BETHELL, Richard (1772-1864), of Rise Hall, Holderness and Watton Abbey, Yorks.

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



1830 - 1831

Family and Education

b. 10 May 1772, 1st s. of Rev. Richard Bethell of Isleworth, Mdx., rect. of Wallingford, Berks., and Anne, da. of James Clitherow of Boston House. educ. Eton 1782-90; King’s, Camb. 1791, fellow 1794-9. m. 26 Apr. 1800, Mary, da. of William Wellbank of London, s.p. suc. kinsman William Bethell 1799. d. 25 Dec. 1864.

Offices Held

Sheriff, Yorks. 1822-3.


Roger Bethell, the son of Thomas Bethell of Hertfordshire, acquired the Rise estate in the early seventeenth century. His great-great-grandson Hugh Bethell, sheriff of Yorkshire in 1734, took as his second wife Sarah Dickinson, daughter and co-heiress of William Dickinson of Watton Abbey, and brought that property to the family. Hugh’s elder son and namesake was Member for Beverley from 1768 until he died unmarried in 1772. The estates passed to his brother William, sheriff of the county in 1780, who died without issue in 1799, bequeathing his property to this Member, his nearest relative from a minor branch of the family.1 As a fellow of King’s, Bethell may have had literary ambitions, for two of his Latin poems were published in the 1797 edition of Musae Etonenses, but his inheritance immediately made him one of the leading landowners in the East Riding, with over 13,000 acres.2 At the 1812 general election he seconded James Archibald Stuart Wortley*, a pro-Catholic Tory, for the county. By 1814, he aspired to represent the county himself on the same principles, but he seems to have taken no part in the general elections of 1818 and 1820. Between 1815 and 1820 he demolished the old house at Rise and built Rise Hall and a church nearby.3 As sheriff, he received a deputation, led by Sir William Amcotts Ingilby*, 9 Jan. 1823, requesting a county meeting for parliamentary reform. He asked them to delay their request and seek the decision of the incoming sheriff, who was due to replace him in February, but when they declined, set 22 Jan. as the date. He chaired the meeting in York and when the crowd refused to listen to Stuart Wortley, who opposed reform, secured him a hearing. A motion of thanks moved by the Whig Member Lord Milton praised his ‘alacrity in calling the meeting and his impartial conduct’.4 During the passage of the gaol bill in April 1824 he was asked by the home secretary Peel, on the recommendation of Milton and Stuart Wortley, to ‘draw up a clause, calculated to meet the wishes of the magistrates of the county of York upon the subject of the confinement of prisoners sentenced to hard labour’. His suggestions were later deemed ‘unnecessary’.5

Expectations of a dissolution in February 1825 prompted a meeting in Beverley to promote a requisition to him, but Bethell left for Scotland and the plan was put on ice. Fresh rumours of an election in the summer prompted John Stuart Wortley* to write to Henry Edward Fox*, 24 Aug., ‘I do not know what to think of our county yet, but of course I hope (and am sanguine) for ... Bethell, for the anti-Catholic feeling is not very virulent amongst us’.6 Following unconfirmed reports of a plan to return two anti-Catholic Tories, Bethell’s friends held a meeting in Beverley in October at which a requisition to him was started.7 The Rev. Sydney Smith was invited to a subsequent meeting, 25 Nov., but, unable to attend, he wrote to Bethell’s committee:

I think there cannot be a more proper person as a new ministerial candidate than Mr. Bethell. I believe he will rise in public estimation as he is brought forward to public notice, and I will (however insignificant may be my assistance) support Mr. Wortley and Mr. Bethell in preference to any gentlemen of the same way of thinking.8

At the meeting several of those present took issue with his position on Catholic relief, but the general view, even of those opposed to emancipation, was that he had ‘too many redeeming qualities’ for that to matter. The requisition was sent to Bethell, who accepted, declaring that he would ‘only solicit the suffrages of the freeholders as an independent country gentleman, bound by no promises, pledges, or previous engagements’.9 On 3 Jan. 1826 Thomas Dundas* advised Lord Morpeth* that he had heard ‘that Bethell says he cannot stand a contest, and means to retire if it comes to a poll’.10 In his address, 3 June, Bethell promised ‘to give the most impartial and attentive consideration to such conciliatory measures in behalf of our fellow Roman Catholic subjects, as justice and sound policy may appear to require, having due regard to the safety of the established religion of the country’, and cited his support for the abolition of slavery and a revision of the corn laws.11 Privately, however, John Beckett* told Lord Lowther* that Bethell was ‘tired of the mess altogether’ and that even with Stuart Wortley’s support he would fail.12 At the nomination, 12 June, Bethell insisted that his prosperity as an agriculturist was interdependent with that of the manufacturing and commercial classes, argued that ‘the less trade is shackled by restrictions, the more it will flourish’, and called for an ‘amelioration’ of the game laws. Realizing that many Tory supporters had misconstrued his position on emancipation, however, that evening he retired, saying that he could not carry on ‘without involving himself in a ruinous expense’. (Only £10,000 had been raised by subscription and he would not spend more than £40,000 of his own money.)13 His supporters pressed him to persevere, and his reply that he would ‘serve if elected’ was interpreted by some ‘as permission, if not encouraging’, but on 19 June 1826 he wrote to the Leeds Mercury to confirm his withdrawal.14 Next day Beckett informed Peel that ‘Bethell might have been the third Member if his friends had not mismanaged his cause, which I think they have done’.15 Reporting on his campaign, Thomas Tottie noted that ‘the external manliness and independence of his demeanour are but indifferently supported by the qualified terms of his speeches and the want of point and direct purpose in the written documents which he has published’.16

At the 1830 general election Bethell accepted another requisition to stand for Yorkshire, following which the Leeds Mercury paid tribute to him as ‘a man of character’ who ‘though a Tory ... was a firm and uncompromising supporter of Catholic emancipation at a time when a different course might have secured him a seat’. They hoped he would be returned, even though he was ‘not an advocate for reform’, and during his canvass he promised to ‘promote every measure of economy and retrenchment, which may be consistent with the support and security of the state’ and to do all in his power to abolish slavery and repeal the East India Company’s monopoly.17 Pressed on reform at the Leeds Cloth Halls, 2 Aug., he explained that he would have supported the transfer of East Retford’s seats to ‘Sheffield, Leeds, Manchester or any other large town which might be thought to require that representation’, but had yet to hear of a more general measure that was satisfactory.18 At the nomination his proposer declared:

There were two ... objections to his friend: he was too much of a Whig to please one party, and too much of a Tory to please the other; but he thought there was very little difference between a moderate Tory and a temperate Whig, terms so indistinct and so ill defined that they could be considered little better than nicknames.

After a token poll he was returned in fourth place. Wishing him well, the Mercury remarked that he was ‘so little of a Tory and has so strong a leaning to principles of freedom and reform ... though we wish he were a more decided reformer’.19

He was listed by the Wellington ministry among the ‘good doubtfuls’ in September 1830 and next month his brother Christopher Bethell, who had been nominated as bishop of Gloucester in 1824 by Lord Liverpool, was advanced by the duke of Wellington to the see of Bangor.20 This preferment appeared not to sway him, however, for he voted against government in the crucial division on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. He presented and endorsed multiple petitions for the abolition of slavery, 4, 11, 12 Nov., 7 Dec., and brought up one for repeal of the coal duties, 9 Dec. 1830. That day he was appointed to the select committee on the reduction of public salaries. He presented and endorsed constituency petitions for repeal of the assessed taxes, 4 Feb., when he said that the house tax was ‘most partial ... and presses most unequally on different classes of persons’, and 24 Mar. 1831. He welcomed the Grey government’s intention to repeal the stamp duty on newspapers, 14 Feb., and their proposed revision of the game laws, 15 Feb. He secured accounts relating to olive and palm oil consumption, 2 Mar. On 7 Mar. he stated his belief that the ministry’s reform proposals had produced ‘general satisfaction’ throughout the country. Denying next day that the cry for reform was merely a reaction to events in France, he added that the desire for it had existed previously and was a consequence of ‘that ill-fated refusal of this House to transfer the franchise of the borough of East Retford to Birmingham’. He presented a petition against the Leeds and Bradford railway from the owners and occupiers of affected land, 15 Mar. He was added to the committee on the cotton factories bill, 18 Mar. He voted for the second reading of the reform bill, 22 Mar., but when a favourable Yorkshire petition was presented by Morpeth, 28 Mar., he denied that it was the product of a large meeting or that there was a unanimous feeling for reform in that county, although there was a ‘general feeling throughout the country at large’. He voted against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831.

At the ensuing dissolution Bethell retired from Yorkshire, explaining that although he had supported the reform bill thus far, he could not promise to swallow all its details, as he would have preferred ‘a more cautious measure’.21 In November 1831, following the rejection of the bill by the Lords, he instigated a Yorkshire ‘memorial of thanks ... for their conduct’ and a petition for ‘a more temperate’ measure.22 At the 1832 general election he returned to the Commons as Conservative Member for the East Riding of Yorkshire, where he sat until his retirement in 1841. As ‘a Tory agriculturalist’ he continued to play a leading part in county affairs and in 1843 was presented with a full length portrait of himself, paid for by over 700 local supporters.23 He died at Rise on Christmas Day 1864. By his will, dated 14 Dec. 1863, he left the bulk of his property to his nephew Wi1liam Froggart Bethell (1809-89). An obituary commented that Bethell’s ‘acute legal knowledge, business-like habits and courteous demeanour’ had ‘secured for him universal respect and admiration’.24

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Martin Casey


  • 1. PROB 11/1336/86; ir26/39/325.
  • 2. J.T. Ward, E. Yorks Landed Estates in 19th Cent. 39; Gent. Mag. (1865), i.386.
  • 3. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii.439-440; G. Poulson, Hist. Holderness, i.416.
  • 4. The Times, 24 Jan. 1823.
  • 5. Add. 40363, ff. 327, 329.
  • 6. Add. 52011.
  • 7. Yorks. Gazette, 22 Oct. 1825.
  • 8. Castle Howard mss.
  • 9. Yorks. Election 1826, pp. 32-37.
  • 10. Castle Howard mss.
  • 11. Yorks Election 1826, p. 85.
  • 12. Lonsdale mss, Beckett to Lowther, 3 June 1826.
  • 13. Leeds Intelligencer, 15 June; Leeds Mercury, 17 June 1826.
  • 14. Leeds Mercury, 17, 24 June 1826.
  • 15. Add. 40387, f. 207.
  • 16. Fitzwilliam mss 126/1, Tottie to Marshall, 5 July 1826.
  • 17. Leeds Mercury, 17 July; Yorks. Gazette, 17 July 1830.
  • 18. Leeds Intelligencer, 5 Aug. 1830.
  • 19. Leeds Mercury, 7, 14 Aug. 1830.
  • 20. Oxford DNB sub Christopher Bethell.
  • 21. Yorks Gazette, 30 Apr. 1831.
  • 22. Ward, 13.
  • 23. Ibid. 39; G.R. Park, Parl. Rep. Yorks. 32.
  • 24. Yorks. Gazette, 31 Dec. 1864.