Bute, pp.177-178.

[Gazetteer of Scotland Contents]

   BUTE,1 an island in the frith of Clyde, separated from Cowal, in Argyllshire, by a very narrow channel called the KYLES OF BUTE: see that article. It extends in length about 16 miles, and is from 3 to 5 in breadth. The general direction is from south- east to north-west. The northern parts of the island are rocky and barren, but the southern extremity is fertile, well-cultivated, and enclosed. The coast is rocky, and indented with bays, several of which form safe harbours. The bays of Rothesay, Kames, and Kilchattan, indent its eastern shore; those of Stravannan, Scalpsie, Ettrick and Kilmichael, its western. Stravannan bay, and that of Kilchattan, run so far in as to make the south end of Bute an oval peninsula, in the centre of which rises Mount Blair, a hill whence a noble prospect may be enjoyed. The intervening space is a low sandy plain, and there is another low plain between Kames and Ettrick bay. – Near the middle of the island are several small sheets of water, viz. Lochs Fad, Ascog or Askaig, Quien, and Auchenteery. Of these, LOCH FAD is the most extensive and the most interesting. See that article. Pike, perch, and trout, are found in most of them. Mount Stewart, the fine seat of the Marquess of Bute, is situated on the coast, about 2 miles south-east of Rothesay. See article MOUNT STEWART. – Port Bannatyne, on the bay of Kames, 3 miles north-east of Rothesay, is a pleasant village, much frequented as a bathing-place. See article PORT BANNATYNE. A little to the north of it is Kames’ castle, long a seat of the Bannatynes. At Wester Kames stands another castle, formerly belonging to the Spences. At Askaig, north of Mount Stewart, was also a castle, destroyed about the year 1646 by the Marquess of Argyle. The climate, though damp, is mild and temperate, and the soil is favourable for agriculture. Freestone of a reddish colour abounds in the island, and limestone is met with in every part of it. Coal has been discovered near Ascog; but it has not been thought worth while to work it. – This island, conjoined with the islands of Arran, the Greater and Lesser Cumbrae, and Inchmarnock, forms a county under the name of the shire of Bute. It has one royal burgh, Rothesay, which is also the chief town of the shire: see ROTHESAY. The island of Bute contains two parishes. See KINGARTH and ROTHESAY. There are several remains of antiquity on the island. See articles ST. BLANE’S CHAPEL, and DUNGYLE. Bute gives the title of Marquess to a branch of the family of Stuart, who is proprietor of the greater part of the island. Population of the whole island, in 1791, 6,470; in 1801, 6,106; in 1831, 6,830. Houses, in 1831, 889. Assessed property, in 1815, £13,066. – The western isles of Scotland, Man, Shetland, and Orkney, appear to have been frequently infested by armies of Scandinavians, from the year 738 till about the year 875, when those islands fell under the dominion of Norway, to which they in general remained subject, with little interruption, for many ages. Bute and its neighbouring islands formed a subject of frequent dispute between the Scots and the Norwegians, if not during the whole time that the power of the latter subsisted in these countries, yet for a long period before the Ebudæ or Western isles were ceded to the Crown of Scotland. By their situation, so near the heart of the Scottish kingdom, descents could be made from these insular stations by the one power upon the territories of the other. They were, in this view, more particularly important to the Norwegians; as they could, from hence, more easily annoy the Scots, than from any other place where they had a regular established footing. Accordingly, it appears from monuments whereof vestiges can still be traced out, that great solicitude was shown to defend the island of Bute. The castle of Rothesay was a stronghold of such antiquity that neither record nor tradition seem even to offer a conjecture as to the time of its original erection. Malcolm II. made a grant of Bute sometime before the year 1093, to Walter, the first Lord-high-steward, who gave it to a younger son, with whom and his posterity it remained about a century, when it was reannexed to the patrimony of the Lord-high-steward, by the intermarriage of Alexander Steward with Jean, daughter and heiress of James, Lord of Bute. In 1228, Husbec, or Ospac, the feudatory king of the Isles, laid siege to the castle of Rothesay; but, being bravely repulsed, was killed in the course of the enterprise, and his people were obliged to retire after suffering a considerable diminution of their number. Olave, his successor, procured from the Norwegian monarch a fleet and army, wherewith he proceeded against Dungad, who had set himself up as a competitor in the Isles, and having seized upon his person at Kiarara, near the sound of Mull, he from thence came to Bute with 80 ships, and laid siege to Rothesay castle. The garrison defended it bravely; and, by various methods, destroyed about 300 of the besiegers; but the force of the Norwegians and islanders was so great, that, after persevering some time, they took the castle by sapping, and found in it a rich booty. How long after this Bute remained subject to the Norwegians is not precisely known. When Haco of Norway invaded Scotland in 1263, this and the other islands in the frith of Clyde were in the hands of the Scots. These isles he reduced; but being defeated at Largs, the whole Western isles were soon afterwards ceded to Alexander III., king of Scotland. In the fatal battle fought at Falkirk betwixt the English and Scots, in 1298, the men of Buteshire – known at that time by the name of the Lord-high-steward’s Brandanes – served under Sir John Stewart, where they were almost wholly cut off with their valiant leader. Edward of England having obtained possession of Bute, kept it until 1312; when Robert Bruce took the castle of Rothesay, and recovered the island. Thither Edward Baliol came in person, anno 1334, took the castle, and strengthened its fortifications. It was, however, soon retaken by the faithful Brandanes of the Lord-high-steward, and this was one of those occurrences which first gave a favourable turn to the affairs of King Robert Bruce. Next year the king of England took an opportunity of repaying the Brandanes with usury, the ills they had done him. With a view to the extending and securing his conquests in Scotland, he fitted out a fleet from Ireland, consisting of 56 ships. The most signal service, however, which they did, was to lay waste Bute and Arran. On the death of David Bruce, in February, 1371, he was succeeded by his nephew, Robert, the Lord-high-steward, afterwards King Robert II., from whom the noble family of Bute is lineally descended. Robert III., son to the former, fixed his residence in the castle of Rothesay during the latter part of his life, and died there on the 29th of March, 1406. James V. had also resolved to make this place a residence, and took some steps towards putting the castle into proper order for his accommodation; but the troubles of his reign, and his death, which happened at an early period of his days, prevented this place from again becoming a royal residence. The island suffered much afterwards from factions which disturbed the public peace, or from the inroads of neighbouring clans. Cromwell in his time garrisoned the castle of Rothesay; and to this island the unfortunate Archibald, Earl of Argyle, came with his army in May, 1685, when he had engaged in concert with the Duke of Monmouth to invade the kingdom. The Earl brought with him from Holland three small ships laden with arms for 5,000 men, 500 barrels of gunpowder, a number of cannon, and other implements of war. He ordered his ships and military stores to an old castle which stood on the small rock of Eilan-greg, near the mouth of Loch Riddan, opposite to the north end of Bute. There he deposited his spare arms and ammunition under the protection of his ships and the garrison of 180 men. At this time the inhabitants of Bute were plundered of almost their whole moveable property. After Argyle had been about ten days in Bute, having received notice that a great body of forces, with three ships of war and some frigates, were coming to attack him, he hastily retreated. The naval armament arrived, and proceeded on the 15th of June to Loch Riddan, where the Earl’s frigates immediately struck to them, and the castle also surrendered. After removing the arms and stores into the king’s ships, the naval commander caused the castle to be blown up. The Earl’s army, after leaving Bute, thought only how to get to their respective homes. Argyle himself was taken prisoner at Inchinnan on the 17th of June, and being conveyed to Edinburgh, was there beheaded. Soon after, a brother of Argyle’s surprised the castle, and burnt it.

1  As the island itself is in Gaelic called Oilean aMhoide, or ‘the Island where the Court of justice sits,’ and the town of Rothesay Bailea Mhoide, – one might suppose that this designation indicated the origin of the name Bute; the word Mhoide being pronounced, in this connection, as if it were Voide. But it is evident that it must have had a similar name long before we can reasonably suppose it to have been the seat of justice. For the ancient geographer Ptolemy calls it Βωττης, which, if the Greek termination be thrown away, nearly assumes the form of the Gaelic name – which it still bears – Boid. The same term, when not used as a name, signifies a vow or oath. Whether, in this primary sense, it referred to any religious circumstance connected with the history of this island, perhaps in the Druidical period, we have no data whence we can form so much as a conjecture. By Norwegian writers it is written Bot. The learned Camden had been misinformed as to the meaning of the name Buthe, or Boot, which, he says, had been denominated “from the sacred cell which Brendan erected there, a cell being thus named in Scottish.” But the Gaelic both properly signifies a hut or cottage. – See article ROTHESAY.