In Duchesne's copy, Russell; Rosel in Leland's; from the Lordship of Rosel in the Cotentin. "Hugh de Rosel came to England with the Conqueror, and is mentioned in a charter of the time of Stephen as father of Robert Russell (Wiffen, i. 531). In Domesday he appears as holding lands in capite in Dorset by the serjeantry of being Marshall of the Butlery in England (Domesd. 84 b.) a feudal dignity, which conferred rank, and was hereditary. His grandson, another Robert de Rosel, held the fief of Kingston, Dorset, in capite, and in 1165 one fee in that county from Alured de Lincoln; another from the Abbot of Cerne (Lib. Niger.) The latter had apparently been acquired by authority of the Crown in the time of Stephen. Odo, Eudo, or Hugh Russell, who succeeded, is mentioned in a charter of King John, granting an advowson of a church in Gloucester to his son, John Russell, who in 1202 married the sister and co-heir of Dodo Bardolf, one of the greater barons, and was Constable of Corfe Castle."—The Norman People. His son and heir, Sir Ralph, married Isabel, one of the co-heiresses of James de Newmarch, and was the grandfather of Theobald Russel, who, by his second wife, was ancestor to the Dukes of Bedford. By his first marriage to Eleanor, daughter and co-heir of Ralph, Lord Gorges, he had three sons: 1. Sir John, his successor at Kingston-Russell, whose line ended with his grandson; 2. William, died s. p.; 3. Theobald, who, inheriting his mother's property, bore her name and arms, and founded the family of Gorges of Wraxhall (see Gorges). His second wife, Eleanor De La Tour, was again an heiress, and their son was seated on her Dorsetshire estate, at Berwick (now Bewick), four miles from Bridport. From him, in the third generation, came Sir John Russell, Speaker of the House of Commons, 2 & 10 Henry VI.: but it was reserved to the grandson and namesake of the latter to lay the foundation of the family greatness. This John Russell, when a young man, was a great traveller, "well versed in several languages:" and it was this knowledge that, by a lucky accident, proved the stepping-stone to his fortune. When, in 1506, the Archduke Philip of Austria, who had sailed from Flanders to join his royal bride in Spain, was storm-bound in the Channel, and forced to put into Weymouth, Sir Thomas Trenchard, who lived in the neighbourhood, came forward to offer him hospitality, till such time as a messenger could be despatched to Court, to acquaint the King with his coming. The offer was accepted; but when the royal guest was fairly installed in his house, Sir Thomas, not speaking a word of Spanish, or in fact of any language other than his own, was, as may well be conceived, sorely perplexed; and in his tribulation bethought himself of his accomplished neighbour at Berwick, then "newly returned from his travels." John Russell would be able to interpret, to explain matters to the Archduke, and learn his pleasure; and John Russell was accordingly sent for. He came, and fulfilled his duties so commendably, that the prince took a great fancy to him; and carried him with him to Court when he was summoned to join the King. Here it soon became evident that the remainder of his life was to be spent. His kind patron recommended him to the King, who appointed him one of the Gentlemen of his Privy Chamber; and on the accession of Henry VIII., three years afterwards, he was continued in this office, and rose so conspicuously into favour that his ill-wishers termed him the "King's fire-screen." He was "found apt for any kind of service, either with pen or sword, brain or hand;" an able, accomplished man, with a peculiar grace and gentleness of demeanour often alluded to by his contemporaries. Even poor Anne Boleyn, while complaining of the "cruel handling" she had experienced in her examination before the Council, "named Mr. Comptroller" (Russell) "to be a very gentleman." He went with the King to his first campaign in France in 1513, and assisted at the taking of Therouenne and the Battle of the Spurs; was knighted in 1523 on the deck of the flagship for his gallantry in Surrey's expedition against Morlaix, where he lost an eye; was employed in negotiations with Charles V., Francis I., the Pope, and the Duke of Lorraine in 1524: fought at Pavia; was one of the forty-five knights chosen to accompany Henry VIII. to the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1532, and named Comptroller of the Household in 1538. In the following year he was raised to the peerage, and, "as Lord Russell, commenced a line of nobles whose services to England wind like a silver cord through later history."—Froude. He chose the title of Baron Russell of Chenies, from the ancient seat of the Cheneys in Buckinghamshire, which had come to him through his wife Anne, the daughter and co-heir of Sir Guy Sapcotes, who had been the heir of Dame Agnes Cheney. Though the manor-house is now tenanted only by a farmer, the church chancel of Chenies has always continued to be the burial-place of the Russells, and is now filled with their monuments. He was further appointed Lord Admiral of England in 1541, and Lord Privy Seal in 1544. Nor was wealth wanting to uphold these new dignities; for the King's coffers were at that time overflowing with the riches of the suppressed monasteries, and "the Lords of the Council, being first in the field, had the pick of the spoil." Few secured a larger share of it than Lord Russell, who had been foremost in the attack of the religious houses, and himself presided at the execution of the Abbot of Glastonbury. He received, as Warden of the Stannaries, the whole of the rich Abbey of Tavistock, comprising the hundred, town, and borough, and a host of Devonshire manors, in 1546: Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire "fell to him on easy terms" in 1547.; part of Thorney Abbey in 1549, and Covent Garden with the "Seven Acres" (now called Long Acre), "the choicest morsel of Somerset's forfeited estates," in 1552.[1] Two years previously, in acknowledgment of his services against the Catholic insurgents of the West, he had been created Earl of Bedford, and he lived to put down another insurrection—this time a Protestant one—in the same counties. This was, of course, under Queen Mary, and not long before his death in 1554.

Francis, second Earl, who was committed to the Tower as a stiff-necked Protestant by Queen Mary—a person of such great hospitality that Queen Elizabeth was wont to say of him "that he made all the beggars"—survived his three eldest sons, and was succeeded by his grandson Edward, the husband of the lovely Lucy Harrington,[2] who d. s. p, in 1627. The next heir was another of his grandsons, emphatically termed "the wise Earl," whose father, Sir William Russell, having proved himself an able soldier in France, Hungary, and the Low Countries, was appointed Lord Deputy of Ireland in 1594, and created Lord Russell of Thornhaugh in 1603. It was this Earl Francis that achieved the drainage of the vast tract of fen now known as the Bedford Level; a great national undertaking several times projected, and once before actually commenced, that added nearly four hundred thousand acres to the soil of England. Of these, "ninety-five thousand acres were allotted to the Earl and his fellow adventurers, the latter of whom had been nearly ruined by the expense of drainage" (£1 an acre), "and were most of them bought out." He was the acknowledged leader of the popular party in the House of Lords, "being," as Lord Clarendon tells us, "of the best estate, and best understanding of the whole number, and therefore most likely to govern the rest." He died oft small-pox before the outbreak of the Civil War. His son William, fifth Earl, at first heartily espoused the cause of the Parliament, and served as a General of Horse in their army at Edgehill; but the next year threw up his commission (being, as is supposed, alarmed at the revolutionary aspect of affairs) and offered his sword to the King. He was received with distrust and hesitation, and though, to prove his sincerity, he charged gallantly in the King's regiment at Newbury, he found himself slighted and coldly looked upon at Court, and within three month's time had gone back to his old friends. He took, however, no further part in politics, and never sat in the House of Lords during the usurpation. Charles II. gave him the Garter; and in 1694, he was created by William and Mary Duke of Bedford and Marquess of Tavistock, because (as set forth in the patent) "he was the father of Lord Russell, the ornament of his age."

William Lord Russell had "the undaunted courage and unshaken firmness" that had been wanting in the Duke. "He was," says Sir William Temple, "an honest worthy gentleman, without tricks of private ambition, who was known to venture as great a stake as any subject in England." He first entered the House of Commons in 1678, and so quickly made himself obnoxious to the Court as the leader of the popular party, that when, the year following, he asked leave to retire from the Council board, the requisite permission appeared in the Gazette, endorsed by His Majesty's own hand, "With all my heart." He had the intrepidity to go to Westminster Hall and "present" the King's brother at the King's Bench as a recusant. "He shared to the bottom of his heart in the old English dread and hate of Popery. He impeached Buckingham and Arlington. He believed to the last in the reality of the Popish plot, and he accepted Oates and Dangerfield as credible witnesses. He carried a Bill prohibiting Papists from sitting in Parliament. If Papists could not sit in Parliament, still less ought they to be on the throne, and the House of Commons, under his influence, passed the Exclusion Bill, cutting off the Duke of York. Russell carried it with his own hands to the House of Lords, and session after session, dissolution after dissolution, he tried to force the Lords to agree to it."—Froude. Yet, with all his zeal, he spurned any proposal for buying votes with French gold. "I should be very sorry," he said, "to have any commerce with persons capable to be gained by money." At last, on the discovery of the Rye House Plot, he was arraigned for high treason on a charge of having designed to seize the King's guards. His trial at the Old Bailey "was attended with every feature which could concentrate the nation's attention to it. The Duke of York was the actual and scarcely concealed prosecutor." He defended himself with dignity and simplicity, and asked for no aid beyond that of a writer to take down his notes. When he was told he had only to choose one, he replied, "My wife will write for me;" and Lady Rachel Russell appeared in Court, and took her place as her husband's secretary. She bore herself with admirable courage and constancy, writing down his words as calmly as he dictated them, and never faltered in her duty to the very last. He was found guilty, condemned to a traitor's death, and executed on July 21, 1683, though every effort had been made to save him. Lord Cavendish offered to change clothes with him, and take his place in the prison while he made his escape; and the Earl of Bedford, after vainly pleading his own services at the Restoration, promised the King's mistress,£100,000 for his son's pardon. But the Duke of York was inexorable, and Lord Russell died as bravely and nobly as he had lived. "It is idle to say that he was unjustly convicted. He was privy to a scheme for armed resistance to the Government, and a Government which was afraid to punish him ought to have abdicated. Charles Stuart had been brought back by the deliberate will of the people. As long as he was on the throne he was entitled to defend both himself and his authority. Lord Russell was not like Hampden, resisting an unconstitutional breach of the law He was taking precautions against a danger which he anticipated but which had not yet arisen."—Froude.

His wife, Lady Rachel, "a beautiful figure in the story, whose gentle influence had first reclaimed him from the frivolities of his earlier youth," survived him for many years, and lived to be a very old woman. She was the second daughter and eventual heiress of Thomas Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, Lord Treasurer of England, by a French lady of noble Huguenot blood; and, at the time she married him, the youthful widow of Lord Vaughan. She brought her husband the great Bloomsbury estate with Southampton House and Stratton (now the seat of the Earl of Northbrook) in Hampshire. She died in 1723, having had the grief to see her only son, Wriothesley, the second Duke, carried off by small-pox twelve years before. From Wriothesley, in the fifth generation, descends the present and ninth Duke.

Three other peerages have been held by the family. The first was granted to the victorious Admiral who won the battle of La Hogue, "one of the few Russells who was famous in arms," Edward, the nephew of the first Duke. "He was," says Burnet, "bed-chamber man to the King when Duke of York; but upon Lord Russell's death retired from Court," and was deep in the councils of the Prince of Orange. With him he came over to England in 1688, receiving ample grants and appointments, in addition to a pension; yet, still unsatisfied, he presently entered into correspondence with the Court of St. Germains, and offered to bring over the fleet to the cause of the exiled King. He saved the country, however, from a foreign invasion in 1692, when he met and drove back the approaching French fleet at La Hogue, defeating it with a loss of sixteen men of war. For this gallant service he received the Earldom of Orfordin 1697, with the title of Viscount Barfleur; but left no son to inherit either. Macaulay denounces him as "emphatically a bad man, insolent, malignant, greedy, and selfish." Froude tells us that James II.'s own opinion was that "Admiral Russell did but delude the King with the Prince of Orange's permission."

The second title of honour was given in our own time to Lord John Russell, the third son of the sixth Duke of Bedford; "the old statesman who filled so large a place for half a century in English public life," and was the author of the first Reform Bill. He continued Premier (with a brief interval) from 1846 to 1851; and ten years later was created Earl Russell and Viscount Amberley. He died in 1878, and was succeeded by a grandson.

The third and yet more recent title was the reward of the distinguished diplomatic services of Lord Odo Russell, the youngest brother of the present Duke, who was created Lord Ampthill in 1881. He died only three years afterwards, leaving four young sons.

  1. This property—now of such enormous value—was then estimated at the yearly rent of £6 and a noble!

  2. This was the Countess of Bedford on whom Ben Jonson wrote the beautiful lines, picturing

    "What kind of creature I could most desire
    To honour, serve, and love as poets use.

    "I meant to make her fair and free and wise;
    Of greatest blood, and yet more good than great;
    I meant the day star should not brighter rise,
    Nor lend like influence from his lucent state.

    "I meant she should be courteous, facile, sweet,
    Hating that solemn vice of greatness, pride:
    I meant each softest virtue there should meet,
    Fit in that softer bosom to reside."

    Her full-length portrait, gorgeous in brocade and gold bullion, and covered with jewels, may be seen at Woburn. She was the sister and heir of the last Lord Harrington.

-- Cleveland

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