John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Sir John Russell
The Earl of Bedford
John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford by Hans Holbein the Younger.jpg
John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford, by Hans Holbein the Younger; Royal Collection, Windsor Castle
Titles and styles
1st Baron Russell (1539)
1st Earl of Bedford (1550)
Father James Russell
Mother Alice Wyse
Born c. 1485
Died 14 March 1554/1555

John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford, KG, PC, JP (c. 1485 – 14 March 1554/1555) was an English royal minister in the Tudor era. He served variously as Lord High Admiral and Lord Privy Seal. Among the lands and property he was given by Henry VIII after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, were the Abbey and town of Tavistock, and the area that is now Covent Garden.[1] Russell is the ancestor of all subsequent Earls and Dukes of Bedford and Earls Russell, including John Russell, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and philosopher Bertrand Russell.


John Russell was born ca. 1485 probably at Berwick-by-Swyre, Dorset, the son of James Russell (d. Nov. 1505)[2] and his first wife Alice Wise, daughter of Thomas Wise of Sidenham, near Tavistock, Devon.[3] James's father was possibly William Russell, but more likely his brother John Russell (d. pre November, 1505) by his wife Alice Froxmere, daughter of John Froxmere of Droitwich, Worcs.[4] John was the son of Henry Russell (d. 1463/4), and Elizabeth Herring, daughter of John Herring of Chaldon Herring. Henry, great-grandfather of the 1st Earl, was a substantial wine merchant and shipper, who represented Weymouth in the House of Commons four times.[5] The Russell pedigree can only be traced back with certainty to Henry Russell's father, Stephen Russell, the evidence being contained in a deed of April 1440[6] in which Henry Russell made over to his daughter Christina and her husband Walter Cheverell of Chauntemarle, a tenement in Dorchester to be held of himself and his heirs upon rent of a red rose. In the deed Henry referred to himself as son and heir of Stephen Russell and of Alice his wife.[7] This Alice appears to have been the heir general of the De la Tour family,[8] which had long owned Berwick-by-Swyre, and by whom therefore the manor was brought into the Russell family. Both Henry and Stephen were referred to as Gascoigne as well as Russell, possibly due to their wine trade with France, as in a 1442 pardon under the Privy Seal referring to Henry Russell of Weymouth, merchant, alias Henry Gascoign, gentleman.[9] It was long believed in the noble Russell family, certainly by the 2nd Earl of Bedford, that the family was descended from the ancient family of Russell of Kingston Russell in Dorset, three miles northeast of Berwick, which descent was declared unproven by Gladys Scott Thomson, FRHist.Soc., in her Two Centuries of Family History, London, 1930, an exhaustive and scholarly work on the early pedigree of the Earls of Bedford. (For a disambiguation of the Bedford Russells and the Russells of Kingston Russell, see Kingston Russell)


John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford, 1555

In 1506 John Russell was of service to Archduke Philip of Austria and Juana his wife (King and Queen of Castile) when they were shipwrecked off Weymouth, and escorted the royal couple to the royal court in London. He was one of the most accomplished gentlemen of his time[10] and so impressed them by his gracious manners that they praised him highly to King Henry VII. He became a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber to Henry VII in 1507 and to his son and successor Henry VIII in 1509, who employed him in various military and diplomatic missions during the War of the League of Cambrai. He was at the taking of Thérouanne and Tournai. He was knighted on 2 July 1522 after losing an eye at the taking of Morlaix in Brittany, and he witnessed the Battle of Pavia.

Following his marriage in the Spring of 1526 he made alterations to his ancestral seat Chenies Manor House to reflect his new good fortunes. He now stood in favour with the King and Cardinal Wolsey, though he would not suffer disgrace at the fall of the latter.

He was made High Sheriff of Dorset and Somerset in 1528 and served as Member of Parliament for Buckinghamshire 1529–1536, retaining the royal favour despite the antipathy of Anne Boleyn. Late in 1536, he was made a Privy Counsellor, and helped to suppress the Pilgrimage of Grace.

The fall and execution of Henry Courtenay, 1st Marquess of Exeter left a power vacuum in the south-western counties of England, which Russell was called upon to fill. On 9 March 1538/1539 he was created Baron Russell, and appointed Lord President of the Council of the West. In the next month, he was made a Knight of the Garter. In July 1539 he was made High Steward of Cornwall, and Lord Warden of the Stannaries.

The Council of the West proved unsuccessful as an instrument of government, and did not survive the fall of Cromwell. Russell, however, remained a great magnate in the western counties, and obtained the office of Lord High Admiral in 1540. (The previous holder, the Earl of Southampton, replaced Cromwell as Lord Privy Seal.) After Henry VIII met Anne of Cleves at Rochester, the next day he asked Russell if he "thought her fair". Russell replied with his natural diplomacy and prudence that he took her "not to be fair, but of a brown complexion".[11] In 1542, Russell himself resigned the Admiralty and succeeded to the Privy Seal on the death of Southampton. He was High Steward of the University of Oxford from 1543 till his death.

During the Italian War of 1542, he unsuccessfully besieged Montreuil in 1544, and was Captain General of the Vanguard of the army for the attack on Boulogne in 1545. He was a close companion of King Henry VIII during the last years of his reign. On Henry's death, he was one of the executors of the King's will, and one of sixteen counsellors during the minority of his son King Edward VI.

On 21 June 1553 he was one of the twenty-six peers who signed the settlement of the crown on Lady Jane Grey. He was sent to attend King Philip II into England on his arrival from Spain to wed the Queen Mary.


Garter stall plate of John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford, installed as a Knight of the Garter 18 May 1539

He was Lord High Steward at the Coronation of King Edward VI (1547–1553) on 20 February 1547. He was created by that young king, in practice by his regent, Earl of Bedford on 19 January 1550 for his assistance in carrying out the order of the Council against "images" and for promoting the new religion. In 1552, he was made Lord Lieutenant of Devon.

Marriage & progeny[edit]

In the spring of 1526 he married Anne Sapcote (alias Shapcote), daughter of Sir Guy Sapcote of Huntingdonshire by his wife Margaret Wolston.[12] She had been twice widowed. Her first husband was John Broughton (d. 24 January 1518)[13][14] of Toddington, Bedfordshire, by whom she had a son and three daughters:

Anne Sapcote's second husband was Sir Richard Jerningham (d.1525), by whom she had no issue.[25]

As indicated by the armorials painted on the monument of Russell's granddaughter, Elizabeth Bourchier, Countess of Bath, at Tawstock in Devon, (Sable, three dovecotes argent) Anne Sapcote was from the family usually known as Shapcote, which originated on the estate of Shapcote in the manor of Knowstone, North Devon. On 25 May 1500 Sir John Shapcot, Knight, as patron by proxy of Tawstock Church, appointed as rector Thomas Bourchier.[26] They had only one child, a son and heir:

Death & burial[edit]

Chenies Manor

He died on 14 March 1554/5 and was buried at his ancestral manor of Chenies, Buckinghamshire, in the private Bedford Chapel of the parish church next to Chenies Manor House, his former chief residence. The Dukes of Bedford continue to be buried in this chapel.

His widow, Anne, died on 14 March 1559 and was buried at Chenies 21 March 1559.[27]


Russell is the ancestor of all subsequent Earls and Dukes of Bedford and Earls Russell, including John Russell, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the philosopher Bertrand Russell. Russell is also an 11th great grandfather of Winston Churchill.[citation needed]

Properties acquired[edit]

On the Dissolution of the Monasteries King Henry VIII granted him lands and properties including Tavistock Abbey and Plympton Abbey in Devon, the wealthiest two abbeys in Devon, and the Cistercian Dunkeswell Abbey also in Devon. He was granted the Blackfriars in Exeter, on the site of which he built his opulent townhouse known as Bedford House, from where he conducted his duties as Lord Lieutenant of Devon. These grants made him the largest landowner in Devon. In Bedfordshire he acquired the site of Woburn Abbey which he made his chief seat. In London he was granted seven acres (28,000 m²) called "Long Acre", and the kitchen garden of Westminster Abbey, which is now the site of Covent Garden.[1] The family[who?] retain still in 2013 several acres of prime London property comprising the Bedford Estate centred on Bedford Square and Tavistock Square.[citation needed]

Garter stall plate[edit]

John Russell's Garter stall plate survives affixed to the back of his stall in St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle. The shield shows quarterly of four: 1st grand quarter: quarterly 1st & 4th: Argent, a lion rampant gules on a chief sable three escallops of the first (Russell); 2nd & 3rd: Azure, a tower argent (de la Tour); 2nd Gules, three herrings hauriant argent (Herringham); 3rd Sable, a griffin segreant between three crosses crosslet fitchy argent (Froxmere); 4th: Sable, three chevronnels ermine in dexter chief a crescent or for difference (Wyse).[28] Crest: A goat passant[29] argent; Supporters: Dexter: A goat argent, Sinister: A lion rampant gules[30] Motto: Plus que Jamais ("More than Never"). Inscription in French: Du tres noble et puisant Seigneur Johan Conte de Bedford Baron Russell Chevalier du tres noble Ordre de la Jarretiere et Garduen du Prive Seau, fust enstalle a Wyndsor le XVIII jure de Maye l'an du Roy Henry VIII de son reigne XXXI l'an 1539 ("Of the very noble and powerful Lord John, Earl of Bedford, Baron Russell, Knight of the Very Noble Order of the Garter and Keeper of the Privy Seal was installed at Windsor the 18th day of May the year of King Henry VIII of his reign the 31st, the year 1539").


  1. ^ a b Alzina Stone Dale & Barbara Sloan-Hendershott (2004). Mystery Reader's Walking Guide: London. iUniverse. p. 56. ISBN 0-595-31513-5. Retrieved 27 July 2010. 
  2. ^ James died in Nov. 1505, shortly after his father John, both in 1505, according to Scott Thomson, p. 108; Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. 48, p. 278, gives James's date of death as between Dec. 1505 and Feb. 1506
  3. ^ Scott Thomson, 1930, pp. 110–111
  4. ^ Scott Thomson, 1930, pp. 102–3
  5. ^ Scott Thomson, 1930, p. 36
  6. ^ Municipal Records of the Borough of Dorchester, ed. C. H. Mayo, Exeter: W. Pollard, 1908; no. 517.
  7. ^ Scott Thomson, 1930, p. 37
  8. ^ Scott Thomson, 1930, p. 39
  9. ^ Classic Encyclopedia, based on 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica (11th. ed) "Russell (Family)"; Scott Thomson, p. 58
  10. ^ Debrett's Peerage, 1968, p.132
  11. ^ Strype, John, Ecclesiastical Memorials, vol. 1 part 2, Oxford, 1822 p. 455, deposition of Russell.
  12. ^ Tudorplace
  13. ^ Copinger 1910, pp. 156, 319.
  14. ^ Katherine Broughton (c.1514-April 23, 1535), A Who’s Who of Tudor Women: Brooke-Bu, compiled by Kathy Lynn Emerson to update and correct Wives and Daughters: The Women of Sixteenth-Century England (1984) Retrieved 1 June 2013.
  15. ^ Richardson II 2011, p. 417.
  16. ^ Lysons 1792, pp. 278-9.
  17. ^ Harris 2002, pp. 108-9.
  18. ^ Pollard 1901, p. 423.
  19. ^ Nichols 1848, pp. 282, 370.
  20. ^ Nichols gives the date of her death as 16 May on p. 282, and as 18 May on p. 370.
  21. ^ Blaydes 1884, p. 14.
  22. ^ Cheyne, Sir Thomas (1482/87-1558), of the Blackfriars, London and Shurland, Isle of Sheppey, Kent, History of Parliament Retrieved 1 June 2013.
  23. ^ Pollard 1901, p. 422.
  24. ^ Nicolas 1826, p. 557.
  25. ^ MacMahon 2004.
  26. ^ List of rectors displayed in Tawstock Church
  27. ^ Willen 2004.
  28. ^ "Heraldry of the Bedford Chapel, Chenies, Bucks".
  29. ^ Modern crest statant (Debretts, 1968, p.131)
  30. ^ Debrett's Peerage, 1968, p.131, with supporters on exchanged sides


External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
William Fitzwilliam
Lord High Admiral
Succeeded by
Edward Seymour
Lord Privy Seal
Succeeded by
William Paget
Preceded by
Sir William Paulet
Comptroller of the Household
Succeeded by
Sir William Kingston
Preceded by
Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall
Succeeded by
The Earl of Bath
Lord Lieutenant of Devon and Dorset
Lord Lieutenant of Somerset
Succeeded by
Court offices
Preceded by
The Marquess of Exeter
Lord Warden of the Stannaries
Succeeded by
The Earl of Bedford
Peerage of England
New title Earl of Bedford
Succeeded by
Francis Russell
Baron Russell
(descended by acceleration)