The Marquess of Bute’s Translation of the Breviary

The contribution made by the Bute family to the growth and development of Cardiff during the 19th Century is well known.  The first Marquess of Bute restored Cardiff Castle and made it habitable.  The second built a dock and, in so doing, ensured that Cardiff would become the greatest coal-exporting port in the world. The third, the subject of this article, was John Patrick Crichton-Stuart (1847-1900) who became famous in his own lifetime as a philanthropist, scholar, politician, patron of the arts and author.

John Patrick Crichton-Stuart 3rd Marquess of Bute

Although raised as an Anglican, it was no surprise (though a scandal to many) when, in December 1868, he became a Roman Catholic. He was later confirmed by Pope Pius IX in Rome.

The Marquess had long been attracted to the Roman Catholic Church, particularly to its rich heritage of literature. His particular interest was the Catholic Breviary, the liturgical book containing the prayers, hymns, psalms and readings for the everyday use by bishops, priests and deacons.   The Breviary (from the Latin “brevis” meaning ‘short’ or ‘concise’) is known today as the “Liturgy of the Hours”, the “Divine Office” or, simply, the “Office”. 

The version of the Breviary familiar to the Marquess can be traced back to the reforms of the Council of Trent and Pope Pius V, who, in July 1568, promulgated the edition which became known as the “Roman Breviary”. During the centuries which followed, alterations were made by Popes Clement VIII and Urban VIII. (Further revisions were to be made during the 20th century by Pope Pius X and by Pope John XXIII).

Even before his reception into the Catholic Church the Marquess had been planning to translate the Breviary into English. His biographer, David Hunter Blair (“A Memoir”), cites a letter, dated October 5th 1868, in which the Marquess makes reference to the texts he used during his “devotions”. These included the Letters of St. Bernard, a simple prayer-book and, crucially, the Latin Psalter, in which he found, “a beauty and fullness of meaning which I think no modern language can give except…. ……possibly Greek.” The letter continues: “I sometimes dream of trying my hand at a new English version of the Psalms; but that is part of a larger scheme which is perhaps presumptuous of me even to think of.”

The Marquess began his work on the translation during the winter of 1870.  His objective was clear: to “lay open to the English reader the whole of the Prayer of the Church.”  It was a difficult task and progress was “most discouragingly slow”.  It was not until August 1877 that he could declare, “the MS is nearly finished, and the printing now going on. I expect it will be published next year. I have learnt Hebrew (more or less) for the purpose, and done an amount of reading which it quite frightens me to think of. This translation is my beloved child.”

The “beloved child” was to occupy Bute’s time and energy for two more years, during which he corrected and revised the proofs to make sure that the translation was free from errors. The text was finally published in two large volumes in the Autumn of 1879. It was the first time that the entire Roman Breviary had appeared in the English language.

In his translation the Marquess closely followed the format of the Roman Breviary. This was divided into four sections according to the seasons of the year: Winter; Spring; Summer and Autumn.  The main elements were: (a) the Psalter, consisting of some 150 psalms; (b) the Proper of the Season, i.e. Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter; (c) the Proper of the Saints, consisting of the lessons, psalms and antiphons for the feasts of the saints; (d) the Common, or prayers for groups, such as the Apostles, Martyrs, Abbots, Holy Women ; (e) certain special Offices, such as the Office of the Blessed Virgin or the Office of the  Dead.

To these sections the Marquess added critical notes, along with explanatory information on the lives of the saints. Also included were the published hymns of Cardinal Newman as well as hymns written by Caswell, Neale and Littledale. The first chapter was entitled “The Pie”, a somewhat quaint title perhaps, but we should remember that this was the era of moveable and immoveable feasts. The Marquess considered that the “Pie” would help the reader to decide which texts should be used on a particular day. To explain how  he included a section entitled “Two Easy Tables”. Here, the use of the word “easy” is questionable, particularly when we find that the reader was expected to:

“find the little square from which lines drawn from the designations of the two Offices meet at right angles, and then look what direction is given underneath the Table with the number inscribed in the square.”

Despite his efforts, The Marquess felt that his work left a lot to be desired. In his view it contained a “great many blunders and oversights – mostly mine, not the printers, who have done their work extraordinarily well which make me anything but contented with it.”  

Others appear to have shared his apprehensions: “two ponderous tomes” wrote one friend.  Later, however, the Marquess was pleased with many aspects of the final version: the Prayers, for example, where he considered that he had,

“not quite failed to reproduce…..the measured and sonorous dignity of the original Latin.”

Early sales of the Breviary were disappointing – for perfectly understandable reasons according to one observer.  The Catholic clergy had little money to spare for literary luxuries and besides, why should they give up using their familiar Latin Breviary and replace it with this version in English?  In fact, so slow were the sales that the Marquess complained that, “I am still 300 out of pocket by having published it.”

That said, Reviews of the work were positive and in 1908 (after his death) a second edition was published. This proved to be so popular in some Catholic religious houses that it was used to instruct novices. It was also popular among Anglican communities, particularly in the United States, where it was brought into use as the regular Office book.

By the end of his life The Marquess had achieved a great deal. On the one hand his conversion to Roman Catholicism had brought the issue of religious bigotry to a national level and this was further reinforced when Benjamin Disraeli (loosely) based the hero of his novel “Lothair” on him .  But perhaps his finest achievement  was to harness the talent of William Burges – once described as the “greatest of the Victorian art-architects”.  Burges, acting on Bute’s instructions, restored the interiors of Cardiff Castle and reinvented Castell Coch as a fairy-tale castle.  However, even these restorations  provided an opportunity for Bute to demonstrate his firm religious faith;  at Castell Coch, for example, where religious symbols can be found at various points including the approach to the castle where the portcullis is overlooked by the statue of the Madonna and Child.

Patrick Crichton-Stuart, the third Marquess of Bute, died of Bright’s Disease in October 1900 aged just 53 years. He was buried in a small chapel on the Isle of Bute, his ancestral home in Scotland. A few days later his wife and children took his heart to Jerusalem where it was laid to rest in the garden of a small Franciscan chapel situated halfway up the Mount of Olives. The name of the chapel is “Dominus Flevit” – The Lord wept!

Mount of Olives Chapel Dominus Flevit

Guest contribution by Liam Affley, former Chairman of the Wales and the Marches Catholic History Society 

Note: The 1908 edition of the Marquess of Bute’s Breviary is available online

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