Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1715-1754, ed. R. Sedgwick, 1970
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of voters:

about 2,500


16 Feb. 1715JOHN HARVEY1263
 John Cater1246
 Sir Pynsent Chernock1229
 CATER vice Harvey, on petition, 19 July 1715 
4 Apr. 1722CHARLES LEIGH1192
 William Hillersden1091
1 Sept. 17271PATTEE BYNG1343
 Sir John Chester1030
 Sir Humphrey Monoux1029
16 Feb. 1733CHARLES LEIGH vice Byng, called to the Upper House 
24 Apr. 1734JOHN SPENCER1333
 Charles Leigh1039
26 Feb. 1735SIR ROGER BURGOYNE vice Spencer, chose to sit for Woodstock 
5 Dec. 1753JOHN FITZPATRICK, Earl of Upper Ossory vice Osborn, appointed to office 

Main Article

From 1715 to 1754, although the Whig and Tory strengths were about equal in the county and the earlier elections were stoutly contested, only three Tories were returned, one of whom was unseated on petition. Till the reign of George II the principal Whig influence lay in the Duke of Kent, who wrote to Walpole, 15 Dec. 1733: I have no fear that the county will go at any time against my inclination, having never lost any election here these 30 years, but I have been thought of late a person of so little consequence and so much out of the world that I think the less I have to do in any of these matters the better.2 His place was taken by the 4th Duke of Bedford, who succeeded his brother in 1732 and by 1754 not only controlled one seat but also influenced the choice of the other Member.

In 1715 the sitting Tory Members were ousted by two Whigs, whom they had defeated in 1713, one, John Cater, being seated on petition. Cater did not stand in 1722, when Charles Leigh, a Tory, was returned with Sir Rowland Alston, a Whig. In October 1726, although the next election was not due for three years, the 3rd Duke of Bedford, then aged 18, summoned a meeting of the country gentlemen without distinction of party at the Tory inn, the Bell, in Bedford. According to Lady Sarah Osborn, mother of Sir Danvers Osborn, the Whigs decided to attend but ‘the oddness of the messenger [would] not permit the Duke of Kent nor my father [Lord Torrington] to go’. However, they decided that if Bedford ‘proposed anybody to set up, that then they should oppose any Tory and name another’, who was to be Samuel Ongley. It was thought that Bedford intended ‘to have Leigh and [Sir Humphrey] Monoux who are both good Tories ... Duke Bedford is a giddy hot-headed creature or he would not delight to study an expensive election to his neighbours’.3 Next year, after the King’s death, Lord Trevor wrote to his son:

The Duke of Bedford refuses to come into a compromise which hath been offered of having Mr. Leigh and Sir Rowland Alston chosen again and resolves to set up two new ones by his own power and without asking the consent of any body, who are Sir John Chester and Sir Humphrey Monoux. This way of proceeding, which tends to make my prestige in the county wholly insignificant, hath determined me to assist Mr. Byng, the Lord Torrington’s son, and Sir Rowland Alston with my interest.4

Both the Bedford Tories were beaten by some 300 votes. In 1734 the 4th Duke of Bedford sponsored Alston and John Spencer, the Duchess of Marlborough’s grandson, against Leigh, who had come in again at a by-election. The Duchess wrote characteristically to her grand-daughter Diana, Duchess of Bedford, on 19 Apr. 1734 that John Spencer, who was also standing at Woodstock,

is of no manner of use in the Bedfordshire election, the Duke of Bedford, my Lord Carteret and their agents managing the whole, and is only to ride about as a fine young man in the chair ... I heartily wish that the Duke of Bedford may succeed in Bedfordshire, which I own I am very doubtful of ... I should rather have had Sir John Austen or Leigh or any other Tory elected, without my joining with so bad a man as Alston ... It is no honour, even to the Duke of Bedford ... to carry an election in his own county by the assistance of a certain enemy to the public ... I learnt last night from my Lady Carteret that they have been forced to buy Sir Humphrey Monoux and his interest for John by the Duke of Marlborough’s choosing him at Stockbridge, who picked the late Duke of Bedford’s pocket.5

Alston was again returned with Spencer, who chose to sit for Woodstock, whereupon Sir Roger Burgoyne, another Whig, came in unopposed at the ensuing by-election. The 1741 election was compromised in favour of Sir John Chester, a Tory, and Burgoyne, but in 1747 two government Whigs were unopposed. In the 2nd Lord Egmont’s electoral survey, c.1749-50, each of them is put down as ‘to continue— not an improper man’, though Sir Danvers Osborn was to die by his own hand in 1753 and Thomas Alston was frequently not ‘in any tolerable state of sanity’ even for Parliament. At the 1753 by-election Lord Upper Ossory, Bedford’s brother-in-law, was returned unopposed after the Tories had attended the county meeting and ‘declared their concurrence’, which seemed to Lord Hardwicke to be ‘something odd’.6

Author: R. S. Lea


  • 1. Ms copy of poll, Orlebar mss 1828, Beds. RO.
  • 2. Duke of Kent to Walpole, 15 Dec. 1733, Cholmondeley (Houghton) mss.
  • 3. E. F. D. Osborn, 18th Cent. 38-39.
  • 4. Ld. Trevor to his son, 30 June 1727, Bedford mss.
  • 5. G. S. Thomson, Letters of a Grandmother, 113-14.
  • 6. Philip Yorke to Hardwicke, 5 Aug. 1753, and Hardwicke to Yorke, 9 Aug. 1753, Add. 35351, ff. 248-51, 256-8.