8th April 1763. Flavour of the Month.
‘Like favourites, made proud by Princes’: ‘Much Ado about Nothing’.(1)
Writing of George III’s old tutor John Stuart and later his Prime Minister, Lord Bute, the historian Macaulay in 1844 wrote: ‘He was a favourite; and favourites have always been odious in this country. No mere favourite had been at the head of government since the dagger of Felton had reached the heart of the Duke of Buckingham.'(2)
John Stuart 3rd Earl of Bute, was the first Prime Minister from Scotland, following the Act of Union in 1707, and is said to have been the last ‘favourite’ in British politics.
However many Today in 1763 would have heaved a sigh of relief when Bute handed over his office of First Lord of the Treasury, (now Prime Minister), to Charles Grenville.
For apart from being George III’s ‘favourite’ he was also hated by the Americans in the run up to the Revolutionary War.
Even after retiring to his study of botany, he had a corrupting influence over the British Government.
Bute was fortunate as in the old days he wouldn’t have slipped into retirement, but would often have suffered execution by the monarch, as often they had acquired over-weening power; or by the nobles, for their presumption, by offending their notions of hierarchy, especially if the favourite was low born.
Going back to Biblical Times with David and Saul and Joseph and Pharaoh, history is littered with favourites. Piers Gaveston the favourite of Edward II, was likened to a mushroom, by poet Christopher Marlow: ‘ a night grown mushrump(sic) to his enemies.’
Many favourites have been suggested as lovers of the monarch, though it is difficult to get hard evidence. Robert Dudley was a favourite of Elizabeth I; George Villiers of James and Charles I, and Sarah Churchill the domineering friend of Queen Anne, come to mind.
Some such as Cardinal Wolsey, though gaining high access to Court, were more talented bureaucrats than mere favourites, though their fall was just as hard.
(1a) Shakespeare and to be found in Ch 3.V 1.9.
(1b) Falstaff was disappointed in not becoming a favourite of Prince Hal. Henry IV (I & II).
(2) Buckingham was a favourite of James I and there is extant a letter from James to Buckingham :’To my only sweet and dear child…That we may make this Christmas a new marriage…as I desire only to live in this world for your sake’.
This has been used by historians as suggesting James was homosexual, even taking into consideration that language style and mores were different then.
(3) It was on 16.4.1763 Bute asked Grenville to take over.
Ref: bbc.co.uk/yourpaintings.john stuart. Pic Ref.
Ref: Bodleian Library, Tanner MS 72 f.14 Repository of Letters.
Ref Essay on Earl of Chatham quoted JH Elliott and LWB Brockliss Eds. world of Favourites 1999 Yale UP.
Ref:Stuart England JP Kenyon Allen Lane 1978.
Ref:King James and Letters of Homeoerotic Desires, David M Bergeron, To George Villiers Duke of Buckingham. Dec 1623.