RUSSELL, Richard I (d.1435), of York.
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Family and Education
m. by c.1426, Petronilla (d.1435), 1da. d.v.p.2
Chamberlain, York 3 Feb. 1409-10; sheriff Mich. 1412-13; member of the council of 12 by Sept. 1416-prob. d.; mayor 3 Feb. 1420-1, 1430-1.3
Commr. of inquiry, York Feb. 1421 (property of Margaret Holden), Apr. 1431 (persons liable for taxation).
Mayor of the Calais Staple by 5 Jan. 1425-bef. 6 June 1426, by 28 June 1427.4
Russell may well have come originally from the north-east, since part of his boyhood was spent at Durham priory. He remembered the monks with gratitude in his will, leaving them ten marks in recompense for the support which they had given him, and asking them to pray for his soul. Perhaps it was during his stay in this celebrated religious house that he developed an abiding love of ritual: at all events, he died in possession of several books, graduals, a great missal, a number of extremely elaborate and valuable church vestments and an impressive collection of plate. These were all bequeathed to his parish church of St. John the Baptist in Hungate, York, to which he proved an unusually generous benefactor. Besides providing money for the completion of the bell tower, the construction of two new altars in the church, the decoration of the interior and the glazing of three windows, he endowed a chantry there with rents worth about £8 a year, and set aside well over £50 to meet the cost of a spectacular funeral. It is also worth noting that his nephew, Robert, was promised a bursary of £30 so that he could pursue his training as a priest at Oxford, and that a further £8 went towards work on the stained-glass at York Minster. Yet however devoted to the Church he may have been, Russell possessed as much hard-headed business sense as the rest of his fellow aldermen, and the money which he lavished upon works of piety derived from a lifetime’s shrewd investment in the wool trade.5
Having entered the freedom of York, in 1396, Russell soon established himself as a leading member of the mercantile community. In December 1398 he shipped six tuns of wine through the port of Kingston-upon-Hull, although his chief interest lay in the export of wool, and it was as a result of his activities in this quarter that he became involved in the affairs of the Calais Staple. He and William Bowes* were among the leading staplers who joined together in April 1407 to lend £4,000 to the King for the wages of the garrison at Calais (the defence of which was, naturally, a matter of grave concern to them), being promised repayment from the forthcoming wool subsidy. But Russell did not devote all his energies to commerce: two years later he assumed office as chamberlain of York, became sheriff not long afterwards and then stood for Parliament, for the first time, in 1415. He went on to represent York on two more occasions, both of which occurred after he had discharged a term as mayor; and he put in a regular attendance at parliamentary elections too, attesting no less than 11 of the returns made by the city between 1417 and 1435, the year of his death.6
Meanwhile, in 1416, Russell, who may already by then have assumed a place on the prestigious council of 12, was called upon to act as an arbitrator in a property dispute in York. His trading ventures continued to flourish, as can be seen from his election, at some point before January 1425 and again in June 1427, as mayor of the Calais Staple, a post more usually occupied by wealthy Londoners. Occasional set-backs, such as the loss at sea, in 1426, of two ships carrying a consignment of his wool from Hull to Calais, cannot have proved too disastrous, as by 1433 he was able to contribute towards another corporate loan made by the Staple to the King, this time of almost £3,000 for the cost of national defence. The merchants themselves were to recover the money, once again, from forthcoming subsidies, although they were obliged to petition Parliament before obtaining the necessary royal letters patent.7 Russell was by now well into middle age, and within the space of a few years he lost his sister, Alice Upstall, his oldest friend, Nicholas Blackburn the elder (father of John Blackburn*), his wife, Petronilla, and his only child, a daughter named Joan. Alice (who had herself outlived her husband, the wealthy York merchant, Peter Upstall, by only a few months) died first, around New Year 1431, leaving plate, jewellery, bedding and embroidered cushions to her niece, who is not mentioned after this date and clearly predeceased both her mother and father. Blackburn’s death occurred some two years later, when the task of executing his will fell to our Member. The latter had already been a party with Blackburn and William Ormshead* to the acquisition of a modest estate in Cumberland from the earl of Northumberland, and his work in administering this and all the rest of his friend’s property was rewarded with a personal bequest of £10. Petronilla also named Russell as her executor, in 1435, for she was affluent enough in her own right to dispose of over £20 in cash, as well as ornaments, gowns and quantities of cloth. She, her husband and Alice had together joined the influential guild of Corpus Christi in York, although she was buried in the church of St. John the Baptist, where Russell had no doubt already embarked on his ambitious building schemes.8
By the time of his death, Russell had accumulated an impressive amount of property in York, comprising rents, tenements, shops and gardens in Walmgate, Davygate, Stonegate, Hungate (where he lived in some style) and St. Saviourgate. Some of these were set aside for the endowment of his chantry in St. John’s church, but others were bequeathed to his niece, Elizabeth, and his executor, John Thresk, who also received £20 for his pains. Altogether, the legacies set out in Russell’s will exceeded £610. As we have already seen, he was a notable patron of the Church, but he also made provision for his surviving brother, Henry, and his various nephews and nieces, as well as leaving money for the repair of bridges around York. Russell died early in December 1435, and was buried beside his late wife under a slab of marble, purchased according to his specifications by his executors.9
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. C219/11/7.
- 2. Surtees Soc. lvii. 25; Borthwick Inst. York, York registry wills, iii. ff. 425-5v; Test. Ebor. ii. 8-9.
- 3. Yorks. Arch. Soc. lix. 170, 177; Surtees Soc. lxxxv. 3; xcvi. 112, 130, 139, 143; cxx. 59; cxxv. 52, 55, 74, 79, 84, 135, 157, 174, 183; clxxxvi. 94, 98, 157-8.
- 4. Surtees Soc. lxxv. 3; cxxv. 157, 159.
- 5. York registry wills, iii. ff. 439-41; A. Raine, Med. York, 83.
- 6. C219/12/2, 4-6, 13/2, 4, 5, 14/1-3, 5; E122/159/11; E404/22/464; CPR, 1405-8, p. 321; Surtees Soc. xcvi. 97.
- 7. Surtees Soc. cxxv. 46; CPR, 1422-9, pp. 348-9; RP, iv. 474-5.
- 8. Test. Ebor. ii. 8-9, 19; Surtees Soc. lvii. 25, 245, 247; York registry wills, iii. ff. 425-5v; CP25(1)280/155/29.
- 9. York registry wills, iii. ff. 439-41, 586v; Raine, 83.