1st Baron Russell (1539-1555)
1st Earl of Bedford (1550-1555)
Born c.1486 Died 1555

John Russell was a son of James Russell (d. 1509). Having travelled widely, he attained some position at the court of Henry VII, and was subsequently in great favour with Henry VIII. In 1513 he took part in the war with France, and, having been knighted about the same time, was afterwards employed on several diplomatic errands.

He was with Henry at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520, and, returning to military service when the French war was renewed, lost his right eye at the siege of Morlaix in 1522. He was soon made knight marshal of the royal household, and in 1523 went secretly to France, where he negotiated a treaty between Henry and Charles, Duke of Bourbon, who was anxious to betray the French king Francis I. After a short visit to England Russell was sent with money to Bourbon, joining the constable at the siege of Marseilles. In. 1524 he visited Pope Clement VII at Rome, and, having eluded the French, who endeavoured to capture him, was present at the battle of Pavia in February 1525, returning to England about the close of the year. In January 1527 he was sent as ambassador to Clement, who employed him to treat on his behalf with Charles de Lannoy, the general of Charles V.

The next few years of Russell's life were mainly spent in England. He was member of parliament for Buckingham in the parliament of 1529, and although an opponent of the party of Anne Boleyn, retained the favour of Henry VIII. He took an active part in suppressing the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536, and was one of the commissioners appointed to try the Lincoinshire prisoners. Honours now crowded upon him. His appointment as comptroller of the king's household in 1537 was followed by that of a privy councillor in 1538; then he was made Lord High Admiral, high steward of the Duchy of Cornwall and a knight of the garter. In March 1539 he was created Baron Russell of Chenies, and in 1542 became high steward of the university of Oxford, and keeper of the privy seal. In 1539, when Charles V and Francis I were threatening to invade England, he was sent into the west, and crossed to France when Henry attacked Francis in 1544. He was in command of an army in the west of England in 1545, and when Henry died in January 1547 was one of the executors of his will.

Under Edward VI Russell was Lord High Steward and Keeper of the Privy Seal, and the defeat which he inflicted on the rebels at Clyst St Mary near Exeter in August 1549, was largely instrumental in suppressing the rising in Devonshire. In January 1550 he was created Earl of Bedford, and was one of the commissioners appointed to make peace with France in this year. He opposed the proposal to seat Lady Jane Grey on the throne; supported Queen Mary, who reappointed him lord privy seal; and assisted to prevent Sir Thomas Wyat's rising from spreading to Devonshire. In 1554 he went to Spain to conclude the marriage treaty between Mary and Philip II, and soon after his return died in London on the i4th of March 1555.

By extensive acquisitions of land Bedford was the founder of the wealth and greatness of the house of Russell. Through his wife, Anne (d. 1559), daughter of Sir Guy Sapcote, whom he married in 1526, he obtained Chenies, and in 1539 was granted the forest of Exmoor, and also Tavistock, and a number of manors in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset, which had formerly belonged to the abbey of Tavistock. In 1549 he received Thorney, the abbey of Woburn, and extensive lands in the eastern counties; and in 1552 Covent Garden and seven acres of land in London, formerly the property of the protector Somerset. He left an only son, Francis, who succeeded him in the title.

See Letters and Papers of Henry VIII (London, 1862-1901); State Papers during the Reign of Henry VIII (London, 1831-1852); Calendar of Slate Papers, Edward VI and Mary (London, 1861); J. H. Wiffen, Historical Memoirs of the house of Russell (London, 1833); J. A. Froude, History of England, passim (London, 1878-1890 8 vol.).

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