but it is impossible for me to call upon him again without departing from every principle of subordination ... If our officers, who are to execute, are permitted to controvert our councils, there is an end of all government ... I doubt if Sir Charles Stuart would have been disposed to go to the Mediterranean the moment he knew that he might at any time be called upon by Sir Ralph Abercromby to send his force to Portugal if necessary. This to a certain extent consoles me for the loss of Sir Charles Stuart’s services, which I am really sorry to part with if I could have retained them.

Grenville, in a letter to William Wickham referring to the Mediterranean theatre, accurately summed up his temperament: ‘Stuart has resigned that command in one of those strange humours which belong to his character, and which nearly destroy all the advantage that might be made of his excellent talents and military skill’.4

Fortescue, in his History of the British Army, referred to him as ‘a man of talents so rare both as a commander and an administrator, that the imbecility of Henry Dundas [as secretary of war] alone prevented him from winning a name in history even before his premature death’, adding, ‘he seems to me to have been the greatest of all the British officers of this period—great enough indeed, both as a man and as a soldier, to have done the work which afterwards fell to Wellington in the Peninsula’. Certainly men of the stamp of Sir John Moore, Nelson and St. Vincent (who said that the British soldier ‘will go to hell for him’), placed great faith in his abilities, but Stuart was incapable of maintaining diplomatic relationships with those entrusted with the overall running of the war. He does not seem to have gained the confidence of all his subordinates either. Thomas Graham*, who was his close friend, found him a commander ‘whom I have always found most accessible and willing to listen to any representation, but whom the other generals are afraid to speak to’, a characteristic hardly likely to have made him as successful as Wellington.5

Stuart was granted a month’s sick leave by the House on 2 Mar. and died 25 Mar. 1801. His final illness had prevented him from accepting the military command in Ireland.6

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: D. G. Henry


  • 1. E. Stuart Wortley, A Prime Minister and his Son.
  • 2. Add. 38221, ff. 55, 144, 186, 203, 223; 38222, ff. 94, 104, 108, 110, 116, 120; 38309, ff. 135.
  • 3. Geo III Corresp. ii. 1053; J. W. Fortescue, Hist. British Army, iv. 193, 195.
  • 4. HMC Fortescue, iii. 267; vi. 170, 207, 209; J. W. Fortescue, iv. 777; Stuart Wortley, 328-30.
  • 5. J. W. Fortescue, iv. 191, 777; HMC Var. v. 16.
  • 6. Colchester, i. 237; Pellew, Sidmouth, i. 315.