RUSSELL, Francis (1527-85), of Amersham and Chenies, Bucks. and Russell (Bedford) House, the Strand, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. 1527, o.s. of Sir John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford, by Anne, da. of Sir Guy Sapcotes of Hunts. educ. King’s, Camb. m. (1) Margaret (d. 27 Aug. 1562), da. of Sir John St. John of Bletsoe, Beds., wid. of William Gostwick (d. Dec. 1545), of Willington, Beds., 4s. inc. Sir Francis, John and William 3da.; (2) settlement 25 June 1566, Bridget (d. 12 Jan. 1601), da. of Sir John Hussey, Lord Hussey, wid. of Sir Richard Morison (d. 20 Mar. 1556) of London and Cassiobury, Herts. and of Henry Manners, 2nd Earl of Rutland (d. 17 Sept. 1563), s.p. Kntd. 20 Feb. 1547. summ. to Lords in fa.’s barony as Baron Russell 1 Mar. 1553; KG nom. 23 Apr. 1564, inst. 15 May 1564. suc. fa. as 2nd Earl of Bedford 14 Mar. 1555.1

Offices Held

J.p. Bucks. 1547-d., Beds., Cornw., Devon, Dorset, Northants, Som. 1558/59-d.; sheriff, Beds. and Bucks. 1547-8; custos rot. Bucks. c.1547-d.; commr. relief Bucks. 1550, goods of churches and fraternities 1553, eccles. causes, dioceses of Lincoln and Peterborough 1571; trier of petitions in the Lords, Parlts. of 1558, 1559, 1563, 1571; ld. lt., Cornw., Devon, Dorset 1558-d.; PC 21 Nov. 1558-d.; ld. warden of the stannaries 1559-80; ambassador to France 1559, 1561; gov. Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumb. and warden, east marches 1564-25 Aug. 1568; lt. gen., the north 1 Aug. 1565; high steward, duchy of Cornw. 13 Apr. 1572-d.; c.j. in eyre, south of the Trent 1584-d.; numerous minor offices.2


Francis Russell owed his place in Tudor society and government to his father’s success. Nothing is known of his childhood and early education, nor of the duration of his study at Cambridge, but his connexion with that university was to set the direction of his religious beliefs. As a boy he was drawn by Holbein and while yet a stripling he served under his father in the French campaign of 1544. It was probably in 1546 that he married Margaret St. John, whose first husband had died in December 1545. Francis Russell received from his father a marriage allowance of £200 a year and doubtless lived at his manor of Amersham, for that was to be named in 1553 as his late place of domicile. In 1551 he obtained a number of offices scattered throughout the midlands which had recently been surrendered by his father, and a year later a licence to have 50 persons in his livery, over and above his household.3

Russell was no more than 17 when elected to the Parliament of 1545, but a birthday intervened between its delayed opening and his election: he was not to be included in local commissions for another two years. His fellow-knight for the shire was the royal favourite, Sir Francis Bryan, who had been returned for the county to at least two previous Parliaments: Russell’s place could only have been procured for him by his father, who was by then lord privy seal. At the election of 1547, in spite of his youth and thanks to his parentage, Russell stood first on the return before Sir Anthony Lee, an older man of great wealth and standing in Buckinghamshire. A doubt as to Russell’s eligibility to remain in the Commons on his father’s creation as Earl of Bedford was settled by an order on 21 Jan. 1550 that he should abide in the Lower House ‘in the state he was before’, and on the list of Members as revised for the fourth session he was entered as ‘Sir Francis Russell Lord Russell’. It was during that session, in March 1552, that he had committed to him a bill concerning pewterers and tin, and another about leases, and that a month later he was required by the House, together with Sir Robert Dudley and (Sir) John Cheke, to intercede with the Duke of Suffolk on behalf of Ralph Ellerker after Ellerker’s discharge for assaulting Sir Robert Brandling. In Edward VI’s second Parliament he was summoned to the Lords on 1 Mar. 1553 as Baron Russell: despite his youth he made an immediate impact upon the House, and his attendance there was exemplary, with only two absences.4

Russell was among the peers’ sons who on 16 June 1553 signed the letters patent settling the crown on Lady Jane Grey, but he doubtless soon afterwards followed his father in supporting Mary’s title. Imprisoned in the Fleet with others on 29 July, he was specially favoured by being removed into the custody of the sheriff of London and allowed visits from his mother. He was soon released, but freedom did not entail the restoration of his seat in the Lords, and he was not to be summoned again as Baron Russell. He fought with his father against the Kentish rebels early in 1554 and was a royal envoy to receive the Prince of Piedmont: none the less, he continued to display his Protestantism. He corresponded with the reformers John Bradford and Edward Underhill in prison: Underhill, to whom he also sent money, had saved him from drowning in the Thames and was later to be described as ‘familiar with him in matters of religion as well across the seas as at home’. The preacher Thomas Becon, once the Duke of Somerset’s chaplain, named Russell in the dedication of works entitled ‘The monstrous merchandise of the Roman bishops’ and ‘The Christian knight’. His father’s death was the occasion of his seeking and receiving permission to travel abroad for two years. Now an earl and the owner of great possessions, he gave power of attorney to his friend Sir William Cecil to administer his affairs in his absence: it appears that this gave Cecil a share in the Russell patronage in parliamentary elections. Bedford’s licence, dated 20 Apr. 1555, was ostensibly given to enable him to gain experience, especially as a visitor to the Emperor at Brussels. This duty discharged reluctantly but meticulously, he was allowed by the Emperor to proceed to Italy, where he travelled as far south as Naples. Between August 1556 and the spring of 1557 he visited Zurich where he began lasting friendships with Bullinger and other reformers. He held a command at the battle of St. Quentin in August 1557, and then returned to England to take up the lord lieutenancy of the south-western counties. He did not establish a residence there but his interest in his forbears led him to buy the ancestral manor of Kingston Lacy in south Dorset. He took his place in the Lords as an earl for the first time in the Parliament of 1558, and his appearance there was no less impressive than it had been before, in his father’s shadow. For the remainder of his life he was one of the leading figures in the House.5

Bedford was to serve Elizabeth in many spheres. An active Privy Councillor, he added to the lieutenancy of the south-west important military and administrative responsibilities in the north. His gifts of languages and polished manners were valuable on missions abroad and at home he earned a reputation for great piety. He followed his father’s example by wielding extensive parliamentary patronage. Bedford died at Russell House in the parish of St. Clement Dane on 28 July 1585 but was buried at Chenies only on 14 Sept. An alabaster tomb supporting coloured effigies of the earl and his first wife, and bearing a lengthy inscription, was erected in the family chapel. His will, made on 7 Apr. 1584, was proved on 30 Sept. 1586 by among others (Sir) Thomas Bromley II; Sir Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester; Charles Morison; Henry Neville and Sir Francis Walsingham as executors. It included provision for 20 sermons at Chenies and elsewhere, for the endowment of the two universities with £140 for poor students of divinity and of University College, Oxford with £20 for two poor students to be known as ‘the Earl of Bedford’s scholars’, the last not being carried out. To Lord Burghley, one of his overseers, Bedford left, besides a rich jewel, his ‘ancient written English books of Wycliffe’s works’ in his closet at Russell House; all his Latin and Italian manuscripts and books passed to his heir. As Bedford’s three eldest sons predeceased him, he was succeeded by Edward, only son of his third son Francis, then aged 13.6

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: M. K. Dale


  • 1. Date of birth estimated from parents’ marriage and from age (28) at fa.’s i.p.m. (C142/102/80) and (58) at own death. CP; DNB; H. P. R. Finberg, Gostwicks of Willington (Beds. Hist. Rec. Soc. xxxvi), 72n, 76, 89 establishes that Margaret 2nd Countess of Bedford was the daughter-in-law, not the wife, of Sir John Gostwick* as given in CP.
  • 2. CPR, 1547-8, pp. 81, 419; 1550-3, pp. 141, 393; 1553, pp. 351, 413; 1563-6, p. 259; 1566-9, p. 201; 1569-72, pp. 476-7; APC, iv. 49, 277; G. Scott Thomson, Lds. Lt. 39, 46, 48; information from J. C. Sainty; LJ, i. 514, 542, 580, 667; Arundel castle mss autograph letters 1513-85, no. 29.
  • 3. Al. Cant. iii. 499; Ath. Cant. ii. 532; G. Scott Thomson, Two Cents. of Fam. Hist. 204; Holbein (The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace 1978-9), 111-12; CPR, 1550-3, pp. 145, 302; 1553-4, p. 282.
  • 4. C142/102/80; CJ, i. 15, 19, 23; M. A. R. Graves, ‘The Tudor House of Lords 1547-58’ (Otago Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1974), ii. 256-7.
  • 5. APC, iv. 305, 314; v. 37; Machyn’s Diary (Cam. Soc. xlii), 38; Chron. Q. Jane and Q. Mary (Cam. Soc. xlviii), 15, 99; Two Cents. of Fam. Hist. 204-5, 207-10, 219; D. M. Loades, Two Tudor Conspiracies, 93; The Writings of John Bradford (Parker Soc.), 77, 138; Narr. Ref. (Cam. Soc. lxxviii), 145-6; DNB (Bradford, John; Becon, Thomas); Orig. Letters Relating to the Eng. Ref. (Parker Soc.), i. 138; Cam. Misc. x. 120; CSP Ven. 1555-6, p. 145; CSP For. 1553-8, no. 488 ex inf. K. Bartlett; Graves, ii. 256-7; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 94 et passim; CPR, 1558-60, p. 277; Lds. Lt. 39.
  • 6. Neale, Commons, passim; CSP Ven. 1557-8, p. 1554; J. A. Froude, Eliz. i. 44; Lipscomb, Bucks. iii. 257; VCH Bucks. iii. 202; PCC 45 Windsor; Rev. Eng. Studies, vii. 385-405; Pevsner, Bucks. 85.