STUART, Hon. Charles (1753-1801), of Branser, Bute.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
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; bro. of Hon. Frederick and Hon. James Archibald Stuart and of John, Lord Mountstuart.  educ. ?partly at di Graffiani’s acad. Kensington.  m. 20 Apr. 1778, Louisa, da. and coh. of Lord Vere Bertie, M.P. (3rd s. of Robert, 1st Duke of Ancaster), 2s.  cr. K.B. 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; col. 26 Ft. 1795- d.; lt.-gen. 1798; gov. of Minorca 1799- d.

Dep. ranger of Richmond Park.


Charles Stuart was the best loved son and close companion of Lord Bute, who personally supervised his education and took him on his continental travels in 1768. In 1775 Stuart was ordered to America, arriving in Boston the day after the battle of Bunker Hill. On the evacuation of Boston he sailed for Halifax, Nova Scotia, and while there was returned to Parliament for Bossiney. He took part in the landings on Staaten Island and Long Island, and in the capture of New York. In letters to his father, he criticized General Howe the commander-in-chief; deplored the undisciplined looting which alienated loyalist sympathisers; and blamed the incapacity of colonial governors. He complained to Lord Howe of ‘the very cavalier manner in which he had been treated’, and requested permission to return to Britain. But one of his fellow officers wrote:

I apprehend they will not wish him to go home. He is a fine young fellow, and I have lost my skill if he will not be one of the best officers in the King’s service. He is very clever, exceedingly intelligent, takes great pains, and is as bold as a lion.

Shortly afterwards Stuart was posted to New York, served in the campaigns in the Jerseys and Pennsylvania, and narrowly escaped death at Brandywine. In November 1777 he went home on leave, angry at the ‘insanity’ of the Opposition speeches on America; he attended the House, but is not known to have spoken; and in May 1778 embarked again for America. From New York in September he sent his father scathing comments on the peace commissioners:

The civil commissioners look upon a war of ravage of destruction to be the only means of effecting success in this country ... I fancy private resentment has drove them to adopt quite contrary opinions from those they came here with, not from a greater ... knowledge of the country but from a deep sense of the insults they have received ... We have no occasion to try whether acts of severity will cause these people to submit ... during the last campaign every species of barbarity has been executed. We planted an irrecoverable hatred ... which neither time nor measures will be able to eradicate. What then are we to expect from it, conciliation or submission?

Describing the confusion at headquarters, and the shortage of supplies in the fleet, he wrote: ‘You see, my dear father, what infamous neglect Lord Sandwich has been guilty of, and how little we are to expect true patriotism from even those who pretend to be guided by it.’1

In November 1778 Stuart, in poor health, went home on leave entrusted with letters from Clinton. On arrival he sought an interview with Lord George Germain, but found him more concerned with Ireland than America, and disinclined to heed Clinton’s warnings. Stuart wrote to Clinton, January 1779: ‘I was astonished and hurt to find that upon such shallow grounds he should be lulled into a blind security which might prove fatal to our affairs.’ Though he disliked Government policy, Stuart disliked the Opposition still more: he was classed by Robinson as a Government supporter on the contractors bill, 12 Feb. 1779, and voted with them in the division on Keppel, 3 Mar. His uncle James Stuart Mackenzie strongly advised him to attend the American inquiry on 29 Apr., but neither then nor later did Stuart speak, nor was he called to give evidence on American affairs.2

Stuart arrived back in America in July to find Clinton, who made him his confidant, almost in despair and prepared to resign. Stuart reasoned with him and urged upon him immediate army reforms to restore his popularity, but declined the post of adjutant general. ‘Finding the General so disliked ... I was determined not to risk the love of the army and my own happiness for a mere name.’ In November, with Bute’s approval, he left ‘a country and a war where now there is no honour to be obtained’. Foreseeing only a ‘disgraceful end’ to the American situation, he hoped to obtain a command in other theatres of war, and on his return offered himself for active service. When rebuffed Stuart spoke of resigning; Bute replied:

My dear Charles ... you should cease to think your honour every minute concerned because this or that desire is not complied with; for this will not only affect your looks, words, and actions, subversive of the capital point you ought to have in mind, which is that of gaining another step in rank before the war ends.

Though appalled at Germain’s American policy, Stuart continued to vote with Administration.3

At the general election of 1780 Stuart’s return was uncertain, as his brother James required parliamentary immunity to protect him from his creditors. After negotiating through Jenkinson with North, Bute agreed to return Charles for Bossiney on the understanding that North would provide James with a seat on his return to England.4 Stuart seems to have spent the winter of 1781-2 partly in Scotland with his regiment, partly on a private visit to Gibraltar.5 He did not vote on Lowther’s motion against the war, 12 Dec. 1781, nor in the divisions of February 1782; but on 8 and 15 Mar. supported Administration on Cavendish’s censure motion and Rous’s motion of no confidence.

In August 1782 Robinson suggested to Shelburne that as Stuart had supported the old Administration whenever he attended, he might be ‘classed hopeful’.6 But Stuart was in Italy when in February 1783 Shelburne’s peace preliminaries came into the Commons, and he remained abroad until the spring of 1784. In Venice in November 1783 he entered into a negotiation with Strange, the British minister, who ‘was inclined to part with his residency for an annual consideration out of the income’, but ‘the business broke off without any application to H.M. ministers’.7

With Mountstuart and James, contrary to their father’s wishes, adhering to Fox, Charles’s absence was an embarrassment to Bute. Thomas Coutts, the banker, wrote to Charles, 8 Jan. 1784:8

Politics run so high ... that there is no saying how soon civil commotions may be kindled. In that case you should be here and I at Bologna. A dissolution of Parliament many think must ensue if Mr. Pitt cannot get a majority next week ... I took the liberty ... to write to [Lord Bute] warmly my sentiments with respect to you as I hoped nothing would induce him to give your seat in Parliament in your absence to anyone else—fearing, as votes are wanted they might put some other in your room to have numbers on the spot till you come.

But in March Charles was still listed ‘absent’ by Stockdale. He probably returned in time for his re-election on 3 Apr., but neither Government nor Opposition was sure of his support.

Embittered by his ‘shameful treatment in his profession’ and long absent from his regiment, Stuart exchanged from the 26th into the 101st, a regiment about to be disbanded, and went on half-pay.9 By the autumn he was again on his travels and in November 1784 proposed to enter the Venetian service.10 Having abandoned this project he pursued his plan of visiting ‘the different parts of Europe where the military art is best understood, or where principal military movements could afford instruction’.11 On his return to England he voted with the Opposition on Pitt’s Irish propositions, 13 May 1785, but in August returned with his wife and family to Europe, settled at Geneva for a time, and then resumed his travels. He was back in England by February 1786, when he voted with the Opposition on Richmond’s fortifications plan, but thereafter, by his own account, supported Administration. In the summer he investigated the military situation in the Low Countries and on his return wrote to Lord Hawkesbury, 31 Dec. 1786, giving him an account of his three years’ travels and observations:

I returned to England poorer than when I left the country and with a species of knowledge very little better than useless to one without interest ... These considerations, and perceiving that the part I took for Government has caused some awkwardness in the society I was most accustomed to, makes me ask you with freedom whether you think that with a competent knowledge of four languages, I possess the necessary requisite for a foreign minister and if so whether there would be any impropriety in my soliciting an employment of that nature ... do you judge that such an application would be approved by his Majesty?

Hawkesbury advised him to write to Pitt, who promised to consult Lord Carmarthen, the foreign secretary.12 But nothing was done for Stuart, and on 21 Aug. 1787 he wrote to Hawkesbury from Lille:

I confess I was disappointed, and from the moment was as indifferent with respect to being a foreign minister as I had been before anxious to obtain the employment ... now upon more reflection I not only think that I was right, but that as a man of honour and high military rank I ought to be above waiting in dependence for offices which are more generally given to debtors and people of a very different character than your sincere, faithful, and obedient servant.

Shortly afterwards he returned home, and voted with Pitt on the Regency. He held high military command during the French revolutionary war, but acquired a reputation for being difficult and intractable.  He died 25 Mar. 1801.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest


  • 1. E. Stuart Wortley, A Prime Minister and his Son, 66, 71, 96, 104, 115-16, 132, 134, 137, 148, 163.
  • 2. Ibid. 146, 147.
  • 3. Ibid. 153-7, 180-1; Add. 38307, f. 119.
  • 4. Add. 38458, ff. 144-7.
  • 5. Stuart Wortley, 179.
  • 6. Laprade, 48.
  • 7. Stuart Wortley, 198-203; Add. 38221, f. 186.
  • 8. Stuart Wortley, 202-3.
  • 9. Add. 38221, f. 55.
  • 10. Stuart Wortley, 203-204.
  • 11. Stuart to Hawkesbury, 31 Dec. 1786, Add. 38221, f. 55.
  • 12. Add. 38309, ff. 135, 135b; 38221, ff. 144, 186, 203, 223; 38222, ff. 94, 104, 108, 110, 116, 120.