The King and The Earl: International Day of Friendship

30 July 2018

Strong friendships have defined the lives of many members of the Bute Family and many of these relationships have left impressions through the ages.

John Stuart, the 3rd Earl of Bute was appointed First Lord of the Treasury in 1762 by King George III. Often remembered as Britain’s first Scottish Prime Minister his time in office was unpopular and short lived and he resigned in 1763. Despite this, letters in the Mount Stuart archive detail the Earl’s genuine friendship with the King and show the high regard he was held in at court.

The 3rd Earl had formed a close relationship with Frederick, Prince of Wales, and was tutor to the Prince’s son who later became King George III. When the Prince of Wales died prematurely in 1751 George was only 13 years old and heir apparent to the throne. The Earl remained a trusted adviser to George even after he acceded to the throne in 1760.

One letter, dated 2nd April 1792, from John Stuart, 1st Marquess of Bute, son of the 3rd Earl, details the special gifts his father received from the Royal Family:

…the onyx badge with plain gold back was given by the king who took it out of a drawer where there were many of the same sort: but His Majesty said he selected it, knowing it was belonging to the Stuart’s King of England.

The Diamond George was given by the king in return for a valuable onyx St Andrew presented to him by my father, formerly the property of the Kings of Scotland. His Majesty set it in diamonds and always wears it to this day on the Festival of St Andrew.

One of the most special gifts given to the Earl was a garter taken from George’s own leg, as the 1st Marquess records:

The garters are what my father had occasionally worn. The one with the flat gold buckle was taken off the king’s leg and put upon my father’s by the king himself in the closet…as a slip of paper in my father’s own handwriting testifies.

The garter given to the 3rd Earl by George III

These garters indicate membership of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, which was founded in 1348 and is still the highest order of chivalry in England. The garter is dedicated to St. George, England’s Patron Saint, which is why the 1st Marquess refers to them as ‘Georges’. It is awarded at the discretion of the Monarch as a personal gift and membership is highly exclusive, limited to the Sovereign, the Prince of Wales and twenty four further members. New additions to the order are announced on the 23rd April, St George’s Day. The emblem is a garter, like those given to the 3rd Earl, with the motto in gold lettering ‘honi soit qui mal y pense’ which translated from Middle French means, ‘shame on him who thinks evil of it’. The fact that King George took the garter from his own leg in the privacy of a closet, which during the eighteenth century was a small room furthest away from the public rooms of a house for only the most exclusive guests, bestows this honour with even greater significance.

The 3rd Earl in full Garter Robes with the garter from King George on his left leg.

Its Scottish counterpart is the Most Noble Order of the Thistle dedicated to St Andrew and founded in 1687 by King James VII of Scotland. This order is again given as a personal gift by the Sovereign and membership is limited to the Monarch and sixteen Knights and Ladies. The 3rd Earl of Bute resigned his place in this Order in 1762 when he was made a Knight of the Order of the Garter gifting the King an onyx ‘St Andrew’ as a token of their friendship.

Friendship with a King must be dictated by public scrutiny and the need for formal ceremony. The fact that George III gave the Earl his own garter in private indicates the regard he held for his former tutor, confidant and friend.