Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Russell, John (1486?-1555)

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RUSSELL, JOHN, first Earl of Bedford (1486?–1555), was son of James Russell (d. 1509), by his first wife, Alice, daughter of John Wyse of Sydenham-Damerel, Devonshire [see Russell, Sir John, (fl. 1440–1470)]. The family was well established in the west of England, as can be seen from the marriages of its female members and from the lengthy pedigree with which the first earl is usually supplied (Lipscomb, Buckinghamshire, iii. 248). John Russell is said to have travelled much on the continent, and to have learned various foreign languages, notably Spanish. He occupied some position at the court in 1497, and Andrea Trevisan, the ambassador, says that when he made his entry into London in 1497, Russell and the Dean of Windsor, ‘men of great repute,’ met him some way from the city (Cal. State Papers, Venetian, i. 754; cf. Rawdon Brown, Despatches of Sebastian Giustinian, i. 84–5, and esp. p. 88). In 1506, when the Archduke Philip was cast on the English coast at Melcombe Regis, Weymouth (cf. Busch, England under the Tudors, Engl. tr. pp. 191 sqq. and 372 sqq.), he was received at Wolverton by Sir Thomas Trenchard, a connection of the Russell family, who introduced young Russell to him. Russell accompanied the archduke to Windsor, and Henry VII made him a gentleman of the privy chamber.

On the accession of Henry VIII Russell was continued in his employments, and became a great favourite with the king. He took part in the amusements of the court, but made himself useful as well as amusing, ‘standing,’ Lloyd says, ‘not so much upon his prince's pleasure as his interest.’ In 1513 he went on the expedition to France as a captain, and distinguished himself at the sieges of Therouenne and Tournay. About this time he was knighted (Letters and Papers, II. i. 2735). In November 1514 he was one of the sixteen who answered the challenge of the dauphin, and went to Paris for the tournament. He was constantly employed on diplomatic business from this time onwards. In 1519 he was again in the north of France as one of the commissioners for the surrender of Tournay. In 1520 he was at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. In 1522 he accompanied Thomas Howard, earl of Surrey (afterwards third Duke of Norfolk) [q. v.], on the naval expedition against the coasts of France. He was at the assault and sack of Morlaix, where he received an arrow wound which deprived him of the sight of his right eye. On 28 June 1523 he was made knight marshal of the household.

In the diplomatic negotiations of the next few years Russell took an important part. After the failure of Knight he was sent in June 1523 on a secret mission to the Duke of Bourbon, whom Henry wished to attach to himself in his war with the king of France. Russell travelled by way of Luxembourg, and reached Geneva in the disguise of a merchant. His instructions (see Letters and Papers, II. ii. 3217, and more fully State Papers, vi. 163–7) must have been sent after him, as they are dated 2 Aug. At Bourg-en-Bresse he was met by Lallière and taken into the heart of France to Gayete, where, on the night of 6–7 Sept., he came to an agreement with Bourbon, and the heads of a treaty were drawn up (see Letters and Papers, ii. 3307, and, fully, State Papers, vi. 174–5). He was back in England by 20 Sept. (Letters and Papers, ii. ii. 3346); and More, writing to Wolsey, speaks of him as one ‘of whose well-achieved errand his grace taketh great pleasure’ (Brewer, Henry VIII, i. 507). As under the agreement Henry was to find a large sum of ready money to pay the lansquenets, Russell set off in October 1523 with 12,000l. On 1 Nov. he was at Aynche, and on 11 Nov. he had reached Besançon (Letters and Papers, ii. ii. 3440, 3496, 3525; it looks as though State Papers, vi. No. xc. were misdated). There he remained for some months, sending valuable information home. There was a design that Bourbon should visit England, but in 1524 the duke left for Italy, and Russell, after some interval, was directed to take his money and join him. A letter from Chambery, dated 31 July 1524, gives a very curious account of his journey there. He now passed on to Turin (6 Aug.), remarking in a letter to Henry that ‘this country of Piedmont is very dangerous.’ At the end of the month Russell joined Bourbon at the siege of Marseilles, and he acted as one of the duke's council. On 20 Sept. he left the camp, and sailed from Toulon to Genoa (for the relations between England and Bourbon see Brewer, Henry VIII, chaps. xv. xvii. xxi.; Mignet, Rivalité de François I et de Charles V, ed. 1876, vol. i. chaps. v. vi.) At Viterbo he met the Turcopolier of the knights of St. John, who brought him more money from England. The disposition of the money sent was practically left to Russell's discretion, and he judged it the wisest course, though he had many suggestions to the contrary, to send it home again. After visiting Pope Clement at Rome, he went to Naples in January 1525. Clement was by this time in alliance with the French, and the French were hoping to reduce Naples (Creighton, Papacy, v. 251). Troops were moving about the country, and Russell had his share of danger. He was at Rome again in February, and decided to set off for England. To avoid the French, he started for Loretto, but was driven further afield. While in this plight he was summoned back to Rome by John Clerk (d. 1541) [q. v.], bishop of Bath and Wells, and reached it after many perils. He received new instructions, and was present at the battle of Pavia on 24 Feb. 1524–5. For a long time he remained at Milan. He had a new commission as envoy on 1 June 1525. Journeying by way of Bologna, a plot to capture him and send him away to France seems to have been formed there. It is also said that he was delivered from his foes by Thomas Cromwell. But this story, which forms an incident in the play ‘The Life and Death of Thomas, Lord Cromwell,’ does not agree with what we know of Cromwell's life [see Cromwell, Thomas, Earl of Essex].

On his return to England Russell advanced his fortunes by marrying, in 1526, Anne, daughter and heiress of Sir Guy Sapcote, widow of Sir John Broughton and of Sir Richard Jerningham. With her he acquired Chenies, Buckinghamshire, which Sir Guy had inherited. But he was soon abroad again. On 2 Jan. 1526–7 he was sent as ambassador to Pope Clement (see Creighton, Papacy, vol. v. chap. viii. and ix.). Clement, in great trouble after the plundering of Rome by the Colonna, was so delighted to see him, especially as he brought aid in money, that he offered to lodge him in the Vatican, an honour that he wisely declined. Russell could do nothing, as Wolsey had warned him not to give any assurance of further help. A proof of his capacity is afforded by the fact that he was employed to treat in the pope's behalf with Lannoy, the imperialist general; but though, on going to Cipriani, he found Lannoy willing to enter into a truce, he urged the pope not to make peace without consulting his allies. Russell accordingly set out for Venice, but on his way he broke his leg, and had to send on his proposals to the Venetians by Sir Thomas Wyatt. The pope meanwhile did not wait for an answer from the Venetians, but entered into a truce with Lannoy on 15 March, an arrangement against which Russell vigorously protested on his return to Rome. He left Rome just before the sack of that city, and was at Savona on 11 May. He is accused of having tried before his departure to induce Clement to raise money by creating new cardinals; to this proposal the pope assented, but not until it was too late for the money to be of any use. Russell also while at Rome spoke to the pope in favour of Wolsey's colleges.

In December 1527 Russell was once more ordered to Italy, but he returned very early in 1528. A dispute with Sir Thomas Cheney, who was supported by Anne Boleyn, as to the wardship of his stepdaughters was the origin of Russell's opposition to her and her party. He was sheriff of Dorset and Somerset in 1528, and was made bailiff of Burley in the New Forest on 29 Aug. 1528. In the Reformation parliament of 1529 he sat for Buckingham. That he was treated with great confidence by Henry can be gathered from the fact that, when Henry sent a reprimand to Wolsey in 1528, he read the letter to Russell before despatching it (Friedmann, Anne Boleyn, i. 75). Russell afterwards wrote in kindly terms to Wolsey (Brewer, Henry VIII, p. 288). He gave him good advice before his fall, and took a ring from the king to him on 1 Nov. 1529. Wolsey was grateful, and asked the king to settle 20l. a year upon Russell from the revenues of Winchester and St. Albans when he resigned them. Chapuys says that Russell spoke to the king in favour of Wolsey, and was disliked by Anne in consequence. In 1532 he went with the king to France.

On 20 May 1536 Russell was present at the marriage of Henry and Jane Seymour (Herbert, History of Henry VIII, ed. 1572, p. 451). He took an active part in the suppression of the Pilgrimage of Grace; he was with Sir William Parr at Stamford in October 1536, and went among the rebels in disguise. After the rebellion was over he was a commissioner to try the Lincolnshire prisoners. ‘As for Sir John Russell and Sir Francis Bryan,’ wrote one to Cromwell, ‘God never died for a better couple.’ On 18 Oct. 1537 he was made comptroller of the king's household. He assisted at the execution of the abbot of Glastonbury (Wright, Letters relating to the Suppression of Monasteries, Camd. Soc. p. 259, cf. p. 261). On 5 Nov. 1538 he was made a privy councillor, and on 29 March 1539 he was created Baron Russell of Cheneys (or Chenies). He was elected K.G. on 24 April 1539. This year he also received several valuable appointments, the most important of which was that of high steward of the duchy of Cornwall. In 1540 he became lord high admiral of England, and lord-president of the counties of Devon, Dorset, Cornwall, and Somerset, whose government Henry was trying to remodel; as admiral he was succeeded by Lord Lisle in 1542. On 7 Nov. 1542 he was made high steward of Oxford University, at the time the duties were more than nominal (Rashdall, Universities of Europe in the Middle Ages, II. ii. 410, 790), and on 3 Dec. he became lord privy seal. When the king invaded France in 1544, Russell commanded the vanguard (Doyle; Wiffen says the rearguard; cf. Bapst, Deux Gentilshommes Poètes, chap. xi.) The following year he was occupied in putting the south coast in a position of defence.

When Henry died, Russell was one of his executors, and he took an important part in the events of Edward's reign. He was lord high steward and bearer of the third sword at the coronation, became a privy councillor on 13 March 1546–7, and was one of those whom Paget declared the late king had intended to make an earl with 200l. a year. He was reappointed lord privy seal on 21 Aug. 1547. He gave good advice to Seymour about his marriage projects, but he took part in his overthrow (Tytler, Edward VI and Mary, i. 142 and sqq., cf. pp. 217, 231). In 1549 he distinguished himself by the part he took in the suppression of the western rebellion. He received his commission on 25 June, relieved Exeter, and defeated the rebels at St. Mary's Clyst. As a reward, he was created Earl of Bedford on 19 Jan. 1549–50. Two days later he was appointed commissioner, with Paget, to treat for peace with France. He seems to have steered very cautiously through Edward VI's reign, though he is said to have favoured the Reformation. With his son Francis he signed Edward's letters patent limiting the crown to Lady Jane Grey (cf. Chronicles of Queen Jane and Queen Mary, Camd. Soc. p. 99). But he found it easy to take up Mary's side when he judged it time to do so, ‘regarding not so much her opinion as his own duty.’ He had been friendly to Mary in Edward's time (Strickland, Queens of Engl. iii. 406). He was present at her proclamation as queen (ib. p. 48). She reappointed him lord privy seal on 3 Nov. 1553, and made him lord-lieutenant of Devonshire in 1554. But he was by no means in favour of the restoration of the abbey lands to their original uses (ib. iii. 582). He was active against Wyatt, and took part in preventing a Devonshire insurrection under Sir Peter Carew. On 12 April 1554 he was sent, with Lord Fitzwalter [see Radcliffe, Thomas, third Earl of Sussex], to Philip of Spain to conclude the marriage treaty (cf. MS. Cott. Vesp. C. vii. 198; Rymer, Fœdera, xv. 377; a letter from Spain is printed by Tytler, Edward VI and Mary, ii. 408), and returned in time to welcome Philip at Southampton on 20 July (cf. MS. Cott. Vesp. F. iii. f. 12; Ellis, Orig. Letters, 2nd ser. ii. 252). He also took part in the marriage ceremony. Bedford died on 14 March 1555 at his house in the Strand, and was buried with much ceremony at Chenies in Buckinghamshire. He was succeeded by his son Francis [q. v.], who is separately noticed.

One portrait by Holbein, on an oak panel, is at Woburn; it has been engraved in Lodge's ‘Portraits’ (vol. i.) The original sketch for it is at Windsor. Another half-length has been engraved by Houbraken. A third represents him at a more advanced age than the other two. He is sitting in a curiously worked chair, with his collar of the Garter; the right eye is dull.

Froude speaks of Russell's high character, and a letter supposed to be by Wyatt calls him an honest man. He certainly combined many qualities which secure success. He was a pleasant courtier, as we know from Chapuys, whom he introduced to the king, and he seems to have had literary tastes, as he is credited with the authorship of two Latin treatises which are not known to have been printed. He was also a good soldier, a competent ambassador, and a steady friend. It required a great deal of adroitness, and no doubt a certain laxity of principle, to come through such changes as took place in his time a rich and respected official. Russell benefited largely by the fall of those who were less adroit than himself; and the grants of forfeited lands which he received laid the foundation of the commanding wealth and territorial position which the family has since enjoyed. In 1539, besides the forest and chace of Exmoor, and many other estates forfeited by Henry Courtenay, marquis of Exeter and earl of Devonshire [q. v.], Russell received Tavistock, with thirty other manors in Devonshire, Cornwall, and Somerset formerly belonging to the abbey of Tavistock. In 1549 he was granted Thorney, with several thousand acres in Cambridgeshire formerly belonging to the abbey there, and about the same time he received the Cistercian abbey of Woburn, Bedfordshire; in 1552 he received Covent Garden with seven acres, ‘called Long Acre,’ forfeited by Protector Somerset. This estate was subsequently added to by Russell's descendants, who have given their name to many streets, squares, and places in Bloomsbury. Russell House, near the Savoy in the Strand, which was acquired by the first earl, formerly belonged to the bishops of Carlisle.

The first earl of Bedford must be distinguished from the John Russell who fought at Calais and Tournay, and took part in the intrigues to secure the person of Richard de la Pole [q. v.] in 1515 (see Letters and Papers, i. 4476, ii. i. 1163, 1514, 1907), and from another contemporary John Russell (d. 1556) of Strensham, Worcestershire (Nash, Worcestershire, ii. 390, &c.; Metcalfe, Knights, p. 61).

[Wiffen's Memoirs of the House of Russell, i. 179, &c.; Doyle's Official Baronage; G. E. C.'s Complete Peerage; Letters and Papers of Henry VIII; State Papers of Henry VIII; Acts of the Privy Council, ed. Dasent; Cal. of State Papers, Venetian, Spanish, and Foreign Ser.; Troubles connected with the Prayer Book of 1549 (Camd. Soc.); Cavendish's Life of Wolsey; Diario di M. Sanuto, xliii. 704, 128, 729, 749; Dixon's Hist. of the Church of England, iv. 360; Scharf's Portraits at Woburn and at Eaton Square; Strype's Works, Index; Wood's Letters of Royal and Illustrious Ladies, iii. 4, &c.; Strickland's Queens of Engl. iii. 7, &c., iv. 32, &c.; Wriothesley's Chron. (Camd. Soc.), i. 69, &c.; ii. 20, &c.; Machyn's Diary (Camd. Soc.), pp. 13, 19, 37, 79, 83, 343; Trevelyan Papers (Camd. Soc.), i. 150, 198, ii. 26; Services of Lord Gray (Camd. Soc.); Narratives of the Reformation (Camd. Soc.), p. 42, &c.; authorities quoted.]

W. A. J. A.