2nd Baron Russell of Thornhaugh (1613-1641)
4th Earl of Bedford (1627-1641)
Born 1593 Died 1641

Francis Russell, was the only son of William, Lord Russell of Thornhaugh, to which barony he succeeded in August 1613. For a short time previously he had been member of parliament for the borough of Lyme Regis; in 1623 he was made Lord-Lieutenant of Devonshire; and in May 1627 became Earl of Bedford by the death of his cousin, Edward, the 3rd earl.

When the quarrel broke out between Charles I and the parliament, Bedford supported the demands of the House of Commons as embodied in the Petition of Right, and in 1629 was arrested for his share in the circulation of Sir Robert Dudley's pamphlet, Proposition for His Majesty's service, but was quickly released. The Short parliament meeting in April 1640 found the earl as one of the king's leading opponents. He was greatly trusted by John Pym and Oliver St John, and is mentioned by Clarendon as among the great contrivers and designers in the House of Lords. In July 1640 he was among the peers who wrote to the Scottish leaders refusing to invite a Scottish army into England, but promising to stand by the Scots in all legal and honourable ways; and his signature was afterwards forged by Thomas, Viscount Savile, in order to encourage the Scots to invade England. In the following September he was among those peers who urged Charles to call a parliament, to make peace with the Scots, and to dismiss his obnoxious ministers; and was one of the English commissioners appointed to conclude the treaty of Ripon. When the Long parliament met in November 1640, Bedford was generally regarded as the leader of the parliamentarians. In February 1641 he was made a privy councillor, and during the course of some negotiations was promised the office of Lord High Treasurer.

He was essentially a moderate man, and seemed anxious to settle the question of the royal revenue in a satisfactory manner. He did not wish to alter the government of the Church, was on good terms with Archbishop Laud, and, although convinced of Strafford's guilt, was anxious to save his life. In the midst of the parliamentary struggle Bedford died of smallpox on the 9th of May 1641. Clarendon described him as "a wise man, and of too great and plentiful a fortune to wish the subversion of the government", and again referring to his death said that "many who knew him well thought his death not unseasonable as well to his fame as his fortune, and that it rescued him as well from some possible guilt as from those visible misfortunes which men of all conditions have since undergone".

Bedford was the head of those who undertook to drain the great level of the fens, called after him the Bedford level. He spent a large sum of money over this work, and received 43,000 acres of land, but owing to various jealousies and difficulties the king took the work into his own hands in 1638, making a further grant of land to the earl. Bedford married Catherine (d. 1657), daughter of Giles, 3rd Lord Chandos, by whom he had four sons and four daughters. His eldest son, William (1613-1700), succeeded him as 5th earl, fought first on the side of the parliament and then on that of the king during the Civil War, and in 1694 was created Marquess of Tavistock and Duke of Bedford.

See Clarendon, History of the Rebellion, passim (Oxford, 1888); J.H. Wiffen, Historical Memoirs of the house of Russell (London, 1833) ; J. L. Sanford, Studies and Illustrations of the Great Rebellion (London, 1858).

Extracted from the entry for BEDFORD, EARLS AND DUKES OF in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.

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