STUART, Lord Dudley Coutts (1803-1854), of 16 Wilton Crescent, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Constituency

Dates

1830 - 1837
1847 - 17 Nov. 1854

Family and Education

b. 11 Jan. 1803, 8th s. of John Stuart†, 1st mq. of Bute (d. 1814), and 2nd w. Frances, da. of Thomas Coutts, London banker. educ. privately by Rev. Edmund Mortlock; Christ’s, Camb. 1821. m. 1824, Christina Alexandrine Egypta, da. of Lucien Buonaparte, prince of Canino, 1s. d. 17 Nov. 1854.

Offices Held

Biography

Stuart was the grandson of Lord Bute, George III’s prime minister, and his family boasted an impressive parliamentary pedigree: his father, three uncles and three half-brothers all sat in the House before 1820. The only son of a late second marriage, he was brought up by his mother in Naples after his father’s death in 1814. It was to her firm character, according to an obituarist, that he owed his ‘strong feelings of indignation against oppression and compassion for misfortune which were the ruling principles of his life’.1 As a youth he inspired great admiration: his uncle Sir Francis Burdett* had ‘but one fault to find with him - he is too handsome’; Lady Holland heard that he was ‘universally beloved at Cambridge’, and Henry Edward Fox*, who befriended him when he was travelling with his mother in Italy after leaving university, described him as ‘a most amiable, noble, fine-spirited character ... I quite love him’. Eleanor Fazakerley considered it a great merit that he had ‘avoided singularities in his habits more than one would have thought easy in his family’.2 Further tribute to the youthful Stuart and his emerging humanitarian qualities was paid in a Charles Dickens story entitled The Italian Prisoner (1860), an idealized account of how he secured the release of a political prisoner while in Italy. It was there that he formed a liaison with Napoleon’s niece ‘Christine’ Buonaparte. She was five years his senior and had been abandoned by her husband, the Swedish count Aarvid de Posse; an annulment had apparently been sought but not granted. Notwithstanding this, Stuart secretly married her at a Catholic church near Rome in 1824, and a son was born the following year. On reports of de Posse’s death they married again according to Anglican rites in Florence, 21 May 1826, and may have gone through another ceremony in England that autumn. Fox found her ‘very clever’ and noted that ‘her conversation and conduct have captivated him completely’; but George Agar Ellis* expressed the society view of this ‘deplorable business’:

 

She is old, ugly, humpbacked ... of a bad character, a foreigner, a widow ... A fortnight ago the husband died ... and Dudley took that opportunity of marrying her and bringing her to England. To make the matter worse Dudley had long been engaged to his cousin Lady Georgiana North, to whom he has behaved disgracefully ill, and Mr. Coutts was just going to make him a partner in the banking house, which is now at an end forever. Never did a young man by one false step so completely blast his prospects in every way.

 

Concerned for the status of his son, Stuart spent the summer of 1826 in consultation with lawyers to obtain the papal dispensation necessary for a mixed marriage, but this plan was scuppered by de Posse’s reappearance early in 1827. An annulment was then sought on the ground that de Posse’s marriage had never been consummated, and Stuart was obliged to pay him £5,000 to undergo a medical examination to establish his impotence. The dissolution was declared in Sweden, 3 Apr., and confirmed in Rome, 17 Sept. 1828, when a dispensation was finally granted. The couple’s problems did not end there, however, as the Buonaparte family pushed for another marriage ceremony, apparently without success, and both families exerted pressure on the opposite party to change religion.3

Lady Bute, who seems to have warmed to her daughter-in-law, was ambitious for her ‘dearest Pea’ (her nickname for Stuart) to pursue an active parliamentary career, and in August 1829 she quoted the veteran Whig George Tierney* as having ‘spoken of you almost with tears in his eyes. He said you must come down to the House of Commons amongst them’. Her hopes were realized in 1830 when he was returned unopposed for Arundel at the general election, ostensibly independently of the Whig patron, the duke of Norfolk. Lady Bute advised him to be ‘collected and cautious, and not allow any private feeling or family feeling [to] ... carry him beyond himself’.4 The duke of Wellington’s ministry listed Stuart as one of the ‘doubtful doubtfuls’, and he voted against them in the crucial civil list division, 15 Nov. 1830. His former tutor Mortlock attended a dinner on his behalf at Arundel shortly afterwards and reported that ‘everybody seems pleased with your vote’.5 In his maiden speech, 7 Mar. 1831, he supported the Grey ministry’s reform bill, denying that it would negate the ‘just influence of property’ and maintaining rather that it would oblige proprietors to ‘live more in the country and attend more to the wants and wishes of the people, thus cementing together the different classes of society’. He approved the enfranchisement of the middle class, ‘which in all communities is the most virtuous, but which in England is the pride and flower of the country’, but thought the total exclusion of other classes ‘rather hard’. Despite the possible loss of his seat at Arundel, which was to be partially disfranchised, he thanked ministers for bringing forward a measure which he did ‘not consider to be revolutionary’ and which he was ‘convinced can perpetuate to us the blessings of the glorious revolution’. Lord Holland congratulated him on his ‘good debut’ and his mother praised his ‘manly speech, so fine in content and imaginary usage, without flourish’.6 He divided for the bill’s second reading, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. At the ensuing general election it was feared that the intervention of another reformer might cost Stuart his seat, but in the end he faced only a late, weak challenge, and though hampered by an attack of measles he was easily returned.7

He divided for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July 1831, and steadily for its details. He asserted that Arundel was ‘perfectly free from nomination’ and professed his independence of Norfolk, 26 July. Next day he said he felt bound to support the borough’s partial disfranchisement, though ‘nothing [could] be more painful’ to him. On 19 Aug. he presented a petition from the mayor of Arundel in favour of the ballot (which he did not endorse) and complaining of Members with vested interests voting in private bill committees, which he refused to withdraw despite objections. He received an assurance that scot and lot voters temporarily unable to pay poor rates would not suffer permanent disfranchisement, 30 Aug. He divided for the bill’s third reading, 19 Sept., its passage, 21 Sept., the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. He voted to punish only those guilty of bribery at the Dublin election, 23 Aug. He divided for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and generally for its details, but he voted against the enfranchisement of Gateshead, 5 Mar. 1832. That day he announced his conversion to the view that Merthyr Tydvil and Cardiff should be granted a Member each, as they had no community of interest. Though a ‘zealous reformer’, he was prepared to oppose the government on this issue in order to further ‘the great end and object of reform ... to take away all just ground of complaint from the people’. He voted for the third reading, 22 Mar., Ebrington’s motion for an address asking the king to appoint only ministers committed to carrying an unimpaired measure, 10 May, the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May, and against the Conservative amendment for increased Scottish county representation, 1 June. However, he vigorously opposed the boundary commissioners’ proposal to unite Arundel with Littlehampton on the ground of their incompatibility and because it would deliver the borough into Norfolk’s hands. He presented hostile petitions from the inhabitants, 4 June, and sought to demonstrate that Arundel satisfied the criteria for returning one Member alone. He dismissed opposition jibes that his support for the reform bill was wavering and continued to plead Arundel’s case, 7, 8 June, winning praise from Edward Littleton* for his ‘zeal and perseverance’; this was finally rewarded when the boundary was left unchanged. He voted for amendments to the boundary bill to lessen proprietorial influence in Whitehaven and Stamford, 22 June. He voted in the radical minorities for an amendment to the Vestry Act to relax the property qualification, 23 Jan., and for information on military punishments, 16 Feb. He divided with ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12, 16, 20 July, and relations with Portugal, 9 Feb. He voted against recommitting the Irish registry of deeds bill, 9 Apr., and to make coroners’ inquests public, 20 June. While he agreed with the principle of the ecclesiastical courts contempt bill, to remove Members’ immunity from their jurisdiction, he objected to a clause which appeared to make the provisions retrospective and voted for an amendment, 3 Aug. He presented petitions from manufacturers criticizing the failure of the select committee on the silk trade (of which he was a member) to produce a report, 7 Aug., and described the distressed state of the industry in Spitalfields. He blamed cheap imports and attacked Joseph Hume, ‘the great upholder of the free trade system’, suggesting that he ‘condescend to gain a little practical knowledge before he insists on our adopting his speculative theories’. He argued that another cause of distress was the increase in smuggling, which often involved ‘respectable’ people, and he thought ‘the punishment in the case of a rich man offending in this manner should be much heavier than in the case of a poor man who may be considered as the rich man’s servant’.

At the general election of 1832 Stuart was again returned for Arundel, and he sat as a Liberal until his defeat in 1837. After a ten-year absence from the House he was elected for Marylebone. It was said of him that while he ‘never submitted entirely to the trammels of party his support of liberal measures was firm and undeviating’. The great political passion of his life, the independence of Poland, did not manifest itself until after 1832, although it was in December 1831 that he was ‘deeply moved’ on first hearing Prince Adam Czartoryski speak on the country’s plight. His increasing devotion to the Polish cause impeded conventional political advancement and he reportedly refused several offices, ‘declaring that the only appointment he should accept would be that of ambassador at the court of Warsaw’.8 His controversial marriage failed and in January 1840 he stopped an allowance to his wife, then living in Italy.9 He died in Sweden, where he had gone to win support for the Poles, in November 1854. The bulk of his estate passed to his son, Paul Amadee Francis Coutts Stuart,