STUART, John, Lord Mountstuart (1744-1814).

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



24 Jan. 1766 - 20 May 1776

Family and Education

b. 30 June 1744, 1st s. of John, 3rd Earl of Bute [S], and bro. of Hon. Charles, Hon. Frederick, and Hon. James Archibald Stuart.  educ. Harrow c.1757; Winchester; Grand Tour 1761-5.  m. (1) 12 Nov. 1766, Charlotte Jane (d. 28 Jan. 1800), da. and h. of Herbert Hickman Windsor, 2nd Visct. Windsor [I], 7s. 2da.; (2) 17 Sept. 1800, Frances, da. of Thomas Coutts, London banker, 1s. 1da.  cr. Baron Cardiff 20 May 1776; suc. fa. as 4th Earl of Bute 10 Mar. 1792, and mother as 2nd Baron Mountstuart 13 Nov. 1794; cr. Mq. of Bute 27 Feb. 1796.

Offices Held

Ld. lt. Glam. 1772-93, 1794- d.; P.C. 4 Aug. 1779; envoy to Turin Aug. 1779-Feb. 1783; auditor of the imprest 1781-2; ambassador to Spain Mar.-Dec. 1783, 1795-6; ld. lt. Bute 1794- d.; councillor of state to Prince of Wales 1800- d.


In 1761 Mountstuart was sent abroad on an extensive European tour; studied in Holland and Geneva; and for some months was a travelling companion of James Boswell in Italy.1 In January 1766 he was brought into Parliament for Bossiney on his mother’s interest, and with the rest of the Bute connexion voted against the repeal of the Stamp Act, 22 Feb. 1766. He adhered to the Chatham Administration, and subsequently to those of Grafton and North. His first interventions in debate were confined to matters concerning his family: the Cumberland petition against the return of his brother-in-law, Sir James Lowther; and a defence of his father’s administration of the civil list.2

Offended at what he regarded as North’s hostility to the Bute family, he wrote to William Mure shortly after the death of the Princess Dowager:

In one respect my father may be more at his ease; he is no longer abused in print, nor tormented with people desiring his interest ... ambiguous expressions of secret influence, double cabinet, etc. no longer amuse the House of Lords and Commons in the mouths of Lord Chatham and Mr. Burke ... I believe the world are convinced he has now nothing to say ... I cannot say Lord North has made any use of this event ... with respect to my father (as he might imagine his interest weakened). Before it happened he refused us everything; since he has preserved the same steady conduct. Yet I obtained my lieutenancy [of Glamorgan] but in the most ungracious manner; he was absolutely forced to do it; Lord Rochford made a point of it out of personal regard. I kissed the King’s hand without having the least notification of my appointment which is usually given.

Walpole records in March 1773 that North’s ‘rude manner of refusal’ of the lieutenancy had infuriated Mountstuart, who ‘said he would have knocked him down, if it had not been in the House of Commons, and for which he and all his family would never forgive him’. By December 1773 his relations with North were so bad that when Jenkinson asked him to concur in an application for a place for a distant Bute relation, Mountstuart replied:

I must beg to decline the making any application alone to Lord North, as I have repeatedly experienced from him the strongest marks of personal disregard, attended with all the ill breeding and insulting inattention his Lordship is so great and proficient in, and which were I master of my own conduct I would go any length to resent.

In February 1775 Boswell wrote of a conversation with Mountstuart:

I remonstrated with him against his indolence and inactivity. He said I did not know his present situation. He said he wished to be called up to the House of Lords as his mode of speaking was better suited to that House than to the House of Commons.

In April he talked to Boswell in a ‘princely’ and ‘truly Stuart’ manner of the monarchy and its powers.

He complained that we had at present no prime minister, that each secretary of state insisted on giving away the offices in his own department without consulting Lord North. That Lord Bute never suffered this. He was minister.

Prompted by his father, he had for some time been concerning himself in a desultory fashion with Scottish electoral affairs. On 1 Nov. 1775 he wrote to William Mure:

I have, of my own accord, taken a resolution to move for leave to bring in a bill to raise the Scotch militia; thinking that, when a bill is passing to empower the King to raise the English, is the lucky moment for such an attempt ... I have gained many of the Opposition to support me, and what is more I have gained Lord North; but I find a lukewarmness in my own countrymen ... I think the bill will pass, if not objected to by the country itself. Should it be otherwise, I should at least have the satisfaction all my life of thinking that I was the person who stood forth in support of a measure which, at the same time that it wiped out a stain disgraceful to the country, would be of the greatest utility.3

On 2 Nov., ‘in a very spirited manner’, Mountstuart moved for a Scottish militia, and a committee was appointed including Henry Dundas, Wedderburn, William Pulteney, Adam Fergusson and George Dempster. Dempster, Fergusson, Dundas, and Pulteney were mainly responsible for the preparation of the bill. On 8 Dec. the bill was presented by Mountstuart, whose arrogance had already antagonized some Scottish Members. Dempster however defended him:

If there be a fair, honourable young man on earth I believe he is one ... He is going straight forward; they tergiversed. He thinks the influence the Scotch have in H.M. councils a favourable opportunity of doing service to Scotland. They thought it might cause jealousy against our country.

After repeated delays the bill reached its second reading on 5 Mar. and after a stormy debate was referred to a committee of the whole House under the chairmanship of Mountstuart’s Glamorgan friend Sir Herbert Mackworth. The Opposition concentrated their attack on the cost of the militia, demanding that as Scotland paid a disproportionate contribution to the land tax, England should not be expected to finance a Scottish force but that every Scottish county should defray the expense of its militia quota by an additional tax assessment. In the debate of 14 Mar. 1776 this proposal was narrowly defeated. Scottish opinion was divided over the question of permitting the regular army to recruit from the militia; and the issue was complicated by Mountstuart’s distrust of Henry Dundas and his jealousy of Buccleuch as a rival in his bid for Scottish leadership. Mountstuart, in his ‘princely’ fashion, told Boswell that ‘when he had resolved on the alterations’ to his bill, ‘he sent for the Scottish Members to his house and told them what these were to be, not submitting them at all to their consideration’. He was in fact prepared to accept Government amendments. In the debate of 20 Mar. Mountstuart made an able defence of his bill, which nevertheless, despite North’s support, was defeated by 112 votes to 93.4

Mountstuart’s attempt to assume the leadership in Scottish affairs was shortlived. His brother Frederick indeed thought ‘he would never be a man of business, for that he could not persist’.5 He was however in favour both with the King and with North, and in May 1776 was created Baron Cardiff, thus realising his ambition of entering the House of Lords as a British peer. His career in the Lords was undistinguished.

He died 16 Nov. 1814.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest


  • 1. Letters of David Hume, i. 263, 268, 421, 423; ii. 294, 354; Boswell on the Grand Tour, Italy, Corsica and France, ed. Brady and Pottle.
  • 2. Cavendish’s Debates, i. 46; Caldwell Pprs. ii (2), p. 70.
  • 3. Add. 38207, ff. 61, 68, 354; Caldwell Pprs. ii (2), pp. 200, 219, 231, 233, 264-5; Walpole, Last Jnls. i. 180; Boswell, Private Pprs. x. 162-4, 182-3, 191-2, 202.
  • 4. Almon, iii. 91-92, 395-6, 411-13, 425-30; Dempster to Alex. Carlyle [n.d.], Laing mss; Boswell, Private Pprs. xi. 153.
  • 5. Boswell, Private Pprs. xi. 259.