Russell, Odo William Leopold (DNB00)
|←Russell, Michael||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 49
Russell, Odo William Leopold
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RUSSELL, ODO WILLIAM LEOPOLD, first Baron Ampthill (1829–1884), son of Major-general Lord George William Russell [q. v.], was born at Florence on 20 Feb. 1829. He owed his education chiefly to tutors and largely to the training of his mother, Elizabeth Ann, daughter of the Hon. John Theophilus Rawdon, brother of the Marquis of Hastings. The result was that, while he never became a classical scholar, he could read Dante and speak French, Italian, and German with exceptional purity. The diplomatic career was thus naturally marked out for him, and on 15 March 1849 he was appointed attaché at the embassy at Vienna, then under Sir Arthur Magenis. From 1850 to 1852 he had the advantage of steady work at the foreign office in London under Lord Palmerston, and afterwards under Lord Granville. On 21 Feb. 1852 he was attached to the Paris embassy, but was transferred two months later to his former post at Vienna, where for a short time in 1852 he acted as chargé d'affaires. In September 1853 he became second paid attaché at Paris under Lord Cowley, and in August 1854 first attaché at Constantinople. Here he found himself under a great chief at a great crisis. Lord Stratford de Redcliffe [see Canning, Stratford] ruled the embassy at the Porte, and the Crimean war was just beginning. Although a young man, Odo Russell was a steady worker, extremely methodical, and well versed in official forms. Lord Stratford found him a valuable assistant, upon whom he could rely for any pressure of work (Lane-Poole, Life of Stratford Canning, ii. 64). During Lord Stratford's two visits to the Crimea in 1855, Odo Russell took charge of the embassy, and had to resist, to the best of his experience and ability, a French intrigue against Lord Stratford's policy (ib. ii. 420). After a brief residence at the legation at Washington under Lord Napier, whom he accompanied to the United States in February 1857, he was given a commission as secretary of legation at Florence, on 23 Nov. 1858; he was to reside at Rome, and thus began a valuable term of diplomatic service in Italy, which lasted twelve years, till 9 Aug. 1870. During this period he was temporarily attached in May 1859 to Sir Henry Elliot's special mission of congratulation to Francis II, king of the Two Sicilies, and in March 1860 his post was nominally transferred to Naples, though he continued to reside at Rome. After the mission was withdrawn from Naples in November 1860, he was still retained at Rome on special service for ten years longer, attaining the rank of second secretary on 1 Oct. 1862. During these years he was practically, though informally, minister at the Vatican at a critical period of Italian history. It was a position of great delicacy and responsibility, and Odo Russell acquitted himself to the satisfaction of his official chiefs.
In 1870 he returned once more to the foreign office at London, where he was appointed assistant under-secretary in August. In November he was sent on a special mission to the headquarters of the German army at Versailles, where he remained till March 1871. His object was to endeavour to secure the countenance of Prussia, as one of the signatory powers of the treaty of Paris, to England's protest against Russia's repudiation of the Black Sea clause in the treaty. The Prussian government, however, had more to gain from a policy of conciliation towards Russia; and, despite his strenuous exertions, Germany preserved a strict neutrality. But the favourable impression produced upon Count Bismarck by Russell's conduct of this difficult mission doubtless formed one of the reasons which led to his appointment, on 16 Oct. 1871, as ambassador at Berlin, where he succeeded Lord Augustus Loftus.
In Germany Russell found himself completely at home. His father had been minister there from 1835 to 1841, and the son was personally on the best of terms with Bismarck, and highly esteemed by the royal family of Prussia. His political prepossessions were fortunately in tune with his diplomatic situation. He was an honest admirer of Germany and an earnest advocate of a cordial understanding, or even alliance, between Germany and England; and nothing surprised or vexed him more than the lack of sympathy with Germany, and want of interest in German politics and literature, common among Englishmen. The Berlin congress took place during his embassy; at it he held full powers, as third plenipotentiary, with Lords Beaconsfield and Salisbury, and proved an observant and valuable counsellor. At the subsequent conference upon the delimitation of the Greek frontier he was the sole English representative, and took a more prominent part. In the delicate art of removing misconceptions and causes of friction, and encouraging a friendly understanding between the English and German governments, his tact and sincerity achieved notable success.
In spite of a certain shy modesty, he was an excellent causeur, as well as a wide reader; while as a tenor singer he stood much above the rank of the amateur. He delighted in the society of learned men, and Ranke, Helmholtz, Brandis, Gneist, Virchow, and others were among his friends. When the Empress Augusta visited England, she asked Lord Odo Russell which authors she ought to see, and he unhesitatingly submitted the names of Carlyle and ‘George Eliot.’ The result was Carlyle's summons to an audience, which formed one of the steps which led to his receiving the ordre pour le mérite. In 1874 Odo Russell received a patent of precedence as son of a duke, on his brother's succession to the dukedom of Bedford, and, after the congress of Berlin, Lord Beaconsfield offered him a peerage. He preferred, however, to receive it from the liberal party, to which he had always belonged, and on 7 March 1881 he was created Baron Ampthill of Ampthill in Bedfordshire. He had been called to the privy council in 1872, given the grand cross of the Bath in 1874, and the grand cross of St. Michael and St. George in 1879. He died, after a short illness, at the summer villa which he always occupied at Potsdam, on 25 Aug. 1884, and was buried on 2 Sept. in the Russell vault at St. Michael's Church, Chenies, Buckinghamshire. In 1868 he married Lady Emily Theresa Villiers, third daughter of the Earl of Clarendon, by whom he left four sons and two daughters; the eldest son, Arthur Oliver Villiers Russell, succeeded to the title. A portrait of Lord Odo Russell by Wieder is at Ampthill Park, and another by Werner at Stratford Place; the ambassador also appears in Werner's picture of the Berlin congress at the Rathhaus, Berlin.[Foreign Office List, 1884; Times, 26 Aug. and 3 Sept. 1884; Deutsche Revue, April 1888; private information.]