William Russell, lord, an English statesman, second son of William, fifth earl of Bedford, born Sept. 29, 1639, beheaded July 21, 1683. He studied at Cambridge, travelled on the continent, and was elected to parliament for Tavistock in 1660, but for the next 12 years was a silent and inactive member. In 1669 he married Lady Vaughan, a widow, and daughter of the earl of Southampton, first lord treasurer to Charles IT. In 1673 he ranged himself with the Protestant or "country party," of which he was one of the leaders till his death, coming forward in opposition to the attempts of the king and his partisans to destroy English freedom through the aid of France. On the death of his elder brother, at the beginning of 1678, he became Lord Russell, and heir apparent to the earldom of Bedford. On March 14 of that year he seconded the motion to declare war against France, and spoke in support of it. In November he was chosen to move in the house of commons that the duke of York should be removed from the king's presence and councils. He was one of the chief actors in the impeachment of the lord treasurer Danby, but afterward admitted that he was mistaken in the part he took against that statesman. When the new council proposed by Sir William Temple was formed, Lord Russell was appointed one of the 30 members.
He was not at first in favor of excluding the duke of York from the succession, but finally supported the measure. He left the council at the beginning of 1680. On Oct. 26 he spoke in favor of measures against "popery, and to prevent a popish successor " to the crown; and a week later he seconded Col. Titus's motion to disable the duke of York from becoming king of England. His influence in the house of commons was one of the causes of the passage of the exclusion bill through that body; but it was thrown out by the peers. When the reaction against the whigs took place, the government of Charles II. resolved to destroy their leaders, proceeding to do so according to the forms of law. Lord Russell knew that his life was in danger, but he would not fly. He was arrested on the charge of being con-cerned in the Rye House plot, said to have been formed by Rumbold and others, for an attack on the king and the duke of York. When he was taken before the council, the king told him that nobody suspected him of any design against his person, but that he had good evidence of his being in designs against his government. After the examination was over, Lord Russell was committed to the tower. From that moment he began to prepare for death, as if he were already under sentence.
The trial took place at the Old Bailey, July 13, 1683. The charge was "for conspiring the death of the king, and consulting and agreeing to stir up insurrection; and to that end to seize the guards [appointed] for the preservation of the king's person." The case for the government was conducted by Sir Robert Sawyer, attorney general, Heneage Finch, solicitor general, and Jeffreys. No counsel was then allowed to the accused, except on points of law, but Lady Russell was permitted to assist her husband in writing, "to help his memory." The jury was formed in violation of law, and it is certain that he was not guilty of the crime of which he was accused according to a proper construction of the act of 25 Edward III.; so that the act of 1 William and Mary, reversing his attainder, declared that he "was, by undue and illegal return of jurors, having been refused his lawful challenge to the said jurors for want of freehold, and by partial and unjust constructions of law, wrongfully convicted, attainted, and executed for high treason." The extent of Lord Russell's error was, that he had engaged in "some discourses about making some stirs," such as were common enough with the whigs after it had become evident that the king had resolved to govern contrary to law; this was all that was sworn against him, and this was not treason.
Lord Russell made a short but strong speech to the court and jury; but the former charged against him, and the latter found him guilty. When brought up to receive sentence, on July 14, Lord Russell pointed out that judgment ought not to pass upon him for conspiring the death of the king, of which there was no proof by any one witness, all the witnesses having sworn a conspiracy to levy war, but no intention of killing the king. He was answered that it was an exception proper to be made before the verdict, but that the court was now bound by the verdict, as well as the prisoner; and sentence of death was passed upon him. Great efforts were made to save his life, but the king seems to have been impressed with the belief that he could not with safety to his own life spare that of Lord Russell. To please his friends, and because of his wife's distress, Russell petitioned the king and the duke of York to spare him, on condition of his living abroad, and taking no part in English affairs; but he never supposed his petition would be favorably received. He was attended by Burnet and Tillotson, but could not be brought to subscribe to their servile doctrine on the right of resistance to tyranny.
Some of his observations during the few days that passed between his sentence and execution show much pleasant humor, and others great depth of thought and eloquence. He refused to accept of a plan formed for his escape. At the scaffold he gave a paper to the sheriff that embodied his sentiments. His fellow victim, Algernon Sidney, was executed before the close of the year. Russell's attainder was reversed immediately after the revolution, and his father was created duke of Bedford in 1694, the patent stating, among the reasons for conferring the honor, "that this was not the least, that he was the father to Lord Russell, the ornament of his age," etc. - His wife, Lady Rachel Russell, survived him 40 years, dying Sept. 29, 1723, at the age of 87. Her "Letters," edited by Miss Berry, were published in 1819. A more perfect edition, edited by Lord John Russell, appeared in 1854, who has also written "The Life of William Lord Russell, with some Account of the Times in which he lived " (2 vols. 8vo, London, 1819).
William Russell, a Scottish historian, born in Selkirkshire in 1741, died in Dumfriesshire, Dec. 25, 1793. He was apprenticed for five years to a bookseller and printer of Edinburgh, and on the completion of his term published a "Select Collection of Modern Poems." In 1767 he went to London, where he was employed as corrector of the press for Strachan the publisher. From 1787 he lived on a farm in Dumfriesshire. His principal works are: "History of America" (2 vols. 4to, 1779; new ed., with additions by Charles Coote, 1815); "History of Modern Europe" (4 vols. 8vo, 1779-'84; 5 vols., 1786), continued by Coote and others in various editions to 1856 (4 vols., 1857; and "History of Ancient Europe, with a View of the Revolutions in Asia and Africa" (2 vols. 8vo, 1793; new ed. by Coote, 1815). He left an unfinished "History of England from the beginning of the Reign of George III".