Frank Russell, 2nd Earl Russell

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For other people named Frank Russell, see Frank Russell (disambiguation).

John Francis Stanley Russell, 2nd Earl Russell, known as Frank Russell (12 August 1865 – 3 March 1931), was the elder surviving son of Viscount and Viscountess Amberley, and was raised by his paternal grandparents after his unconventional parents both died young. He was the grandson of the former prime minister John Russell, 1st Earl Russell and elder brother of the philosopher Bertrand Russell. He was married three times, lastly to Elizabeth von Arnim, who caricatured him in her novel Vera.[1] Despite his landmark achievements in other respects, this Earl Russell is most famous for being tried for bigamy in 1901, after which he was known to Edwardian society as the "Wicked Earl".

Marital history[edit]

Frank Russell was twice divorced, and separated permanently from his third and last wife three years after they married. He also had extramarital affairs.

His first wife was Mary Edith Scott (Mabel). They married in 1890. Mabel tried to divorce him (and lost) in 1891, then sued for restoration of conjugal rights in 1894. The Earl was granted a judicial separation in 1895, but she appealed and it was overturned. His mother-in-law also tried to harass him and was convicted of libel in 1897.[2] Mabel, Countess Russell made her living by singing on the variety stage even while she was married to Frank Russell.

Russell next married Marion Cooke (born c. 1857-1858),[3] a twice-divorced daughter of an Irish master-shoemaker, and former wife of George John Somerville, in the United States in 1900, after establishing domicile in that country and obtaining a divorce in Nevada. The British authorities considered such a divorce invalid,[4] and Lord Russell was arrested and was convicted of bigamy in the House of Lords on 18 July 1901. He was sentenced to only three months in prison on account of the "extreme torture" he had suffered in his first marriage.[5] The first Countess Russell had already obtained a divorce, and he married Mrs Somerville on 31 October 1901, three days after it became absolute. His second wife divorced him in 1915, after obtaining an annual income for life, suggesting some collusion.[6]

Russell married thirdly the novelist Elizabeth von Arnim (née Mary Annette Beauchamp), widow of Count Henning August von Arnim-Schlagenthin (d. 1910), the next year. Von Arnim, who had a three-year affair with H.G. Wells, ended her relationship with Wells when his other lover Rebecca West became pregnant. She became involved with Russell in 1914 and married him on 11 February 1916.[7][8] The marriage failed quickly and acrimoniously, and the couple separated in 1919. However, they never divorced. At the start of the Second World War von Arnim moved to the United States, where she died in 1941.[9]

Earl Russell had no children, but his second and third marriages brought him several stepchildren. His second wife Marion had one son by her first husband and two sons by her second husband. His third wife Elizabeth had five children by her first husband.

Russell as a motoring enthusiast[edit]

Russell was issued with England's first car numberplate, A1, in 1903.[10] Ottaway (2007) comments that:

In the early days before personalised number plates, the focus was on number plates such as A1. That particular number plate was sold by London county council in 1903 to the second Earl Russell, who queued for the entire night outside the council offices to have the right to be able to buy it. He beat someone else to it by just five seconds. Having acquired it, he sold it to the chairman of the London county council four years later, in 1907. History does not relate whether he made a profit.

Political career[edit]

Russell became the first peer to join the Labour Party and was Leader of the first small Labour group in the House of Lords. He was Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport and Under-Secretary of State for India in Ramsay MacDonald's government from 1929 to 1931. He introduced the Highway Code and abolished speed limits. (MacDonald's government reintroduced speed limits after Russell's death.) He went on to become Secretary of State for India.

Russell also spoke in favour of reform of the divorce laws, but his efforts to obtain such reforms, starting in 1902, were partly negated by his own personal history.[11]

Other activities[edit]

Russell supported his brother's pacifism during the First World War I, and was a close friend of George Santayana.

Further reading[edit]

Anonymous. Russell's parents and grandparents. This university website has portraits of the 2nd Earl Russell and describes him as "already quite uncontrollable, as later demonstrated by his marital and financial turbulence" when he came to live with his grandparents.

Rupert Furneaux. Tried by their Peers. Cassell, London, 1959. Two chapters are devoted to trials for bigamy, that of Elizabeth Chudleigh, Duchess of Kingston and that of the 2nd Earl Russell.

Ian Watson. "Mollie, Countess Russell", Russell: the Journal of Bertrand Russell Studies 23 (2003): 65-68.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Erica Brown. Literary Encyclopedia: Elizabeth von Arnim (1866-1941).
  2. ^ "LADY SCOTT TO BE RELEASED.; Her Eight Months in Holloway for Libeling Earl Russell Expired." The New York Times 15 July 1897. This Lady Selina Scott was not Lady Selina Bond, nee Scott (d. 1891), sister of the 3rd Earl of Eldon and wife of Nathaniel Bond.
  3. ^ http://www.ianwatson.org/personal_genealogy.html
  4. ^ "EARL RUSSELL ARRESTED His Nevada Marriage Results in a Charge of Bigamy." The New York Times, 18 June 1901.
  5. ^ "EARL RUSSELL CONVICTED; Pleads Guilty to Charge of Bigamy Before ..." The New York Times, 19 July 1901.
  6. ^ Ian Watson. "Mollie, Countess Russell", Russell: the Journal of Bertrand Russell Studies 23 (2003): 65-68. Watson points out that she received a large annual income, payable from the rents of Telegraph House, sold by her brother-in-law Bertrand in 1937.
  7. ^ C.D. Merriman. "Elizabeth von Arnim: Biography and Works"
  8. ^ Erica Brown. Literary Encyclopedia: Elizabeth von Arnim (1866-1941). Brown says that Elizabeth would have been happy to have continued the affair, but Frank Russell wanted to divorce his second wife and marry her.
  9. ^ The Enchanted April NYRB Classics
  10. ^ Richard Ottaway (MP for Croydon South, Conservative) Vehicle Registration Marks Bill: 23 March 2007 House of Commons Debate, as reported in Hansard.
  11. ^ Christopher Hudson. "The wife who changed history - by asking for the first divorce" Daily Mail 18 January 2008
Political offices
Preceded by
Drummond Shiels
Under-Secretary of State for India
1929–1931
Succeeded by
Lord Snell
Peerage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
John Russell
Earl Russell
1878–1931
Succeeded by
Bertrand Russell