RUSSELL, Lord George William (1790-1846).

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1812 - 1830

Family and Education

b. 8 May 1790, 2nd s. of John Russell I*, 6th Duke of Bedford, by 1st w., and bro. of Francis Russell, Mq. of Tavistock*, and Lord John Russell II*. educ. by Dr Moore, Sunbury 1800; Westminster 1803; by Rev. John Smith at Woodnesborough, nr. Sandwich 1805. m. 21 June 1817, Elizabeth Anne, da. of Hon. John Theophilus Rawdon*, 3s. 1da. GCB 19 July 1838.

Offices Held

Cornet, 1 Drag. 1806, lt. 1806; capt. Canadian fencibles 1808, 81 Ft. 1808; capt. 23 Drag. 1808; maj. 102 Ft. 1813, lt.-col. 1814; maj. 42 Ft. on half-pay 1815; maj. 8 Drag. 1824, lt.-col. 1824, half-pay 1828; lt.-col. go Ft. 1829; col. 1830, half-pay 1831; a.d.c. to King William IV 1830-7, to Queen Victoria 1837-41; maj.-gen. 1841.

Special mission to Portugal 1832-4; minister plenip. to Württemberg 1834-5; envoy extraordinary and minister plenip. to Prussia 1835-41.


Russell served on his father’s staff in Dublin during his lord lieutenancy of Ireland in the ‘Talents’ ministry, went on the Copenhagen expedition as a.d.c. to Sir George Ludlow and fought in the Peninsula in 1809. He was slightly wounded at Talavera, but Bedford told Lord Holland, 28 Sept. 1809:

he hopes soon to be able to join the army again, as he says, although other wounded officers are coming home, he is determined to see it out. He seems devoted to his profession and writes with the most candid feelings possible of the Spaniards though he is at a loss ... to conjecture ... on what grounds you build your hopes of the ultimate success of the Spanish cause.1

As it was, he came home briefly at the end of the year, but he was soon back on active service as a.d.c. to Sir Thomas Graham*, in whose dashing victory at Barrosa (5 Mar. 1811) he shared.

Had Russell been of age, his father would have started him for Cambridgeshire at the by-election of March 1810.2 He was returned unopposed for Bedford on the family interest at the general election of 1812, was elected to Brooks’s on 10 Dec. and had time to vote against government on the vice-chancellor bill, 11 Feb., Burdett’s motion on the Regency, 23 Feb., and in favour of Catholic relief, 2 Mar. 1813, before he went back to the Peninsula as a.d.c. to Wellington. He was with Wellington from Vittoria in June 1813 to Toulouse in April 1814, when he came home with despatches, and Bedford wrote to Holland from Lisbon, 30 May: ‘all you say of William [as he was always called] is perfectly true. There cannot be a more amiable or affectionate creature, and if you get over his shyness your regard for him will I am sure increase.’3

After voting against government on the peacetime militia, 28 Feb., and for inquiry into the Bank, 2 Mar. 1815, he joined his parents in Rome, where he met his future wife, Lord Moira’s niece, and took up his duties on Wellington’s staff at Cambrai after Waterloo. He came home for the sessions of 1816 and 1817, when he was moderately active, voting for Brougham’s motions on the peace treaties, 9 and 15 Feb., pairing against the property tax, 18 Mar. 1816, and voting spasmodically in favour of economy and retrenchment. Francis Horner met him in Paris late in 1816 and wrote to Lady Holland: ‘I wish Lord William were a Parliament man; he is of the very best sort’. He opposed the first and third readings of the habeas corpus suspension bill, 26 and 28 Feb., and voted to make the ban on public meetings within a mile of Westminster temporary, 28 Mar. 1817, but did not vote against the renewal of the suspension in June, when he was on honeymoon at Woburn. Bedford told Lady Holland that William was very ‘intolerant’ towards the Grenvilles and that ‘Burdett appears to be his only hero’, but he did not vote for the latter’s parliamentary reform motion, 20 May 1817.4

Before his marriage Bedford strongly advised him to ‘continue your professional views’ and he returned to headquarters with his wife in July 1817, remaining there until May the following year, when he came to England for his re-election for Bedford and attended the House to vote against the aliens bill, 5 and 7 May, and for inquiry into the prevention of forgeries, 14 May 1818. He was back in France by early July, when Thomas Creevey of the Whig ‘Mountain’ found him ‘very good about politics’ and ‘quite what a Russell ought to be’ in his view of Tierney’s unfitness for the Whig leadership in the Commons.5 Among the list of signatories to the requisition to Tierney, however, the name ‘William George Russell’ appears. Russell returned to England with the army of occupation late in 1818 and took a town house, with the intention of concentrating on his parliamentary duties. He evidently attended fairly regularly in the 1819 session, voted for Tierney’s censure motion, 18 May, for inquiry into Scottish burgh reform, 1 Apr. and 6 May, and, like his elder brother, forBurdett’s reform motion, 1 July. He voted for the amendment to the address, 24 Nov., and for inquiry into the state of the nation, 30 Nov. 1819, and appears in seven of the divisions against the subsequent repressive legislation for which lists have been found. He is not known to have spoken in the House before 1820.

Although Russell, a shy and witty man, was naturally lazy, he enjoyed soldiering and was interested in politics. His wife, a beautiful, selfish, domineering bluestocking, who drove a wedge between Russell and his step-mother, was bored by both activities and preferred the intellectual society of the European capitals, where she could cut a dash, to the rustic domesticity of Woburn. The marriage was, indeed, a complete mis-match which tended to isolate Russell from the rest of his family, ultimately had a blighting effect on his political and military careers and was to end in recrimination and separation after his adultery. It was not until he turned to the diplomatic line when his relatives and friends secured office in 1830 that he was able to regain some of his confidence and self-respect. The delicate health of his elder brother and of his nephew seemed at times to put the dukedom tantalisingly within his reach, but they both outlived him and it was Russell’s son who eventually inherited the title.6 He died at Genoa, 16 July 1846.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: David R. Fisher


See Georgiana  Blakiston, Lord William Russell and hhis Wife, 1815-1846.

  • 1. Add. 51661.
  • 2. Ibid. Bedford to Holland, 28 Feb. [1810].
  • 3. Add. 51662.
  • 4. Horner mss 7, f. 192; Add. 51666.
  • 5. Blakiston, 35-43; Creevey Pprs. ed. Maxwell, i. 277-8.
  • 6. Blakiston, 14-16.