RUSSELL, alias GASCOIGNE, Stephen (d.1438), of Weymouth and Dorchester, Dorset.
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Family and Education
Bailiff, Weymouth Mich. 1388-9, Melcombe Regis 1408-9.2
A direct ancestor of the present-day dukes of Bedford, Russell helped to lay the foundations of the family fortunes not only by trade but also by making what turned out to be a profitable marriage. Whether he was a native of Weymouth is not known, but he was certainly commercially active there by 1383, importing large quantities of wine from Gascony. It was no doubt this mercantile interest which gave him and his more famous son the alias of Gascoigne. Indeed when, in 1385, La Katherine of Dartmouth, which he had loaded with wheat for passage to Bordeaux, was detained by the admiral of the western fleet, he was described as a ‘merchant of Bordeaux’. A typical example of his dealings is provided by the movements of The Mary of Weymouth, which sailed from Melcombe Regis in September 1391 with webbing and other goods of his worth £24, and returned two months later with 14 casks of wine. Russell also exported woollen cloth: he sold four lengths of fabric in Weymouth in 1399-1400, and two of his shipments, dispatched in December 1403 and September 1404, each included 20 cloths as well as corn, peas, beans and hose, worth in all over £55. Meanwhile, in March 1404, a royal commission had been set up to investigate Russell’s complaint that when La Marie of Bordeaux, in which he had freighted a cargo of iron and 79 tuns of white wine, was lying at anchor at Weymouth, John Keighley, esquire, a notorious pirate, had sailed into the harbour on board a ship belonging to Richard Spicer I* of Portsmouth and carried off his merchandise.3
Russell took a close interest in the affairs of the town of Weymouth and its inhabitants. He was enfeoffed of premises there by Philip Soydon†, and he witnessed local deeds.4 The property in High Street which in the 17th century was to belong to Lord Russell’s heirs had probably once been Stephen’s; and the latter also owned a burgage in Melcombe. It was his marriage, however, rather than success in trade, which brought him landed interests in the shire at large, after his first efforts to achieve the status of a gentleman failed in 1402 when he was found guilty at the Dorchester assizes of evicting the lawful tenants of 20 acres of land in Maiden Newton, and was fined 33s.4d. From 1419 he and his wife were jointly engaged in lawsuits to obtain land which Alice claimed as heir general to two local families, the de la Tours and Blynchesfelds. In 1422 they alleged at the assizes that they had been dispossessed of property in Compton Abbas pertaining to Alice as heir of her maternal grandmother Cecily, daughter of Hugh Blynchesfeld, and although the defendants protested that the jury had been nominated by the plaintiffs and new jurors had to be empanelled at Dorchester in the following year, judgement went in their favour. Meanwhile, at the manorial court of Stour Provost in 1420, Russell had disputed the title of John Blynchesfeld to three closes lying near Shaftesbury and, after having secured possession, he retained them for the rest of his life, although without ever having proved his title in court. He was perhaps not so successful with regard to the property claimed through his wife’s father. In 1427 Stephen and Alice sent their attorney to the assizes to complain of unjust disseisin by Margaret, widow of Morgan Gough, of lands at Swyre and Nether Sturthill, which had once belonged to the John de la Tour who had been murdered, years before, in 1340. Perhaps the suit was collusive, for Margaret obtained a release from Alice and another claimant, Edith Deverell, of the manor of Berwick, which was then settled on herself with successive remainders in tail to the Deverells and the Russells. Elsewhere, Russell owned houses in High South Street and High West Street, Dorchester, and in 1431 he was recorded as holding lands and tenements worth £10 13s.4d. a year in the north of the shire, in and near Shaftesbury.5
Russell’s standing in Dorset is indicated by his attendance at the county court not only to report the outcome of the Weymouth elections to the Parliaments of 1410, 1413 (May), 1414, 1420, 1421, 1422, 1425, 1426, 1427, 1429, 1431, 1432 and 1437, but also to take part in the elections for the shire to all the Parliaments summoned between 1417 and 1437, inclusive. Despite the fact that his arrest and appearance before the King’s Council had been ordered in 1430, his name appeared on the list of the notables of Dorset required in 1434 to take the general oath not to assist anyone who broke the peace.6 Russell died at some point between June and October 1438, leaving as his heir his son, Henry, a prominent shipowner and merchant.7