William Russell, Lord Russell

:"For the M.P. murdered in 1840, see Lord William Russell."William Russell, Lord Russell (29 September 1639–21 July 1683), was an English politician.

Early life and marriage

Russell was the third son of William Russell, 5th Earl of Bedford later created Duke of Bedford, and Anne Carr. His maternal grandfather was Robert Carr, 1st Earl of Somerset. He entered Cambridge University around 1654.

After leaving university Russell and his older brother Francis travelled abroad, visiting Lyon and Geneva, and residing for a time at Augsburg. Russell's account is noted for its colorful 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 post 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. In 1663 and 1664 he was engaged in two duels; he was wounded in the second one. In 1669, at age 30, he married Rachel (1636–1723), second daughter of Thomas Wriothesley, 4th Earl of Southampton, and widow of Lord Vaughan. He thus became connected with Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury, who had married Southampton's niece. They had a close and affectionate marriage. She corresponded with John Tillotson and other distinguished men, and a collection of her letters was published in 1773.

Parliament

It was not until the formation of the country party (the fore-runner of the Whig party) [http://www.britainexpress.com/History/Cromwell_and_Restoration.htm] , which opposed the policies of the Cabal (an inner group of advisers to the king) and Charles II's Franco-Catholic plots, that Russell began to take an active part in affairs. He then joined Cavendish, Birch, Hampden, Powell, Lyttleton and others in vehement antagonism to the king's advisors and policies. With a passionate hatred for and distrust of Catholics, and an intense love of political liberty, he opposed persecution of Protestant Dissenters. His first speech in Parliament appears to have been on January 22, 1673, when he inveighed against the 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 February 15, 1677, in the debate on the 15 months' prorogation (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 Charles' brother, 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 uncle), 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 recognized) son of Charles, as the representative of Protestant interests, a grave political blunder, though Russell afterwards was in confidential communication with Orange.

Exclusion debates

On November 41678, 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. After the dissolution of the pensionary parliament, Russell was again elected to Parliament, this time as a representative for Bedfordshire. 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 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. He does not, however, appear to have taken part in the exclusion debates at this time. 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, Powell, Essex and Lyttleton, tendered his resignation to the king, which was received by Charles "with all my heart." On June 16 he accompanied Shaftesbury when the latter indicted James at Westminster as a popish recusant; and on October 26 he took the extreme step of moving to suppress popery and prevent a popish successor; while on November 2, 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 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 December 18 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 March 26, 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. 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, and on one occasion attended a meeting at which what might be construed as treason was talked. Monmouth, Essex, Hampden, Sidney and Howard of Escrick were at this meeting.

Rye House Plot

On the outbreak of the Rye House Plot he was accused of promising his assistance to raise an insurrection and bring about the death of the king. Refusing to attempt to escape, he was sent on June 26, 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.

Execution

Russell was executed by Jack Ketch on July 21 1683. 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.

References

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