Russell, George William (DNB00)
|←Russell, Francis (1765-1802)||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 49
Russell, George William
RUSSELL, Lord GEORGE WILLIAM (1790–1846), major-general, was second son of John, sixth duke of Bedford, by Georgiana Elizabeth Byng, second daughter of the fourth viscount Torrington. Lord John Russell (afterwards Earl Russell) [q. v.] was his younger brother. He was born in Harley Street, London, on 8 May 1790, and was educated with Lord John successively at a private school at Sunbury, at Westminster for rather more than a year, and at Woodnesborough, near Sandwich. To his brother Lord John he was through life warmly attached. He entered the army as cornet in the 1st dragoons on 5 Feb. 1806, and became lieutenant on 11 Sept. He took part in the expedition to Copenhagen in 1807 as aide-de-camp to Sir G. Ludlow.
On 25 March 1808 he became captain in the 23rd dragoons, and went with that regiment to Portugal in 1809. In the charge on Villette's column at Talavera, which cost the regiment so much loss, he was wounded and nearly taken prisoner. He returned to England with the regiment at the end of the year. In 1810 he went back to the Peninsula as aide-de-camp to General Graham at Cadiz, and was present at the battle of Barrosa (5 March 1811). In 1812 he became aide-de-camp to Wellington, and was on his staff at Vittoria, Orthes, and Toulouse. He was sent home with despatches after Toulouse, and received a brevet lieutenant-colonelcy and medal for that battle (12 April 1814). He had become major in the 102nd foot on 4 Feb. 1813.
Soon after his marriage in 1817 he went to Paris as aide-de-camp to Wellington, who was then ambassador. He had been M.P. for Bedford while serving in the Peninsula, and was again returned in 1818. He was a staunch adherent of the whigs, afterwards giving his brother Lord John much private encouragement in his opposition to the corn laws. In 1826 he urged his brother to master the Irish question and identify himself with it.
On 28 Oct. 1824 he obtained the command of the 8th (Royal Irish) hussars, and held it till November 1828, when he retired on half pay. During this time he strongly advocated a revision of the cavalry regulations, which were those drawn up by Saldern, and translated by Dundas in the latter part of the eighteenth century. He wrote several times to Wellington on the subject, and sent him a paper in favour of formation in rank entire, resting his argument partly on his own experience in the Peninsula. The duke replied (31 July 1826): ‘I cannot tell you with what satisfaction I have read it, and how entirely I agree in every word of it. … I considered our cavalry so inferior to that of the French from want of order, although I consider one squadron a match for two French squadrons, that I should not have liked to see four British squadrons opposed to four French’ (Wellington Despatches, Supplementary, xiv. 714, 723, and 3rd ser. iii. 353).
Russell became colonel in the army on 22 July 1830 and major-general on 23 Nov. 1841, but had no further military employment. The whigs having come into office in 1830, a diplomatic career opened for him. He was attached to the mission of Sir Robert Adair to Belgium in July 1831. Thence he was sent on a special mission to Portugal, where the struggle between Don Miguel and Donna Maria was in progress; and when the British government recognised Donna Maria as queen, he became British minister (7 Aug. 1833). In November he was transferred to Würtemberg, and on 24 Nov. 1835 he succeeded Lord Minto as ambassador at Berlin. He remained there till September 1841, when Sir Robert Peel returned to power, and he resigned. He received the G.C.B. (civil) on 19 July 1838, and the order of Leopold (first class) in 1841.
He died at Genoa on 16 July 1846, and was buried in the Bedford Chapel at Chenies church, Buckinghamshire, on 29 July. He married, on 21 June 1817, Elizabeth Anne, only child of the Hon. John Theophilus Rawdon, brother of the first marquis of Hastings. It is to this lady that Byron alluded in ‘Beppo’ as the only one he had ever seen ‘whose bloom could, after dancing, dare the dawn.’ Her beauty was equalled by her charm of manner and conversation. He left three sons, of whom the youngest was Odo William Russell, baron Ampthill [q. v.]
The eldest son, Francis Charles Hastings Russell, ninth Duke of Bedford (1819–1891), born in Curzon Street on 16 Oct. 1819, entered the Scots fusilier guards in 1838, but retired upon his marriage after six years' service. In 1847 he entered parliament as member for Bedfordshire, and represented the county until 1872, when (26 May) he succeeded to the dukedom of Bedford on the death of his first cousin, William, the eighth duke, son of Francis and grandson of John, the sixth duke [see under Russell, John, first Earl Russell]. In 1879 he succeeded the Prince of Wales as president of the Royal Agricultural Society, and he carried out some costly experiments on his Woburn estate in connection with the fertilising properties of manures. Some valuable results were obtained on a farm of ninety acres devoted to experimental purposes. The duke himself had a keen practical knowledge of ensilage and stock-breeding. Though born in the ‘purple of whiggism’ and possessed of a caustic tongue, he was abnormally shy and retiring, and took no active part in politics. He chiefly occupied himself in superintending the management of his vast properties covering about ninety thousand acres in Bedfordshire, Devonshire, Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire, Dorset, Buckinghamshire, Huntingdonshire, and Cornwall. He presented a statue of Bunyan and other gifts to the town of Bedford, built a town-hall, and executed many improvements on his property in and about Tavistock, and also on his estates in the fens; but he was taunted by the press (especially by ‘Punch’) for his neglect of Covent Garden Market and the important property in its vicinity. Over a million sterling was added to the ducal revenues in his time by the fines exacted on the leases falling due upon his Bloomsbury estate. Russell was created K.G. on 1 Dec. 1880. In later life he became a pronounced hypochondriac, and, in a fit of delirium, while suffering from pneumonia, he shot himself through the heart at his house at 81 Eaton Square, on 14 Jan. 1891; he was buried at Chenies three days later. He married, on 18 Jan. 1844, Elizabeth Sackville-West, eldest daughter of George John, fifth earl De La Warr. She was a bridesmaid and subsequently mistress of the robes (1880–3) to Queen Victoria. There is at Woburn Abbey a portrait of the ninth duke painted by George Richmond [q. v.] in 1869. He was succeeded in the dukedom by his eldest son, George William Francis Sackville Russell (born 16 April 1852), who graduated B.A. from Balliol College, Oxford, in 1874, was called to the bar from Lincoln's Inn, and married on 24 Oct. 1876 Lady Adeline Mary Somers-Cocks, second daughter and coheiress of Charles, third earl Somers. He represented Bedford in parliament from 1875 to 1885, and died suddenly on 23 March 1893 leaving no issue. He was succeeded by his brother Herbrand Arthur, the eleventh duke.[Gent. Mag. 1846, ii. 316; Walpole's Life of Lord John Russell; Haydn's Book of Dignities; Cannon's Records of the Eighth Hussars. A memoir of Lady W. Russell was printed in 1874. For eldest son see Doyle's Official Baronage; G. E. C.'s Peerage, i. 303; Times, 15 and 19 Jan. 1891; Illustrated London News, 24 Jan. 1891; Bateman's Great Landowners, 4th edit. p. 34; Scharf's Cat. of Pictures at Woburn Abbey, pt. i. p. 175; Clarke's Agriculture and the House of Russell, 1891; Spectator, 7 March 1891, an estimate by Benjamin Jowett, master of Balliol College, Oxford.]