RUSSELL, John III (d.1437), of Herefs.
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Family and Education
J.p. Herefs. 20 Feb. 1407-Dec. 1427, 19 Mar. 1428-d., Glos. 21 Mar. 1413-Nov. 1416.
Commr. of inquiry, Salop Feb. 1410 (Ownership of Farlow), duchy of Lancaster lands south of Trent June 1413 (concealments), Herefs. Jan. 1414 (lollards), Feb. 1414 (armed raid on Eardisley), Glos., Worcs. Feb. 1414 (importation of uncustomed wines), Glos. Feb. 1415 (concealments), Herefs. July 1419 (title of Henry Oldcastle† to Almeley); to assess a tax Jan. 1412, Jan. 1436; of oyer and terminer, S. Wales June, July 1413; array, Herefs. Apr. 1418, Mar. 1419; to raise royal loans Nov. 1419, Mar. 1422, July 1426, May 1428, Mar. 1430, May 1431, Feb. 1434, Feb. 1436; administer oath against maintenance May 1434.
Justice, S. Wales Apr. 1410, Aug. 1413, Nov. 1416-Apr. 1417.2
Escheator, Herefs. and adjacent march 9 Mar.-10 Dec. 1411, 14 Dec. 1415-8 Dec. 1416, 23 Nov. 1419-16 Nov. 1420, 5 Nov. 1432-3.
Sheriff, Herefs. 10 Nov. 1417-14 Nov. 1418.
Speaker 1423, 1432.
Steward of Usk by 1426.3
Justice itinerant, Newport 1432.4
Despite his later prominence as a lawyer, 13 times an MP and twice Speaker of the Commons, Russell’s origins are obscure. There is no doubt, however, that he lived in Herefordshire, by 1428 holding lands at Aymestry, Upper and Lower Lye and Lingen, in the north-western corner of the county. His parentage is unknown, but he was doubtless kin to Sir John Russell* of Strensham, a knight of the chamber and master of the horse to Richard II, and it is quite possible that he was even the elder (probably illegitimate) of Sir John’s two sons named John. He was given the final right of remainder in the manor of Bolneys in Haversham, Buckinghamshire, which Sir John’s widow Elizabeth, Lady Clinton, held for life; and he seems to have begun his career in Sir John’s service, for in April 1404 (simply as John Russell of Herefordshire) he was made a principal executor of his will, under the terms of which he was granted a life annuity of £1 to be good ‘conseillour, auditour et defendour’ to the widow.5
Russell had been first mentioned in the records in April 1399, as an attorney for Sir John Wiltshire, then going to Ireland with Richard II’s army. Wiltshire was the fifth husband of Blanche Mowbray, Lady Poynings (a lady-in-waiting to Queen Isabella and an associate at Court of Sir John Russell), for whom our MP was to act as an executor in 1409. Most of Russell’s earlier recorded contacts, however, were with men of his home shire. In February 1401 he took on the executorship of the will of Richard Ruyhale, a canon of Hereford, who left him £40; and early in 1405 he acquired, jointly with John Brugge* and others, an estate at Lower Bullingham. In May 1406, along with two Leominster lawyers, Richard Winnesley† and Edmund Morris*, he went surety for their colleague from Hereford, Thomas Holgot, who was then representing the shire in the Commons. Together with Brugge, moreover, he was a surety for Holgot’s attendance at the Parliament of 1407, held at Gloucester; and on this occasion he also witnessed the elections for Gloucestershire. He was clearly well respected in certain quarters there, for he was nominated as one of the abbot of Gloucester’s proxies in the Parliaments of 1410 and 1411. He is not recorded as having sat in the Lower House on either occasion, but the electoral returns for Gloucestershire of 1410 are lost, as are those of Herefordshire for 1411, so it is not impossible that he was elected for one or other county.6
By this time Russell, a member of Lincoln’s Inn, was well established as an apprentice-at-law. He was a frequent pleader in the royal courts, and from 1403 until 1421 he was retained year by year as counsel to the duchy of Lancaster. Almost without break for 20 years from 1407 he served on the Herefordshire bench, usually as one of the quorum, and for the first three years of Henry V’s reign he also officiated as a j.p. in Gloucestershire. He was active in a judicial capacity in South Wales, too. Between 1409 and 1415 he held county courts and petty sessions in Cardiganshire and Carmarthenshire for Edward, duke of York, the justiciar there, and he continued to do so in 1416-17 under York’s successor. He presided, moreover, as a justice in the South Wales lordships of the duchy of Lancaster from 1410 until at least 1420, having been in the meantime, in June and July 1413, appointed to royal commissions concerned with both crown and duchy lordships in the area. In the spring of 1417 he was employed, together with John Merbury*, chamberlain of South Wales, in collecting a subsidy of £1,500 from the region towards the cost of Henry V’s second expedition to France, and in 1421 he was appointed keeper of Carmarthen priory, a derelict royal foundation.7
Meanwhile, Russell had been returned to Parliament, perhaps not for the first time, in 1414. By then he had probably already strengthened his personal connexion with the duke of York, from whom he received a grant for life of an annuity (of unknown value). On 5 Aug. 1415, shortly before sailing with Henry V’s army to Harfleur, the duke included him (together with Henry Beaufort, bishop of Winchester, Sir Walter Hungerford* and Roger Flore*), among the feoffees of the bulk of his estates, having already, two months earlier, put him and a different group of trustees in possession of his London residence. Seven days later Russell and Flore were appointed overseers of York’s will. Several years after the duke’s death at Agincourt the trustees sold the inn in London to Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, and it was not until 1433 that they relinquished the rest of his holdings to his nephew and heir, Richard, who then undertook not only to pay his late uncle’s debts but also to honour the grant of Russell’s annuity.8 By Michaelmas 1416 Russell was also engaged as a feoffee on behalf of Joan, widow of William Beauchamp, Lord Abergavenny, regarding lands in Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Staffordshire; and in 1421 he again appeared as her trustee when she obtained from Hugh, Lord Burnell, more estates in those counties and elsewhere. Other clients of his included John, Lord Harington, for whom he acted as an executor in 1418, and James, Lord Berkeley, at whose borough of Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire, he officiated as chief steward by November 1422.9
In 1417 Russell was again elected an MP for Herefordshire, of which county, and only four days after his election, he was appointed sheriff. Although sheriffs were officially barred from sitting in the Commons, he did not scruple to attend this session and, indeed, he once more agreed to appear there as a proxy for the abbot of Gloucester. Having been re-elected to the Lower House in 1419 and 1420, on the latter occasion he was an unsuccessful candidate for the Speakership: a contemporary record reports that he and Roger Hunt ‘nominati fuerunt ibidem prolocutores ... examinacionibus inde factis, Rogerus prevaluit, et habuit plures voces iiij etc. et optinuit officium prolocutoris parliamenti’. Hunt’s election is confirmed by the Parliament roll. Russell, however, in 1423, on his eighth known return to Parliament, did succeed in obtaining the office, presumably this time without a contest. On 21 Oct. (the second day of the session) he addressed the Speaker’s customary protestation to Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, the Protector and the infant King’s lieutenant in the Parliament, and when, on 17 Nov., Henry VI (not yet two years old) made his first ever appearance before the assembled Houses, it fell to him to deliver a fulsome speech of welcome, praising the new monarch, his father Henry V, his uncles, Bedford and Gloucester (‘fur largely endowed of high trouth, Justice and Wisedome, and also manhod’), and the royal council. (It may be the case that the Speaker was currently serving as a member of Bedford’s own council, for three years later he was engaged in this capacity in correspondence with the prior of Llanthony over the repayment of a loan made by the prior to the duke.) The Commons’ enthusiasm, however, did not run to a vote of any direct tax and (even after a prolongation of Parliament beyond Christmas) all that Russell could offer the Protector on the last day of the final session (28 Feb. 1424) was an extension of the wool subsidy and of tunnage and poundage levied on aliens as granted by the previous Parliament. The grant was made, moreover, on condition that the proceeds should be spent only on the defence of the realm.10
By July 1426 Russell had been appointed steward of Usk by Anne, the widowed countess of March, from whom, incidentally, he held his manor of Aymestrey. It is not surprising, therefore, to find him involved at this time in a settlement of property contingent upon her marriage to John Holand, earl of Huntingdon. The latter agreed, within six months of the nuptuals, to convey his estates in seven counties to trustees (including Russell, Anne’s own brother Humphrey, earl of Stafford, and John Stafford, bishop of Bath and Wells) who were to re-enfeoff the couple for life. The settlement was not completed until November 1430, when it was officially confirmed following a petition to Parliament, perhaps presented in person by Russell himself. He was still acting as a trustee for the inheritance of the countess’s nephew, Richard, duke of York, and for the lands of Lady Abergavenny. He had also continued his close association with John Merbury; and in 1429 he served, along with the duke of Gloucester and the earl of Stafford, as Merbury’s feoffee for Lyonshall, Herefordshire. In the meantime, in 1427, he had witnessed Stafford’s confirmation of the Newport borough charter, so it seems very likely that he was employed as one of that earl’s councillors.11
Russell was returned to four consecutive Parliaments from 1429 (when he also witnessed the elections for Shropshire) to 1433, in that of 1432 being for a second time elected Speaker. This appointment may well have owed something to his links with the Staffords (in whose lordship of Newport he had recently officiated as a principal justice) and possibly also to his trusteeship of the duke of York’s lands, for it was in this Parliament that Richard of York, who was newly come of age, successfully petitioned for livery of seisin of his inheritance. The session of 1432, however, was mainly concerned with other matters: Gloucester’s political position was strengthened, but the Commons declined to vote more than a minimal grant of taxation (as in 1423). Perhaps because of this, Russell appears to have gained little or nothing from his Speakership.12 In 1435 he lent the Crown 40 marks, and in February 1436 he was assessed at 100 marks towards a loan for the duke of York’s expedition to France. This last was the largest sum then asked of anyone in Herefordshire except John Merbury. By 25 Mar. 1437, when his widow, Isabel, made a vow of perpetual chastity in Hereford cathedral, Russell was dead. The writ of diem clausit extremum was issued to the escheator of Herefordshire only, which probably indicates that he held no property of any importance outside the county. Who his heir was, is not recorded.