Monmouth, Essex, and Sir Thomas Armstrong to the house of one Sheppard, a wine merchant in the city, where they found Rumsey and Ferguson, it is improbable that the sole or principal purpose was to taste Sheppard's sherry. But no reason exists for supposing Russell to have been cognisant of the desperate scheme for the assassination of the king and the Duke of York which some of the whig agents and their associates were simultaneously concocting.
Soon after this Shaftesbury fled to Holland; but meetings of his former agents continued to be held, in which the 'Rye-house plot' was matured. A vintner named Keeling, having discovered what he knew of the plot to Lord Dartmouth and Secretary Jenkins, introduced his brother into the company of one of the plotters; the two spies swore that Lord Russell had promised to engage in the design, and to use all his interest in accomplishing the double assassination. The privy council delayed proceedings against him till the king should have returned from Windsor to London, but a proclamation was issued for the apprehension of the obscurer persons involved, and two of these (West and Rumsey) quickly came in and confessed the 'Rye-house plot' (23-4 June). On the day of the king's return (26 June) Lord Russell was brought before the privy council and sent to the Tower (Luttrell, Brief Relation,i. 262-3). During the interval he had declined to leave his house; but, on being arrested, he told his servant that he knew his enemies would have his life (Lord John Russell, p. 268). With the instinct of affection, Lady Russell, as she afterwards wrote (Letters, p. 130), at once felt assured 'of quickly after losing the sight of him for ever in this world.' In the Tower he showed perfect composure, reading the Bible, refusing an offer which reached him from Monmouth to share his fortunes, and, on examination by commissioners of the privy council, admitting nothing beyond the fact of his visit to Sheppard's house. The few days intervening before his trial were devoted by Lady Russell to all possible preparations for his defence.
The trial of Russell for high treason took place on 13 July 1683 at the Old Bailey, where two obscurer prisoners had already been found guilty of a share in the new 'plot.' Early on the same morning the Earl of Essex, Russell's political and personal intimate, had been found dead in the Tower, under suspicions of suicide which are said to have fatally influenced the jury in his case (Luttrell, p. 266; Lady Chatworth ap. Lord John Russell, p. 271; Letters of Lady Russell, p. 100). Lord-chief-justice Pemberton presided over the nine judges at the trial; the counsel for the crown were the attorney- and solicitor-general (Sawyer and Finch) with Sergeant Jeffreys, who was not wanting to his growing reputation, and Roger North, who in his 'Autobiography' (ed. Jessopp, 1887) refers to this trial as a special example of the fairness then, if ever, common in English courts of law. Ward, Holt, and Pollexfen were for the defence. The jury consisted of ordinary citizens of London (Luttrell, i. 268; portraits of all the chief participants in the trial were included in Hayter's well-known picture (1825) at Woburn; cf. Scharf, pp. 240-1). The presiding judge at first showed himself not unwilling to allow the prisoner a postponement till the afternoon; and, on Russell's asking for the assistance of a writer and mentioning the presence of his wife, Pemberton courteously invited her to act in this capacity. Having pleaded 'not guilty,' Russell was accused of having joined in a 'consult' to raise an insurrection against the king, and of having in Sheppard's house concurred to that end in a scheme to seize the royal guards. The defence turned chiefly on the arguments: (1) that to imagine the levying of war upon the king was not equivalent to a design to kill him, and thus not treason under the statute of Edward III, under which the prisoner was charged; and (2) that no two witnesses had sworn to the same overt act proving him to have sought to compass the king's death by seizing his guards. The chief witness as to the 'consult' was William Howard, third lord Howard of Escrick [q. v.]; the two witnesses as to the meeting at Sheppard's were Rumsey and Sheppard himself, whose statements could not be made to converge upon the same damnatory point. Russell denied having so much as heard the particular design discussed on the occasion; his own witnesses, among whom were Cavendish and the Duke of Somerset, Tillotson, and Burnet, spoke partly to refute the incriminating evidence, but chiefly to character. The summing up, although temperate in tone, ignored the chief argument for the defence, the absence of two witnesses, which had been similarly disregarded in Stafford's case; a verdict of guilty was returned (see Cobbett, State Trials,181l,ix. 577-636; cf. Burnet, Own Time, ii. 375-80. In the State Trials, pp. 695-813, will also be found an analysis of a series of contemporary pamphlets on the law of the case, including Sir Robert Atkins's Defence of the late Lord Russell's Innocency. The whig view of the case as 'a most flagrant violation of law