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Student in Groningen, Prime Minister in England

By Wim Braakman
3rd Earl of Bute, portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds
3rd Earl of Bute, portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds

Nowadays, the University of Groningen is doing its utmost to attract international students, in exchange for full classrooms, money and prestige. And if they speak English, that’s a nice bonus. It may seem to be a trend that has developed over the past few years but, in actual fact, this has always been the case. The Groningen resident Emo (Fivelingo, 1175 – Wittewierum, 1237) left the country to go and study in Oxford as far back as the Middle Ages. As stated on the University of Oxford’s website: ‘Centuries before most of today’s leading universities existed, Oxford welcomed the first international student, Emo of Friesland, in 1190’.

Conversely, Brits also came to the Netherlands to study later on. On 14 August 1730, for example, three students from Scotland enrolled at the University of Groningen: Messrs Bute, Bothwell and Middleton. In our Album Studiosorum, this is recorded as follows:

14 Aug. 1730
Bute, comes ex Britaniae paribus
A. Bothwell, Scoto Britannus
G. Middleton, Scotus, Jur.

Grand Tour

Bute, better known as John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute (25 May 1713–10 March 1792), enrolled together with his companions from Scotland. His friends were the Earl of Bothwell and the Earl of Middleton. In this time period, it was normal for young men from wealthy families to go on a so-called Grand Tour through Italy to learn about Antiquity and the country’s culture. These young men did something similar – but they didn’t go to Italy. Instead of going on a Grand Tour, they came to study in the Netherlands.

This may well have been due to the religio-political unrest of the time. Shortly beforehand, after the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, William of Orange (William III) became the King of Scotland and, by the same token, a Protestant hero. A cultural journey throughout Catholic Italy would have been suspicious. A visit to the Protestant Netherlands was more appropriate. After two years of studying in Groningen, the three Scotsmen moved to Leiden, where they were registered in the Album Studiosorum:

18 Sep. 1732
Bute, Scoto Britannus, 20 j
Archibaldus Bothwell, Scoto-Britannus, 20 j Georgius Midleton Scotus 18 j

The details seem to indicate that the three men studied Law. I followed this degree programme myself and, to be frank, it was of no use to me – but this wasn’t the case for Bute. He rose to become the Prime Minister of England under King George III, a position which he held from 25 March 1761 to 27 May 1762. After a satirical piece was published in the press, in this case in The North Briton, he resigned.


Bute’s years in the Netherlands led him to become a great fan of Dutch painting. Once he had returned to Great Britain, he collected artworks, laying the foundation for the collection of works by Dutch masters in Scotland. There is now a renewed interest in the collection of work that he had gathered, thanks to a large retrospective exhibition in the National Gallery in Edinburgh.


  • Album Studiosorum Academiae Lugduno-Batavae 1575-1875. p. 940;
  • Album Studiosorum Academiae Groninganae; John Stuart, earl of Bute / by J.A. Lovat-Fraser

Last modified:05 March 2020 12.57 p.m.
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