William Russell, Lord Russell
- For the M.P. murdered in 1840, see Lord William Russell.
Lord Russell, painted by Thomas Flatman
|Born||29 September 1639|
|Died||21 July 1683
Lincoln's Inn Fields
|Alma mater||Cambridge University|
|Occupation||Member of Parliament|
|Parents||William Russell, 5th Earl of Bedford
Lady Anne Carr
William Russell, Baron Russell (29 September 1639 – 21 July 1683), was an English politician. He was a leading member of the Country Party, forerunners of the Whigs, who opposed the succession of King James II during the reign of King Charles II, ultimately resulting in his execution for treason.
Early life and marriage
Russell was the third son of William Russell, 5th Earl of Bedford, later created Duke of Bedford, and Lady Anne Carr. After the death of his elder brother Francis (1638—1679), he used the courtesy title of Baron Russell and was thus referred to as Lord Russell.
He and Francis were at Cambridge University in 1654. They then travelled abroad, visiting Lyon and Geneva, and residing for a time at Augsburg. Russell's account is noted for its colourful depiction of their travels. The two made their way to Paris by 1658, and had returned to Woburn by December 1659.
At the Restoration in 1660, when Charles II took the throne, Russell was elected as a Member of Parliament for the borough of Tavistock, a seat traditionally held by a member of his family. For many years, Russell appears not to have been active in public affairs, but to have indulged in court intrigue, and is not recorded as speaking until 1674. In 1663 and 1664 he was engaged in two duels; he was wounded in the second one. In 1669, at age 30, he married the widowed Lady Vaughn. He thus became connected with the Earl of Shaftesbury, who had married his wife's cousin. They had a close and affectionate marriage.
It was not until the formation of the country party (the fore-runner of the Whig party), which opposed the policies of the Cabal (an inner group of advisers to the king) and Charles II's Franco-Catholic policies, that Russell began to take an active part in affairs. With a passionate zeal against Roman Catholicism ( "I despise such a ridiculous and nonsensical religion" he once remarked), and an intense love of political liberty, he opposed persecution of Protestant Dissenters. His first speech in Parliament appears to have been on 22 January 1674, when he inveighed against the Great Stop of the Exchequer, the attack on the Smyrna fleet, the corruption by French money of Charles' courtiers, and the ill-intended ministers of the king. He also supported the proceedings against the Duke of Buckingham. In 1675, Russell moved an address to the king for the removal from royal councils and impeachment of the Earl of Danby.
On 15 February 1677, in the debate on the 15 months' prorogation (being an extremely lengthy period between sessions of Parliament), he moved the dissolution of Parliament; and in March 1678 he seconded the address asking the king to declare war against France. The enmity of the country party towards James, the Duke of York, and towards Danby, and the party's desire for a dissolution and the disbanding of the army, were greater than the party's enmity towards Louis. The French king therefore found it easy to form a temporary alliance with Russell, Holles and the opposition leaders. They sought to cripple the king's power of hurting France and to compel him to seek Louis's friendship; that friendship, however, was to be given only on the condition that Louis support their goals. Russell entered into close communication with the Marquis de Ruvigny (Lady Russell's maternal cousin), who came over with money for distribution among members of parliament. By the testimony of Barillon, however, it is clear that Russell himself refused to take any French payments.
The alarms which culminated in the "discovery" in 1678 of the Popish Plot to murder King Charles II and replace him with James, his Roman Catholic brother, appear to have affected Russell more than his otherwise sober character would have led people to expect. Russell threw himself into the party which looked to Monmouth, the (illegitimate but recognised) son of Charles, as the representative of Protestant interests, a grave political blunder, though Russell afterwards was in confidential communication with Orange.
On 4 November 1678, Russell moved an address to the King to remove the Duke of York from his person and councils, including removal from the line of succession. Parliament's insistence on the impeachment of Danby led to it being prorogued on 30 December and dissolved in January. At the ensuing election, Russell was again elected to Parliament, this time as a representative for Bedfordshire, as well as for Hampshire (for which he chose not to sit). The success of the new Whig party in the elections of 1679 led to Danby being overthrown, and in April 1679 Russell became a member of the new Privy Council Ministry formed by Charles on the advice of Temple. Only six days after this, Russell moved for a committee to draw up a bill to secure religion and property in case of a popish successor, rather than advocating his exclusion from the succession. In June 1679, on the occasion of the Covenanters rising in Scotland, he attacked Lauderdale personally in full council.
In January 1680, Russell, along with Cavendish, Capell, Powle, and Essex, tendered his resignation to the king, which was received by Charles "with all my heart." On 16 June, he accompanied Shaftesbury when the latter indicted James at Westminster as a popish recusant; and on 26 October, he took the extreme step of moving to suppress popery and prevent a popish successor; while on 2 November, now at the height of his influence, he went still further by seconding the motion for exclusion in its most emphatic shape, and on the 19th carried the exclusion bill to the House of Lords. He opposed the limitation scheme on the ground that monarchy under its conditions would be an absurdity. Laurence Echard (History of England, ii.) stated that he opposed the indulgence shown by Charles to Lord Stafford (dispensing with the more horrible parts of the sentence of death – an indulgence afterwards shown to Russell himself), but this is disputed. On 18 December, he moved to refuse supplies until the king passed the Exclusion Bill. The Prince of Orange having come over at this time, the opposition leaders were open to a compromise on the exclusion question. Russell, however, refused to give way.
On 26 March 1681, in the parliament held at Oxford, Russell again seconded the Exclusion Bill. Upon the dissolution of parliament, he retired into privacy at his country seat of Stratton in Hampshire. It was probably at his wish that his chaplain wrote the Life of Julian the Apostate, in reply to Dr Hickes's sermons, defending the lawfulness of resistance in extreme cases.
Rye House Plot
He had no share in the schemes of Shaftesbury after the election of Tory sheriffs for London in 1682; upon the 1683 violation of the charters, however, he began seriously to consider the best means of resisting the government. In October 1682, he attended a meeting at which what might be construed as treason was talked. Monmouth, Essex, Hampden, Algernon Sidney, Lord Howard of Escrick and Sir Thomas Armstrong were at this meeting at the house of one Sheppard, a wine merchant. There they met Richard Rumbold, the owner of Rye House, a fortified mansion in Hertfordshire.
This was followed by the Rye House Plot, a plan to ambush Charles II and his brother James near Rye House, Hoddesdon, on their way back to London from the Newmarket races. However the plot was disclosed to the government. Unlike several of his co-conspirators, Russell refused to escape to Holland. He was accused of promising his assistance to raise an insurrection and bring about the death of the king. He was sent on 26 June 1683 to the Tower of London, where he prepared himself for his death. Monmouth offered to return to England and be tried if doing so would help Russell, and Essex refused to abscond for fear of injuring his friend's chance of escape. However, he was tried and convicted of treason and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, afterwards commuted to death by beheading.
By the standards of the time he received a fair trial- Lord Chief Justice Francis Pemberton seemed to lean towards an acquittal, thereby offending the King who dismissed him soon afterwards. No defence counsel was permitted in a treason trial, but in a rare concession Lady Russell was allowed to act as her husband's secretary. Even Jeffreys, leading for the prosecution, conducted the trial in a sober and dignified manner quite different from his normal bullying manner, and, while stressing the strength of the evidence, reminded the jury that no innocent man should have his life taken away.
After the verdict Russell's wife and friends made desperate efforts to save him, making pleas for mercy to the King, the Duke of York, and the French Ambassador, Paul Barillon. Barillon informed the King that in his own master's view this was a suitable case for mercy, and James was at least prepared to listen to Russell's friends; but Charles was implacable, saying "if I do not take his life he will shortly take mine." Lady Russell obtained a private interview and went on her knees to the King, but to no avail.
Russell was executed by Jack Ketch on 21 July 1683 at Lincoln's Inn Fields. The execution was said to have been conducted quite poorly by Ketch. Ketch later wrote a letter of apology. Russell was lauded as a martyr by the Whigs, who claimed that he was put to death in retaliation for his efforts to exclude James from succession to the crown. Russell was exonerated by the reversal of attainder under William III of England.
Russell did not confess, in fact, he pleaded that he knew of no plot to execute the king and was not party to any conspiracy to do so. He is recorded as having admitted conspiring to leavy a war. He resigned himself later to accept his fate with dignity still stating his innocence, but disappointed in the justice he had received, as laid out in his last letter before his death. Russell was later pardoned, based on the fact that the evidence was hearsay. The pardon remains as an official document.
Reference in film and television
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press, but had been substantially amended
- History of Paarliament Online - Russell, Hon. William
- "Russell, William (1639–1683)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
- Sir George Clarke. The Later Stuarts, 1660–1714 (2nd edition, Clarendon Press, 1955), 97–99.
- Old Bailey Proceedings 12th July 1683
|Parliament of England|
Not represented in the Rump
Title last held byHenry Hatsell
|Member of Parliament for Tavistock
with George Howard
Sir John Davie
Sir John Davie
|Member of Parliament for Tavistock
with George Howard 1661–1673
Sir Francis Drake 1673–1679
Sir Francis Drake
Sir Humphrey Winch, Bt
Sir John Napier
|Member of Parliament for Bedfordshire
with Sir Humphrey Monoux, Bt
Sir Humphrey Monoux, Bt