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

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen and inhabitant householders

Number of voters:

over 500 in 1690.1


  Double return of Kelyng and Luke.
  KELYNG allowed to sit, 16 May
10 July 1663PAULET ST. JOHN vice Kelyng, appointed to office
30 Dec. 1667SIR WILLIAM BEECHER vice Taylor, deceased
12 Feb. 1679PAULET ST. JOHN
18 Aug. 1679PAULET ST. JOHN
17 Feb. 1681PAULET ST. JOHN

Main Article

Bedford was a borough by prescription, in which the mayor and the two bailiffs acted as returning officers. The corporation had the right to create freemen. Several aristocratic families enjoyed an interest, notably the Wentworths, until the death of the Earl of Cleveland in 1667, the St. Johns of Bletso, and towards the end of the period the Bruces. In the contest between the latter families the recordership was the principal prize at stake. There is no sign of Russell influence during the period. In 1660 the Presbyterian, Sir Samuel Luke, was returned to the Convention with Humphrey Winch, his tenant and kinsman, who became a steady loyalist and moved up to the county seat in 1661. In the borough the Royalists, John Kelyng and Richard Taylor, were returned by two indentures signed by the mayor, bailiffs and burgesses, but Luke produced another indenture signed by the mayor alone, returning himself and Taylor. The House decided that Kelyng should sit until the merits of the election were determined, but no further report appears. On Kelyng’s elevation to the bench in 1663, Paulet St. John was returned, probably unopposed, since his brother, the 2nd Earl of Bolingbroke, had recently succeeded as recorder. The borough received a new charter in 1664, confirming earlier privileges but ordaining that all corporation members should take the oath of supremacy, and requiring royal approval for the appointment of the recorder and the town clerk. On Taylor’s death in 1667, Sir William Beecher, later a country party supporter, was returned, probably unopposed, on the interest of the St. Johns, to whom he was connected by his first marriage. His account book2 suggests that he enjoyed the support of the mayor and possibly that of the under-sheriff. He spent £73 9s. on the election as follows:-

Given to Mr Mayor to distribute to most of the inns and alehouses in tobacco as he should most think fit, and how to proportion it4360
To Mr Walker at the Swan for wine, beer, tobacco, lunches23100
Bell ringers126
Brewers and sword carriers150
Under-sheriff and his men150
Town officers200
Poor 130
Servants at Swan 76


In the election to the Exculsion Parliaments, none of which is known to have been contested, Bedford was represented by the exclusionists St. John and Sir William Francklyn. Early in 1681 the Privy Council inquired whether the members of Bedford corporation had complied with the Corporation Act by taking the sacrament in church. The two chamberlains who had omitted to do so were suspended. At the instigation of the Earl of Ailesbury (Robert Bruce*), Audley, Bolingbroke's deputy was accused of favouring dissenters. Called before the Council, he emphasized his earlier royalism, testified to his present loyalty, and was discharged, but he and other corporation officials remained suspect. Anxious to purge the corporation of Whiggism, Ailesbury found an ally in the town clerk, Cobb. Their chance came after the Rye House Plot. The townsmen hastened to congratulate Charles II on his escape, but the corporation was more tardy. On 24 July 1683, shortly after the execution of the Hon. William Russell*, one of their freemen, the corporation passed a resolution abhorring the Plot, but decided to defer further action until they had more details about the townsmen's address. This had, in fact, already been presented, and the corporation were in an awkward position, regarded as lukewarm amid the general expressions of loyalty. In September, Cobb succeeded as mayor, Audley was replaced as deputy recorder, and soon after, probably at the instigation of the Bruces, 76 new burgesses were made in order to 'tune' the corporation and create a Tory majority at the next election. Yielding to quo warranto proceedlings, Bedford surrendered its charter in January 1684. Ailesbury, who replaced Bolingbroke as recorder under the new charter, brought it down to the borough on 19 July.3

For the 1685 election Judge Jeffreys visited Bedford in person and ordered the mayor to hold the election the next day, 'which the mayor showed some aversion to, because it was usual to give greater notice, but my lord chief justice over-ruled him'. Two Tories, Sir Anthony Chester and Thomas Christie, probably standing on the Bruce interest, were returned 'with the whole assent and consent of the rest of the burgesses and commonalty there'. Chester had property at Lidlington, some eight miles from Bedford, and Christie, an attorney, was a local resident and benefactor. Dissent was never factor in Bedford, though the number of dissenters had been estimated in 1676 at 120. But in November 1687 John Eston, whose father had been one of the founders of Bunyan's Baptist congregation wrote to the Roman Catholic Earl of Peterborough that Bunyan and other leading dissenters were unanimous for electing Members who would vote for repeal of the Test and Penal Laws. They were certain to win if Thomas Bruce*, who had succeeded his afther both as lord lieutenant of the county and recorder of the borough, used his influence with the church party. Eston stated that he had proposed Audley, 'who when in power was very indulgent to all dissenters', and his successor Sir Edmund Gardiner. But the dissenters insisted that Eston should stand himself. In a further letter on 6 Dec. he wrote that William Foster, commissary for the archdeaconry of Bedford and a prominent persecutor of dissenters, had offered to stand with him. Foster, whom Bunyan called 'a right Judas', now declared himself willing to submit the Test Act and Penal Laws 'to his Majesty's pleasure'. Eston claimed that the dissenters firmly supported his curious combination, but they faced opposition, notably from the clergy and some of the corporation, because they favoured repeal and were the King's nominees.

The chief of our opposers, the lord lieutenant (I presume) can otherways influence, if he will heartily endeavour it by his letter to Mr [Thomas] Christie, the mayor and alderman, and the clergy who are the lieutenant's votaries.

Bruce, now 2nd Earl of Ailesbury, did in fact, write to the corporation on behalf of the court candidates. The mayor replied on 19 Dec.:

In obedience to your honour's commands, I this day summoned a council and did acquaint them with what your Lordship said, that my Lord Peterborough had acquainted his Majesty that Dr Foster and Mr Eston are fit persons to serve; but the election is not in the corporation alone, but that every inhabitant  (not taking collection nor being a sojourner and no freeman) hath a vote; therefore they cannot give assurance how the majority of voices will determine.

As a result, the corporation was purged in January 1688 of the mayor, three aldermen and four common councilmen, to be followed in March by a further four aldermen, two common councilmen, the clerk of peace and the town clerk. Of those who replaced them, a number were prominent members of Bunyan's congregation. The corporation were now ready to thank James for the Declaration of Indulgence and promised 'to endeavour ... the election of two such burgesses to represent his corporation in the next Parliament as will concur with your Majesty's purposes signified in your said gracious declaration'. In September Sunderland wrote to Ailesbury confirming the candidature of Eston and Foster, but it was not to be. The election to the Convention saw the return of the Tory Christie with Thomas Hillersden, a Whig and a connexion of the St. Johns.4

Authors: Leonard Naylor / Geoffrey Jaggar


  • 1. CJ, x. 576.
  • 2. Bedford Corp. Recs. 20-21, 22; CJ, viii. 250; Beds. RO, PO3, f. 42.
  • 3. J. Brown, John Bunyan, 328-32.
  • 4. R. Morrice, Entering Bk. 1, p. 547; Beds. Hist. Rec. Soc. xx. 159, 201, 202-3; Duckett, Penal Laws (1883), 55, 59-61; Farrar, 203; PC 2/72, ff. 588, 640; Brown, 306; London Gazette, 31 May 1688; CSP Dom. 1687-9, p. 273.