RUSSELL (FAMILY). The great English Whig house of the Russells, earls and dukes of Bedford, rose under the favour of Henry VIII. Obsequious genealogists have traced their lineage from " Hugh de Rozel," alias " Hugh Bertrand, lord of le Rozel," a companion of the Conqueror, padding their fiction with the pedigree of certain Russells who are found holding Kingston Russell in Dorset as early as the reign of King John. But the first undoubted ancestor of the Bedford line is Henry Russell, a Weymouth merchant, returned as a burgess for that borough in four parliaments between 1425 and 1442. He may well have been the son of Stephen Russell, another Weymouth merchant, whose name is just before his in the list of those men of substance in Dorsetshire who, in 1434, under the act of parliament, were to be sworn not to maintain breakers of the peace. Stephen Russell, having served the office of bailiff of Weymouth, was returned as burgess to the parliament of 1395, and one William Russell was returned for King's Melcombe in 1340. Both Stephen and Henry were in the wine trade with Bordeaux, and in 1427 Henry Russell was deputy to the chief butler of England for the port of Melcombe. In 1442 a pardon under the privy seal significantly describes Henry Russell of Weymouth, merchant, as alias Henry Gascoign, gentleman, and it is therefore probable that the ducal house of Bedford springs from a family of Gascon wine-merchants settled in a port of Dorsetshire, a county remarkable for the number of such French settlers.
Henry Russell of Weymouth made a firm footing upon the land by his marriage with Elizabeth Hering, one of the two daughters and co-heirs of John Hering of Chaldon Hering, a Dorsetshire squire of old family, heir of the Winterbournes of Winterbourne Clenston and of the Cernes of Draycot Cerne. John Russell, eldest son of this match, born before 1432, and returned to parliament for Weymouth in 1450, had his seat at Berwick in Swyre, he and his son and heir, James Russell, being buried in the parish church of Swyre.
Thus John Russell, son and heir of James, was born in a family of squire's rank, whose younger branches went on for many generations as merchants and shipowners at Weymouth. A happy accident is said to have brought him to court. The archduke Philip, son of the emperor Maximilian, was driven by heavy weather into Weymouth, whence Sir Thomas Trenchard had him escorted to the king at Windsor. According to tradition, John Russell, Trenchard's young kinsman, was lately home from his travels with a knowledge of foreign tongues, those travels being probably made in the mercantile interests of his family. As travelling companion, or as a spy upon the strange guests, young Russell was sent with the archduke, who is said to have commended him to King Henry. Certain it is that on the accession of Henry VIII. John Russell advanced rapidly, serving the crown as soldier and as diplomatic agent. He fought well at Therouanne, saw the Field of Cloth of gold and the French disaster at Pavia, lost an eye by an arrow at Morlaix. In 1523 he was knight-marshal of the king's household. In 1526 he married a rich widow, Anne, daughter and co-heir of Sir Guy Sapcotes by the co-heir of Sir Guy Wolston, a match which brought to the Russells the Buckinghamshire estate of Chenies, in whose chapel many generations of them lie buried. His peerage as Lord Russell of Chenies dated from 1539, and in _ the same year he had the Garter. Having held many high offices lord high admiral, lord president of Devon, Cornwall, Dorset and Somerset, and lord privy seal he was named by Henry VIII. as one of his executors. At the crowning of Edward VI. he was lord high steward, and after his defeat of the western rebels was raised, in 1550, to the earldom of Bedford. Queen Mary, like her brother, made him lord privy seal, although he is said to have favoured that Reformation which enriched him. He died in London in 1555, leaving to his son a vast estate of church lands and lands forfeited by less successful navigators of the troubled sea of Tudor politics. In the west he had the abbey lands of Tavistock, which give a marquess's title to his descendants. In Cambridgeshire he had the abbatial estate of Thorney, in Bedfordshire the Cistercian house of Woburn, now the chief seat of the Russells. In London he had Covent Garden with the " Long Acre." Thus the future wealth of his house was secured by those " immoderate grants " which made a text for Edmund Burke's furious attack upon a duke of Bedford.
He left an only son, Francis, second earl of Bedford, K.G. (c. 1527-1585), who, being concerned in Wyatt's plot, escaped to the Continent and joined those exiles at Geneva whose religious sympathies he shared. He returned in 1557, and was employed by Queen Mary before her death. Under Queen Elizabeth he governed Berwick, and was lord-lieutenant of the northern counties. Three of his four sons died before him, the third, killed in a border fray, being father of Edward, third earl of Bedford, who died without issue in 1627. The fourth son, William, created Lord Russell of Thornhaugh in 1603, was a soldier who fought fiercely before Zutphen beside his friend Sir Philip Sidney, whom he succeeded as governor of Flushing, and was from 1594 to 1597 lord-deputy of Ireland. He died in 1613, leaving an only son, Francis, who in 1627 succeeded his cousin as fourth earl of Bedford. This earl built the square of Covent Garden, and headed the " undertakers " who began the scheme for draining the great Fen Level. He opposed the king in the House of Lords, but might have played a part as mediator between the sovereign and the popular party who accepted his leadership had he not died suddenly of the smallpox in 1641 on the day of the king's assent to the bill for Strafford's attainder. William, the eldest surviving son, succeeded as fifth earl, Edward, the youngest son, being father of Edward Russell (1653-1727), admiral of the fleet, who, having held the chief command in the victory of La Hogue, was created in 1697 earl of Orford. The fifth earl of Bedford, after fighting for the parliament at Edgehill and for the king at Newbury, surrendered to Essex and occupied himself with completing the drainage of the Bedford Level. He carried St Edward's staff at the crowning of Charles II., but quitted political life after the execution of his son, Lord Russell, in 1683. In 1694 he was created duke of Bedford and marquess of Tavistock, titles to which his grandson, Wrothesley Russell, succeeded in 1700. The "patriot" Lord Russell had added to the family estates by his marriage with Rachel, daughter and co-heir of Thomas Wrothesley, the fourth earl of Southampton, from whom she finally inherited the earl's property in Bloomsbury, with Southampton House, afterwards called Bedford House. Her son, the second duke of Bedford, married the daughter of a rich citizen, John Howland of Streatham, a match strangely commemorated by the barony of Howland of Streatham, created for the bridegroom's grandfather, the first duke, in 1695. The third duke, another Wrothesley Russell (1708-1732), died without issue, his brother John (1710-1771) succeeding him. This fourth duke, opposing Sir Robert Waipole, became, by reason of his rank and territorial importance, a recognized leader of the Whigs. In the duke of Devonshire's administration he was lord-lieutenant of Ireland, and he served as lord high constable at the coronation in 1760. His son Francis, styled marquess of Tavistock, was killed in 1767 by a fall in the hunting field, and Lord Tavistock's son Francis (1765-1802) became the fifth duke. This was the peer whom Burke, smarting from a criticism of his own pension, assailed as " the Leviathan of the creatures of the crown," enriched by grants that " outraged economy and even staggered credibility." He pulled down Bedford House, built by Inigo Jones, Russell Square and Tavistock Square rising on the site of its gardens and courts. Dying unmarried, he was succeeded by his brother John, the sixth duke (1766-1839), whose third son was the statesman created in 1861, Earl Russell of Kingston Russell, better known as Lord John Russell. Lord Odo Russell, a nephew of " Lord John," and ambassador at Berlin from 1871 to his death in 1884, was created Lord Ampthill in 1881. Herbrand Arthur Russell (b. 1858), the eleventh duke and fifteenth earl, succeeded an elder brother in 1893. (O. BA.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)