Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of voters:

under 2,0001


9 Apr. 1660ROBERT BRUCE, Lord Bruce 
10 Apr. 1661ROBERT BRUCE, Lord Bruce 
2 May 1664SIR JOHN NAPIER, Bt. vice  Bruce, called to the Upper House 
 Sir Henry Chester 
18 Feb. 1679WILLIAM RUSSELL, Lord Russell 
 Thomas Bruce, Lord Bruce 
1 Sept. 1679WILLIAM RUSSELL, Lord Russell 
14 Feb. 1681WILLIAM RUSSELL, Lord Russell 
 Hon. Edward Russell744
 Sir Humphrey Monoux, Bt.6342

Main Article

Lord Ailesbury, himself an unsuccessful candidate for Bedfordshire in this period, regretted that the device of a preliminary gentry meeting had not taken root in this small county, and three of the elections were certainly contested. In the second half of the period these ‘senseless and expensive animosities’ can be ascribed to the rivalry of the courtly Bruces of Ampthill and the Russells of Woburn, whose name was to become almost synonymous with Whiggery. The interest of the 5th Earl of Bedford in politics was minimal, however, and in 1660 and 1661 Lord Bruce was returned with a country gentleman for partner. In the Convention, Bruce, who had been instructed by Sir Edward Hyde to stand, was accompanied by Samuel Browne, a successful Presbyterian lawyer who was raised to the bench in November; but no writ was issued for a by-election, perhaps because Bruce was already determined to promote (Sir) Humphrey Winch, one of the borough Members, to the county seat. When Bruce succeeded to the peerage in 1664 as Earl of Ailesbury, he apparently intended that Sir Henry Chester, who had sat for the county under the Protectorate, should succeed him. But Chester was opposed by Sir John Napier, a nephew of the and Earl of Bridgwater, with the support of the Earl of Cleveland, who shared the lord lieutenancy with Ailesbury. On 13 Mar. 1664, Chester asked Ailesbury to ensure that the election was held at Ampthill, not Bedford, ‘the latter having been drawn on by the Earl of Bridgwater and assented to by Lord Cleveland’. The election did, in fact, take place at Ampthill, but Chester was defeated on the poll. In accordance with his petition of May, the sheriff was ordered to bring in a list of the voters to the committee of elections. By late November he still had not done so, but on 13 Feb. 1665 the House upheld Napier’s election without a division.3

Winch transferred to Marlow after the sale of his Bedfordshire property and Napier did not stand again. At the first general election of 1679, Ailesbury’s son, Thomas Bruce, and his partner, whose name is not stated, were opposed by two exclusionists, Lord Russell and Sir Humphrey Monoux. After three days’ polling Bruce lost the election, to his father’s wrath, by 500 votes. The cost of the campaign was estimated at £6,000, and Bruce himself later declared that he had spent £2,000. He bitterly asserted that some of his promised support had ‘basely betrayed us by the instigation of my Lord Russell’. Russell was invited to stand again in August in a letter signed by most of the country gentry, and when the King ordered Bruce, who had a safe seat at Marlborough, to go into Bedfordshire ‘to make an interest for to have good Members chosen’, he replied that it was impossible to withstand the Russell interest. Russell and Monoux were thus returned, probably unopposed. In 1681 Russell was met by more than 3,000 horsemen on his way to Bedford, and welcomed by the mayor and corporation half a mile from the town. Monoux, who was indisposed, was not present, but at the Sessions House the sitting Members were returned unanimously. The freeholders presented Russell with a paper reminding the candidates to strive for the six basic principles for which they had first been elected; namely, the right to petition for redress of just grievances, regular meetings of Parliament, the repeal of the Act of 1592 ‘whereby all true Protestants might possibly, in case of a Popish successor, be liable to utter ruin, abjuration and perpetual banishment’, the maintenance of the Protestant religion, the abolition of Popery, and the exclusion of a Popish successor. Bruce, who had declined to stand, later wrote: ‘It was not in my father’s power nor mine to bring it up near a majority of votes. The Russell faction was like a spring tide at full moon.’4

The tide had ebbed by 1685. Thomas Bruce later wrote that ‘our interest carried it clear from that of the Russells, so triumphant in the late troublesome times’. Nevertheless, he himself preferred to stand for Wiltshire, and William Boteler, one of the successful candidates, seems to have been a moderate Whig. A loyal address congratulating James II on his accession promised to return such Members ‘as shall be agreeable to your Majesty’. Though this was signed both by Lord Bedford and his eldest surviving son, the Hon. Edward Russell, the latter stood with Monoux. Shortly before the poll the Bedfordshire grand jury ‘were induced by the lord chief justice [Jeffreys] to nominate such persons as he proposed to them’, presumably the Bruce candidates, Boteler and Sir Villiers Chernock. There were clearly a number of Whig abstentions from the poll, and also many wasted votes. No less than 115 electors plumped for Russell and 86 for Boteler. The latter was returned at the head of the poll, though he yielded the senior seat to his social superior, Chernock. Monoux died later in the year. The Bruce interest, already undermined by the Roman Catholic Earl of Peterborough in 1688, collapsed with the Revolution, and in 1689 Russell was returned with another Whig, William Duncombe.5

Authors: Leonard Naylor / Geoffrey Jaggar


  • 1. Beaufort mss, Lord to Lady Worcester, 22 Feb. 1679.
  • 2. Beds. RO, CH 15/1.
  • 3. Ailesbury Mems. i. 183; Cal. Cl. SP, iv. 580, 672; HMC 15th zsth Rep. VII, 172; CJ, viii. 563, 568.
  • 4. Ailesbury Mems. i. 33, 40, 53; BL, M636/32, Sir Ralph to Edmund Verney, 21 Feb. 1679, Edmund to Sir Ralph Verney, 24 Feb. 1679; Bodl. Carte 60, f. 670; J. Russell, Lord William Russell (1820), ii. 242-3; Smith’s Prot. Intell. 18 Feb. 1681.
  • 5. Ailesbury Mems. i. 53, 100; Savernake mss.; R. Morrice, Entering Bk. 1, p. 547; Beds. RO, CH 15/1.