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on 23 April 2013
From the first page of the Preface of Dr Rosemary Hannah's The Grand Designer: Third Marquess of Bute, I was intrigued. By the fifth page, I was putting off pressing projects and planning my next few days around the contemplation and enjoyment of this treasure. The author lays the foundations of Bute's life with equal parts of the succession narrative, charm, pathos and premonitory details of his infancy. Hannah shows her skill in weaving a connecting thread through the cross purposes, pride and prejudices of the various Victorian egos who hatched their plots and staked their claims to Bute's upbringing - and inheritance. There is careful calculation in her literary architecture; what appear at first sight to be mere flourishes and conceits are then revealed to have both aesthetic symmetry and to structurally bear the load of the whole vaulting edifice.

Bute's upbringing, his family trees with their aristocratic connections (and royal slight), the kindness of the High Church Galloways, his introspective and ritualistic nature, his early literary and artistic creativity; all these form a pattern. Umberto Eco says about his plots that he simply establishes character and situation then knows precisely what such a character will do in such a situation. This is exactly what this comprehensive biography does so well: it comprehends the complexity of character of the grand designer. A good tour guide knows her audience and Hannah shows us she knows her way about Bute's buildings and knows when we want more information, when an anecdote is illustrative and when we need time to look out the windows. An example of her wordcraft is the description of the wooden staircase carved at Cardiff Castle, for Mount Stuart House, Isle of Bute, then moved to St John's Lodge, London:

"In among the formal, even pretentious swags, nestle little naturalistic carvings which neatly subvert the whole. A beetle feeds on the acanthus leaves. A pair of mice flirt in a swirl of foliage. A squirrel shins up some formalised berries."

I passed the Bute Medical Building almost every day of my Divinity degree at St Andrews and graduated as a Doctor of Philosophy in the Bute Hall of Glasgow University, never giving John Patrick Crichton Stuart one thought. I am very grateful to Dr Rosemary Hannah for this labour of love and heartily concur with other reviewers, who know far more about architecture than I, in calling it "splendid".
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on 20 November 2013
What a strange man the 3rd Marquess of Bute was: very rich, and addicted to building extraordinary piles in bright and precious materials. As for the riches, we learn of the good fortune and good judgment that kept the money coming in, when weaker counsels might have sent the estate smashing into ruin.
The buildings were what drew me to the biography, chiefly Burges's fantasy at Cardiff Castle. But the early death of Burges did not make Bute ease up. The results are depicted in excellent colour photographs.
To me, Bute's intermeddling in Catholic liturgy and pastoral care in Scotland is of the deepest interest historically. He had the oddest hobby-horses and must have been a pest at times.
Round this high Victorian life appear two stories that might come from some sensation novel of the times. At the beginning is the great suffering of Bute's orphaned childhood, accentuated by his uncompromising reaction. At the end is his slide towards death from the hereditary disease that dogged his family.
In the middle are his heroic wife, his liveliness, love of children, kindness to servants, humour, Mediterranean travels, and angular fit into the British aristocracy when it still held sway.
Rosemary Hannah is to be congratulated on an engrossing work of scholarship, balance and humanity.
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on 4 January 2014
A fascinating story of man who despite his wealth and position, comes across as humble and approachable! I put it aside to read in my post-Christmas break, and I'm glad I did! Lengthy quotations from diaries give a good flavour of the people involved. Highly recommended.
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on 8 May 2016
Being an enthusiast for Victorian Gothic architecture in general and William Burges' work in particular, I bought this book to learn in some depth about Bute's collaboration with his architects and his involvement with the Gothic revival. I believe that I was justified in expecting that this would be the main theme of the book bearing in mind its title and the notes on the rear cover. I must say that it was a major disappointment in this respect.

Also in several places quotations are included from Bute's letters or diaries and it is not at all clear what the meaning is or what point the author is trying to make.

The book is not without interest but the student of Victorian architecture should look elsewhere. ("William Burges and the High Victorian Dream" for starters!)
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on 20 October 2016
I am not usually drawn to books about Victorian grandees, but having lived in Cardiff for a number of years was intrigued to learn more about the Marquess who funded the restoration of Cardiff Castle and Castle Coch. I was not disappointed and found this a remarkably accessible introduction to this very complex character
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on 31 March 2013
This is a biography of the 3rd Marquess of Bute (1847-1900). He acceded to the title when he was six months old, and was always known simply as 'Bute'. He is of interest to me because he used some of his vast wealth to inspire some fine buildings, the rebuilt Cardiff Castle, Castell Coch, Mount Stuart on the Isle of Bute, and a few others. And this is really the problem with this book: it isn't much about his work as a 'grand designer'. Indeed the sections where the author describes some of the architectural features of the buildings are some of the dullest in the book. I wanted much more on his relations with the eccentric architect William Burges. But the photographs of the buildings are excellent.

Nor is there a great deal on the Bute wealth, much of which derived from the coal trade and the docks in South Wales. He must have been very rich: among other things he bought a whole island (Cumbrae) for his daughter.

But there is much of interest: the squabbles between his guardians after his mother died when he was 12; his travels; his work as Rector of the University of St Andrews, then under threat of extinction. The author is very interested in Bute's religious observances, but you have to say that liturgical controversies (he was quite a scholar, and a Roman Catholic convert) are among those topics where a little goes a long way. It is in areas such as this that the book betrays its origins in a PhD thesis.
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on 23 April 2014
An excellent and well written account with fascinating detail and wonderful illustrations. The perfect complement to visiting Cardiff castle or either of the Scottish homes of Lord Bute.
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on 27 May 2014
Its the life of one of the richest men in the world in the victorian age.Bute had a brilliant mind
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on 14 September 2015
Fabulous. Absolutely delighted
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on 3 May 2013
Beautifully presented, superb detail and a joy to read. A work of art in its own right - warts and all
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