Richard Bethell, 1st Baron Westbury

The Right Honourable
The Lord Westbury
Lord Chancellor
In office
26 June 1861  7 July 1865
Monarch Victoria
Prime Minister The Viscount Palmerston
Preceded by The Lord Campbell
Succeeded by The Lord Cranworth
Personal details
Born 30 June 1800 (1800-06-30)
Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire
Died 20 July 1873 (1873-07-21) (aged 73)
Lancaster Gate, London
Nationality British
Political party Liberal
Spouse(s) Ellinor Abraham (m. 1823; her death 1863)
Eleanor Tennant (m. 1873)
Alma mater Wadham College, Oxford
Lord Westbury by Michele Gordigiani.

Richard Bethell, 1st Baron Westbury PC QC MP DCL (30 June 1800 20 July 1873) was a British lawyer, judge and Liberal politician. He served as Lord Chancellor of Great Britain between 1861 and 1865. He was knighted in 1852 and raised to the peerage in 1861.[1]

Background and education

Born at Bradford on Avon, in Wiltshire, he was the eldest son of the physician Richard Bethell of Bristol and Jane (née Baverstock). He was from an old Welsh family originally named Ap Ithel. His younger brother was John Bethell.[2] He was educated in Bath and Bristol before attending Wadham College, Oxford at only 14 years old. He received a scholarship the next year. He took first-class honors in classics and second class in mathematics, and he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1818, having been elected a fellow.[1][3] In 1823, Bethell was called to the bar at the Middle Temple.[3][4]


Westbury was made a Queen's Counsel in 1840 was appointed vice-chancellor of the County Palatine of Lancaster in 1851.[3] His most important public service was the reform of the then existing mode of legal education, a reform which ensured that students before call to the bar should have at least some acquaintance with the elements of the subject which they were to profess.[1]

In 1847, he ran unsuccessfully for Parliament; contesting Shaftesbury, he lost to Whig politician Richard Brinsley Sheridan.[1] He was successful in his second attempt in 1851, when he was elected for Aylesbury. Attaching himself to the liberals, he became Solicitor General in 1852, on whose occasion he was made a Knight Bachelor. He was nominated Attorney-General in 1856 and again in 1859, serving both times for two years. He represented Wolverhampton from 1859–61. [1]

On 26 June 1861, on the death of Lord Campbell, he was appointed Lord Chancellor and raised to the peerage as Baron Westbury, of Westbury, in the County of Wiltshire.[5] Owing to the reception by parliament of reports of committees nominated to consider the circumstances of certain appointments in the Leeds Bankruptcy Court, as well as the granting a pension to a Mr Leonard Edmunds, a clerk in the patent office, and a clerk of the parliaments, the lord chancellor felt it incumbent upon him to resign his office, which he accordingly did on 5 July 1865, and was succeeded by Robert Rolfe, 1st Baron Cranworth. After his resignation he continued to take part in the judicial sittings of the House of Lords and the Privy Council until his death. In 1872 he was appointed arbitrator under the European Assurance Society Act 1872.


Perhaps the best known of his decision was the judgment delivering the opinion of the judicial committee of the privy council in 1863 against the heretical character of certain extracts from the well-known publication Essays and Reviews. His principal legislative achievements were the passing of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1857, and of the Land Registry Act 1862 (generally known as Lord Westbury's Act), the latter of which in practice proved a failure. What chiefly distinguished Lord Westbury was the possession of a certain sarcastic humour; and numerous are the stories, authentic and apocryphal, of its exercise. In fact, he and Sir William Henry Maule filled a position analogous to that of Sydney Smith, convenient names to whom good things may be attributed.


Lord Westbury married Ellinor Mary, daughter of Robert Abraham, in 1825. His younger brother John married another daughter of Abraham, Louisa Sarah, in 1833.[2] They had four sons and four daughters:

After Ellinor Mary's death in March 1863, Richard Bethell married Eleanor Margaret, daughter of Henry Tennant, in January 1873.[4] After an illness, Westbury died six months later on 20 July 1873, within a day of the death of Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, his special antagonist in debate. He was buried in the Great Northern Cemetery (now the New Southgate Cemetery). He was succeeded in the barony by his son from his first marriage, Richard, who committed suicide two years later. Lady Westbury died in December 1894.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 "Death of Lord Westbury". The Times. The Times Digital Archive. 21 July 1873. p. 10.
  2. 1 2 "John Bethell". Grace's Guide to British Industrial History. Grace's Guide. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  3. 1 2 3 Dod, Robert P. (1860). The Peerage, Baronetage and Knightage of Great Britain and Ireland. London: Whitaker and Co. p. 117.
  4. 1 2 Burke's Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Peerage, Baronetage and Knightage. Burke's Peerage Limited. 1885. pp. 1384–1385. Retrieved 23 September 2016.
  5. The London Gazette: no. 22524. p. 2689. 28 June 1861.

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Westbury, Richard Bethell, 1st Baron". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

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Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Quintin Dick
Frederick Calvert
Member of Parliament for Aylesbury
1851 1859
With: Quintin Dick 18511852
Austen Henry Layard 18521857
Thomas Tyringham Bernard 18571859
Succeeded by
Thomas Tyringham Bernard
Samuel George Smith
Preceded by
Hon. Charles Pelham Villiers
Thomas Thornley
Member of Parliament for Wolverhampton
1859 1861
With: Hon. Charles Pelham Villiers
Succeeded by
Hon. Charles Pelham Villiers
Thomas Matthias Weguelin
Legal offices
Preceded by
Sir Fitzroy Kelly
Solicitor General for England and Wales
Succeeded by
James Archibald Stuart-Wortley
Preceded by
Sir Alexander Cockburn, 12th Bt
Attorney General for England and Wales
Succeeded by
Sir Fitzroy Kelly
Preceded by
Sir Fitzroy Kelly
Attorney General for England and Wales
Succeeded by
Sir William Atherton
Political offices
Preceded by
The Lord Campbell
Lord Chancellor
1861 1865
Succeeded by
The Lord Cranworth
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baron Westbury
1861 1873
Succeeded by
Richard Bethell
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