RUSSELL, Sir William (c.1575-1654), of Tower Street, London, Deptford, Kent and Chippenham, Cambs.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press



Family and Education

b. c.1575,1 1st s. of William Russell of Egham, Surr. by Joan, da. of one Sanders. educ. travelled abroad (Russia) 1605; G. Inn 1631. m. (1) aft. 1605, ?with £600, Elizabeth, da. of Sir Francis Cherry, merchant, of Camberwell, Surr. and All Hallows Barking, London, s.p.; (2) by 1618, Elizabeth (bur. 14 Oct. 1626), da. of Thomas Gerard of Burwell, Cambs., 7s. (4 d.v.p.) 3da.; (3) 12 Apr. 1628, Elizabeth, da. and coh. of Michael Smallpage of Pevensey, Suss., wid. of John Wheatley of Catsfield, 2s. (1 d.v.p.). 2 suc. fa. c.1591;3 kntd. 29 Apr. 1618;4 cr. bt. 1 Jan. 1629.5 bur. 3 Feb. 1654. sig. W[illia]m Russell.

Offices Held

Member, Levant Co. 1605,6 E.I. Co. 1609,7 Muscovy Co. by 1620-by 1631,8 Greenland Co. bef. 1635,9 New Barbary Co. by 1638-at least 1640;10 cttee. N.W. Passage Co. 1612, E.I. Co. 1615.11

Agent (jt.) to Moscow 1613.12

Treas. of navy (sole) 1618-27, 1630-39, (jt.) 1639-41, (sole) 1641-2, (jt.) 1642 (roy.);13 commr. Navy 1625-8;14 collector, impositions on silk 1625-?35;15 recvr. prize money 1626; farmer, soap monopoly 1632;16 commr. customs frauds 1632, to examine the accts. of Sir Allan Apsley and Sir Sampson Darrell* 1636, timber imports 1638.17

Commr. sewers, Gt. Fens 1629-31, by 1646;18 collector, knighthood fines, Cambs. ?1630-6.19

Adventurer, Bedford Level 1631-2.20


Russell’s father, of Hampshire origin, lived at Egham, some five miles from Windsor, but Russell himself may have been baptized at Worplesdon, about 12 miles south of Egham. A William Russell, son of William Russell was christened there on 16 Jan. 1575,21 and depositions made by Russell in later life certainly point to 1575 as the year of his birth. In 1591 Russell came into a meagre patrimony, comprising some property in Old Windsor and £20 in cash, and he therefore went into trade. He was in Russia during the Time of Troubles following the death of Boris Godunov as an agent of the Dutch, but left in the company of the English ambassador, Sir Thomas Smythe*.22 On returning to England, he wrote a short account of ‘a bloody and terrible massacre in the city of Moscow’, which was published anonymously in 1607. He also served as an executor of the will of Sir Francis Cherry, a wealthy member of the East India and Muscovy Companies, whose daughter he subsequently married.

Russell sent ships to America in 1606,23 and in 1609 became free of the East India Company, having taken over his father-in-law’s ‘adventure’. He subsequently joined Smythe in the North West Passage Company, and in 1613 he was appointed to accompany his wife’s brother-in-law, Sir John Meyrick, to the new Romanov Court in Russia, where he remained only briefly. In July 1615 he was made a director of the East India Company, but in 1618 he sold part of his stock,24 presumably to finance the purchase of the treasurership of the navy from Sir Robert Mansell*. It was rumoured that he paid Mansell ‘more than two such offices are worth as the world goes’,25 which seems unlikely, even allowing for the inducement of a knighthood, which was conferred on him in April.

By the time Russell entered naval administration he had remarried. His new wife was Elizabeth Gerard, whose father lived at Burwell, close to Russell’s newly acquired country retreat of Chippenham manor, in eastern Cambridgeshire.26 In 1622 Russell expanded his Cambridgeshire holdings by purchasing Stetchworth manor from Dudley North.27 While in London he kept a house in Tower Street, and as navy treasurer he had the use of an official residence at Deptford, which included an adjoining chapel.28 Six months after Russell assumed office, the navy board was suspended for maladministration. Russell himself was beyond reproach and was permitted to continue in post, but for the time being he was denied membership of the navy commission, which took over the board’s executive functions. Over the next few years he opened up his purse and credit to the navy, and to the government in general. His resources were considerable, and as a result he and fellow financier Philip Burlamachi became ‘the two most prolific and important individual leaders to the government in this period’.29 It is little wonder that Russell was one of those suggested by the king as suitable for the treasurership of the Virginia Company in 1622 and 1623.30

During the early months of 1625 Russell’s financial resources were severely strained as England prepared for war with Spain. In April, having raised more than £34,260 to equip the fleet, he was informed that he would not be repaid for some time as the Exchequer was empty, but he was promised £3,000 in addition to the customary rate of interest, and in the following month he and his brother Killiphet were granted the farm of the impositions on silk for life.31 However, by mid-July Russell was in debt to his fellow naval administrator, the Exchequer official Sir Robert Pye*, and complaining that he was ‘already too deeply engaged’.32

On 8 Apr. 1625 the head of the navy, the duke of Buckingham, acting in his capacity as high steward of the borough, recommended Russell to Windsor for election to the first Caroline Parliament:

his known worth and merits speak so well for him that I shall not need to tell you what I believe of him, and being born not far from you, I doubt not you will easily grow confident that he will be very tender of the trust you shall repose in him for the good of your town.33

Like so many of Buckingham’s recommendations, this came too late to prevent the election of candidates who had not been endorsed by the duke; but Russell was successful at the next general election. No doubt he was expected to defend Buckingham’s record as lord high admiral, but his naval duties were so burdensome that he can have found little time to participate in the Commons’ business. Nevertheless, he was compelled to attend the committee on causes on 22 Apr., when he declared that £5,000 sent him by Buckingham for naval purposes had been repaid to the duke out of subsidy money.34 Moreover, he was present in the House on 1 May, when he intervened to correct the impression conveyed by (Sir) John Eliot, who affirmed that the release of the St. Peter proved that the ship had been wrongly detained by Buckingham. According to Russell, the vessel had been discharged ‘upon caution’.35

The failure of the 1626 Parliament had disastrous consequences for Russell. Parliament’s unwillingness to vote additional supply meant that he was unable to pay off the navy’s mariners, many of whom now came up to London to vent their fury. In December 1626 a mob of unpaid seamen broke open his gate ‘and would have plucked him out by the ears had he not given them fair words’.36 The City was subsequently ordered to provide Russell with a guard, but the hapless treasurer continued to be beset by angry sailors,37 and in April 1627 Russell, no doubt fearing for his safety, relinquished his office to (Sir) Sackville Crowe, 1st bt.*, a servant of Buckingham, though he remained an active navy commissioner until the navy board was reinstated in February 1628.38 Crowe was no real substitute for Russell, as he lacked the financial resources of his predecessor, and thus in February 1628 Russell offered to lend more than £95,500 to help pay off the navy’s arrears, which was gratefully accepted.39 Later in the year Parliament considered various petitions against him for debt, including one from the Muscovy Company. He had been denying liability for the Company’s debts for some years, and with other dissentients had already taken the matter into the Exchequer.40 By 1631 he was no longer a member of the Company.

Russell married for a third time in April 1628. He purchased a baronetcy in January 1629, and later that year he was consulted when the government considered instituting a Company of Adventurers to compete with the Dutch in their North Sea fisheries.41 Following the resignation of Sir Sackville Crowe, Russell was reinstated as navy treasurer in January 1630, but only after he negotiated an increase in the value of the office. Henceforward, he would be permitted to take a poundage on all monies which passed through his hands, rather than on those sums paid out for stores alone.42 Throughout the 1630s, Russell continued to perform a vital role as the navy’s banker,43 while from the autumn of 1634 he became the principal agent for the collection of Ship Money, a major source of new funding for the navy of direct benefit to Russell himself. Whereas between 1630 and 1634 Russell had received £670 on average each year from poundage, in 1636 his income from this source increased to more than £1,600.44 In addition to these payments, Russell also drew an annual salary of more than £220,45 and he maintained his other commercial interests. He took a share in fen drainage, both on his own Cambridgeshire estate and (albeit briefly) in conjunction with the earl of Bedford (Sir Francis Russell*),46 and towards the end of the decade he was encouraged by the government to invest in the Barbary trade.47

As the 1630s wore on Russell suffered increasingly from gout.48 By the beginning of 1639 his feet and hands were so badly affected that the younger Sir Henry Vane was appointed as co-treasurer of the navy.49 Nevertheless it was Russell who provided the navy with its principal source of credit, and it was therefore to him that Parliament turned in March 1641 when it required the sum of £20,000 to repair the fleet. Russell proved reluctant to find this money, however, possibly because he had invested too much in the Barbary trade, but for many in the Commons his refusal looked like plain obstructionism. Thus Sir Simonds D’Ewes pointedly contrasted the disrepair of the navy’s ships with those who had ‘gotten their heads to be crowned with coronets and have in a short space heaped up vast estates’.50

In December 1641 Vane was dismissed and Russell reverted to his earlier position as sole treasurer. The following January Russell was briefly imprisoned by the king, though it is not known why.51 On the outbreak of Civil War he was shunned by Parliament, which appointed Vane as sole treasurer, but Vane’s return to office was in turn disregarded by the king, who conferred the treasurership jointly on Russell and admiral Sir John Pennington. However, Russell appears to have played no part in the Civil War, although his eldest son was a parliamentary colonel and a recruiter for Cambridgeshire in the Long Parliament. The final years of his life were spent in relative obscurity. In 1645 he and other members of the New Barbary Company sought parliamentary redress after they were prosecuted in the Admiralty Court.52 Four years later he petitioned Chancery on behalf of one of his daughters, who was seeking alimony and the right to educate her children.53 He died intestate, and was buried at Chippenham on 3 Feb. 1654. A monument in his memory was erected in the parish church of Burwell in 1663.54 A younger son sat for Cambridgeshire as an exclusionist in 1679.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Alan Davidson / Andrew Thrush


  • 1. C24/595/22, p. 22; 24/601, pt. 1, no. 83, f. 63; 24/565/4, f. 14; 24/638, pt. 1, no. 13, f. 8.
  • 2. Vis. London (Harl. Soc. xvii), 217-18; Vis. Surr. (Harl. Soc. xliii), 145; Mdx. Peds. (Harl. Soc. lxv), 20; PROB 11/105, f. 270; N. Dews, Deptford, 93; N and Q (ser. 3), ii. 424; Burke, Extinct Baronetcies, 455-6.
  • 3. PROB 11/77, f. 372.
  • 4. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 168.
  • 5. C66/2464.
  • 6. T.K. Rabb, Enterprise and Empire, 369.
  • 7. CSP Col. 1513-1616, p. 195.
  • 8. C24/565/4, f. 14; CSP Dom. 1629-31, p. 479.
  • 9. C24/601, pt. 2, no. 83, f. 63.
  • 10. CSP Dom. 1638-9, p. 69.
  • 11. CSP Col. 1513-1616, pp. 238, 416.
  • 12. Handlist of British Diplomatic Representatives comp. G.M. Bell, 224.
  • 13. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 540; AO15/3, p. 165; CSP Dom. 1629-31, p. 165; 1638-9, p. 307; Docquets of Letters Patent 1642-6 ed. W.H. Black, 334.
  • 14. T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 1, p. 9.
  • 15. Ibid. pt. 2, p. 27.
  • 16. C66/2357; 66/2596/27.
  • 17. CSP Dom. 1631-3, p. 253; 1635-6, p. 250; 1637-8, p. 363.
  • 18. C181/4, ff. 19v, 29v, 93-5; 181/5, f. 269.
  • 19. E198/4/32, f. 1.
  • 20. CSP Dom. 1631-3, p. 200; Hunts. RO, D/DM19/3/1.
  • 21. IGI Surr.
  • 22. Sir Thomas Smithes Voiage and Entertainment in Rushia (1605).
  • 23. A. Brown, Genesis of US, 988.
  • 24. CSP Col. 1513-1616, pp. 99-100; 1617-21, pp. 230-1.
  • 25. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 161.
  • 26. Russell was described as ‘of Chippenham’ when he acquired a grant of arms in Dec. 1618: Grantees of Arms ed. W.H. Rylands (Harl. Soc. lxvi), 219.
  • 27. VCH Cambs. vi. 172.
  • 28. E351/2281, unfol. payment to Richard Butler.
  • 29. R. Ashton, ‘The Disbursing Official under the Early Stuarts’, BIHR, xxx. 162.
  • 30. Recs. Virg. Co. ed. S.M. Kingsbury, ii. 28; iv. 90.
  • 31. E403/2605, p. 7.
  • 32. HMC 12th Rep. i. 207.
  • 33. Add. 37819, f. 11.
  • 34. Procs. 1626, iii. 47, 121, 123, 128-9, 133, 135.
  • 35. Ibid. 115.
  • 36. T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Chas. I, i. 175, 177; APC, 1626, p. 360.
  • 37. APC, 1626, p. 390; 1627, p. 99.
  • 38. See e.g. Trin. House of Deptford Trans. ed G.G. Harris (London Rec. Soc. xix), 88.
  • 39. CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 562.
  • 40. LJ, iii. 412, 864; APC, 1621-3, pp. 391, 459; E126/2, f. 300v.
  • 41. CSP Dom. 1629-31, p. 108. The Sir Wm. Russell who subsequently invested £100 in the new Co. appears to have been his Worcs. namesake: SP16/231/6.
  • 42. SP16/258/27.
  • 43. A.D. Thrush, ‘Navy under Chas. I’ (Univ. London Ph.D. thesis, 1990), p. 133.
  • 44. CSP Dom. 1636-7, p. 240; M.D. Gordon, ‘Collection of Ship Money’, TRHS (ser. 3), iv. 154. For his grant of poundage on Ship Money, see AO15/3, pp. 743-5.
  • 45. CSP Dom. 1636-7, p. 252.
  • 46. APC, 1630-1, p. 158; CSP Dom. 1631-3, pp. 200, 296.
  • 47. CSP Dom. 1638-9, pp. 356, 363; SP71/98.
  • 48. CSP Dom. 1631-3, p. 409; 1634-5, p. 140; 1637, p. 419; 1637-8, p. 265.
  • 49. Ibid. 1638-9, pp. 125, 307.
  • 50. D’Ewes ed. W. Notestein, 499-500; SP71/98.
  • 51. CSP Dom. 1641-3, p. 272.
  • 52. HMC 6th Rep. 86. For the background to this case, see HMC 12th Rep. ii. 201, 269; HCA 13/115, unfol. 7 May 1640.
  • 53. C2/Chas.I/R45/40.
  • 54. PCC Admons. 1655-60, iii. 21; MIs and Coats of Arms from Cambs. ed. W.M. Palmer, 18, 247.