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Eyton House, Ayton, Berwickshire (?): unexecuted designs for a house for John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute, c1762-80 (12)

Signed and dated

  • c1762-80


John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute (1713-92), was a scholar and statesman. He succeeded his father in 1723, and in 1736 he married Mary Wortley Montagu (d1794), daughter of Edward and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, bringing immense wealth to the Bute family. His involvement in public life was initially tentative. In 1737 he was elected as a Scottish representative peer but rarely appeared in the House of Lords, and in 1738 he was appointed one of the Commissioners of Police for Scotland, and was created a Knight of the Thistle. Everything changed however, when in 1745 the Jacobite uprising prompted Bute to relocate to London, where in 1747, he became acquainted with Frederick, Prince of Wales. Bute was appointed as Lord of the Bedchamber to the Prince in 1750-51, Groom of the Stole in 1756, and the tutor of the future King George III. Bute encouraged an ‘isolationist foreign policy, the abolition of party distinctions, the purging of corruption, and the enhancement of the monarchical control over policy and patronage’, causing some tensions during the early years of George III’s reign. As soon as George III acceded to the throne in 1760 Bute was sworn onto the Privy Council, and a year later was made Secretary of State. He was made the Ranger of Richmond Park in 1761 and a Knight of the Garter in 1762. But his sudden rise, caused by his popularity with the young King, prompted uncertainty, jealousy, and confusion, especially following William Pitt’s resignation from the cabinet in 1761. As a result Bute suffered widespread attacks in the press. He served as Prime Minister from May 1762 until April 1763, during which time he brought about peace with France, but his political rivals continued to fan the flames of public hostility. This culminated in widespread unpopularity, with Bute being constantly lampooned, threatened and insulted in public. Bute found this situation intolerable, and resigned his position. The young King, however, continued to seek his advice, and there was widespread resentment that Bute continued to exert considerable political power. As a result Bute decided to retire to Luton Park in October 1763, the country house he had purchased the year before.

Bute was not only a political figure, but was also a keen patron of artistic and intellectual activities. He was a trustee of the British Museum from 1765-92, and President of the Society of Arts from 1780-92. And being a keen scholar and botanist, following his retirement in 1763, Bute spent his considerable fortune on intellectual pursuits, and on building a seaside villa at Highcliffe, Hampshire, during the 1770s, where he spent the majority of his later years.

Bute was also one of Robert Adam's major patrons, employing him in Berkeley Square, and at Luton Park. It is not known when the designs for Eyton were commissioned, although it is possible that this was shortly before Bute purchased Luton Park in 1762, at a time when he was seeking a country seat, or alternatively, it might have been after his self-imposed removal from public life, when he decided to build himself a new home, plumping instead for Highcliffe rather than Eyton. The first set of undated drawings for the house are in the hand of an unknown architect. They are doubtless contained within the Adam drawings collection as they would have been given to Adam to assist his own work. And indeed, the second scheme by Adam appears to be a ‘revised version’ of the previous scheme of unknown authorship.

See also: Luton Park & Lansdowne House

A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, Index pp. 13, 64; J. Ingamells, A dictionary of British and Irish travellers in Italy 1701-1800, 1997, p. 164; D. King, The complete works of Robert & James Adam and unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume II, p. 125

Frances Sands, 2012



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Contents of Eyton House, Ayton, Berwickshire (?): unexecuted designs for a house for John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute, c1762-80 (12)