Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Estimated number qualified to vote:

about 2,800

Number of voters:

2,546 in 1826


21 Mar. 1820FRANCIS RUSSELL, mq. of Tavistock1458
 Sir John Osborn, bt.1214
 FRANCIS RUSSELL, mq. of Tavistock1273
 Francis Pym1040
9 Aug. 1830FRANCIS RUSSELL, mq. of Tavistock 
5 May 1831FRANCIS RUSSELL, mq. of Tavistock1136
 William Stuart690

Main Article

Bedfordshire was a chiefly agricultural county, with centres of lace, straw and thread manufacture in Bedford, Dunstable, Luton and Market Street.1 County politics were notable for their marked party divisions, which originated in the contests of 1774 and 1784 and were sustained throughout this period.2 The dominant interest was that of the Russells, dukes of Bedford, the largest landowners, with estates centered on Woburn Abbey, and one of the leading families in the pantheon of high Foxite Whiggery. They customarily returned one Member, and Lord Tavistock, the eldest son of the 6th duke, had come in at the general elections of 1812 and 1818. While Woburn supplied natural reinforcement to the county’s general Whig interest, Bedford, resting on his adopted principle of confining Russell pretensions to the one seat, was not prepared to be seen to be interfering in their proceedings, though he was willing to ally himself openly with them if he ‘should at any time be called upon by the county at a county meeting to join Tavistock with another Whig candidate’. These were his words in August 1818 to the 3rd Lord Holland, Fox’s nephew, who had recently succeeded to the Ampthill estates of the 2nd earl of Upper Ossory, in the immediate aftermath of the Whig debacle at the general election, when their sitting Member, Francis Pym of The Hasells, near Biggleswade, had been frightened off at the last minute by the prospect of a ruinously expensive contest, thus allowing the ministerialist Sir John Osborn of Chicksands Priory, a lord of the admiralty, to come in with Tavistock. Bedford encouraged Holland to put himself at the head of the Whig interest, which had not adequately replaced Samuel Whitbread† of Southill as an organizer and source of inspiration since his suicide in 1815:

The Whigs in Bedfordshire are not amongst the gentry but amongst the middle classes and more particularly the Dissenters. If they can be brought to act together as a compact body, the Tory party would never be able to resist their force, but they must have a leader, and ... you are peculiarly fitted for that office. You are extremely popular amongst the Dissenters from your constantly advocating both in and out of Parliament the principles of civil and religious liberty ... I want you to infuse a little life and vigour into our dull and stupid county.

Holland, a metropolitan Whig, was not the man for this sort of activity, and six weeks later Bedford concluded that it was probably best to ‘let things remain as they are for the present without attempting to make any stir till towards another general election if circumstances should then warrant an attempt to regain a Whig Member’.3 Osborn’s principal Tory backers were Countess De Grey of Wrest, whose nephew and heir apparent, the 3rd Baron Grantham, had been appointed lord lieutenant on Upper Ossory’s death, in a blatantly political snub to Bedford, the 2nd Viscount Hampden of Bromham, the 1st Baron Carteret of Haynes and the 3rd Lord Ongley of Warden, an Irish peer. He was also supported by the enigmatic 2nd marquess of Bute, whose estates at Luton gave him a stake in the county, but whose main electoral interests lay in Scotland and South Wales.4

At the dissolution in 1820 there was speculation that Samuel Crawley* of Stockwood, Member for Honiton, and an independent supporter of government, would start, or that Whitbread’s son William Henry might transfer from the borough seat and stand on the Whig interest.5 In the event the Whigs put up Pym, now forgiven for his lapse in 1818, ‘independently of the duke of Bedford’, who told Holland that while he might have wished that ‘they had kept everything quiet as it was’, they ‘must now put their shoulder to the wheel, and not suffer old Pym to run away again’. Tavistock, who had failed in his bid to organize a county protest meeting against the Peterloo massacre, offered as a supporter of religious freedom and parliamentary reform. His friend Lord Althorp* told his father, the 2nd Earl Spencer, who had an interest in Bedfordshire, that ‘I should not be very surprised if Tavistock should be thrown out’. Osborn, also seeking re-election, boasted of his connection with a government which had defeated French tyranny and thwarted the ‘diabolical principles of the French Revolution’.6 It did him no good with Bute, who in response to the premier Lord Liverpool’s request for his support for Osborn, said that he could ‘do no more than not encourage an opposition to him on the present occasion’, as he had not kept his promise of 1818 to resign his office if elected. He was denounced in The Times, apparently not without effect, as a man unfit to represent a county, being a lowly placeman through whom Bedfordshire was ‘enslaved to ministers’.7 Of more serious concern to him were his lack of funds and increasing debts. Shortly before the election there was a meeting at Chicksands of half a dozen Tory gentlemen, who were told by the principal agent, Theed Pearse of Bedford, that the cost of a contest would amount to about £10,000. Dr. Malcolm Macqueen of Ridgmont, John Polhill of Howbury and Stephen Thornton of Moggerhanger, a director of the Bank of England, who represented comparatively new wealth in the county, subscribed £500 each, while Thornton’s brother, William Astell* of Everton, a director of the East India Company, pledged £300. The Rev. Henry Cockayne Cust, rector of Cockayne Hatley, whose brother the 1st Earl Brownlow had Bedfordshire property, offered £200. Brownlow’s kinsman the 7th earl of Bridgwater, whose estates Brownlow’s eldest son Lord Alford† stood to inherit, was understood to have subscribed £1,000. Lady De Grey gave £800 and subsequently spent an additional £200 on ‘bringing up votes, etc.’, while all the other subscribers did ‘the same to a considerable amount’, by their prior agreement.8

Osborn’s supporter, the Rev. Robert Beechcroft of Blunham, who attended the Chicksands meeting, told Lady De Grey, 10 Mar. 1820:

The returns from all quarters were laid before us, and if there be any truth in agents, the prospect of success seems very great, I might almost use the word certain. There is to be system, and as far as [is] possible in such cases, economy. Lord T[avistock] disclaims anything like union with Mr. P[ym]. We shall wait with anxiety for Wednesday morning [15 Mar.], when we will see Bedford in an even greater bustle than we witnessed in 1807.

The duke of Bedford, anticipating no more than a three-day poll, instructed one of the Woburn agents to ‘send off the London voters as soon as you can’.9 National political issues received an airing on the hustings from Tavistock and Osborn, though the hapless Pym had little to say for himself. A dominant theme of the contest was the question of the Russells’ supposed neutrality. Osborn, who claimed that at an early stage in the campaign he had extracted from Tavistock a private assurance that he would stand alone unless called on by a county meeting to join forces with another candidate, alleged that Woburn agents and supporters had canvassed for second votes for Pym. Tavistock denied having authorized any such conduct. Osborn, who gave up at the close of the fifth day, when he was almost 100 adrift of Pym, forcefully repeated his charges, though he absolved Tavistock from personal complicity. He was backed by Astell, who was reported to have said that

under these circumstances ... the contest had assumed a new form, and a bond of union would be speedily formed between the country gentlemen, the yeomanry, and the independent freeholder, whose 40s. vote was as valid as that presented on the rent roll of the squire; and that union, so cemented, must finally triumph over the efforts of this monstrous coalition.

The squabble rumbled on in the local press, Tavistock wrote ‘an indignant letter’ to Osborn ‘on the baseness of his conduct’ and his father had his London agent persuade the editor of The Times to concoct a brief article in support of his address refuting Osborn’s accusations.10

Of the 2,460 electors polled (100 had their claims rejected), 1,458 (59 per cent) supported Tavistock, 1,308 (53) Pym and 1,214 (49) Osborn . Tavistock and Pym shared 1,130 votes, which formed 76 per cent and 86 per cent of their respective totals. Each received only 58 plumpers. Osborn had 824 (69 per cent of his total), and shared 270 with Tavistock (22 per cent of his total and 11 per cent of those who voted) and 120 with Pym ( nine and five per cent respectively). Thus 2,070 voters (84 per cent of the total) cast party votes, in the proportions of 51 per cent Whig and 33 Tory. The territorial distribution of votes within the county was thoroughly predictable. Non-residents amounted to 488 (19 per cent) of those who polled, with the largest numbers coming from Hertfordshire (131), London (84), Huntingdonshire (76) and Buckinghamshire (62). Overall, they voted for the three candidates in proportions almost identical to those into which the electorate as a whole divided themselves: 58 per cent for Tavistock, 54 for Pym and 47 for Osborn. The latter did slightly better among the London voters (51 per cent), but Pym received an equal level of support and Tavistock had the backing of 57 per cent.11 The cost of the election for the Tories far exceeded Pearse’s estimate, amounting in the end to some £17,000. Osborn, who came in for Wigtown Burghs in March 1821, admitted to Astell four months later that he was well short of being able to make up the £4,000, inclusive of Bridgwater’s contribution, which he had pledged himself to produce, and that he had no realistic prospect of being able to pay his election debts out of his income. He hoped that an appeal to their leading supporters, coupled with a frank statement of their problems, might raise a further £1-2,000. Osborn’s ‘monied friends’ met at Chicksands to discuss the problem, 30 July 1821. The outcome is unknown, but some of Osborn’s outstanding election debts were not settled until 1831, when combinations of cash payments and bonds were accepted by various creditors.12 There was some sort of ‘division of expenses’ between Tavistock and Pym, which was finally settled in February 1822 after Bedford had refused to accept a ‘fresh demand made on the part of Mr. Pym’. Tavistock’s bills amounted to £8,147, and Pym’s to £4,849. The exact arrangement made is not clear, but Tavistock seems to have agreed to pay to Pym £1,600, which represented the balance remaining after the deduction of a quarter of their combined bills (£3,249) from Pym’s total.13

The abandonment of the bill of pains and penalties was widely celebrated in Bedfordshire at the end of 1820.14 Although Bedford told Holland, 15 Dec. 1820, on the prospect of securing a county meeting on the subject, that ‘here we are as flat as the ditch water in cow meadows’, he subsequently promoted one, with the backing of Holland, the Whitbreads, Pym and Charles Fyshe Palmer* of Ickwell. It took place on 12 Jan. 1821, when Bedford took a forceful lead and advocated parliamentary reform, as did Tavistock. The petition was presented to the Lords, 25 Jan., and to the Commons (by Tavistock), 26 Jan. A rival meeting got up by Grantham, 15 Jan., was unreported, but produced a loyal address to the king, which was also signed by Carteret, Osborn, Astell, Crawley, Thornton, Polhill and his son Frederick, Pearse, Dr. Macqueen’s son, Thomas Potter Macqueen* (and Osborn’s seconder in 1820), Sir William Long of Kempston and Sir Robert Harry Inglis* of Milton Bryant. In an exchange of public letters with Grantham, Tavistock refused to sign it on the ground that it was patently ‘of a party nature, intended as an indirect support of the king’s ministers’. It was presented to the king by Grantham, 19 Jan.15 Petitions for relief from agricultural distress were presented to the Commons from Potton and Biggleswade, 21 Mar., 5, 12 Apr. 1821.16 There was another county meeting to petition for reform, 20 Apr. 1822, when Bedford, who told Holland that ‘the growing feeling amongst the farmers and middle ranks in favour of this measure is daily increasing’, and Tavistock again took the lead, though the latter admitted that he had ceased to attend the House systematically, ‘so hopeless was it to attempt an opposition to ministerial majorities’. Pym was absent ‘on unavoidable business’ and was represented by his son and namesake. The sole dissentient voice was that of the Rev. E. Williamson, who argued that only moderate reform was necessary and made some pointed remarks on Bedford’s electoral domination of the Devon borough of Tavistock. The petition was presented to the Commons, 25 Apr. Bedford’s attack on the duke of Buckingham and his followers, who had recently joined government, led to a bloodless duel between them, 2 May 1822.17 Petitions from Potton, Ampthill and Woburn for the abolition of slavery were presented to the Commons, 26 Feb., 19 Mar., and one from Woburn condemning the prosecution of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara was brought up, 31 May 1824.18 Petitions against Catholic claims were presented to the Commons from the archdeaconry of Bedford, 19 Apr., and to the Lords from Dunstable, 17 May 1825.19 The heavy petitioning campaign of that and the next year against any alteration of the corn laws was organized on a hundreds basis.20 There was widespread anti-slavery petitioning in 1826.21

In the autumn of 1825, when a dissolution was expected, Ongley and Thomas Potter Macqueen were mentioned as potential Tory candidates, but it was the latter who declared his hand, as a supporter of government and an opponent of Catholic claims. Tavistock had announced in the Commons, 27 June 1821, that having been disgusted by the drunken excesses of many electors at the 1820 election, he would never again spend a shilling to obtain a seat. Accordingly, on 17 Oct. 1825 he published an address stating that in an attempt to effect ‘an important reform in the mode of electing your representatives’, he would not canvass, solicit votes or pay for entertainments and the conveyance of voters to the poll: it was up to the electors to choose or reject him on the basis of his political principles. He and his father were excited by this bid to promote a moral reform in electoral politics (abstention from a canvass also suited Tavistock for practical reasons, for his health was often unreliable), though the more cynical and world-weary George Tierney* thought it might end in tears.22 After weeks of speculation as to his intentions, Pym announced in mid-December 1825 that he would retire at the dissolution rather than fight another contest. Tavistock privately thought that if he had stood his ground he would have won easily.23 A potential rival to Macqueen was Inglis, another anti-Catholic, who had been sitting for Dundalk since 1824. He informed an Irish friend in late November 1825:

In the course of the summer I received strong encouragement to stand ... not merely from Mr. [Frederick] Robinson* and Lord Grantham, but from more than one Whig. And if the dissolution had taken place in September I have now reason to think that I would have had little difficulty in succeeding. Things, however, have greatly changed ... I have waited to be asked to stand, till another candidate has appeared, on my general politics, who proposed to spend £30,000. Our Tory horse will not carry double, and probably both will be thrown if two attempt to ride together. Mr. Macqueen has infinitely more wealth than I have. As he is already in the field and as I have not yet asked for a single vote ... he has a great and perhaps an irrecoverable advantage over me.

Bute promised to support him as ‘a personal friend’, even though they differed on the Catholic question, as he told his cousin, William Stuart, Member for Armagh and son of the late Irish primate, who had recently bought a Bedfordshire estate at Tempsford and had evidently solicited the marquess’s support for an attempt on the county:

I therefore cannot exert myself for him as I would have done for a person of the same opinions, or for a relative like yourself. Still I think it the best way of keeping my interest altogether, which I am of course anxious to do. You know my desire to serve you, but from present circumstances you perceive that it is impossible for me to speak as to the future.

Inglis withdrew himself from contention in December 1825, but three months later he felt he had acted ‘foolishly’ in so doing, as another observer confirmed in May 1826:

When he thought of standing for the county he said that he did not wish to involve it in a violent contest and that it was only in the case of its being the general wish of the country gentlemen that he should stand. Astell wrote him a letter from Macqueen’s house referring to this declaration and calling on him to retire ... Inglis did so, not he says on account of A’s letter but from an apprehension of the expense. His comment on Astell’s conduct was that though he had professed a wish to be guided by the wishes of the country gentlemen he had by no means expressed a determination to be guided by that one of them, delivered too from the very camp of the enemy and by one who resided very little and has very little property in the county. He now regrets that he did not persist and complains of Pym’s not sooner coming to the resolution of retiring.24

Tavistock believed that Inglis would have beaten Macqueen ‘even without spending money’. Like all the Bedfordshire Whigs, he regarded Macqueen with snobbish contempt, and on 6 Jan. 1826 he told his friend John Cam Hobhouse*:

It seems now that Potter [Macqueen] will have the field here all to himself, but he has been telling a lie about his vote on the Catholic question [he had not in fact voted against it in the current Parliament], and has got into a scrape by it from which he will not easily extricate himself. However, the Tories are so little accustomed to be represented by gentlemen, that they don’t mind these trifles. They have long been crying out against the state of the representation of this county. They have now got what they have so long wished for, and we shall see whether they will improve it either in respectability or independence.25

It was thought that some leading Tories, including Lady De Grey, were unhappy with Macqueen, and Holland privately told her in December 1825 that if she would put up her liberal Tory nephew Robinson, chancellor of the exchequer, ‘we Whigs might support him’. Apparently Robinson himself made ‘a difficulty upon principle, that a cabinet minister is not independent’. Holland ventured to suggest to his apolitical elder son, Henry Edward Fox*, who was lounging in Rome, that he might stand, aiming to secure respectable Tory support, which, as Lady Holland told him, was essential if a Whig was to come in ‘without incurring immense expense’. Tavistock’s brother Lord John Russell* observed that ‘if Lord Holland had lived a little at Ampthill Henry might have come in on Tavistock’s principle with perfect ease, but as it is it would be difficult, Ld H’s absence having of course made him unpopular in the county’. Fox himself was horrified, and hoped that his father was joking, or, if not, that he would scotch any such notion, which would only arise for ‘the convenience of the Russells, the Whitbreads, the Pyms, or for the laudable diversion of annoying the adverse party’. Holland admitted that his suggestion had been ‘no serious design and still less any proposal’:

At the same time I confess that the opening there for a candidate from my family, makes me a little ashamed of myself for not having cultivated the natural advantages I had and certainly makes me lament your unlucky and I must say perverse view of matters connected with politics, these being the two circumstances combined which prevent both parties in the county from looking to you as an independent Member more gratifying to their vanity and more useful to the interests of the place than Macqueen is likely to be.26

Five weeks before the general election of 1826 Bedford told Holland that there were expectations of ‘some disturbance ... in consequence of the increasing disgust at the conduct of Potter Macqueen’, who had been canvassing widely and spending lavishly, but three weeks later he surmised that ‘our respectable candidate will ... walk over’.27 At the nomination, the Whigs in desperation put up Pym, who took no personal part in the proceedings, and for whom a general subscription was opened. Inglis, too, was nominated, in absentia and without his consent, but his withdrawal was announced later that day. Tavistock applauded the recent liberalization of government policy, expressed support for fair protection for domestic agriculture, reaffirmed his pro-Catholic views and warned against infringement of the Treating Act and Lord John’s recent Commons resolution condemning bribery. Macqueen, who was nominated by Astell, called for enhanced protection and opposed Catholic claims.28 The Russells adhered to Tavistock’s declared principle of electoral purity, and one of their London agents was instructed to ‘let it be distinctly understood that no freeholder can or will be sent down at his Lordship’s expense, and none must be sent at the expense of the duke of Bedford’. The refusal to pay for food and drink was widely resented (Lord John Russell commented that ‘the people cry "No Popery", but I believe the part of the Roman Catholic religion they dislike the most is the fasting’), and Tavistock was so roughly manhandled on the first day that he stayed away from the hustings thereafter, leaving his leading supporters, including Althorp and his brother Lord George William Russell*, to speak for him each day.29 Macqueen led from the start, and it soon became clear that Pym had no chance. On the fourth day Lord Ebrington, who sat for Tavistock on Bedford’s interest and came close to calling out Astell over some derogatory remarks on the hustings about ‘quibbling and shuffling’ Whigs, reported to Hobhouse:

From what I can learn I fear that victory is quite out of the question for us and therefore the only thing is to make as good a fight as we can, taking care to keep Tavistock sufficiently ahead to prevent the Tories from playing any tricks with their second votes, which of course they would be very glad to turn over to Pym if they could with safety to themselves in order to turn out Tavistock. The canvass on the part of friends should however go on for both, but the duke’s immediate agents ought to confine themselves now as they have always done before to asking votes for Tavistock. Whitbread hopes that a good show will be made on today’s poll ... but neither he nor any of the few persons [sic] are at all sanguine as to the final result, for the poll already exhibits considerable defections to the enemy. This however inter nos, for while the fight lasts we must of course put the best face upon it.

Althorp reported that there was ‘much spirit among our friends’, and in the various hundreds supporters of Tavistock and Pym organized themselves to convey voters to the poll without expense. Bedford, who told Hobhouse that ‘their people are sore beyond measure at the ruinous expenses to which they are exposed, whilst ours is really nothing’, hoped that the Russells’ determination to go the full 15 days would ‘finally bring up Tavistock within a very few of Macqueen, if not to the head of the poll’.30 As it happened, the poll was kept open for only eleven days, and Tavistock finished 242 votes behind Macqueen, in a poll of 2,546, with Pym a further 233 adrift in third place.

Sixty per cent of those who voted supported Macqueen, 50 voted for Tavistock and 41 backed Pym. Seventy four votes were rejected and 55 left undetermined. Macqueen received 1,189 plumpers (78 per cent of his total), while Tavistock and Pym had only 52 and 23 respectively. Macqueen shared 265 votes with Tavistock (17 per cent of his total) and 61 with Pym (4). Tavistock and Pym shared 956 votes, which comprised 75 per cent of the former’s total and 92 per cent of the latter’s. Thus 2,220 (88 per cent) of those voting saw the contest in party terms. Not surprisingly, clergymen overwhelmingly favoured Macqueen: 72 per cent of them cast a vote for him, while only 39 and 28 respectively did so for Tavistock and Pym. (Holland, however, thought that while there was ‘more no popery in this little county than in any, Somersetshire excepted’, the distribution of clerical voted showed that ‘with a friendly ministry’ the majority against relief would be ‘small ... even among the clergy’.)31 There were 509 non-resident voters, who again made up one fifth of those who polled. They showed a distinct preference for Macqueen (57 per cent, as against 39 for Tavistock and 33 Pym), as did the 103 London voters, who divided in the proportions of 59, 44 and 37 per cent. On an increased turnout of 3.5 per cent, Tavistock’s share of the vote fell by 9 per cent from 1820 and Pym’s by 12, while the Tory share increased by 11 per cent.32

Macqueen and his leading supporters portrayed theirs as triumph over the electoral tyranny which Woburn and its Whig allies, especially the Whitbreads, had exercised over county and borough for decades. In August they produced a shamelessly partisan account of the election in a History of the Late Contest for the County of Bedford: from the Notes of a Freeholder, which Bedford, predictably, denounced as ‘a most blackguard, impudent and lying performance’. Macqueen had spent heavily and blatantly, and indeed virtually ensured his eventual financial ruin. Four years later Tavistock, who put his own and Pym’s combined costs at £730, ‘including £300 for counsel’, reckoned that Macqueen had spent something in the region of £30,000. Another observer put his costs at ‘upwards of £20,000’.33 On the face of it, Tavistock, who in accordance with an earlier promise donated £2,000 of the money he would have spent on ‘drunkenness and corruption’ to the new buildings for the county infirmary, received a humiliating rebuff for his ‘principle’, on which Lord John was actually defeated in Huntingdonshire. Yet he and his family insisted that they had been vindicated. He told Hobhouse:

The principle is established for ever, and if old Pym had run straight I think he might have won ... The public spirit and activity of the people have been beyond all praise. It was a high trial for them as they had been more spoilt in this county than in any other, having had more money spent amongst them, and more attention paid to them.

To a sceptical Holland, he argued that ‘if I had spent £20,000, I would not have polled ten more votes, and if I had tried a limited plan of expenditure, Macqueen would have beat me by giving wine, and opening more houses’. Bedford was sure that ‘his principles must ultimately prevail’ and that ‘the day is not far distant’. Two years later Tavistock reflected that ‘the conduct of our friends in Beds. at the last election proved that public virtue is not extinct among the people’; and on the eve of the 1830 election he informed his friend Lord Milton* that

it is an odd circumstance that at the last election, although Pym was started at the post with me without any preparation, whilst Macqueen had been in undisputed possession of the field for six months, with a host of agents canvassing in every direction and asserting that there would be no opposition to him, yet we lost no ground in the distant parts of the county. Our great loss of strength was in the town of Bedford, where the freeholders had only to walk to the poll at any time of the election between breakfast and dinner, and without requiring either conveyance or refreshment! For the first time in the history of Bedfordshire contests the Tory candidate polled the majority of votes in the town of Bedford. Surely this is an answer to those who maintain that the election was lost by the absurdity of expecting people to come from a distance to vote for me when I would neither feed nor convey them.34

(Tavistock’s argument was largely valid. Of the 225 Bedford freeholders who polled, 134 (60 per cent) voted for Macqueen, 124 (55) for Tavistock and 90 (40) for Pym. In 1820 Tavistock had been supported by 71 per cent, Pym by 58 per cent, and Osborn by 43 per cent of the 201 Bedford voters polled. In the more distant hundreds of Biggleswade, Clifton, Flitt and Manshead, Tavistock’s support fell by an average of just under five per cent, Pym’s by almost 13.) There was a notion of petitioning against Macqueen’s return on the grounds of bribery and treating, but Tavistock, taking a cool view of the situation, would have nothing to do with it, as he told Milton:

The Tories are now the strongest party in this county and it must be admitted in fairness that they gave their exclusive support to Macqueen. We have no right to say therefore that he has been returned by the influence of money or corruption alone, and although he got two or three hundred votes by bringing them to the poll, I cannot allow myself to blame the freeholders who sell themselves for a tenth ticket, a part chance or a bottle of wine. The fault of having corrupted them is with Osborn and me, and if I have seen my error only lately it is no wonder that they should not yet be reformed.

The idea was dropped.35 In July 1827 Althorp told his father that all the Whig expenses of the late election had been paid and that enough remained of the subscription to return 30 per cent to the donors. He added that Whitbread had told him that they ‘wished to raise an annual subscription of about £150, to keep a register of the freeholders, and to prepare for another contest’.36

There was heavy petitioning against any alteration of the corn laws in 1827, when John Foster of Brickhill, president of the Agricultural Association, was very active against the new corn bill. At the county meeting to petition the Lords, 23 May, Tavistock defended the measure, while Macqueen joined in the general call for greater protection. By voting against the bill when it was rejected by the Lords, Bedford put himself temporarily at odds with his son, but no lasting damage was done.37 There was widespread petitioning by Dissenters for repeal of the Test Acts, which Tavistock supported and Macqueen opposed, in 1827 and early 1828.38 In 1829, numerous petitions against Catholic emancipation, on which the Members took their expected lines, were presented to both Houses.39 In the early summer of 1829 Tavistock waited on Peel, the home secretary, to draw his attention to the terrible distress existing among Bedfordshire agricultural labourers, and he presented a petition on the subject from the magistrates of Redbournstoke, 25 May.40 He missed the county meeting of 16 Feb. 1830 called to petition for repeal of the malt and beer duties, as he was residing in Devon in an attempt to restore his health, which had come close to collapse and interfered badly with his parliamentary attendance. Bedford endorsed the object of the meeting by letter, and Macqueen, who had devoted most of his parliamentary energies to futile attempts to reform the poor laws, had some harsh things to say about the Wellington ministry’s apparent indifference to distress. He presented the meeting’s petition, with one from Caddington, 18 Mar., and it was presented to the Lords on the 30th.41 The Lords were petitioned for reform of the criminal code from Ampthill, Leighton Buzzard, Luton, Maulden and Woburn, 8 Apr., 3 May, 10, 15, 17 June 1830.42

One of the speakers at the malt tax meeting was Francis Pym junior, who was reported that month to be the Whigs’ choice to oppose Macqueen at the next election.43 Nothing came of this. Shortly after the death of George IV at the end of June 1830, Stuart, who had secured Bute’s full backing, offered as ‘an independent Tory candidate’. Macqueen announced his intention of retiring, ostensibly to spare the county a contest and to facilitate, in the current state of blurred party divisions, a balanced return of men of opposing views; in fact, he was in no financial position to fight another contest.44 Left to his own devices, Tavistock would have retired on account of his ill health. He had indeed drafted a farewell address, but he was persuaded by his friends to stand, as ‘there was no other candidate to be found’. He told them, however, that he would ‘stay quietly at home, take my chance of being returned, and spend no money, or retire if they can find a more able-bodied candidate’. Nearer the election he informed Ebrington that ‘I have neither asked for a vote, written a letter, nor retained an agent, yet I am receiving voluntary offers of support from all quarters, which is pleasant after what happened before’.45 There was some notion that Astell was ‘determined to put up Potter Macqueen’, who as the election approached issued a sour address complaining that Bute had persuaded ministers to exert their influence for Stuart as an act of revenge on him for his handful of wayward votes in the last session. Stuart of course denied this (though his papers reveal that his attorneys, at Bute’s request, went to the treasury two days before the election to obtain details of Macqueen and Astell’s votes on the controversial sale of beer bill), and claimed that Macqueen had told him months ago of his intended retirement.46 In the event, Macqueen went abroad a fortnight before the election, when there was no opposition to the return of Tavistock and Stuart. The former, who was not well, reiterated his ‘purity of election’ principles and called for reform, while the latter professed willingness to support ‘moderate and rational improvements’, advocated poor law reform and fair protection and expressed support for the gradual abolition of slavery. The quietness of these proceedings contrasted strongly with the bitter and turbulent borough election, in which Lord John Russell, replacing his neglectful brother, had been defeated by one vote. Ministers regarded Stuart’s replacement of Macqueen as a seat ‘gained’. According to Bedford’s later account, ‘little Bute left Mr. Stuart in the lurch ... as to expense, and Mr. S. had to pay the whole’.47

There was heavy and sustained petitioning for the abolition of slavery from Bedfordshire Dissenters in the new Parliament.48 The county had been the scene of sporadic unrest since 1815, and disturbances in 1828 and 1829 culminated in serious ‘Swing’ outbreaks of arson and wage rioting in November and December 1830. Grantham, according to Bedford, was ‘active and energetic beyond all praise’ in his efforts to restore order, which was accomplished through special constables, night watches and some exemplary sentencing of miscreants.49 There was no county reform meeting in 1831, but Tavistock attended the borough meeting, 17 Jan., when he confronted his family’s critics and advocated the ballot. Petitions in favour of reform or of the Grey ministry’s bill were presented to the Commons from Northill, 9 Feb., Luton, 26 Feb., and Woburn, 21 Mar.; and to the Lords from Luton, 1 Mar., and Leighton Buzzard, 22 Mar.50 Tavistock of course wholeheartedly supported the bill, while Stuart opposed it. Bute wrote to Lord Salisbury from Luton, 3 Apr.:

The reformers here ... have been furious against William Stuart. The leaders have been a combined committee of radicals, Methodists and some Tories, but you will be gratified to hear that the majority of people in this neighbourhood have shown their attachment to my interest, in spite of the mania of the moment. The reformers have prepared an address to Mr. Pym junior pledging themselves to vote for him, if he will come forward at the next dissolution as the advocate of parliamentary reform.51

Pym was reported to have declined to stand at the dissolution following the defeat of the reform bill, when Tavistock and Stuart, the latter claiming to be friendly to ‘moderate’ reform but condemning the measure as ‘a rash experiment’, came forward. The reformers were determined to start a second candidate. There was talk of Holland’s illegitimate son Charles Richard Fox*, and his father reckoned that had he not been engaged to stand for Calne on the Lansdowne interest ‘he might have come in for Bedfordshire free of expense’. The reformers eventually settled on the 69-year-old Peter Payne, the only surviving illegitimate son of Sir Gillies Payne of Tempsford (he styled himself as a baronet, though his right to do so had not been established in law), who lived in Northamptonshire but had long been active in Bedfordshire as a Whig of advanced views.52 Tavistock resigned ‘the whole conduct of the election’ into the hands of a committee based in Bedford, who, as one of its members explained, ‘manage all on the part of the marquess and Sir Peter Payne and subscriptions are set on foot in all parts to defray the expense. This committee canvasses for those two jointly, but the marquess’s personal agents for him only’. Although it was reported that support for reform was so strong that Stuart ‘even in the strongholds of Toryism ... can scarcely get a vote’, one Woburn agent observed to Bedford’s auditor:

I am very glad Lord Tavistock is gone down ... His being in the county may be a spur to some who are inclined to think very lightly of the contest, which confidence might soon lose the election, if Mr. Stuart’s cause was not so unpopular. It makes our own people, also our managers, lukewarm in the cause.

Tavistock asked Hobhouse to secure a financial contribution for the Bedfordshire reform cause, as distinct from his own campaign, from the Loyal and Patriotic Fund: ‘they have great odds to contend against, supported by the long purses. They want nothing but money’. Macqueen, perhaps seeking revenge on Stuart, canvassed for his opponent and sent notes on London voters to the reformers’ committee.53 Against some expectations, Stuart went to a poll, but, as his supporter Sir Montague Burgoyne privately noted, ‘it was a lost game’. Stuart trailed badly from the start, and gave up late in the evening of the fourth day, a Saturday, when he was almost 400 behind Payne, having earlier indicated that he would resume polling on the Monday. One of the reformers’ committee reported from Bedford at midnight:

I never witnessed so much enthusiasm as was displayed by the people here on the result being made known. Many ran about like madmen. They have had a band of music all round the town even though at this time of night, which was preceded by enormous flambeaux and followed by a most numerous body of the most respectable trades people.54

The election evidently cost Stuart £4,010.55 Only 1,710 freeholders polled, of whom 66 per cent voted for Tavistock, 63 for Payne and 40 for Stuart. Thirteen votes were rejected and 160 referred but left undecided. Tavistock and Payne received only 5 and 13 plumpers respectively and shared 1,002 votes, which made up 88 per cent and 93 per cent of their respective totals. Stuart’s 503 plumpers represented 73 per cent of his total. He shared 129 with Tavistock (73 per cent) and 58 with Payne (8). Of those who polled, 1,523 (89 per cent) divided on party lines. The traditional Whig advantage in Bedford was dramatically restored: of its 174 freeholders, 72 per cent voted for Tavistock, 61 for Payne and 39 for Stuart. Only 154 non-resident voters were brought up.56

The Lords were petitioned to pass the reform bill from Biggleswade, Leighton Buzzard, Potton and Woburn, 30 Sept., 3 Oct. 1831, and an address deploring the defeat of the measure was sent to the king from Biggleswade.57 Speculation that Tavistock would be called to the Lords in his father’s barony at the end of the year proved to be premature.58 A few petitions were got up for the supplies to be withheld until reform was carried in the crisis of May 1832, and the enactment of the measure later in the year was celebrated at Ampthill and Biggleswade.59

Bedfordshire received no additional Members by the Reform Act, was unaffected by the Boundary Act and had a registered electorate of 3,966 at the time of the 1832 general election. Tavistock announced his retirement in July, but Stuart and Payne stood their ground. Charles Fox was briefly a theoretical contender, while Crawley, now a Whig, actually offered, but he later stepped aside for Bedford’s sixth son Lord Charles Russell, who, as his father said, was ‘only brought forward as a pis-aller, faute de mieux, against my wishes’. In a hard contest, he narrowly topped the poll from Stuart, who turned out Payne by 200 votes. The Conservatives had at least one Member for the next 48 years (and two in the 1841 Parliament), but the Woburn interest proved durable.60

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1823-4), 111-22.
  • 2. F. O’Gorman, Voters, Patrons, and Parties, 340.
  • 3. Add. 51662, Bedford to Holland, 11 Aug., 27 Sept. [1818].
  • 4. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 3-4.
  • 5. Beds. RO, Wrest mss L 30/11/20/13.
  • 6. Add. 51662, Bedford to Holland, Tues. [22 Feb.]; Althorp Letters, 103; Cambridge and Hertford Independent Press, 26 Feb., 4 Mar. 1820.
  • 7. Add. 38458, ff. 283-4; 51676, Lord G.W. Russell to Holland, 13 Mar.; The Times, 9 Mar. 1820.
  • 8. Wrest mss L 30/11/20/14; 30/11/204/9.
  • 9. Ibid. L 30/11/20/14; Beds. RO, Russell mss R 767, Bedford to T.P. Brown, 13 Mar. 1820.
  • 10. Cambridge and Hertford Independent Press, 11, 18, 25 Mar.; The Times, 17, 22, 28 Mar.; Northampton Mercury, 25 Mar., 1 Apr.; Russell mss R 767, Bedford to Brown, 22, 26 Mar. 1820. R 767 contains much detailed correspondence on the Woburn interest’s canvass and the disposition of individual votes. See Beds. RO Z 231/1 for a volume of Whig agents’ records of the electorate and their affiliations, compiled in the period 1808-19 and used for this election.
  • 11. Beds. Pollbook (1820).
  • 12. Wrest mss L 30/11/20/18; 30/11/204/9; Beds. RO M 8/11, 12, 14, 16, 19.
  • 13. Russell mss R 826/6/13, W.G. Adam to C. Bailey, 30 Jan. 1822; Beds. RO H/WS 1615.
  • 14. Cambridge and Hertford Independent Press, 25 Nov., 2 Dec. 1820.
  • 15. Add. 51662; Cambridge and Hertford Independent Press, 6, 13, 20 Jan., 3 Feb.; The Times, 13 Jan.; Northampton Mercury, 20, 27 Jan. 3 Feb. 1821; LJ, liv. 10; CJ, lxxvi. 13.
  • 16. CJ, lxxvi. 189, 234, 256.
  • 17. Add. 51663, Bedford to Holland, Mon. [Apr. 1822]; The Times, 22 Apr.; Cambridge and Hertford Independent Press, 27 Apr., 4 May 1822; CJ, lxxvii. 205.
  • 18. CJ, lxxxix. 102, 185, 436.
  • 19. Ibid. lxxx. 321; LJ, lvii. 830-1.
  • 20. Cambridge and Hertford Independent Press, 7 May 1825; CJ, lxxx. 343; lxxxi. 115; LJ, lvii. 957; lviii. 92.
  • 21. Cambridge and Hertford Independent Press, 28 Jan., 26 Feb. 1826; CJ, lxxxi. 75, 106, 175, 290, 332; LJ, lviii. 321, 356.
  • 22. Herts Mercury, 17 Sept., 29 Oct., 5, 26 Nov., 3 Dec.; Cambridge and Hertford Independent Press, 29 Oct., 1 Nov.; Add. 36461, f. 281; 51586, Tierney to Lady Holland, 24 Oct.; 51663, Bedford to Holland, 28 Oct.; 51679, Lord J. Russell to Lady Holland, 9 Nov. 1825.
  • 23. Herts Mercury, 26 Nov., 3 Dec.; The Times, 19 Dec. 1825; Althorp Letters, 127; Add. 36461, f. 347.
  • 24. Beds. RO, Wynne mss WY 999/1; TCD, Jebb mss 6396/238, 245, 246; Bodl. MS. Eng. lett. c. 159, f. 32.
  • 25. Add. 36461, ff. 385, 400.
  • 26. Add. 51679, Lord J. Russell to Lady Holland, 16 Jan. 1826; 51749, Holland to Fox, 30 Dec. 1825, 28 Jan., reply, 15 Jan.; 51766, Lady Holland to Fox, 18 Jan. 1826.
  • 27. Add. 51663, Bedford to Holland, 9 May; 51668, same to Lady Holland, 30 May; 51784, Holland to C.R. Fox, 10 June 1826; Althorp Letters, 129.
  • 28. Herts Mercury, 10, 17 June; Cambridge and Hertford Independent Press, 8 July 1826; Althorp Letters, 130, 132.
  • 29. Russell mss R 767, C. Haedy to J. H. Fisher, 18 June; Beds. RO AD 1081, election handbills and placards; Fitzwilliam mss, Lord J. Russell to Milton, 23 June; The Times, 19, 23, 24, 27 June 1826; Althorp Letters, 130.
  • 30. Add. 36462, f. 302; Russell Letters, ii. 58-59; Beds. RO AD 1081; Russell mss R 767, Bedford to Hobhouse [20 June 1826].
  • 31. Lansdowne mss, Holland to Lansdowne, 7 Sept. 1826.
  • 32. Beds. Pollbook (1826).
  • 33. Herts Mercury, 22, 29 July, 5, 12, 19 Aug. 1826; Russell Letters, i. 47; Fitzwilliam mss, Tavistock to Milton, 5 July 1830; Bodl. MS. Eng. lett. c. 160, f. 135. There is a copy of the History in Beds. RO (Z 231/1/2).
  • 34. Add. 36462, f. 311; 51663, Bedford to Holland, Fri. [July], Thurs. [10 Aug.], 6 Oct.; 51668, same to Lady Holland [2 July]; 51675, Tavistock to Holland, 1 Aug.; 51677, Lord J. Russell to Holland, 23 June [1826]; Russell Letters, ii. 13; Fitzwilliam mss, Tavistock to Milton, 5 July 1830.
  • 35. Fitzwilliam mss, Tavistock to Milton, 2, 3 Dec. 1826.
  • 36. Althorp Letters, 138.
  • 37. CJ, lxxxii. 206, 293, 350; LJ, lix. 81, 103, 136, 137, 210, 312; Cambridge and Hertford Independent Press, 19, 26 May, 2, 9 June, 7 July, 13 Oct. 1827.
  • 38. CJ, lxxxii. 520, 527, 567; lxxxxiii. 90, 105; LJ, lx. 54, 56, 65, 86, 178; Cambridge and Hertford Independent Press, 16 Feb. 1828.
  • 39. CJ, lxxxiv. 33, 105, 127, 128, 146, 148; LJ, lxi. 144, 203, 281.
  • 40. Herts Mercury, 25 July 1829; CJ, lxxxiv. 338.
  • 41. Herts Mercury, 6, 13, 20 Feb.; Cambridge and Hertford Independent Press, 20 Feb.; CJ, lxxxv. 195, 463, 519; LJ, 176.
  • 42. LJ, lxii. 213, 305, 697, 722, 735; Herts Mercury, 19 June 1830.
  • 43. Bodl. MS. Eng. lett. c. 160, f. 134.
  • 44. Herts Mercury, 10, 17 July; Wynne mss WY 1009/2, 3; Althorp Letters, 151.
  • 45. Cambridge and Hertford Independent Press, 7 Aug.; Russell Letters, i. 141; Fitzwilliam mss, Tavistock to Milton, 5 July; Devon RO, Earl Fortescue mss, same to Ebrington, 15 July 1830.
  • 46. Add. 51670, Bedford to Lady Holland, Fri. [July 1830]; Beds. RO AD 1081; Wynne mss 1009/2.
  • 47. Beds. RO X 143/18, Burgoyne diary, 7, 8 [Aug.]; Cambridge and Hertford Independent Press, 14 Aug.; Herts Mercury, 14, 28 Aug. 1830; Add. 40401, f. 132; 51663, Bedford to Holland, Mon. [?25 Apr. 1831].
  • 48. CJ, lxxxvi. 52, 56, 105, 106, 132, 169, 216, 405, 436, 456, 487; LJ, lxiii. 56, 58, 70, 74, 76, 77, 105, 109, 130, 131, 152, 210, 454, 473, 474, 482.
  • 49. A.F. Cirket, ‘1830 Riots in Beds.’, Pubs. Beds. Hist. Recs. Soc. lvii (1978), 75-112; Russell Letters, ii. 298, 299; Add. 45034, f. 155; 56368, f. 96.
  • 50. Cambridge and Hertford Independent Press, 22 Jan. 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 226, 310, 415; LJ, lxiii. 274, 360.
  • 51. Hatfield House mss 2M/Gen.
  • 52. Cambridge and Hertford Independent Press, 30 Apr. 1831; PRO NI, Anglesey mss D619/27A/114.
  • 53. Russell mss R 767, Fisher to Haedy, 2 May, to S. Brown, 4 May, Macqueen to Tavistock’s cttee. [1831]; R3/3676; Fitzwilliam mss, C. Hill to Milton, 29 Apr.; Add. 36466, ff. 368, 370; 51786, Holland to C.R. Fox, 2 May 1831.
  • 54. Cambridge and Hertford Independent Press, 7, 14, 21 May; Burgoyne diary, 4 [May]; Russell mss R3/3677; R 767, Fisher to Brown, 7 May; Add. 52176, Fox to Allen, 5 May [1831].
  • 55. Wynne mss WY 1009/4.
  • 56. Beds. Pollbook (1831).
  • 57. LJ, lxiii. 1026, 1041, 1045; Cambridge and Hertford Independent Press, 24 Sept., 8, 15 Oct. 1831.
  • 58. Wellington mss WP1/1199/19; Cambridge and Hertford Independent Press, 3 Dec. 1831.
  • 59. CJ, lxxxvii. 327; Cambridge and Hertford Independent Press, 19 May, 23 June, 21 July 1832.
  • 60. Wynne mss WY 999/19, 22, 24, 25; 1009/7; Add. 51786, Holland to Fox [?19, 21 Aug.] Russell Letters, iii. 20, 25-26; Cambridge and Hertford Independent Press, 14, 28 July, 4, 11, 18 Aug., 22, 29 Dec.1832.