RUSSELL, Edward (c.1652-1727), of Chippenham Hall, Cambs.
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Family and Education
b. c.1652, 2nd s. of Hon. Edward Russell (d. 1665, 4th s. of Francis Russell, 4th Earl of Bedford) of Corney House, Chiswick, Mdx. by Penelope, da. of Sir Moyses Hill of Hillsborough, co. Down, wid. of Hon. Arthur Wilmot of Dublin and of Sir William Brooke of Cooling Castle, Kent. educ. Tottenham, Mdx. (Mark Lewis); St. John’s, Camb. 1666, LL.D. 1705. m. 12 Nov. 1691, his cos. Lady Margaret (d. 1702), da. of William Russell†, 5th Earl and 1st Duke of Bedford, at least 1ch. d.v.p. suc. bro. 1674; cr. Earl of Orford 7 May 1697.1
Ent. RN 1666, lt. 1671–June 1672, capt. June 1672–82, adm. 1689, adm. of the fleet 1690–Jan. 1693, Nov. 1693–7; groom of bedchamber to Duke of York 1682–aft.1683; PC 14 Feb. 1689–8 Mar. 1702, 8 Nov. 1709–d.; treasurer of navy 1689–99; ld. of Admiralty 1690–1, first ld. 1694–9, 1709–Sept. 1710, Oct. 1714–17; commr. appeals for prizes 1694–aft.1695; ld. justice 1697–8, 1714; commr. union with Scotland 1706.2
Custos rot. Caern. 1689, Cambs. 1689–d., ld. lt. Cambs. 1714–d.; asst. Mines Co. 1693; commr. Greenwich Hosp. 1694; freeman, Portsmouth 1695; conservator, Bedford level 1697, 1712–24; high steward, Cambridge 1699–d.; master of King’s game, Newmarket 1715–aft.1718; recorder and high steward, Harwich c.1715–d.3
Heavy-featured and ruddy-cheeked, with a forthright manner and an irascible temperament, Russell might in some superficial respects have fitted the caricature of the professional sea-captain. In fact, he was no bluff ‘tarpaulin’ but a scion of the landed aristocracy, with courtly connexions, a taste for material luxury if not for learning or literature, and, above all, high ambitions. As well as being a sound seaman and an effective commander he was also a skilful politician, though his shrewdness was offset by an implacable egoism, sometimes petulant, on other occasions more brutal, and manifest perhaps most strikingly in the frankly mercenary greed to which such younger sons of the greater nobility were particularly susceptible, and which in his own case constituted the weak point in an otherwise formidable armour.4
The role he had played as one of the ‘Immortal Seven’ in helping to bring about the Glorious Revolution entitled Russell to a major share in the spoils of King William’s triumph, and in 1689 he had been appointed to the Privy Council, and had been given an admiral’s commission and the lucrative post of treasurer of the navy. As yet he was neither experienced nor distinguished enough as a naval officer to be able to challenge his personal enemy Lord Torrington (Arthur Herbert†) for overall command of the fleet, though he had effectively worked himself into the position of Torrington’s principal subordinate. Over the next year he exploited his superior’s ill-fortune and mistakes to undermine and ultimately replace him. Torrington’s bluntness was no match for Russell’s sharper political sense and ability to mobilize his Whig friends in Privy Council and in Parliament. At the general election of 1690 Russell was returned for the naval constituency of Portsmouth. The government interest in the Isle of Wight boroughs would also have been available to him had he needed it. He was classified as a Whig by Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) in an analysis of the newly elected Commons in March 1690. When the session was over, however, he and his crony Henry Priestman* were advanced to the Admiralty Board. Further confirmation of his status at court came with his inclusion in the ‘secret committee’ or ‘Cabinet’ of Privy Councillors appointed to advice the Queen during her husband’s absence on campaign in Ireland, the only naval commander to be nominated. At the same time Torrington’s star was on the wane. The debacle off Beachy Head during the summer signalled its extinction. Russell contributed in an important way to his rival’s demise by offering a contrary opinion to the Queen when Torrington proposed to avoid giving battle, and insisting that the enemy ought to be engaged. He then moved very carefully to take advantage of Torrington’s defeat, possibly in alliance with Secretary Nottingham (Daniel Finch†), who also detested the admiral: Russell declined to take over from Torrington when Queen Mary suggested it; the time, he felt, was ‘not proper’, and it would be especially ‘indecent’ in him since he had served under Torrington and had once benefited from his protection. The Queen interpreted this reserve as ‘modesty’; Shrewsbury, a fellow Whig and one by no means ill-disposed towards Russell, attributed it to lack of confidence in his own abilities to act single-handedly, and an unwillingness to share glory with others. But though Russell wished to avoid immediate responsibility, he none the less showed a determined interest in influencing the disposition of naval preferments, which grew in due course into a desire to monopolize patronage. He also basked in the expressions of royal confidence which his diffidence drew out: although Mary, who observed his behaviour at close hand, was well aware of his ‘faults’, William, from a distance, was convinced of his fitness to command the fleet, and, indeed, duly appointed him to the post after returning to England in the autumn. By this time Russell must have felt that a decent interval had elapsed since Torrington’s disgrace. It would appear that he did little openly to attack his predecessor in Parliament when Torrington’s case was under discussion in the following session; but neither did he say anything in Torrington’s defence. Instead he quietly assumed the post Torrington had held, and during the next few years took over Torrington’s personal following among naval captains and junior officers. His political position was in some respects still tender, however. He was not included by Carmarthen in a list of ‘managers of the King’s directions’, compiled at about this time, but was numbered among the ‘Privy Councillors that ought to assist’. It was not that he was in open opposition – in December he was named among those thought likely to defend Carmarthen from attack in the Commons, and was described as a Court party man in Robert Harley’s* analysis of the House in April of the following year – but he was never on cordial terms with Carmarthen himself and may even have been cherishing ambitions to challenge the Marquess for leadership of the administration. His one recorded speech in this session, on 9 Nov., shows an awkwardness that cannot solely be ascribed to his characteristic want of tact. Replying on behalf of the Admiralty to a question from Sir Christopher Musgrave, 4th Bt., about the failure of the allied blockade to prevent French ships coming out of Dunkirk, he threw all the blame on the unco-operativeness of the Dutch, a response which left no room for further criticism of the English admirals but could scarcely have been welcome to the King or his chief ministers. In such circumstances it is hardly surprising that Russell lost his place on the Admiralty Board in January 1691, a move which could have been justified on the grounds that the commissioner’s office was incompatible with a posting as admiral of the fleet, but which was bound to be interpreted as possessing a political edge.5
Certainly Russell himself was furious. He did not show his anger in Parliament – indeed, he seems to have been largely absent from the Commons, on naval and estate business, after the turn of the year – but by March he had made indirect contact with Jacobite emissaries, through his close friend Lord Marlborough (John Churchill†). What he hoped to gain is unclear: Marlborough had only asked for a pardon on Russell’s behalf, and it may well be that Russell’s own interest at this stage was limited to seeking an insurance policy rather than widening his political options. He still looked to King William for material rewards, though his manner in putting his case betrayed a tactlessness that might have stemmed as much from desperation as from over-confidence. He had never been shy of asking, whether for offices or other royal grants, but before putting to sea in May 1691 he despatched a letter to William that in its tone, by turns whining and arrogantly reproachful, constituted a remarkable presumption even on his own considerable personal services to the King:
I am sensible, sir, with how little justice I can pretend to any share in your Majesty’s favour, having never, in any kind, deserved the favours and honours you have been pleased to show me; nor am I conscious to myself that I have ever been troublesome or importunate with your Majesty for anything that might better my own condition, unless it was for the grant of Reigate, which I soon desisted in, as I found your Majesty backward in granting, concluding from that time, your Majesty did not think me deserving of a small favour, when, at the same time, you were pleased to bestow on several others great gifts.
But that which affects me, sir, is that I should have a brother who appeared one of the first in your interest and service, who chose rather to lose all his appointments in the late King James’s service . . . than not show a zeal for his country’s service . . . But, sir, a lieutenant-colonel of horse will not keep him. His expenses in Ireland, to appear as he ought, have made him in his own fortune, so much a worse man that he has been forced to quit the service and seek a subsistence by marrying an old widow rather than spend all he has and run the hazard of wanting afterwards. And really, the several voyages at sea your Majesty has commanded my service in, have been so very expensive to me that the place of £3,000 a year I hold through your favour, my one little fortune, have [sic] not been able to hinder me from contracting a considerable debt, which makes me incapable of giving him that assistance my inclination leads me to.
I have, sir, a sister who, during King James’s reign, never failed of being paid her pensions, although I think not any of our family was ever very serviceable to the late King; but since your Majesty came to the crown she has never received anything of it . . . These things have given me great mortification that you are pleased to show the world my family is less deserving of your favours than others.
It was my luck to be so favourably thought on, when the design was laid of your Majesty’s coming over, by most people that were able to do service or to obstruct, I mean the military men, both by sea and land, that they believed me in what I said, and depended on the credit I had with your Majesty to render them service, when God was pleased to settle you here, but such has been my ill-fortune that I have not been able to recommend them to your favour, and most of them are in worse condition, in point of income, than in the late reign. It has convinced them how little regard your Majesty has for what I say in their behalf . . . These things I thought a duty incumbent upon me to lay before your Majesty, as also a justice to myself.6
The events of the summer’s campaign did little to improve Russell’s temper. His correspondence with Secretary Nottingham, with whom his relations were still amicable, if no longer cordial, was full of complaints over the indecisive and strategically pointless orders the Admiralty was sending him, which in his view had contributed to the loss of the Bahamas convoy and other merchant shipping, and the deterioration in the state of his ships and their crews. ‘I won’t pretend to be much of a seaman’, ran one typical outburst, ‘since I have been at this trade only from the fourteenth year of my age, but this I dare almost affirm, that what I have writ . . . relating to the fleet, not a seaman in England [would] contradict.’ Worse still, from his own vantage point, were the reports reaching him that his own conduct at sea was ‘rewarded with reproaches’ at home; his reputation, ‘which I have always endeavoured to preserve free from imputation’, had been ‘tossed about like a tennis ball’. ‘I am not naturally a sanguine man but have rather too much flame’, he candidly confessed, ‘and yet that won’t keep me from lamenting the misfortune of having enemies when to the best of my remembrance [I] never gave the occasion to create any.’ More specifically, his resentment was directed towards Carmarthen, whom he suspected, and indeed denounced by letter to the King, of orchestrating Tory criticism of his abilities as a naval commander. His standard response was to threaten resignation, but this was not taken seriously. By the time he returned to England there were reports that the fleet was divided into parties, for and against him, and that this factionalism had spread to domestic politics. The Prussian envoy noted that Carmarthen and Russell were building up support for a trial of strength in Parliament. It was even felt that Russell might challenge his rival for the leadership of the ministry. However, when the 1691–2 session began, the expected explosion proved a damp squib. On 7 Nov. 1691 the order of the day was read for a debate on the ‘miscarriages of the fleet’ the previous summer,
after which the House sitting still near half an hour and no one speaking, Admiral Russell stood up and said, the last time the state of the nation was taken into consideration such reflections were made upon the management of the fleet which he was not then able to give a particular answer to, but now if any Member pleased to ask him any questions he was ready to give them an answer. After which the House sat still for half an hour and nothing said.
Eventually John Grobham Howe, seconded by Charles Montagu, moved that, ‘since nothing was said as to the matter of the fleet and miscarriages therein . . . a vote might be pass [ed]’. But before this could be agreed, Sir Thomas Clarges put in a belated appearance at the debate, and at last raised the various criticisms of Russell with sufficient force to compel a response. Driven to speak, Russell proceeded to a brief exercise in self-justification, which paraded his own injured feelings (‘I am an unfortunate man, my best endeavours tend to my prejudice’) and rebutted any accusation of incompetence by reference to his specialized experience and to privileged information. He gave little away, promising to furnish letters and papers to vindicate his statements, and when these were produced, three days later, the attack fizzled out. Despite their differences, Carmarthen did not exclude him from a further list of Court supporters drawn up during or after this session, but Russell’s other recorded contribution to Commons debates had a mischievous air about it. On 12 Dec., when the House was considering the public accounts, he unsuccessfully offered a motion ‘that all persons having any places from the crown, the profits whereof [or ‘a moiety’, according to an alternative source] were above £500 per annum, the same should go to carry on the charge of the war’. Later, on 18 Jan. 1692, in the committee of supply, the idea was resurrected, by another Member, whereupon Russell reiterated his support for it: ‘I was the person that moved this at first, and I am no ways altered in my opinion . . . put the question as soon as you will and I will give my vote for it.’ His original aim may perhaps have been to provoke fellow office-holders, or to court popularity for himself, but by January his discontents had been temporarily soothed, since he had forced his own way in a personal quarrel with another admiral, the Tory Henry Killigrew*. Russell had made it known that he would not put to sea the following spring if Killigrew remained in post, and in January the contest of wills was decided in his favour, after King William’s personal intervention, Killigrew consenting to step down. On the debit side, Russell’s behaviour during his earlier difficulties with Carmarthen had made him yet another enemy, through forfeiting the residual goodwill of Lord Nottingham, who had been wounded by aspersions Russell had gratuitously cast in his direction.7
The campaign at sea in 1692 gave Russell the great victory that at last made his reputation. It also brought to a head his long-running feud with the Tory ministers, which was ultimately, though not immediately, to be resolved in his favour. Yet he did not go to sea in May 1692 in an especially easy or optimistic frame of mind, despite his earlier triumph over Killigrew. It is to the spring of 1692 that his most serious communication with Jacobite agents can be dated. Much of his resentment was personal: his clients and dependants still languished, as he saw it, for want of preferment, and he himself had not received the political and pecuniary dividends he had expected. Despite a fortunate marriage, to a cousin who allegedly brought him some £20,000, his appetite for financial gain had not diminished: in February 1692 he petitioned, in vain, for a grant of the manor of Denbigh in North Wales, said to be worth £600–£700 p.a. He had better fortune with a second request, for a reversionary lease of the buildings of Suffolk Street in St. James’s: despite competition from Lord Carmarthen, this was granted him in the following June, but although more valuable (some £1,750 p.a.) the property was already under lease until 1720 and thus afforded no immediate material advantage. Underlying these particular grievances was a general apprehension of the vindictiveness of the Tories. The dismissal of Marlborough in January 1692 seemed to point the way, and Russell had, with characteristic impetuosity, offended the King ‘by pressing . . . to know the grounds of the Earl of Marlborough’s disgrace . . . he almost upbraided the King with the Earl of Marlborough’s services, who, as he said, had set the crown upon his head’. Bishop Burnet, the author of this observation, also recalled Russell’s animosity towards Nottingham and commented that he ‘fell indeed into so ill an humour, on many accounts, that he seemed to be for some time in doubt, whether he ought to undertake the command of the fleet, or not’. Burnet ‘tried, at the desire of some of his friends, to soften him a little, but without success’. It would appear that shortly before going down to the fleet in April 1692, Russell spoke to a Jacobite agent, David Lloyd. From King James’s point of view, the exchanges were unsatisfactory. Russell allegedly refused to countenance any specific offer made to himself, but urged James to issue a general pardon rather than the limited indemnity promised in his Declaration. As to his own part in assisting Jacobite invasion plans, he spoke of being able to keep his ships at a safe distance from the French, and of selecting captains for the winter squadron of whose personal loyalty he was certain. However, he added, if he were to meet the French fleet at sea he would still attack it, even if King James himself was seen to be aboard one of the ships. This was not what the Jacobites wished to hear: to them it all ‘seemed rather a contrivance to raise his fortune whichsoever way the balance inclined’, and in retrospect some, like Lord Ailesbury (Thomas Bruce†), even professed to believe that Russell and others had all along been acting with King William’s approval – perhaps even under his direction – to mislead the Jacobites and elicit information from them. When Russell did set sail, he encountered the French on 19 May off Cape Barfleur, and, aided by his able subordinates, not least (Sir) George Rooke* and Sir Clowdesley Shovell*, destroyed or dispersed most of the enemy ships, leaving the remnant to take refuge in the bay of La Hogue, where a detachment under Rooke ventured in and burned them. It was a decisive victory: at one blow Russell had removed, for the foreseeable future, the threat of a Jacobite landing in England. It also established his credentials as a naval hero, to his own long-term benefit and that of his close political associates, the emergent Whig Junto of Charles Montagu, Sir John Somers* and Hon. Thomas Wharton*. But in the short term the effect of La Hogue, as the battle came to be called, was muted, and Russell’s own reputation tarnished, by what seemed to many outside government circles to be an inexplicable failure to follow up the victory with an amphibious descent on France. The responsibility for the decision rested in good part with Russell, who resisted promptings from Whitehall to risk ships and men in what seemed to him too dangerous an enterprise, and showed all his customary touchiness when his opinion was questioned. He had already delivered one astonishing tirade immediately after La Hogue, complaining to Nottingham in almost paranoid terms of the Queen’s lack of confidence in him, and of ministerial colleagues’ disloyalty:
if the rabble will use me ill, and the government at the same time encourage it, a man has a fine time that serves, who proposes no other advantage than his country’s good: but for the future I will go home and enjoy the little God has blessed me with, by no help from the government. For I assure you I am considerably a worse man in my own fortune than when the King came into England; so that, my very good lord and friend, I’ll live quietly for the rest of my days, and not lose the pleasure of the little time I have to live, and not be in fatigue so many weary hours about the fleet, for which I am ill used.
An entreaty from Lord Nottingham that he guard against the possibility of criticism for having ‘omitted anything’, provoked a blistering reply, in which counter-insinuations were levelled at the secretary. The King was impressed neither by Russell’s advice nor by the tone in which it was tendered. One letter, regarded by Lord Sydney (Henry Sidney†) as quite unprecedented, was considered by the Cabinet, who were all ‘so astonished at it, that nobody knew what to advise’, until at length a reply was agreed which Sydney was convinced would enrage Russell even further. Eventually, after a council of war held at Portsmouth, all plans for a descent were abandoned, and both sides, Russell with his Whig friends on the one hand, and Nottingham, Carmarthen and their Tory colleagues on the other, prepared for a trial by public and parliamentary opinion. As the new session approached, there was ‘much talk among a party against Russell’, while others predicted that the admiral himself would ‘begin to complain, justify himself and accuse’. Russell even seems to have resumed contact with the Jacobites, though his general peevishness led him to make rather stiffer stipulations than before about Jacobite policy. Not only did he repeat his call for a general pardon, he also advocated that ‘such a restriction’ might be placed ‘upon the regal power as to prevent for the future any undue practices, or the like steps as had been formerly made, which he conceived to be neither just in themselves, nor for the interest of the King’. He was scarcely more responsive to William’s overtures either, declining the offer of a peerage, on the grounds that his income was as yet insufficient to maintain the honour.8
Russell returned to London ‘very privately’ in September 1692, as one Tory commented, evidently with some irony, ‘to avoid the triumphal reception he much feared would have been made for him’, though he did permit Whig interests in the City to hold a dinner in his honour. He gave an early declaration of his political intentions by informing acquaintances that he had decided to resign all his employments, and not allow himself to be dissuaded from this resolve until ‘he finds he can do better service’, a state of affairs that depended on the outcome of his forthcoming struggle with Nottingham. Battle was joined in the Commons on 11 Nov. 1692, when the House debated ‘the state of the navy’. Russell offered to answer any questions that Members cared to put, but the majority agreed to excuse him and a formal vote of thanks was resolved, to which he responded with a short speech. He and the Admiralty commissioners were, however, ordered to present accounts of the summer’s events, and the following day the papers were delivered in, among them Russell’s journal. Once again, in the debate on the 12th, his oral responses were as succinct as possible, but late in the proceedings, after the House had agreed to send for Sir John Ashby, a subordinate upon whom Russell was anxious to throw blame, Tory questioners did succeed in drawing out from the admiral something approaching an expression of opinion, in which responsibility for strategic decisions was laid by strong implication on the Privy Council:
As to some matters desired – why the descent was made no sooner – I cannot tell; I was at sea and this matter was transacted. And why it was no better prosecuted, the councils of war give you an account that it was the lateness of the season. As to the design upon St. Malo, besides the lateness of the year the sea thereabout is very dangerous. Then for Brest and Rochefort, they were thought too far about to expose the fleet so late in the year.
The affairs of the Admiralty were taken up again on 21 Nov., in a debate on a motion to request that they be placed in secure and competent hands. Tories used the occasion to gun for Russell’s friend Henry Priestman. Speaking late in the debate, Russell contrived to oppose the motion, defend his ‘creature’, and at the same time cast some aspersions in the direction of other commissioners, in a contribution that encapsulated his laconic style, strong on self-justification, sticking closely to a few well-rehearsed arguments, and lacing his comments with occasional innuendo:
I am sensible that I am not able to give advice in what is before you, that I shall not offer at any. That there is a loss of merchant ships, there is no doubt of; whether provision has been made to secure them, I shall not say. ’Tis impossible to have a fleet and a number of ships to guard 40 places. Possibly the commissioners did not so well understand the business of the Admiralty as they do now; and as for what Priestman said of the merchants’ losses, I should have said it myself.
According to another report he observed at the end of his speech that ‘it is not so much seamen as judicial prudent men should be employed in the Admiralty’. On 30 Nov. he faced more penetrating criticism, levelled by ministerial Tories, to the effect that he had failed to lay before the House all the relevant papers at his disposal, and replied in kind, supporting the motion for a resolution to tender advice to the King to employ in his counsels only those whose loyalty was guaranteed by their principles: ‘I am well assured’, he said, ‘there are some men in the Council that think this government not a rightful one and there are others cold in the service of it in prospect if King James come back they may make better terms with him.’ The irony of this last remark would presumably have passed unnoticed by his audience. Perhaps these further insinuations provoked Nottingham: at any rate, the conflict between the two men now came into the open. On 6 Dec. the secretary in turn presented his documentary evidence to the Lords, and in committee there he took the offensive, referring to Russell ‘as if he had been wanting in several things that were incumbent upon him’. This amounted, as one commentator put it, to a declaration of war between the two men, and Russell was soon reported to be ‘making all the preparation he can to give my Lord Nottingham a near charge as to the miscarriage of the descent’. While Nottingham enlisted the support of his fellow peers, Russell sought to involve the Commons in his defence, so that with both Houses conducting their own investigations the quarrel took on the dimensions of an inter-cameral conflict, and appeals were made beyond the confines of Parliament with the publication of some of the proceedings. The climax came on 20 Dec., when the two Houses held a joint conference. At the report Russell denounced the Lords’ proceedings as intended only ‘to cast a reflection upon me’ and defended his own conduct in detail, and to the satisfaction of a majority, who passed a vote of thanks to him for his various exploits during the campaign. In his reply he could not resist a further jibe at Nottingham:
as to this noble lord, he had always appeared against him, so that often he lay under great difficulties, and that though he had in some measure been able to bear up under him, through the interest of some friends he had, yet he questioned whether those who should succeed him in his place would be able to do it.
This was the first public indication Russell had given of his intention to resign his command. Hitherto, he had acted in the Commons like any other loyal ministerialist, apart from his attacks on his enemies at court. On 29 Nov., in the committee of supply, he had defended the United Provinces from allegations that they were not contributing proportionately to the naval side of the allies’ war effort; and on 12 Dec. he instigated the motion to adjourn consideration of the best method of paying the English forces abroad without incurring substantial exports of bullion. But by the 20th he had clearly reached the stage of giving the King an ultimatum: he could not serve again as admiral of the fleet while Nottingham remained as secretary. Such a demand, however, was never likely to prove successful, and in January 1693 William took Russell at his word and relieved him of his responsibility, at the same time prevailing on Nottingham to abandon his course of self-justification in the Upper House in an attempt to effect a pacification, if not a reconciliation. Russell seems to have paid little heed to this cessation of hostilities. He was now at liberty to join other erstwhile Court Whigs in outright opposition, co-operating closely with the ‘Cockpit’ faction headed by his friend Marlborough. Support for the triennial bill, among other ‘Country’ causes, enhanced a popular reputation already established by the victory at La Hogue and the Commons’ well-publicized vote of thanks.9
When the 1692–3 session drew to a close the King did what he could to mollify Russell: his cousin, Lord Edward Russell*, was made treasurer of the chamber, and his brother, Francis, was sent as governor to Barbados. Russell himself, though he had lost his principal offices and the direction of naval affairs, was nevertheless permitted to keep the treasurership of the navy, and continued to be consulted by the King on questions of strategy. He seems to have been considered for the governorship of the Isle of Wight, but was not in the end appointed. Needless to say, he expected something more. In May 1693 he approached Lord Portland to press the King to make good a promise, originally given in the winter of 1691–2, ‘to bestow on me a gift of seven or eight thousand pounds’. The reversionary lease on the buildings in Suffolk Street had not answered the purpose, since the existing lease still had so long to run, and Russell had been unable to find a purchaser for his interest. Bearing in mind his ‘share . . . in all the transactions’ in 1688 and since, and his current financial difficulties, aggravated by his personal expenditure on supplies for the fleet and his commitment to the rebuilding of his house at Chippenham, he renewed his solicitations, proposing first of all a patent for the coinage of copper farthings, and then, when this proved impracticable, a grant of the right to sell £2,000 worth of wood from the Forest of Dean for a period of seven years. The latter perquisite the King did in due course grant, but not until the political climate had begun to change, and the likelihood of Russell returning to high office had increased sharply. In the light of the tribulations endured by the Court in the preceding parliamentary session, the Earl of Sunderland began to urge upon the King a reconstruction of his ministry, to include some of the former ministerial Whigs like Russell, whose loss to administration had proved too costly. In the summer Russell, Wharton and others were present at a political conclave held at Sunderland’s country house, Althorp, at which an agreement seems to have been hammered out. By October even the Jacobites were aware that a ministerial reconstruction was imminent, and sought to reopen their line of communication to Russell via Marlborough. Events at sea conspired to facilitate Russell’s return as admiral of the fleet in place of the three admirals who had shared responsibility in the 1693 campaign, Sir Ralph Delaval*, Killigrew and Shovell. The loss of the Smyrna fleet in the summer of 1693 was a strategic and economic disaster of the first magnitude, and the Privy Council had already conducted an inquiry before Parliament met and a much more public examination began. On the day the parliamentary session opened, 7 Nov. 1693, Russell resumed command of the fleet, and shortly afterwards Delaval and Killigrew, the two Tory admirals upon whom most of the blame for the failure of the Smyrna convoy was pinned, were removed from their places on the Admiralty Board. The day before the beginning of the session Nottingham had been dismissed as secretary. Although some of his fellow Whigs might have objected, Russell had at last triumphed over his Tory enemies. He had re-entered the Cabinet and, with Somers and Secretary Trenchard (Sir John*), was regarded as one of the ‘governing men’. He was named on all the lists of placemen of this period, and figured as a ‘Court supporter with a place’ in Grascome’s list of early 1693.10
Naturally, Russell took a close interest in the Commons’ investigation into the naval debacle, privately upbraiding one ministerial colleague, Lord Ranelagh (Richard Jones*), for his attempts to defend the three disgraced admirals, but he left to others the task of publicly denouncing his predecessors, most notably to Lord Falkland (Anthony Carey*), the first lord of the Admiralty, who had already led the criticism of the admirals in the Council. Contemporaries were quick to identify Russell as Falkland’s prompter, and in the debate in the House on 20 Nov., in which Falkland laid the responsibility for what had happened at the door of Delaval and Killigrew, this was made quite apparent, Falkland going out of his way to praise Russell’s victory at La Hogue and bemoan the admiral’s subsequent ‘dismissal’, as he termed it. In return, Russell spoke strongly on Falkland’s behalf when on 7 Dec. the House debated a charge of corruption against Falkland, and was credited with single-handedly persuading the Members not to commit Falkland to the Tower but to content themselves with issuing a reprimand. In the proceedings on supply Russell intervened repeatedly to facilitate the Court’s business. On 13 Nov., for example, he successfully moved that the House settle a supply before hearing grievances, citing as his main argument the necessity of making immediate provision for the fleet; and on the 19th, when the naval subsidy in particular was under discussion, he proposed a vote of credit, to enable preparations to be undertaken without the need to wait for detailed resolutions from ways and means. In common with other Court Whigs, he argued for caution in tackling the problem of how to secure payment for extra troops, when this was raised in the House in December. Rather than attempting to bounce Members into acceptance of a prearranged augmentation, Russell advocated a gradualist approach, first establishing the principle that the forces should be increased, and only subsequently descending to particulars. He showed similar moderation when Country leaders suggested in January 1694 appropriating part of the supply to naval expenditure, by means of a clause tacked to the land tax bill. Accepting the notion of appropriation, he merely suggested that the clause could be added to a different bill, to avoid risking the rejection of so vital a measure. But his contributions were not confined to debates on supply or to those in which naval interests were involved. On 1 Feb. he defended the King’s answer to the representation against the refusal of the Royal Assent to the triennial bill (an item of legislation he had himself supported in the previous session), though he could not refrain from the self-justification that had become second nature to him. Observing that in the debate ‘very great reflection hath been made upon those that have places’, he went on: ‘I acknowledge I have one, but I am as honest therein as any man that hath none.’ He then moved ‘that the House should be satisfied with this [the King’s] answer’. Perhaps his sensitivities had been re-awakened by the efforts of the commissioners of accounts to draw attention to his grant in the Forest of Dean, exposed in their report in December 1693, and allegedly the focus of their criticisms of the crown’s fiscal management. In some respects his performance in the House must have fallen short of royal expectations, for Sunderland remarked the following July that neither Russell nor Thomas Wharton had as yet ‘owned’ fully in Parliament ‘what is necessary for [the King’s] service’, but when the session ended William restored him to the Admiralty Board, this time as first lord, so that Russell’s grip on the naval service, and especially on naval patronage, was well-nigh complete. Not surprisingly, when the Jacobite agent Lloyd sounded him again in March and April 1694 he was more evasive than ever, taking refuge in generalities that even Lloyd could see were prevarications.11
Russell’s campaign at sea in 1694 proved difficult and frustrating. The fiasco of the failed landing at Brest was followed by a lengthy spell on the Mediterranean station, shadowing the French fleet and policing the coasts of Spain, while ships rotted and men suffered for want of supplies. There were interminable disputes with the Spanish court, and recurrent bouts of ill-health, for which the occasional pleasures offered by Spanish ladies evidently provided inadequate compensation. Customary anxieties over misrepresentation at home, for which of course there had been ample precedents in Russell’s previous expeditions, and for which there was some present evidence in inquiries undertaken by the Lords in 1694–5, and the inevitable complaints of personal expense completed the catalogue of grievances. His correspondence was a litany of protest: at the conditions of his ships and men, the incapacity of officials at home, such as ‘that driveller, the general of the Ordnance [Henry Sydney, now Lord Romney]’, and the unco-operativeness of the allies. By September 1694 he had become extraordinarily depressed, and wondered
whether it be not better to put an end at once to a troublesome life, as I have made it, when I might have lived quiet, free from the noise and trouble I hourly undergo . . . Really, I am not able to undergo the burden; all my hours are full of cares, and apprehensions that my labours will be rewarded, as hitherto it has been, with complaints and ill usage.
The decision, by King and Cabinet, to require him to winter with the fleet in the Mediterranean, proved well-nigh intolerable: ‘I have not for many years been fond of the sea’, he confessed to the Duke of Shrewsbury, ‘and to be kept on board for near two years is enough to try any man’s patience.’ Once more he extolled the hoped-for pleasures of a ‘poor country retirement’, of which he meant to avail himself at the first opportunity. But there were compensations: despite his claim not to have ‘made to myself the advantage of a pistole’ while spending ‘many a thousand’, it seems that he did exploit the various potential sources of profit presented by supply contracts, prizes and gifts from grateful hosts, such as the jewel given him by the Spanish king, reputedly worth some £20,000. He was said to be maintaining a retinue of at least 100 liveried servants, and reports of the Christmas feast held at the ‘country apartments’ at Cadiz told of a sumptuous entertainment:
150 dishes – the first course an ox roasted whole; 12 hogheads of punch in a fountain in which was a little boy that was in a boat swimming in a punch sea and delivered it to the company. The admiral had 800 men to wait on him. This was very amazing to the Spaniards.
Despite such diversions, Russell’s temper did not improve. His letters were full of complaints, though his resentment had taken on a more aggressive tone. While he still pressed to come home, he had mastered his wish to resign, and began to lace his lamentations with some occasional bragging. His sideswipes at the allies, especially the Dutch, became more forceful, until a particularly bilious letter, sent to Shrewsbury in June 1695 and not arriving in England until September, unfortunately fell into the hands of King William, who took serious offence at Russell’s remarks on his own fellow-countrymen and was only pacified by a strong intervention by Shrewsbury on the admiral’s behalf. None the less, when Russell was eventually allowed to come back to England in November 1695, he was given a cool welcome by the King, sufficient to make him think once more of resignation.12
Before his arrival Russell had been returned in absentia as knight of the shire for Cambridgeshire, where his family’s powerful influence was brought to bear to persuade one of the outgoing Whig Members to stand down in his favour. He was also re-elected for Portsmouth. But despite the fact that he already had two seats to choose from, he contested the county election for Middlesex as well, on behalf of his party, and more specifically on behalf of his uncle Bedford, whose heir was too young to represent the Russell interest in the constituency. His prestige, as the victor of La Hogue, helped carry him through a stiff contest, but in the end he opted to sit for his native county. No contribution of his to the debates of the 1695–6 session is recorded, but he was forecast as likely to support the Court in the divisions of 31 Jan. 1696 on the proposed council of trade. At this stage relations with King William were still frosty, and Russell was reportedly still muttering about resignation. The discovery of the Assassination Plot changed everything. Russell’s own contribution to national security at this critical juncture, sailing with a large force in March to take up a position opposite the French fleet at Dunkirk, enhanced his reputation at no cost, since the enemy ships were unable or unwilling to come out. Subsequent disappointments in the summer campaigns meant little in the public mind when set against the forestalling of an expected invasion. At home, Russell, who had returned to Westminster by 13 Mar., signed the Association promptly, and indeed made full use of this new test of loyalty to attempt a purge of the Cambridgeshire lieutenancy and commission of the peace in order to strengthen his own interest in the county. He was also listed as voting with the Court in March for fixing the price of guineas at 22s.13
Although Russell would have preferred to remain a ‘land admiral’ in 1696, he was in ‘very good humour’ when Lord Sunderland visited him at Chippenham in September 1696. He had successfully dissembled his distaste for, and suspicion of, Sunderland, and showed himself ‘extremely desirous to please the King, and to have things go well this sessions’. An unpleasant surprise awaited him, however, when he arrived in London. The confession of one of the alleged conspirators in the Assassination Plot, Sir John Fenwick†, had made detailed allegations concerning Russell’s various communications with Jacobite representatives, in particular David Lloyd, and Sunderland for one felt that these revelations would ‘bring a real prejudice upon Mr Russell’. After the King himself had ‘broke the matter’ to him, a series of high-level consultations involving leading Whig ministers agreed on the strategy that Russell himself had advanced, that the Court, and indeed Russell himself, should bring the matter before the Commons, the communication of the details of the confession to be accompanied by a public statement of the King’s confidence in his ministers, and disbelief in Fenwick’s accusations. More danger was expected from the malicious intervention of discontented Whigs like Lord Monmouth and Lord Stamford than from the attacks of the Tories, but Russell’s principal concern was to ensure that any ‘tricks’ should be played in the open, and not in private or at the Council: ‘all he cares is to avoid whisperings and back-bitings’, a familiar refrain from his earlier struggles with Carmarthen and Nottingham. Accordingly, on 6 Nov., Russell ‘opened the matter’ in the Commons ‘pretty early in the morning, before the House filled’. He spoke ‘handsomely and modestly for himself’, James Vernon I* reported, ‘and put himself upon the justice of the House, to stand or fall by their opinions’. In fact, he informed the Members present that the King had laid the papers concerned before the Council, and that Fenwick’s information had referred to ‘several persons of quality, among others himself’. The various documents were then placed before the House. In the ensuing proceedings, which produced a bill of attainder against Fenwick, Russell was continually busy, both inside Parliament and outside, behind the scenes. Indeed, by December he claimed to be ‘almost dead’ with fatigue, ‘forced to attend’ the Commons ‘to prevent the malice of knaves, that would undo me’. Besides the Fenwick affair, he was obliged to defend himself against Tory attempts to censure the Admiralty over the failure of the English fleet to intercept a French squadron the previous summer. But his main concern was Fenwick’s attainder and the concurrent investigations into his own alleged dealings with the Jacobites. He was one of the Whig ministers most closely involved in the preparation of the attainder bill, and his one recorded speech on the bill, on 17 Nov. 1696, was concerned primarily with self-defence, as he moved for Fenwick’s re-examination by the House, and put forward several questions designed to establish his own innocence. Unsurprisingly, he was listed as voting for the bill on 25 Nov. The success of the bill, though a relief, was not by itself entirely sufficient, for the Lords were insistent on pursuing the affair, gathering testimony from a series of dubious witnesses advanced by Monmouth and other troublemakers. Nor had Russell escaped inquiry into the various allegations that were beginning to surface concerning naval mismanagements. Several minor complaints and grievances continued ‘running on’, and it was observed that Russell was ‘nettled’ and ‘fretted’ by these minor irritations, to a degree that his political opponents hoped might result in his becoming ‘disgusted’ with office altogether. The session as a whole was probably the busiest of his entire Commons career. As late as 17 Mar. 1697, by which time he would normally have left Westminster to go down to the fleet, he reported from a committee appointed to look into the working of the Act to facilitate the development of naval manpower, and was named to the drafting committee on the resulting bill.14
This was also to be Russell’s last session in the Commons. In May 1697 he was raised to the peerage as Earl of Orford. Typically, perhaps, he grumbled that he would have preferred a Garter. A key member of the Junto administration until his resignation in 1699, he remained closely involved in the most important formal and informal decisions of government, including the signing of the first Partition Treaty of 1698. Furthermore, the engrossment of naval patronage, which he had by now perfected, gave him a powerful indirect voice in Commons debates through the presence there of a phalanx of clients and dependants. It was this personal ‘connexion’ which withstood repeated opposition attacks on his administration, the most serious and sustained occurring in 1698–9, after which Orford was required to relinquish the treasurership of the navy, the Commons having voted it to be inconsistent with a place on the Admiralty Board. In pique at being thwarted in the nomination of his successor, he resigned his commissionership too, though he retained considerable influence in the private counsels of the Junto. Together with Junto colleagues he survived impeachment proceedings in 1701, and resisted further inquiries by the accounts commissioners early in Queen Anne’s reign. While he was able to answer many of the charges of corruption levelled at him or his most trusted subordinates, some of the mud stuck. His involvement in the financing of Captain Kidd’s expedition, his prolonged failure to submit accounts for his treasurership, the conspicuous consumption which belied his claims to have lost rather than gained financially by office: all tarnished the glory that still clung to the victor of La Hogue. Orford’s later career was thus something of a disappointment to a man who at one time had been viewed as the likely head of a Whig administration. He remained a powerful figure, active in both Houses of Parliament, the one directly and the other indirectly, and Junto colleagues went to some lengths to secure his reappointment to the Admiralty in 1709. Losing office again in the ministerial reconstruction the following year, he confirmed his standing with the Hanoverian court by his steadfast opposition to the Tory ministry of 1710–14, and was restored as first lord by George I. In the negotiations preceding this appointment, he showed his customary greater concern for profit, and for the protection of his clients, than for personal honours, reputedly turning down a Garter but insisting on the right to dispose of subordinate offices as he saw fit. He went out of office with the schismatic Whigs in 1717 (receiving, and paying little attention to, renewed Jacobite overtures as he did so) and was probably too old to return with them when the party was reunited in 1720, though he was still moderately active in politics in the last few years of his life.15
Russell died on 26 Nov. 1727 and was buried alongside his wife at Woburn Abbey. He left his ‘fine house in Covent Garden’, the scene of many a Junto conference, to Thomas Archer†, the Chippenham estate to Samuel Sandys†, each of whom had married a great-niece of his, the daughters of (Sir) Thomas Tipping*. The earldom, which died with him, was revived 15 years later for Robert Walpole II*, in an act of homage to one whose presence had cast a considerable shadow over the great prime minister’s political apprenticeship. Orford’s character may have made him the least personable of the Junto lords, lacking as it did the gravity of Somers, the polish of Montagu, the bonhomie of Wharton, and even the vigour of Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*). He himself acknowledged that ‘I am afraid I am thought an uneasy man’, and too often in private he allowed his temper to get the better of him. But in public he presented an almost impenetrable carapace, a personality whose resolute self-centredness gave it a solidity few, with the possible exception of Walpole himself, could have surpassed.16
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: D. W. Hayton
- 1. DNB (Lewis, Mark); Shrewsbury Corresp. 554.
- 2. J. Ehrman, Navy in War of Wm. III, 647; CSP Dom. July–Sept. 1683, p. 245.
- 3. CSP Dom. 1689–90, pp. 181, 271; 1693, p. 207; 1694–5, p. 204; 1695, p. 112; R. East, Portsmouth Recs. 371; S. Wells, Drainage of Bedford Level, i. 469, 481, 485; Cooper, Annals of Cambridge, iv. 41, 196; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxx. 552; xxxii. 47; HMC Egmont Diary, i. 16; S. Dale, Harwich and Dovercourt, 222.
- 4. Poems on Affairs of State ed. Ellis, v. 200–1, 209–10, 393, 402, 437–8; Add. 4223, f. 89; R. Samber, Essay to Memory of Edward Russell . . . Earl of Orford (1731), 5; Burnet, iii. 276; Macaulay, ii. 899; Shrewsbury Corresp. 391.
- 5. Ehrman, 270–7, 318–23, 342–66, 374; A. K. Powis, ‘Whigs and . . . Wm. III, 1689–98’ (London Univ. M.A. thesis, 1948), 130–1; H. Horwitz, Revolution Politicks, 109, 118–19, 121–2; HMC Finch, ii. 269–70, 276, 393–4; iii. 439–40; H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 18, 59–60; CSP Dom. 1689–90, pp. 467, 495, 513; 1690–1, pp. 46, 53, 76, 96, 268, 286; Luttrell, Brief Relation, ii. 22, 26; Dalrymple, Mems. iii(2), 9, 16–17, 46–47, 86, 91, 97, 103, 105–7, 120–1, 125, 130; EHR, lxxvii. 98–99; Conduct of Earl of Nottingham ed. Aiken, 71; Ralph, Hist. Eng. ii. 225–6; Browning, Danby, iii. 178; Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. v. 656.
- 6. Ehrman, 374; Luttrell, ii. 164; CSP Dom. 1689–90, p. 444; 1690–1, pp. 332, 366–8, 378, 383; Hopkins thesis, 267–8; Westminster Diocesan Archs. Old Brotherhood mss iii/3/232, David Lloyd’s memo. 23 Mar. ; Macaulay, iv. 2020.
- 7. Ehrman, 376–80; Horwitz, Revolution Politicks, 127–8; HMC Finch, iii. 79, 93, 103, 112, 189, 209; Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 66, 71, 77; CSP Dom. 1690–1, p. 440; HMC 8th Rep. I, 566; Archives de la Guerre, Vincennes, A1/1080/150, letter from London, 6/26 July 1691; DZA, Bonet despatch 18/28 Sept. 1691; HMC Portland, iii. 481; Luttrell Diary, 5–7, 12, 77, 136–7; Centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss U1590/059/1, Robert Yard* to Alexander Stanhope, 10 Nov. 1691; Grey, x. 162, 164–7, 216, 327, 336; Bodl. Carte 130, ff. 327, 336; HMC 7th Rep. 198, 201, 205; Ranke, vi. 164; Ralph, ii. 312; Luttrell, ii. 319, 337; PRO NI, De Ros mss D638/13/94, John Pulteney* to Ld. Coningsby (Thomas*), 12 Jan. 1691–2; Add. 70119, Robert to Sir Edward Harley*, 7 Jan. 1691–2.
- 8. Portledge Pprs. 139; Ralph, ii. 348; Luttrell, ii. 397, 405, 439, 445; CSP Dom. 1691–2, p. 289; HMC 7th Rep. 207; Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 1513, 1542, 1670; Correspondentie ed. Japikse, ser. 1, ii. 32; Hopkins thesis, 285–8, 315–16; Horwitz, Revolution Politicks, 130–6; Burnet, iv. 164–5; Dalrymple, iii(2), 227, 232–3; Clarke, Jas. II, ii. 489, 499–500; Ailesbury Mems. i. 273, 391–2; Ehrman, 382–409; Bull. IHR, xvii. 21; HMC Downshire, i. 405–6; HMC Finch, ii. 134, 181–2, 191–2; Macaulay, v. 2887; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland (Bentinck) mss PwA 1348–9, Sydney to Portland, 31 July, 5 Aug. 1692; PwA 2792a, [–] to Portland, [1 Nov. 1692]; Add. 70225, Paul Foley I* to Robert Harley, 17 Sept. 1692; Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 104.
- 9. Hatton Corresp. (Cam. Soc. n.s. xxiii), 185–6; Luttrell, ii. 620, 650; Horwitz, Revolution Politicks, 136, 138–9; Ehrman, 409–12; Trinity, Dublin, Lyons (King) mss 1996/245, George Tollet to Abp. King, 17 Nov. 1692; Powis thesis, 164–8; Luttrell Diary, 218–19, 221–4, 248, 267, 273–4, 276–7, 330; Grey, x. 244, 247, 274, 291–4, 318; Chandler, ii. 410; Carte 130, ff. 340, 343; Ralph, ii. 392, 394, 397; Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 105–9; HMC Kenyon, 296, 371; CJ, x. 715–23, 749–55; Adm. Russell’s Letter to the Earl of Nottingham . . . ; Ranke, vi. 192–3, 203, 212; Bonet’s despatches 20/30 Jan., 10/20 Feb. 1693; Portledge Pprs. 156.
- 10. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 114, 118–19; Bodl. Tanner 25, ff. 27, 80; Portland (Bentinck) mss PwA 1092–3, Russell to Portland, 8, 30 May 1693; Chandler, ii. 437; Cobbett, v. 807; J. P. Kenyon, Sunderland, 260–1; Powis thesis, 178–9; Foxcroft, Halifax, ii. 172; Orig. Pprs. ed. Macpherson, i. 456–61; Luttrell, iii. 211; Ehrman, 500–5; Horwitz, Revolution Politicks, 145–6; EHR, lxxi. 588–9; K. Feiling, Tory Party, 289; Hatton Corresp. 198.
- 11. HMC 7th Rep. 215, 218–19; Add. 17677 NN, ff. 325, 349–50; Grey, x. 353, 385; Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 123, 127, 132; Ranke, vi. 234; Ralph, ii. 473; CJ, xi. 90; Portland (Bentinck) mss PwA 1237, Sunderland to Portland, 6 July 1694; Macpherson, i. 480–3; Clarke, ii. 517; Hopkins thesis, 380–1.
- 12. Portledge Pprs. 177, 179, 195, 210; Shrewsbury Corresp. 31–32, 68–69, 76, 84–85, 88, 104–5, 136–7, 190–5, 198–200, 202–4, 210–16, 222–5, 234–6, 246; Luttrell, iii. 401, 411, 422, 438; CSP Dom. 1694–5, pp. 312–13, 483; Powis thesis, 257–9; Ralph, ii. 561–2, 610; Macaulay, v. 2452–4; Egerton 2170, f. 81; 2171, f. 16; HMC Buccleuch, ii. 176; HMC Portland, iii. 563; Add. 21494, ff. 49–50; 28879, ff. 167–8; 17677 PP, f. 424; Lexington Pprs. 117, 119, 123, 125–6, 137.
- 13. Add. 70018, f. 83; D. Cook, ‘Rep. Hist. of Co. Town and Univ. of Cambridge, 1689–1832’ (London Univ. PhD thesis, 1935), 10–11; Devonshire mss at Chatsworth House 89/2, Russell to Lady Russell, 12 Oct. 1695; Flying Post, 26–29 Oct. 1695; HMC Buccleuch, ii. 245–6, 379; Luttrell, iii. 539, 542–3, 548, 551; iv. 22–23, 25–27, 29; Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 157; Portledge Pprs. 215; Horwitz, Revolution Politicks, 156; Ehrman, 573–4, 602–3; Essays in Mod. European Hist. ed. Murray, 51–70; CSP Dom. 1696, p. 67; Lexington Pprs. 186; Cal. Le Neve Corresp. 41; L. K. J. Glassey, Appt. JPs, 119.
- 14. Add. 17677 QQ, f. 406; 30000 A, f. 275; Penn Pprs. ed. Dunn and Dunn, iii. 455; Portland (Bentinck) mss PwA 1255, Sunderland to Portland, 6 Sept. 1696; Shrewsbury Letters, 388, 412, 414