RUSSELL, Wriothesley (1680-1711)

RUSSELL, Wriothesley (1680–1711)

styled 1694-1700 mq. of Tavistock; suc. grandfa. 7 Sept. 1700 (a minor) as 2nd duke of BEDFORD

First sat 30 Dec. 1701; last sat 17 May 1711

b. 1 Nov. 1680, o. s. of William Russell, styled Ld. Russell, and Lady Rachel Wriothesley. educ. Magdalen, Oxf. matric. 13 May 1696; travelled abroad (France, Italy, Germany, Netherlands) 1697–9.1 m. 23 May 1695 (with £100,000),2 Elizabeth (d.1724), o. da. and h. of John Howland, merchant of Streatham,3 4s. (2 d.v.p.), 2da. KG 1702. d. 26 May 1711; will 24 Feb. 1701–13 May 1706, pr. 15 Aug. 1711.4

Extra gent. of the bedchamber 1701–2; high constable of England at coronation of Queen Anne 1702.

Ld. lt. Mdx., Beds. and Cambs. 1700–d.; recorder, Bedford ?1700–d.5

Freeman, Merchant Adventurers (Hamburg) Co. 1698.6

Associated with: Woburn, Beds.; Bloomsbury Sq. Westminster.7

Likenesses: Mezzotint by Isaac Beckett, aft. Sir Godfrey Kneller, 1681-8, NPG D30859.

Only son of the ‘Whig martyr’ Lord Russell, for his father’s sake Wriothesley Russell was accounted ‘the most beloved subject of England’ and was the focus for Whig political hopes long before he attained his majority.8 In May 1695 Tavistock (as he was by then styled) married the fabulously wealthy heiress Elizabeth Howland (a granddaughter of Sir Josiah Child) and that winter he came under strong pressure to contest Middlesex in partnership with the veteran Sir John Wolstenholme.9 Support for Tavistock’s candidacy came from a number of prominent Junto politicians, including Charles Talbot, duke of Shrewsbury, who worked hard to overcome Lady Russell’s objections. She feared that membership of Parliament would distract her son from his studies and professed concern about the rival candidacy of Craven Peyton, who claimed to have been promised the Russell interest by Tavistock’s grandfather William Russell, duke of Bedford. Thomas Owen attempted to convince Lady Russell that Tavistock’s youth was no impediment to his sitting in the Commons, citing the example of Christopher Monk, 2nd duke of Albemarle, and that, far from damaging his studies, membership would be beneficial, the Commons being ‘the best school a young nobleman can be in’. Charles Montagu, later earl of Halifax, meanwhile laboured to convince Tavistock’s equally reluctant grandfather Bedford, pointing out that Francis Godolphin, Viscount Rialton (later 2nd earl of Godolphin), was standing in Cornwall, ‘who is not much older, and not so tall as my Lord Tavistock’.10 In the event Montagu and Owen failed to sway Tavistock’s guardians and, although he was selected at the county sessions, Tavistock withdrew before the poll, presumably because of family pressure. His mother’s prudence in sparing him the experience was commended by Anne Nicholas.11 At the subsequent election, Wolstenholme was partnered instead by Tavistock’s kinsman Admiral Edward Russell, later earl of Orford.12

Having completed his studies at Oxford, where he acquired a reputation as a gambler, Tavistock was dispatched on a foreign tour in October 1697.13 Although his grandfather voiced his concerns about Tavistock remaining abroad for too long, the young man was able to overcome the duke’s objections to him extending his journey into Italy and he proceeded to spend the ensuing two years overseas.14 While abroad he found himself the subject of potentially damaging gossip that he had converted to Catholicism during his sojourn in Rome.15 Tavistock denied the accusations vigorously but it was noted that he was received by the Pope ‘with far greater respect than heretics have usually been’.16 Tales of his conversion were almost certainly false but he continued to give his guardians reason for concern during the remainder of his tour as he made his way homewards through France, continually promising (and failing) to give up his gambling habit.17

Tavistock had returned to England by the beginning of December 1699.18 The following year he succeeded his grandfather as 2nd duke of Bedford.19 With the peerage he inherited an estate estimated to be worth more than £30,000 per annum, though it was speculated soon after the 1st duke’s death that there could be some dispute about the will.20 The young duke’s succession prompted a communication from Jonathan Trelawny, then bishop of Exeter, whose relations with the late duke had gradually deteriorated amid accusations that he was attempting to undermine the Russell interest at Tavistock. Trelawny sought to assure Bedford of his friendship and of his eagerness to ‘find out any thing wherein I or my family may be serviceable’.21

Although the Russells were in the vanguard of the great Whig families and had long been associated with the patronage of dissenting ministers, the new duke distanced himself from this tradition, having fallen under the influence of his Tory kinsman, Sir John Leveson Gower, later Baron Gower, and John Granville, afterwards Baron Granville of Potheridge (who later married Bedford’s aunt Rebecca, marchioness of Worcester).22 As a result Bedford aligned himself with the ‘Church’ interest.

In March 1701 Bedford was reported to have subscribed £3,000 to the £550,000 loan. In April it was speculated that he was to be created a garter knight, and according to Cary Gardiner had been promised that honour as soon as he came of age. In May (perhaps as an acknowledgement of his earlier largesse) he was appointed a gentleman of the bedchamber but he was made to wait until the following year for his garter.23 Bedford visited Bath that summer, presumably for his health (which seems always to have been poor).24 In November he finally took command of the lieutenancies to which he had been appointed during his minority.25 The same month he presented two loyal addresses at court, one on behalf of the town of Grantham and the other of John Manners, 9th earl and future duke of Rutland (father-in-law of Bedford’s sister, Lady Roos).26 On 30 Dec. he took his place in the Lords at the opening of the new Parliament, after which he was present on 43 per cent of all sitting days. Bedford introduced Thomas Baptist Manners and Richard Ellis when they presented the loyal address of Grantham to the queen in April 1702.27 In July he missed out on being elected recorder of Cambridge, in spite of the town’s reputed support for him.28

In advance of the election that summer, Bedford wrote to Bishop Trelawny expressing his gratitude that he had suspended a process against the incumbent at Tavistock ‘in consideration of me’ but re-asserting his right to a substantial role in the choice of Members for the borough, arguing that, ‘if I am not misinformed, I have such a property in Tavistock as entitles me to bear a sway in the elections there’.29 At the subsequent poll the Russell interest held firm and both seats were secured by Bedford’s nominees.30 Bedford took his seat in the new Parliament on 31 Oct. 1702, after which he was present on just under 56 per cent of all sitting days. At the beginning of January 1703 he was estimated a likely supporter of the occasional conformity bill and on 16 Jan. he voted against adhering to the Lords’ amendment to the penalty clause. He failed to attend his installation as a garter knight in March (Sir Benjamin Bathurst stood proxy for him in his absence), perhaps because of sickness.31 Certainly that summer he was wracked by poor health, experiencing ‘so violent a pain in my head for these several days that I have not been able to see anybody’.32 In August he suffered a further affliction with the loss of his first son. His appeal, later in the summer to Rutland for a brace of bucks to be sent to Trinity College, Cambridge, as the stocks at Woburn were too low was scarcely a trouble of the same order, but it was perhaps an embarrassing admission given Bedford’s appointment only the year before as overseer of the preservation of game in Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire against the encroachments of poachers.33

Bedford returned to the House at the opening of the second session on 9 Nov. 1703. He was again estimated a supporter of the occasional conformity bill in two forecasts of that month and voted for it on 14 December. Present on just under 34 per cent of all sitting days in the session, he was on a list of Members of the Lords and Commons drawn up by Daniel Finch, 2nd earl of Nottingham, in 1704, which perhaps indicates support over the ‘Scotch Plot’. On 1 Mar. 1704 he was one of eight peers to register his dissent at the resolution to retain a proviso within the address to the crown for pardoning Boucher, demanding that the pardon be dependent on Boucher making a full confession. Bedford registered two further dissents on 25 Mar., the first over the resolution to put the question on whether the failure to pass a censure of Robert Ferguson was an encouragement to the crown’s enemies and a second once the resolution had been carried. In both these cases Gower and Granville were also among those registering their dissents.

Bedford continued to associate with the Tories in the ensuing session, being listed on 1 Nov. 1704 as a likely supporter of the Tack.34 Although his attendance of the House continued to decline, with him being present on just over a fifth of all sitting days in the session, on 19 Feb. 1705 he reported from the committee for Sir George Warburton’s bill, recommending that it pass with one amendment. His association with Tories such as Gower and Granville did not imply Jacobite sympathies and in April 1705 he was marked a supporter of the Hanoverian succession. Bedford’s balancing act between his family’s traditional party loyalty and sympathy towards his current Tory allies left him in a difficult position at the time of the new elections. In May he ordered his servants not to stir on either side in the Middlesex contest. Although he professed to tend towards Gower’s candidates and promised Gower his future support, he feared the repercussions in Bedfordshire, where he considered he had not ‘been very well used’, if he employed his interest against Sir John Wolstenholme.35 Bedford’s fears of a backlash were realized when the family candidate, Lord Edward Russell, was defeated in his home county. This prompted Bedford to attempt to build bridges with his rivals the Bruces in an effort to restore his interest in the county.36 The Russell interest was similarly wrong-footed at Tavistock, probably on account of disagreements with the Drake family.37

Bedford failed to attend the first session of the new Parliament and on 12 Nov. 1705 he was excused at a call of the House. He finally took his seat in the following session on 30 Dec. 1706, but attended just 24 per cent of all sitting days. Indicative of his gradual move back towards his Whig roots, on 15 and 24 Feb. 1707 he was noted as being present at dinners attended by other Whig magnates such as Thomas Wharton, earl of Wharton, and Charles Bennet, Baron Ossulston (later earl of Tankerville). On 6 Mar. he was one of 14 peers nominated to the select committee for drawing up an address to the queen returning thanks for her speech and assuring her of the House’s commitment to doing all it could to ensure that the Union would have its intended effect.38 The death of Granville towards the close of the year may also have served to weaken Bedford’s ties with the Tories.

Bedford failed to attend the final session of Parliament in April 1707 but in May he introduced Sir William Gostwick to the queen with the Bedfordshire county address.39 Towards the close of the year he was heavily involved with the nomination of a new curate at Woburn, as well as with the setting up of a charity school in the parish and with making overtures to William Wake, then bishop of Lincoln (later archbishop of Canterbury).40 He took his seat in the first Parliament of Great Britain on 24 Nov. and although he attended on just 14 days of the session, on 9 Feb. 1708 he was one of ten peers nominated to oversee the balloting of members of the House to elect a committee of seven to examine the traitor William Gregg. Two days later, he was waited on by Bishop Wake accompanied by William Lloyd, bishop of Lichfield (later bishop of Worcester). Wake complained that Bedford ‘entertained’ the two clergymen in ‘a large cold room without fire’, which helped to bring on an attack of gout.41 In a list of party affiliations in May, Bedford was marked a Whig. The same month saw the birth of his third son and heir (a second son having also died in infancy). It also witnessed a restoration of Russell fortunes in Bedfordshire with the successful return of Lord Edward Russell and Sir William Gostwick for the county seats at the general election: these in spite of Tory efforts to tar Lord Edward with the brush of nonconformity.42 There was an improvement in the strength of Russell influence at Tavistock too, where Sir John Cope was returned on the duke’s interest.43

Bedford returned to the House for the new Parliament on 7 Dec. 1708 but was again infrequently in attendance, being present on less than a fifth of all sitting days. During his absence, the House had ordered the attachment of several people involved in the arrest of one of his servants contrary to privilege, one of whom, Richard Bumsted, was brought before the bar of the House and discharged on the day Bedford took his seat. He was absent again the following day (8 Dec.) when the remaining delinquents were discharged, returning to the House on 13 Jan. 1709. On 21 Jan. he voted against permitting Scots peers holding British peerages to vote in the election of Scots representative peers. Towards the end of May he attended a feast dominated by Whig notables and that summer it was noted that he had finally ‘recovered from the infatuation of Lord Granville and is returned to the principles of his family’.44

Bedford’s attendance during the following session improved slightly, with him present for almost 27 per cent of all sitting days. On 20 Mar. he demonstrated his renewed loyalty to the Whigs by finding Dr Henry Sacheverell guilty of high crimes and misdemeanours. Earlier that month he had been active in attempting to restore peace in London by mobilizing some of the Middlesex militia at the height of the rioting.45 In September he approached Charles Spencer, 3rd earl of Sunderland, for his assistance in promoting the River Nene navigation bill, having finally overcome the opposition of the dean and chapter of Peterborough. With Sunderland’s assistance, he wrote, ‘I question not but it will succeed’.46 Despite this, no further progress appears to have been made in the scheme. The same month he undertook to employ his interest on behalf of the Whig candidate at Westminster, General James Stanhope, later Earl Stanhope.47

In advance of the elections Bedford was estimated by Robert Harley, earl of Oxford, as an opponent. The forecast was proved accurate when Bedford joined with his cousin Orford and with John Moore, bishop of Ely, in promoting Whig candidates in Cambridgeshire, though in the event their combined interests were baffled by the Harleyites.48 Bedford had better success in his home county of Bedfordshire but he was concerned by how narrowly his candidates had prevailed against the Tory challenger John Harvey and determined to ‘labour zealously’ to recover his interest in the county before the next election.49 Although it had also been predicted earlier that year that his interest at Tavistock was once more in trouble, the sitting candidates were returned, at least one of them undoubtedly with the duke’s blessing.50

Bedford took his seat in the new Parliament on 28 Nov. 1710. He was thereafter present on 38 per cent of all sitting days. Between 11 Jan. and 3 Feb. 1711 he subscribed five protests against resolutions condemning the conduct of the war in Spain by the former Whig ministry, but he was then absent from the House for the following eight days. On 5 Feb. he registered his proxy with his brother-in-law William Cavendish, 2nd duke of Devonshire, which was vacated by his resumption of his seat on 12 February. There is no evidence of the proxy having been employed by Devonshire during Bedford’s absence. On 5 Mar. Bedford and Devonshire introduced their brother-in-law John Manners, 2nd duke of Rutland, on his first appearance in the House.51 Bedford’s tenure of three lieutenancies made him a target for the acquisitiveness of John Sheffield, duke of Buckingham, who petitioned the government in May to be awarded that of Middlesex, but without success.52

Bedford sat for the final time on 17 May 1711. Four days later, he was reported to be ‘dangerously ill’ of smallpox.53 He died within a week.54 Summing up the duke’s reputation, George Baillie noted him to have been ‘very much regarded for he had taken himself up within this three or four years … and though he had run out a deal at gaming he had recovered it again by sober and virtuous living’; and he accorded his death to be ‘a public loss for you know it is an honest family’. The assessment was echoed by Thomas Frank in an earlier letter to Bishop Wake in which he praised Bedford as ‘well disposed to all the methods of sobriety and seriousness’.55 Orford also noted Bedford’s improved management of his estates, though he had feared that his cousin was ‘too eager to live with economy’ and aimed to settle his debts sooner than was strictly necessary.56

In his will, first drawn up shortly after his succession to the dukedom, Bedford constituted his mother as sole executrix and apportioned his personal estate following payment of debts between her and his sisters, the duchesses of Devonshire and Rutland. He was succeeded in the peerage by his infant son, also Wriothesley Russell, as 3rd duke of Bedford.


  • 1 Post Boy, 2–5 Dec. 1699.
  • 2 Add. 70144, Sir E. to A. Harley, 23 May 1695; Verney ms mic. M636/48, C. Gardiner to Sir R. Verney, 24 May 1695.
  • 3 Luttrell, Brief Relation, iii. 476.
  • 4 TNA, PROB 11/522.
  • 5 Evening Post, 29 Nov.–1 Dec. 1711.
  • 6 Add. 28079, ff. 59–60.
  • 7 E. Hatton, A New View of London (1708), ii. 623–39; Add. 22267, ff. 164–71.
  • 8 Chatsworth, Devonshire mss 90.0.
  • 9 Luttrell, Brief Relation, iii. 472; Chatsworth, Devonshire mss 88.0, 89.1.
  • 10 Chatsworth, Devonshire mss 88.0, 89.0, 90.0.
  • 11 Verney ms mic. M636/48, A. Nicholas to J. Verney, 17 Oct. 1695.
  • 12 Luttrell, Brief Relation, iii. 539.
  • 13 Chatsworth, Devonshire mss 73.2; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 297.
  • 14 Chatsworth, Devonshire mss 27.5.
  • 15 HMC Buccleuch, ii. 773; Chatsworth, Devonshire mss 73.13, 98.1.
  • 16 Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 527.
  • 17 Chatsworth, Devonshire mss 73.5, 73.8, 73.18, 73.22.
  • 18 Post Boy, 9–12 Dec. 1699.
  • 19 HMC Portland, iv. 4.
  • 20 Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 685; Verney ms mic. M636/51, C. Gardiner to Sir J. Verney, 19 Sept. 1700.
  • 21 Chatsworth, Devonshire mss 104.0.
  • 22 Staffs. RO, Sutherland mss, D868/7/1b.
  • 23 HMC Rutland, ii. 167; Bodl. Carte 228, f. 394; Verney ms mic. M636/51, C. Gardiner to Sir J. Verney, 19 Mar. 1702.
  • 24 Verney ms mic. M636/38, J. Stewkeley to Sir R. Verney, 2, and 9 June 1684; M636/51, C. Gardiner to Sir J. Verney, 28 Aug. 1701.
  • 25 Luttrell, Brief Relation, v. 114.
  • 26 HMC Rutland, ii. 168.
  • 27 London Gazette, 2–6 Apr. 1702.
  • 28 Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, iii. 224; Luttrell, Brief Relation, v. 188; Verney ms mic. M636/52, C. Gardiner to Sir J. Verney, 30 July 1702.
  • 29 Chatsworth, Devonshire mss 73.32.
  • 30 HP Commons, 1690–1715, ii. 153.
  • 31 Add. 70075, newsletter, 13 Mar. 1703.
  • 32 Sutherland mss, D868/7/1b.
  • 33 HMC Rutland, ii. 176; CSP Dom. 1700–2, p. 491.
  • 34 Eg. 3359, ff. 45–46.
  • 35 Sutherland mss, D868/7/2a.
  • 36 HP Commons, 1690–1715, ii. 7.
  • 37 Ibid. ii. 153.
  • 38 TNA, C104/116, pt.1.
  • 39 London Gazette, 1–5 May 1707.
  • 40 Christ Church, Oxf. Wake mss 1, ff. 129, 132.
  • 41 LPL, ms 1770 (Wake’s diary), f. 57.
  • 42 HP Commons, 1690–1715, ii. 7.
  • 43 Devon RO, Drake mss, 346 M/F54.
  • 44 Add. 61459, ff. 168–9, 176–8; Pols. in Age of Anne, 328.
  • 45 Add. 61652, f. 205.
  • 46 Add. 61655, f. 114.
  • 47 HMC Portland, ii. 218.
  • 48 Add. 70197, Thomas Edward to ‘Sir’, 17 Nov. 1712.
  • 49 Woburn Abbey ms (HMC 2nd Rep. viii), vii. f. 42.
  • 50 Devon RO, Drake mss, 346 M/F59.
  • 51 Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 698.
  • 52 HMC Portland, iv. 683.
  • 53 Add. 72495, ff. 71–72.
  • 54 Post Boy, 26–29 May 1711.
  • 55 Haddington mss, Mellerstain letters 4, Baillie to wife, 29 May 1711; Wake mss, 1, f. 129.
  • 56 Chatsworth, Devonshire mss 98.2.