The Execution of Lord William Russell

Sorry a about the delay between posts – life seems to have caught up with me.


William Lord Russell (image not mine)

William Lord Russell (image not mine)

William Russell Baron and Lord was born on 29 September 1639. He gained the title of baron on the death of his elder brother. This in turn allowed him to be called Lord.


When Charles II returned in the Restoration Lord Russell became MP for Tavistock but was in active as an MP until 1674. He was part of the Country Party an early form of the Whig party.


At age 30 he took a wife, a widow called Lady Vaughn. She was the cousin of the infamous Lord Shaftsbury. He will play a role in Russell’s downfall.


The policy that would stimulate Russell to get involved in politics was regarding Charles’ Franco-Catholic policies. England had been protestant (with the exception of Mary’s reign) since the reformation under the reign of Henry VIII and although now one wanted to return to puritan England as under Oliver Cromwell neither did they want a king allied with Catholic France. It was bad enough Charles married Catherine Borganza Catholic Portuguese bride rather than a protestant Princess.


The date Russell made speech debut was 22 January 1674. Within this speech he was critical of the court and how they used French money.


The biggest event to turn Russell into a militant MP was the discovery of the Popish Plot in 1678. This catholic plot was hoping to kill Charles and replace him by his catholic brother the Duke of York and future James II.


Charles had no children with his wife and Queen but did have a protestant and illegitimate son the Duke of Monmouth. There was rumour that when Charles was in exile he may have married Monmouth’s mother Lucy Walter. No evidence exists but this encouraged MP like Russell to look to him as the heir to Charles instead of James as Monmouth was Catholic. This policy was known as the exclusion crisis.


Russell spoke out about the Duke of York on 4th November 1678, wishing to remove James from the line of succession. Parliament was dissolved in January 1679. When the elections were reheld to recall parliament, Russell was re-elected for Bedfordshire and Hampshire. The Whigs won the election and were able impeach Danby. Russell also became a member of Charles II Privy Council and he did not rest upon his laurel as within days of becoming a member of this exclusive council. Debates about the succession of James raged views varied from exiling banishment and exclusion to allowing him the throne with terms and conditions namely the preservation of the Protestant faith.


By January 1680 Russell along with several other members of the council resigned. However he was a Russell was a Lord and as such a member of the House of Lords. It was here that he would next take his crusade against James Duke of York and the Succession.


On 19th November 1680 Russell carried the Exclusion bill to the House of Lords. He opposed the limitation of James as he felt monarchy would become a laughing stock if allowed to rule in that manner. Just under a month later, Russell wanted to refuse a supplies to Charles until he agreed to the controversial Exclusion Bill against his brother James. This idea seemingly failed.


In spring 1681, Parliament was held in Oxford again Lord Russell brought forward the Exclusion Bill. This however marked the end of his political career, he went home to Hampshire when the parliamentary session was dismissed.


Due to his political career it was well documented that he held the view that he thought that the Duke of York was not a suitable candidate for the throne. Therefore he should have been more careful as to who he was to spend his political retirement in the company of for this was the beginning of his road to the scaffold.


In October 1682 Russell attended a meeting with the Duke of Monmouth, lord Essex & Hampden and Algernon Sidney amongst the others gathered. What was discussed at this meeting was nothing short of Treason. Their traitorous host was Mr Sheppard a wine Merchant by trade who was to introduce the Exclusionist to one Mr Richard Rumbold the owner of a mansion called Rye House.


These men plotted to accost the King and the Duke of York while the returned from the races at Newmarket where Charles had a grand racing stable. There was rumor of plotting to kill Charles and James to put Monmouth, Charles illegitimate son, on the throne. The plot was discovered and unlike his co-conspirators Russell did not run to The Dutch Republic to save his head! Russell arrived at the Tower on 26th June 1683 charged with Inciting an Insurrection to bring about the death of a King.


Trials in the seventeenth century was not fair as we would see it today. But in the context of time as well as the nature of the crime he was tried as fairly as possible. Not surprisingly he was found guilty and his punishment was death. Due to his status he was given beheading rather than hanging drawing and quartering as an end.




It was extraordinary his wife acted as his secretary during his trial something that was rare. She also launched a one woman crusade to try and save her husband of his fate. She even had a private meeting with Charles where she is said to have fallen on her knees and begged for his life. Her effort was to no avail.


On 21st July 1683, Russell went t the scaffold in Lincolns Inn fields with the infamously bad executioner Jack Ketch. (He would 2 years later execute Monmouth on Tower Hill taking 9 blows to sever his head from his neck)


Russell was hailed a martyr by his fellow Whigs and was later to obtain a posthumous pardon from William III.


Russell always claimed that he knew of no plot to Kill the king and his brother. Charles needed to make an example of him to stop this exclusion debate. He also exiled Monmouth. He dismissed parliament and never recalled it again. He kept James as his heir, this was part of a secret agreement with Louis of France, Louis paid Charles a pension to insure that Catholic James inhertited the throne. Russell’s refusal to run to exile was when he signed his own death warrant. His political views and his marital links with Sharftsbury all worked against him.


Should he be vilified? Well I am with William of Orange, the so called “evidence” that convicted him was hearsay and as he was a man who had until that point not plotted to achieve his aims, the only thing he was guilty of in my opinion is being at a meeting and being associated with more dangerous men. Russell was a man of conviction, worried about the immortal soul of his country; I do not feel he would commit regicide to achieve these goals. Although I do not agree with his politics I do respect his belief in something and the dignified way he accepted his fate. He is in my book a political hero

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2 Responses to The Execution of Lord William Russell

  1. Reblogged this on Laura Brennan, A Historian and commented:

    On This day Lord Russell was executed in Lincolns Inn Fields

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