RUSSELL, Robert II, of Bristol.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1386-1421, ed. J.S. Roskell, L. Clark, C. Rawcliffe., 1993
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Mar. 1416

Family and Education

poss. s. of John Russell (d.1396) of Bristol. m. Elizabeth,1 ?1s.

Offices Held

Bailiff, Bristol Mich. 1404-5; sheriff 9 Oct. 1414-8 Oct. 1415; mayor Mich. 1417-18, 1426-7.2

Collector of customs and subsidies, Bristol 6 Apr. 1406-Feb. 1407, 30 Sept. 1407-Feb. 1410, 6 Dec. 1412-June 1413, 28 Feb.-May 1416, 24 July 1417-14 Nov. 1423.

Dep. butler, Bristol 4 June-16 Dec. 1407.

Commr. of inquiry, Bristol Nov. 1417 (fraud in collection of customs),3 July 1421 (disseisin of the college of Calendars’ property); to requisition ships for Ireland Feb. 1420; assess a grant Apr. 1431; of arrest Aug. 1431; to apportion tax relief Dec. 1433.


Russell had begun trading through Bristol by 1395, the year before the death of his putative father, John. He was perhaps related to Roger Russell (d.1413) and his wife Emma, beneficiaries under the will of John Vyel*, another Bristol merchant.4 His participation in the government of Bristol began in 1404, when he was appointed bailiff, and he was proposed for the shrievalty five times (1407, 1408, 1410, 1411 and 1413) before finally securing that office in 1414. During 1409-10 he served as a member of the common council, and probably did likewise in later years, too, when not occupying the mayoralty (which he did for two terms). In September 1417 he was appointed mayor of the Staple of Bristol, and so held this post concurrently with the mayoralty of the town. Russell’s name appeared among those attesting the indentures for parliamentary elections held at Bristol 13 times between 1407 and 1432, including the occasions when he himself was elected in 1416 and 1419. In October 1414 it had been he who, as sheriff, had been responsible for the return of the writ of summons.5

As a merchant, Russell showed enterprise and commitment. In 1399 he is known to have shipped as many as 158 lengths of cloth to Bayonne alone, and his imports from France, Spain and the Low Countries included wine, wood and, on one occasion, a cargo of madder, garlic and tar. In November 1400 he had been in arrears in payments of tunnage and poundage by the comparatively large sum of £4 10s. The earliest mention of Russell as a shipowner occurs in July 1402, when the keepers of passage in Bristol were ordered to release his vessel La Katerine, following receipt of the required subsidies. A year later the Seynt Kateryne (probably the same ship) was allowed to sail for Gascony, Bayonne and Spain with his merchandise on board, and in November 1404 she was about to depart for Bayonne again, this time with a cargo of cloth, beans and other goods for the relief of the town. By 1406 he had acquired Le George of Bristol, being then licensed to ship on her 60 packs of woollen cloth, 20 tuns of ‘rybdage’ and other wines, two tuns of vinegar, ten lasts of salt and ten tuns of flour to Ireland, to help victual the English army there, and to reload with other commodities for the return voyage. The shipment for import may have been fish, for it was two London fishmongers who stood surety that Le George would sail to Ireland and not anywhere else. In 1408 Russell obtained permission to send to the province wine, salt and other merchandise, and to import salmon in a crayer called La Marie, for which vessel he secured a similar licence two years later. In addition to these ships of his own, he regularly used La Powele, Le Godyere and Le Cok John for his trade with Ireland, which evidently flourished until the 1420s at least. Royal letters in furtherance of his commercial activities there were issued on at least nine occasions between 1409 and February 1422, sometimes, as with the last licence, receiving the attention of the King’s Council in response to Russell’s petition. He was similarly fortunate in being permitted to trade elsewhere: in January 1411 he obtained a safe conduct for one year for any ship loaded in Brittany or Castile by his Spanish agent, John Domynges, in April 1412 another for any vessel of his own, in December 1413 a third, specifically to trade in Brittany and Spain through his attorneys, a fourth in October 1415 and another in the following year with respect to the movements of the Le Grace Dieu and La Trinite of Guérande. An investigation held at Bristol in July 1416 into the alleged illegal entry into the port of the last two ships named, showed that Russell had loaded them and another vessel with 140 tuns of salt, paying as much as £70 for freight alone.6

Medieval trading ventures were never free from risk, and Russell’s were no exception. Early in 1413 he petitioned the chancellor to complain about the seizure of Le Grace Dieu of Brittany (which he had freighted with salt) by John Hawley II* of Dartmouth, who despite a safe conduct had taken her to his home port. It was not until the mayor of Dartmouth had been ordered, in April, to release the vessel, and Russell had obtained another permit for her, that she was able to sail back to Bristol. Ten years later he secured a royal licence to go to Castile in order to recover goods which had been illegally detained there. A further misadventure overtook him early in 1429, when a valuable cargo of wheat and barley which he, John Burton II* and Richard Trenode* were having carried down the Severn to Bristol, was captured at Lake Minsterworth by a band of malefactors; and on another occasion he began Chancery proceedings against certain men of Rye and Winchelsea who had taken at sea a vessel of his laden with iron and wine from Brittany. Sometimes, too, he had trouble with his agents abroad. His Bayonne factor, Thomas Hoper, having converted to his own use goods worth 1,000 marks belonging to his master, married a local woman and settled down there. Russell, unable to obtain legal redress locally because Hoper was ‘maintenuz et sustenuz’ by his wife’s friends, petitioned the King’s Council in 1424 for a letter to be sent to the mayor of Bayonne requesting that justice be done him. He seems also to have encountered difficulties with another of his agents, John Boure, a London draper, who was pardoned in 1419 for not appearing to answer a charge of having failed to render account as his receiver. It was probably in order to escape the consequences of legal actions against himself that Russell twice placed his goods and chattels in Bristol and overseas in the safe-keeping of his friends, doing so in 1419, shortly before he attended his second Parliament, and again in 1428. Indeed, his conduct sometimes drew down the attention of the authorities. Thus, in October 1421 a commission was set up to look into the allegations of some Flemish merchants that acts of piracy had been committed with the connivance of the owners of certain Bristol ships, of whom Russell was one, when, in March that year the Saint Marie of Venice had been taken off the coast of Pembrokeshire with a cargo valued at 8,000 crowns. The jurors at the inquisitions held subsequently, however, asserted that the owners were blameless. At a later date, John Brown, a merchant of Edinburgh, and a Flemish partner of his, brought actions against Russell and a number of others alleging illegal capture of their merchandise by the crews of two ships, of which Russell’s Le Cristofore was one, although they withdrew their charges in May 1431 after negotiation.7

During the most active years of Russell’s life he was appointed to several royal commissions, and from April 1406 he was regularly employed as a collector of the duties on wine, cloth and wool leviable in Bristol and adjacent ports. In September 1413 he and his former colleague, John Droys*, were described as ‘honnorables hommes’ in a letter from the Bristol authorities requesting the barons of the Exchequer to release cloth confiscated for evasion of customs. It was while holding office as customer that he was returned to Parliament for Bristol in both 1416 and 1419. Russell punctiliously rendered account at the Exchequer, both for tunnage and poundage and for the duties on wool exports; and together with his fellow customer, Thomas Fish, he also accounted for £22 6s.7d. they had spent on the Marie de Toure, a vessel which in 1421 they had been authorized to build for use in their official work. Russell stood surety for the alnagers of Bristol in July and November 1421, October 1422 and November 1424, sometimes in association with Robert Colville* the controller of the customs. His own successor in office as collector, in 1423, was Thomas Russell, who may have been his son. Meanwhile, early in 1420 he had been instructed to requisition ships for the conveyance to Ireland of the retinue of the earl of Ormond, the King’s lieutenant. At the same time, along with William Westbury, he secured at the Exchequer a lease of lands in Frome, Somerset, which had belonged to Edmund Frome. The two lessees later brought an action in Chancery alleging that Philip Loryng had wrongfully dispossessed them, but in any case the lease was invalidated in June 1421 following the discovery by inquest that Frome had never held the property in question.8

Russell’s contacts through trade were widespread; he had business dealings in Shrewsbury and Hereford, and his debtors included men from Monmouth, as well as several from places nearer home, like Chippenham and Dunster. Among his fellow burgesses and merchants of Bristol were several who looked on him as a friend: Simon Algode and William Moille asked him to oversee their wills, and Henry Gildeney* (d.1431) made him an executor as well as a trustee of his property. Russell had been a feoffee of holdings in Wells belonging to a Bristol merchant in 1412, and from 1420 he acted in the same capacity with regard to lands in Bishopsworth and elsewhere nearby. A frequent associate in these trusteeships was (Sir) John Juyn, the judge. In 1430 he joined with John Mitchell*, the London alderman, as an arbitrator in a dispute between a London mercer and a Bristol brewer.9

Of Russell’s property in Bristol there is scant record. All we know is that he rented a garden from John Droys, and also possessed a shop in Horse Street. In 1417 he combined with other local merchants, including Droys and Thomas Blount I*, to obtain a royal licence to incorporate their recently established fraternity as a guild in honour of the Holy Trinity and St. George. This institution later met difficulties, however, concerning ownership of the manor of Ridgeway, Gloucestershire, and property in Bristol which John Barstaple (d.1411) had wished to be used to found a hospital associated with the guild. Russell and his colleagues were required to enter into recognizances with Barstaple’s son in 1419, as a guarantee that they would abide by the award of the justices, and a few years later he was sued by Mark William (his companion in the Parliament of 1419) concerning his title to Ridgeway and its donation to the Trinity hospital at Lawford’s Gate. Russell had relations who lived at Seagry in Wiltshire, and it was from one of them that, in 1416, he had acquired holdings there, consisting of eight messuages and some 250 acres of land. Then, at Easter 1431, he and his wife acquired from Sir Theobald Gorges 260 acres in Charlton near Wraxall, Somerset, perhaps as an investment. Russell’s active career was over by 1434, and he died at an unknown date before February 1443, when his widow and executors were trying to recover a debt owing to his estate. His will has not survived.10

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: L. S. Woodger


  • 1. Som. Feet of Fines (Som. Rec. Soc. xxii), 79.
  • 2. Trans. Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. xxvi. 130-1.
  • 3. E122/17/43.
  • 4. Bristol Wills (Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. 1886), 39, 51, 58; PCC 27 Marche.
  • 5. Little Red Bk. Bristol ed. Bickley, i. 138, 153; CFR, xiii. 81, 126, 191, 216; xiv. 30; C267/5 no. 45; C219/10/4, 6, 11/1, 4, 8, 12/2-5, 13/3-5, 14/1, 3, 4.
  • 6. E122/16/26, 34, 17/1, 10, 37; CFR, xii. 96; CCR, 1399-1402, p. 544; 1402-5, pp. 107, 392; 1405-9, p. 435; 1409-13, pp. 32, 142, 272; 1413-19, p. 4; CPR, 1405-8, pp. 144, 388; 1413-16, pp. 134, 295; 1416-22, pp. 74, 121, 265; PPC, ii. 322; Overseas Trade (Bristol Rec. Soc. vii), 51-52, 54; C76/96 m. 13; CIMisc. vii. 536.
  • 7. Overseas Trade, 52-57; C1/6/348; CPR, 1416-22, pp. 158, 418; 1422-9, p. 551; CCR, 1413-19, p. 9; 1419-22, p. 54; 1422-9, p. 407; 1429-35, p. 117; E.M. Carus-Wilson, Med. Merchant Venturers, 82-83; CIMisc. vii. 619-20; DKR, xlviii. 227.
  • 8. E122/17/14, 15, 31, 33-36, 38-41, 18/1, 2, 5, 18; SC1/63/300; CFR, xiv. 326, 393-4; xv. 15, 86; C1/4/21, 5/5; CPR, 1416-22, pp. 370-1.
  • 9. CPR, 1408-13, p. 18; 1416-22, pp. 90, 158, 352; 1422-9, p. 250; 1429-36, p. 233; Bristol Wills, 76, 111, 120-1; CCR, 1419-22, p. 111; 1429-35, pp. 66, 162; Som. Feet of Fines, 42, 57; Shrewsbury Guildhall, box 2, no. 67 f. 51.
  • 10. Bristol Wills, 100, 123; CPR, 1416-22, p. 68; 1441-6, p. 120; CCR, 1413-19, pp. 523-4; C1/4/165; Som. Feet of Fines, 79; Wilts. Feet of Fines (Wilts. Rec. Soc. xli), 347.