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On this day in history in 1792, died John Stuart.
John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute was a Highland nobleman and botanist who became Prime Minister when nobody else would do the job.
Stuart was born on 25th May 1713, at London, the eldest son of the 2nd Earl of Bute. He was educated at Eton and, oddly, the University of Leiden, Holland. In 1737, Stuart married Mary Wortley Montagu in the expectation of bringing the colossal Wortley fortune into the family of the Stuarts. In 1737, he was elected Scottish Representative Peer but had little interest in politics and failed to be re-elected in 1741, at which time he retired to his estate on the Isle of Bute.
At Bute, Stuart indulged in his genuine interest of botany. He grew specimens and catalogued them and hoped that one day, he would be able to catalogue the entire index of British plant life. Unfortunately, the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 forced him to return to London.
In 1747, Stuart was introduced to Frederick, Prince of Wales, and his wife Princess Augusta, and became intimately involved with the family. Some, at the time, accused Stuart of having an affair with Augusta. When Frederick died in 1751, Stuart was entrusted with the education of his son, Prince George, later George III. Stuart arranged for the young prince to undergo a course of lectures on natural philosophy, what today we would call natural science. This instruction seemingly bore fruit as the reign of George III was characterised by the agricultural revolution and the instigation of ‘high farming’, both keenly sponsored by His Majesty.
When George became king in 1760, Stuart was appointed to the Privy Council, to represent the king’s interests in the government. At that time, Parliament and the government were dominated by the Whig Party, led by the Duke of Newcastle, and George trusted neither the Whigs nor Newcastle. Britain was involved in a pointless and costly war, the Seven Years War, in Europe, which the king wanted to see ended. In 1762, George III dismissed Newcastle as Prime Minister but the leading Whigs, backing their leader, refused to take office. George therefore appointed Stuart, a man he knew and trusted, to the office.
Stuart successfully brought the Seven Years war to a conclusion, with the treaty of Paris, but he did not have the confidence of members of the Commons. A scurrilous journal called The North Briton, a reference to Stuart’s Scottish ancestry, satirised Stuart and implied an illicit affair with the king’s mother. After less than a year in office, Stuart resigned both as Prime minister and from the government and retired to his estate in Hampshire.
Here he was able to continue his work on botany and in 1785, he published Botanical Tables Containing the Families of British Plants, a comprehensive guide to the flora of Britain. Stuart died in 1792 and is buried at his ancestral home on the Isle of Bute [Mount Stuart, Mount Stuart Drive, Rothesay, Isle of Bute PA20 9LR]. After his death the flowering plant genus Stuartia was named after him.
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