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A History of the Four Georges and of William IV, V

The name of the engaging nobleman was Lord Bute


[Sidenote:

1760--Lord Bute]

Observers of the lighter sort are pleased to insist upon the trifles which have the most momentous influence upon the fortunes of peoples and the fates of empires. A famous and facile French playwright derived the downfall of a favorite and of a political revolution from the spilling of a glass of water. There are times when the temptation to pursue this thread of fancy is very great. Suppose, for instance, it had not chanced to rain on a certain day at Clifden, when a cricket match was being played in which Frederick, Prince of Wales, happened to be interested. A fretted Prince would not have had to retire to his tent like Achilles, would not have insisted on a game of whist to cheer his humor. There would have been no difficulty in forming a rubber. There would have been no need to seek for a fourth hand. No wistful gentleman-in-attendance seeking the desirable would have had to ask the aid of a strange nobleman perched in an apothecary's chariot. Had this strange nobleman not been so sought and found, had the apothecary not been wealthy enough to keep a chariot, and friendly enough to offer a poor Scotch gentleman a seat in it, it is possible that the {7} American Colonies might yet form portion and parcel of the British Empire, that Chatham's splendid dreams might have become still more splendid realities, that the name of Wilkes might never have emerged from an obscurity of debauch to association with the name of

liberty. For the nobleman who made the fourth hand in the Prince of Wales's rubber was unfortunately a man of agreeable address and engaging manners, manners that pleased infinitely the Prince of Wales, and cemented a friendship most disastrous in its consequences to England, to the English people, and to an English king. The name of the engaging nobleman was Lord Bute.

At the time of this memorable game of whist Lord Bute was thirty-six years old. He was well educated, well read, tall of body, pleasing of countenance, quick in intelligence, and curious in disposition. These qualities won the heart of the Prince of Wales, and lifted the young Scotch nobleman from poverty and obscurity to prominence and favor. The Prince appointed Bute a Lord of the Bedchamber and welcomed him to his most intimate friendship. The death of the Prince of Wales two years later had no disastrous effect upon the rising fortunes of the favorite. The influence which Bute had exercised over the mind of Frederick he exercised over the mind of Frederick's wife and over the mind of Frederick's heir. Scandal whispered, asserted, insisted then and has insisted ever since, that the influence which Lord Bute exercised over the Princess of Wales was not merely a mental influence. How far scandal was right or wrong there is no means, there probably never will be any means, of knowing. Lord Bute's defenders point to his conspicuous affection for his wife, Edward Wortley Montagu's only daughter, in contravention of the scandal. Undoubtedly Bute was a good husband and a good father. Whether the scandal was justified or not, the fact that it existed, that it was widely blown abroad and very generally believed, was enough. As far as the popularity of the Princess was concerned it might as well have been justified. For years no caricature was so popular as that which displayed the Boot and the {8} Petticoat, the ironic popular symbols of Lord Bute and the Princess.

By whatever means Lord Bute gained his influence over the Princess of Wales, he undoubtedly possessed the influence and used it with disastrous effect. He moulded the feeble intelligence of the young Prince George; he guided his thoughts, directed his studies in statecraft, and was to all intents and purposes the governor of the young Prince's person. The young Prince could hardly have had a worse adviser. Bute was a man of many merits, but his defects were in the highest degree dangerous in a person who had somehow become possessed of almost absolute power. In the obscurity of a private life, the man who had borne poverty with dignity at an age when poverty was peculiarly galling to one of his station might have earned the esteem of his immediate fellows. In the exaltation of a great if an unauthorized rule, and later in the authority of an important public office, his defects were fatal to his fame and to the fortunes of those who accepted his sway. For nearly ten years, from the death of Frederick, Prince of Wales, to the death of George the Second, Bute was all-powerful in his influence over the mother of the future King and over the future King himself. When the young Prince came to the throne Lord Bute did not immediately assume ostensible authority. He remained the confidential adviser of the young King until 1761. In 1761 he took office, assuming the Secretaryship of State resigned by Lord Holdernesse. From a secretaryship to the place of Prime Minister was but a step, and a step soon taken. Although he did not occupy office very long, he held it long enough to become perhaps the most unpopular Prime Minister England has ever had.


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