Thursday, 14 October 2010

Mount Stuart

From Rothesay (see previous post) the tourist heads, inevitably, to the great house of Mountstuart. In a land studded with the gothic piles of the aristocrats and industrialists of the steam age, Mountstuart stands out as one of the grandest.

On the Mountstuart estate:

The Stuart monarchs of Scotland traced their origins back to Norman overlords on the Clyde in Renfrew, and the hereditary Earls of Bute came from the same aristocratic family. For a long time they lived in Rothesay Castle, but moved to a Georgian house outside Rothesay with a bit more privacy and landscape.

The 4th Earl, John Stuart, was promoted to a Marquis, and his son the 2nd Marquis of Bute, also named John Stuart (as has been every Marquis since), had the great fortune to marry, at the height of the industial revolution, the heiress of South Glamorgan in Wales. This area today is known as the Welsh Valleys, each valley floating on the original black gold - coal. It was the modern-day equivalent of marrying into the Saudi royal family. John sank much of his wealth into exploiting the coal mining, building much of modern Cardiff. He died in 1848 and didn't live to reap the fruits of his investments, but his son, the 3rd Marquis, made up for this.

If you are one of the richest men in the world, why continue to live in a modest Georgian mansion? John had an interest in architecture, and created the vast Cardiff Castle and ornate Castell Coch in Wales.

And in a similar vein, in 1870 he decided to replace his family home with something a little more grandiose.

The family is not as rich as it once was, and the castle must nowadays pay for itself as a tourist asset. It is not permitted to photograph the interiors: a pity, as these are the most impressive part of the castle. Giant Japanese vases big enough to hide in; marble gothic arches and moorish cupolas, blue and gold, inlaid with gemstones; stars and godesses painted on ceilings; chairs stolen from the tomb of Tutenkhamen; and vast murals covering the walls, the remaining spaces taken up with portraiture from Raeburn, Ramsay, and a few other daubs from the likes of Titian, Tintoretto and Velazquez. It is even possible, if prohibitively expensive, to hire parts of the castle for functions - the entire castle and grounds have even been hired for a whole week for a wedding. Mind you, in this case the bride's father - Paul McCartney - could afford it.

After the impressive excesses of Mountstuart, we were keen to see the 'real' Bute, and pushed off even further south into the most beautiful, mellow, sunny early autumn afternoon.

More Bute adventures in the peaceful hinterland of St Blanes...

1 comment:

blueskyscotland said...

Another Good post Robert.Some of that history
about where the money came from was new to me.The tour of the big house is pretty impressive.Would not like to rewire it though.bob