Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Russell, Francis (1765-1802)

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RUSSELL, FRANCIS, fifth Duke of Bedford (1765–1802), baptised at St. Giles-in-the-Fields on 23 July 1765, was son of Francis Russell, marquis of Tavistock, who was killed by a fall from his horse on 22 March 1767. His mother, Elizabeth, sixth daughter of William (Keppel), second earl of Albemarle, died of consumption at Lisbon on 2 Nov. 1768, aged 28. Succeeding his grandfather, John Russell, fourth duke of Bedford [q. v.], in 1771, he was educated for a time at Loughborough House, near London, and was admitted on 30 May 1774 to Westminster School. He entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1780. The greater part of 1784 and 1785 he spent in foreign travel, returning from the continent in August 1786, a few weeks after attaining his majority. He took his seat in the House of Lords on 5 Dec. 1787.

Bedford, although he showed much character, owed little to his education. At the age of twenty-four he had scarcely ever opened a book. He told Lord Holland (Memoirs of the Whig Party, i. 78) in 1793 that he hesitated to address the House of Lords from a fear of exposing himself by speaking incorrect English. In politics he shared the whig views of his family, and accepted Fox as his political leader. When, in 1792, the Duke of Portland called a meeting of the whigs at Burlington House to consider the propriety of supporting the proclamation against seditious writings and democratic conspiracies, Bedford withdrew on learning that Fox had not been invited. An intimacy with Lord Lauderdale [see Maitland, James, eighth Earl] strengthened his attachment to Fox, and encouraged him to overcome the defects of his education. He soon nerved himself to take a part in debate, and became in the course of two sessions a leading debater in the House of Lords. Deficient in wit and imagination, though exceptionally fluent, he was not a lively speaker, but by perspicuity of statement and solidity of argument he arrested the attention of his audience. He had another great defect: he always seemed ‘to treat the understandings of his adversaries with contempt, and the decision and even the good will of the audience which he addressed with utter indifference’ (Lord Holland).

When the bill for suspending the Habeas Corpus Act was passed, on 22 May 1794, Bedford signed a protest with four other peers. A few days later he brought forward a motion for peace which had been previously submitted by Fox to the other house and rejected by a large majority. It was defeated in the lords by 113 to 13. In November 1795 he strenuously opposed the ministry's bill extending the law of treason. But when Pitt appealed for the great loan of 18,000,000l. at 5 per cent., the duke, ‘though in strenuous opposition, subscribed 100,000l.’ (Stanhope).

Bedford joined the circle of the Prince of Wales's friends, and was one of the two unmarried dukes who supported him at his marriage to the Princess Caroline of Brunswick on 8 April 1795. ‘My brother,’ writes Lord John Russell, ‘told me that the prince was so drunk that he could scarcely support him from falling’ (Lord Holland).

Some severe strictures passed by Bedford on the grant of a pension to Burke incited Burke to publish in 1796 his famous ‘Letter to a Noble Lord on the Attacks made upon him and his Pension in the House of Lords by the Duke of Bedford and the Earl of Lauderdale, early in the present Sessions of Parliament, 1796.’ Burke steeped his pen in gall, and drew a parallel between his own pension and the grants to the house of Russell which ‘were so enormous as not only to outrage economy, but even to stagger credibility. The duke is the leviathan among the creatures of the crown. … Huge as he is, he is still a creature. His ribs, his fins, his whalebone, his blubber, the very spiracles through which he spouts a torrent of brine against his origin, and covers me all over with the spray—everything of him and about him is from the throne. Is it for him to question the dispensation of the royal favour? Mine was from a mild and benevolent sovereign, his from Henry the Eighth.’ The ‘Anti-Jacobin’ versified Burke's attack, and in the ‘New Morality’ apostrophised the duke as

    Thou Leviathan, on ocean's brim,
    Hugest of things that sleep and swim;
    Thou, in whose nose, by Burke's gigantic hand
    The hook was fixed to drag thee to the land.

Gillray followed up the attack in a caricature called ‘The Republican Rattlesnake Fox fascinating the Bedford Squirrel’ (16 Nov. 1796). The duke, with unpowdered hair and a squirrel's body, is falling into the capacious jaws of the rattlesnake coiled round the tree.

On 30 May 1797 the duke moved an address to the king praying him to dismiss his ministers. It was negatived by 94 to 14; the protest was signed only by the duke and Lord Chedworth. Later in the year the ill-advised secession of the opposition from parliament was largely due to his initiative. On 22 March 1798 he repeated his motion for the dismissal of the ministry, and in June he signed two protests against the methods used in repressing the rebellion in Ireland.

Bedford directed many changes and alterations on his property at Woburn and in London. At Woburn the great stables, which were originally part of the cloisters of the abbey, were replaced by a suite of rooms. In London, Bedford House, Bloomsbury, built by Inigo Jones, with its gardens, was demolished. The pictures and statues were sold on the spot by Christie on 7 May 1800, and Russell Square (one of the largest in London) and Tavistock Square were erected on the site. He removed his London residence to Arlington Street. ‘The principal employment of the duke's later years was agriculture’ (Fox). He was nominated a member of the original board of agriculture in 1793, and was first president of the Smithfield Club (17 Dec. 1798). He established a model farm at Woburn, with ‘every convenience that could be desired for the breeding of cattle and experiments in farming.’ He himself made some valuable experiments, which are recorded by Arthur Young (Annals of Agriculture, 1795), upon the respective merits of the various breeds of sheep. He also started at Woburn annual exhibitions of sheep-shearing which lasted for days, and to which the whole agricultural world was invited. Ploughing and other competitions took place, wool and other products were sold, various exhibits were made and prizes given, the week concluding with banquets to the duke's numerous guests at the abbey.

The duke died, unmarried, at Woburn on 2 March 1802, after an operation for strangulated hernia. His will runs: ‘I, Francis, Duke of Bedford, do give all my personal estate to my brother, Lord John Russell.’ Five thousand pounds was paid to Fox in accordance with his last wishes. He was buried at Chenies on 10 March, at night. His brother John succeeded him as sixth duke [see under Russell, Lord John, first Earl Russell].

On 16 March Fox, in moving that a new writ be issued for the borough of Tavistock in the room of Lord John Russell, sixth duke of Bedford, passed a long and eloquent eulogy on his friend. The motion was seconded by Sheridan. Fox sent his oration to the ‘Monthly Magazine,’ and stated that ‘he had never before attempted to make a copy of any speech which he had delivered in public.’ The report, in Fox's handwriting, is still preserved at Woburn (Stanhope).

A statue by Sir Richard Westmacott was erected to the duke in Russell Square in 1809. One hand is resting on a plough, while the other holds some ears of corn. A bust by Nollekens was engraved to supply a frontispiece to the ‘General View of the Agriculture of the County of Bedford’ (1808). At Woburn is a portrait by Hoppner.

[Lord Holland's Memoirs of the Whig Party, 1852; Stanhope's Life of Pitt, 1862; Great Governing Families of England; Thorold Rogers's Protests of the House of Lords, 1875; The Anti-Jacobin (Edmonds's edit.), 1890; Burke's Letter to a Noble Lord, 1796; Recollections of the Table Talk of Samuel Rogers, ed. Maltby, 1887; Parliamentary History; G. E. C.'s Peerage of England; Lysons's Bedfordshire, 1813; Boswell's Life of Johnson, ed. Hill; Wiffen's Historical Memoirs of the House of Russell, 1833; Times; Gent. Mag.; Clarke's Agriculture and the House of Russell, 1891 (reprinted from Journal of Royal Agricultural Society, II. 3rd ser. pt. i.); information kindly furnished by the present Duke of Bedford and the Dowager Duchess.]

E. L. R.