BERNARD, Robert (?1739-89), of Brampton, Hunts.
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Family and Education
b. ?1739, o.s. of Sir John Bernard, 4th Bt., of Brampton by Mary, da. and coh. of Sir Francis St. John, 1st Bt., of Longthorpe, Northants. educ. Westminster, Ch. Ch. Oxf. 10 May 1758, aged 18. unm. suc. fa. as 5th Bt. 15 Dec. 1766.
Recorder, Bedford 1771- d.
The Bernards were an old Huntingdonshire family, and in the 17th century had sat for Huntingdon. Sir Robert Bernard alone represented the county.
At the general election of 1761 the Duke of Manchester and Lord Sandwich agreed for the duration of that Parliament each to recommend one Member for the county; and on the retirement of Lord Charles Greville Montagu in 1765 Bernard was returned unopposed as Manchester’s candidate. No vote or speech by him is recorded between 1765 and 1768; he was classed by Rockingham November 1766, as ‘doubtful’, by Townshend, January 1767 as ‘country gentleman’, and by Newcastle, March 1767, as ‘Tory’. Probably he supported both the Rockingham and Chatham Administrations. Sandwich wrote to Newcastle, 29 Sept. 1767, that Bernard was ‘in close connexion with Lord Shelburne’,1 but there is no correspondence from him in Shelburne’s papers at Bowood.
In November 1766 Manchester and Bernard quarrelled,2 and at the general election of 1768 Bernard stood against candidates supported by both Manchester and Sandwich. ‘The Duke of Manchester intends writing to Sir Robert’, wrote Lord Ludlow to Sandwich, 25 Mar. 1767,3 ‘to say that he is convinced his standing can answer no other end but that of making a disturbance in the county.’ But Bernard persisted. ‘Sir Robert ... says’, wrote Lady Sarah Osborn to her nephew, John, 29 Sept. 1767,4 ‘he has £45,000 in his banker’s hands, and will spend it all in opposition to Hinchingbrooke and Carysfort for county Huntingdon’; and Manchester to Rockingham, 6 Dec. 1767:5 ‘His agents promise everything, land, money, places, and throw away sums without use or discretion.’ Sandwich and Manchester rated him a formidable opponent, and were assiduous in their canvassing. Bernard obtained 666 votes, and was 138 behind his nearest opponent.
In 1769 Bernard helped to found the Bill of Rights Society, and henceforth belonged to the radical movement. In 1770, sponsored by Wilkes, he became a candidate for Westminster; the radical party in the city agreed to bear the expense of the election; and Bernard was returned unopposed. His only recorded speech (11 Mar. 1773, on a bill to restrain stock jobbing), was commonplace. In 1771 he voted for the dissolution of the Bill of Rights Society, joined the rival Constitutional Society, and broke with Wilkes. Hence in 1774 he was dropped by the Westminster radicals, nor is he known to have contested any other constituency.
In 1769 he had intervened at Bedford against the Duke of Bedford and had secured control of the corporation. In 1774 a candidate in his interest contested the borough, and another was elected in 1780 and 1784.6 In Huntingdonshire he led the reform movement, closely associated with the 2nd Lord Carysfort, and was chairman of the Huntingdonshire Association of 1780. ‘He was a warm supporter of the attempt ... to procure an equal representation of the people in Parliament’, wrote an obituary;7 but ‘violent attacks of the gout’ compelled him to retire from politics.
He died 2 Jan. 1789.