Londina Illustrata. Graphic and Historical Memorials of Monasteries, Churches, Chapels, Schools, Charitable Foundations, Palaces, Halls, Courts, Processions, Places of Early Amusement, and Modern Present Theatres, in the Cities and Suburbs of London and Westminster, Volume 1
Bedford House, Bloomsbury Square.
Bedford House, Bloomsbury Square.
This spacious mansion occupied the north side of , and for more than a century was the town residence of the noble family of Russell, Earls and Dukes of Bedford. It was built under the direction of Inigo Jones, on the site of an ancient mansion called Southampton House, belonging to Thomas Wriothesley[*] , Earl of Southampton, Lord High Treasurer to Charles II. This nobleman's daughter, Rachael, and at length sole heiress, was married to Francis, Lord Vaughan, eldest son of Richard, Earl of Carberry; but early becoming a widow, she took to her husband the illustrious but unfortunate William, Lord Russell, and by this union, on the death of her father, , conveyed the estate (including the ground on which Montagu House, now the , was built) to the Russell family, in which it still remains.
In the year Bedford House was taken down, and upon the site of the house, court, and gardens, a number of large houses called , , and west side of , with those on the north side of and south side of , were erected by order of the late Duke of Bedford, who died . And a noble statue of him in , opposite , has the following inscription on the pedestal: Francis, Duke of Bedford, erected MDCCCIX.
In this house the patriot Lord Russell and his lady passed the happiest of their days; but his lordship's zeal for the Protestant religion induced his publicly going to Hall, and there, at the King's Bench, presenting the Duke of York as a recusant. And the active part he took in the Bill for the exclusion of the Duke from the crown, which he carried up to the , , at the head of more than of the , cost him his life. Sir William Temple writes, that his setting himself at the head of these affairs, had a great influence on the House, being a person in general repute for an honest worthy gentleman, without tricks or private ambition, and who was known to venture as great a stake as any subject of England.
Lord Russell was accused of being concerned in the Rye House Plot; and though he knew of a messenger being sent for him, before he was apprehended, and might have escaped, he suspected that would give the court too great an advantage, and like confessing of guilt, which he was not conscious of, having no thought of the discourse that had passed at Shepherd's where he was tasting of wines. It is reported he had just sat down to dinner with his lady, at the time of his apprehension, and that from that period to the time of her ladyship's death, that apartment was closed, and not an article in it disturbed.
He was brought to his trial at the , ; and the most that was proved against him was, his being present where treasonable matter was discoursed, without bearing a part in that discourse, or giving any assent by words or otherwise to what was so discoursed, which amounted but to misprision or concealment of treason. He was a man of so much candour, that he spoke little as to the fact; for being advised not to tell the whole truth, he said he could not speak against that he knew to be true, though in some particulars it had been carried beyond the truth against him, and he was not allowed to make the difference; so he left it wholly with the jury, who brought in their verdict against him for high treason, upon which he received sentence of death.
He had the fortitude afterward, when Lord Cavendish offered to change clothes with him in the prison, and remain there while he made his escape, to reject the request, and not suffer his friend to expose himself to so much danger. Lord Russell bore his misfortunes with magnanimity, and only in instances appeared to be moved with any apparent weakness. After the last tender parting with his lady was over, he ejaculated with uncommon emphasis, Now the bitterness of death is over! And when he passed in sight of his house (the late Bedford House in ) then called Southampton House from its former owners, in the way to the place of execution in , the tears started in his eyes, on the recollection of the happy domestic hours he had there spent. He was beheaded , in the year of his age.
Lady Russell endured the separation from her husband, and his untimely death, with, if possible, more than Roman fortitude, and the patience of a devout Christian; but neither the tears of England, nor the parliamentary abolition of the attainder nor the ducal honours conferred on her family, could make her cease to mourn the violent death of her lord. While Archbishop Tillotson lived, he was her comforter and counsellor; nor did he think it lessened his reputation to ask advice of so much worth and knowledge. Constant weeping impaired her sight; she was couched, but blindness ensued; and she died, , at the age of ; surviving the death of Lord Russell years, months, and days.
On the advancement of the Prince and Princess of Orange to the throne, the nation entertained such a sense of Lord Russell's innocence and great merit, that on the -, an Act was passed for annulling and making void the attainder of William Russell, Esq. commonly called Lord Russell. And on the , his father, the aged Earl of Bedford, was created Marquis of Tavistock and Duke of Bedford, by letters patent of King William and Queen Mary.
Among other reasons for bestowing these honours, it is set forth:
The Earls of Bedford, previous to the occupation of this house, had their town residence on the north side of , when when Edward VI, in the year , had no sooner granted the precinct of Covent Garden, with its appurtenances, to John of Earl of Bedford, than he erected a house therein for the use of himself and family. This house, which stood till the year , occupied the lower end of the present , and was called Bedford House. It was a mean wooden building, shut up from the street by an ordinary brick wall, with a garden on the north, whose northern boundary ran along where the front of the southern row of buildings of Covent Garden is at present situate; without which, where the street now is, the market was kept. But Southampton and Tavistock Streets, with Southampton Passage, being erected on the site and gardens of Bedford House, the market was removed further into the square, where it has ever since continued.
The of the Bedford family that resided in Bedford House, , after Lord William Russell, was his son Wriothesley, the Duke, who had his Christian name from his maternal grandfather the last Earl of that family.
Beside the mansion in , the Earls of Southampton had a spacious house in , formerly called Lincoln Place, on the site of which is formed the present . The only part of the ancient building that remains is the chapel, which was rented by the late Mr. Lockyer Davis as a warehouse for books.
It was not the sight of the house in that excited the feeling of Lord Russell in his way to the place of execution, but the view of the house in Bloomsbury, which then was not obscured by the numerous houses and streets that have since sprung up on the site of what was then open fields. Of the old Southampton House there is a small view to be seen in Aggas' Plan of London, published in the year , in which it appears to centre in a park, without any house or other building in its neighbourhood, except the old church of in the distance; but the ground has since been covered by squares and streets to the very extremity of Kentish Town.
Bedford House and offices occupied the whole north side of : this mansion, exclusive of the basement, was only of story in height, but the apartments were spacious and magnificent.
Lady Rachael Russell, in a letter to Dr. Fitzwilliam, dated - ( years and a half after the death of Lord Russell) gives an interesting account of the destruction of the neighbouring Montagu House by fire, in which it will be perceived, that her own was in danger of participating the same fate. The passage runs thus:
— LONDINA ILLUSTRATA,
[*] There is a unique print purchased by Sir M. M. Sykes, Bart. which forms one of the principal features of his very extensive and valuable collection of engraved English Portraits, of Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton (the friend of the favourite Essex and patron of Shakspeare), on horseback, accompanied by his gallant companion in arms, Henry Vere, Earl of Oxford, a fac-simile of which has been made by the publisher of this work.