RUSSELL, Francis, Mq. of Tavistock (1739-67).

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Constituency

Dates

1761 - 22 Mar. 1767

Family and Education

b. 27 Sept. 1739, o. surv. s. of John, 4th Duke of Bedford, by Gertrude Leveson Gower, da. of John, 1st Earl Gower.  educ. Westminster 1749; Trinity, Camb. 1757-9.  m. 9 June 1764, Lady Elizabeth, da. of William Anne van Keppel, 2nd Earl of Albemarle, 3s. (1 posth.).

Offices Held

M.P. [I] 1759-60.

Biography

Lord Tavistock ‘is by much the most amiable being I ever saw, young or old’, wrote Gilly Williams to George Selwyn, 12 Dec. 1764.1 And Horace Walpole:

If there was a perfectly amiable and unblemished character ... the universal esteem in which the virtues of that young Lord were held, seemed to allow that he was the person.

Tavistock’s own ardent wish (‘my infatuation’) was to enter the army, but ‘in deference to a father to whom his life was so important’, he contented himself with service in the militia.2 Consulted by his father on its affairs while still at Cambridge, in his reply he already showed thorough acquaintance with the subject and good sense.3 In 1759 he joined the Duke, then lord lieutenant of Ireland, and, elected to the Dublin Parliament, ‘moved them to arm’ when an invasion was apprehended.4

Returned for Bedfordshire unopposed in April 1761, he went abroad in October. On 22 Dec. he wrote from Genoa to his friend Thomas Robinson jun.:5 ‘I have already received infinite entertainment from Italy and hope to receive a great, great deal more.’ In Florence at the outbreak of war with Spain, he felt uneasy about being absent from his regiment,6 but never mentioned Parliament: politics do not figure in his correspondence. Back home in May, he spent most of his time with the militia at Northampton, or hunting ‘which I am grown immoderately fond of’.7 Another matter greatly pre-occupied him: according to Walpole, having fallen in love with Lady Pembroke, Tavistock

applied himself to an ardent study of the law for six months to learn by his own knowledge if there was not a possibility of procuring a divorce for a wife on the notorious adultery of her husband.8

‘I have lost the greatest prospect of happiness I had ever formed to myself’, he wrote to Robinson.9

Asked in November 1762 to move an address congratulating the Queen on the birth of the Prince of Wales,10 Tavistock did so on the 26th: his only recorded speech in the House. When in October 1763 Grenville ‘expressed a strong wish it might be possible to prevail on Lord Tavistock to move the address at the opening of the sessions’,11 he declined—on 17 Oct. Sandwich wrote to Grenville:12

I see the D. of B. is well pleased with the offer, and wishes it may take place; as far as his very great delicacy towards his son will allow him to wish anything that is contrary to his inclination.

In March 1763 Tavistock was again in Paris. He wrote on the 16th to Robinson:13 ‘This is a very curious country and everything is upon a very great scale.’ But though he was trying to divest himself of all prejudice for or against his own country, upon the whole he preferred ‘the life of London infinitely (bar politics)’.

In the House he naturally followed his father’s line. But his attendance, even when he was in England, seems to have been irregular. Thus during the struggle over Wilkes and general warrants, on 15 Feb. 1764 he appears in a list sent by Augustus Hervey to Grenville14 with the remark against his name: ‘not there I’m told at the division’. And on 12 May 1765, at a most critical time for the Grenville Government, he wrote to his father from Bedford15 that he heard ‘there has been much business in the House of Commons this last week’, and was ‘extremely sorry not to have been present if you wanted my attendance’; it would be inconvenient to him to leave his regiment, but if absolutely necessary he would come up if told the hour he must be at the House and allowed ‘to quit immediately afterwards’. And on 9 Aug: ‘as to politics, unluckily I have a greater aversion to them than ever, indeed it is so rooted that the very name is hateful to me.’16 Horace Walpole, writing to Lord Hertford, 9 Sept. 1764, referred to ‘Lord Tavistock’s inclination to the minority’—his marriage with Albemarle’s sister may have served as a link with them. Still, in July 1765 he followed his father into opposition, and voted against the repeal of the Stamp Act; and in August 1766 served as uninterested intermediary between Grafton and the Bedford group.17 ‘His parts were neither shining nor contemptible’, writes Horace Walpole.18 For himself he did not desire office, and all that Bedford ever asked for him was, on 1 Dec. 1766, that he ‘be called to the House of Peers’;19 which wish Rigby thus explained to Grenville:20

that Lord Tavistock declared a detestation of all public business, and most particularly of the House of Commons; that this dislike led him to wish to be called up to the House of Peers ... he was persuaded that Lord Tavistock meant, if possible, to decline standing again for Bedfordshire.

Horace Walpole, as usual well informed, writes:

To observers it was clear that he much disapproved the want of principle in the relations and dependants of his parents; yet so respectful was his duty to his father, and so attentive his tenderness to his mother ... that Lord Tavistock’s repugnance to their connections and politics was only observable by his shunning Parliament, and by withdrawing himself from their society to hunting and country sports.

After his marriage, which was very happy, Tavistock settled at Houghton Park House, near Ampthill, which his father had given him. Gentle, generous, and extremely modest, ‘his large fortune’, writes Walpole, ‘he shared with his contemporary friends, assisting them in purchasing commissions’.

Even more remarkable and unusual was his concern for ‘the common people’. When his regiment of militia was being disbanded, he wrote to his father, 19 Dec. 1762,21 that as ‘unluckily this is a very dead time of the year, and the last year’s crops being thin there is not much want of hands in the country’, to prevent his men from being ‘made bad subjects by being drove into idleness or that they should starve for want of employment’, he took it upon himself to tell them that if unable to obtain it, they ‘should find work at Woburn or Ampthill, either from you or your tenants’.

The principle point I always laboured at of preserving their morals and not making them bad countrymen by disciplining them into good soldiers, has succeeded ... I never saw men to the last moment more orderly and well disciplined ... I own I am vain of their behaviour as soldiers but much more so of them as orderly, well-disposed men.

And when in the autumn of 1766 ‘the distresses of the common people’ in the neighbourhood were ‘very great’, and his own crop large, he sold it to the poor at a low price.22

Nothing can have been more quiet than the behaviour of our people has been, though they have suffered very much ... I hope, my dearest father, you will approve of what I have done; indeed, my only distress was, that I should do it when it can’t be done by you, for I understand from Miller you have no wheat by you: however, I am sure this will be a great help to all the country and Woburn and its neighbourhood will come in for a share.

On 10 Mar. 1767 Tavistock was thrown when hunting, and a kick from his horse fractured his skull. He lingered 12 days. ‘No private man was ever more universally the object of public concern’, wrote Hans Stanley to Lady Spencer on the 19th.23 And Edmund Burke to Charles O’Hara, on the 17th: ‘The whole town takes a share in the concern at Bedford House.’ And on the 28th: ‘Never was any grief more general than that for Lord Tavistock.’24

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Sir Lewis Namier

Notes

  • 1. Jesse, Selwyn, i. 331.
  • 2. Mems. Geo. III, ii. 312.
  • 3. 3 Apr. 1759, Bedford mss 39, f. 48.
  • 4. Walpole, Mems. Geo. II, iii. 224.
  • 5. Bedford mss 46, f. 206, misdated ‘1762’.
  • 6. Bedford Corresp. iii. 71-72.
  • 7. Bedford mss 46, f. 96.
  • 8. From a passage in the ms of Mems. Geo. III, in the possession of Lord Waldegrave, omitted by the editor.
  • 9. Bedford mss 46, f. 108.
  • 10. Bedford mss 46, f. 128.
  • 11. Sandwich to Bedford, 12 Oct., Bedford mss 48, f. 158.
  • 12. Grenville mss (JM).
  • 13. Bedford mss 47, f. 68.
  • 14. Grenville mss (JM).
  • 15. Bedford mss 51, f. 58.
  • 16. Bedford Corresp. iii. 15.
  • 17. Grafton, Autobiog, 99-101; Bedford Corresp. iii. 342-3.
  • 18. Mems. Geo. III, ii. 313.
  • 19. Bedford’s ‘Precis of conversation betwixt Lord Chatham and me’, Bedford mss 54, f. 132; Fortescue, i. 421.
  • 20. Grenville Pprs, iii. 379.