John Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute, lived from 12 September 1847 to 9 October 1900. He is remembered as a scholar, historian, archaeologist, romantic, mystic, and one of the greatest patrons of the arts in the Victorian era. In Scotland he had a significant impact on many fine buildings we enjoy today, while more widely he is known chiefly for his links with the city of Cardiff, and particularly for the restoration of Cardiff Castle.
Born at Mount Stuart, the family home on the Isle of Bute, John Crichton-Stuart inherited his title and his vast family estates in Scotland and Wales at the age of only six months on the death of his father, also John Crichton-Stuart, 2nd Marquess of Bute. His mother, Lady Sophia Hastings, died in 1859, and after some debate among his guardians the 12 year old John Crichton-Stuart went to Harrow School, and then to Christ Church, Oxford.
On reaching the age of 21 in 1868, the 3rd Marquess assumed full control of the family estates, from which he received a gross annual income of some £300,000 and which made him the richest man in Britain at the time. One of the first acts of his majority, which shocked many of his contemporaries, was to convert to Catholicism, which he did on 8 December 1868 at a convent in Southwark, London. He then travelled to Rome to be confirmed by Pope Pius IX, before embarking on a world tour.
In April 1872, John Crichton-Stuart married the Hon. Gwendolen Howard, eldest daughter of the first Lord Howard of Glossop. They subsequently had three sons and a daughter.
The 3rd Marquess used his wealth and influence to produce a series of spectacular developments, sponsoring over 60 major building projects by a dozen architects. He is perhaps best known for his restoration of Cardiff Castle and the fairytale reconstruction of Castell Coch, both in Wales. But he also left a lasting impact in Scotland. Here his projects included the ambitious rebuilding of Falkland Palace, the restoration of Pluscarden Abbey near Elgin (and the nearby building of a Presbyterian Church to house a congregation displaced from Pluscarden). Less successful were his efforts late in life to restore Sanquhar Castle, the ancestral home of the Crichtons.
John Crichton-Stuart's most striking legacy in Scotland is his rebuilding of Mount Stuart on Bute. Most of the house in which he was born burned down on 3 December 1877, and Crichton-Stuart commissioned the Edinburgh architect Sir Robert Rowand Anderson to build the remarkable house you can see today. As Rector of the University of St Andrews, John Crichton-Stuart also commissioned the building of the Bute Medical Buildings, south of St Mary's Quadrangle, completed in 1899. He also oversaw the restoration of many other university buildings, both in St Andrews and Glasgow.
John Crichton-Stuart died in 1900 at the age of 53. Some of his dreams did not outlast him: work stopped on Sanquhar Castle before it had advanced very far, and his restoration/rebuilding of Falkland Palace, was only half complete. But he left a lasting memorial in stone that greatly enriches the lives of all who live in or visit both Scotland and Wales.