RUSSELL, John II (1551-93), of Strensham, Worcs.
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Family and Education
J.p. Worcs. from c.1575, sheriff 1577-8, escheator 1586-8, dep. lt. 1587.
Russell was brought up in the household of the 2nd Earl of Bedford, with whom the family claimed kinship. Probably, like the earl’s youngest son, William Russell, whose close friend Russell became, he went to Oxford, but too many John Russells attended the university in the 1560s and early 1570s for identification of his career there to be feasible. His family’s hereditary possession of saltpans in the borough of Droitwich accounts for his return in 1572.2
Russell spent some time abroad, even after succeeding to his estates. He probably accompanied his friend William Russell for at least part of his continental tour in the late 1570s, and fought in the Low Countries under Leicester, being knighted there in 1587.3
In Worcestershire his quarrels with relatives and neighbours disturbed the county. His character, indeed, was summed up in a note on a j.p. list, which commended him for ‘forwardness in religion, but not so for discretion’. The first dispute, which nearly terminated in bloodshed, was with his stepmother’s second husband, Henry Berkeley II, and concerned her dower lands. The parties are supposed to have been reconciled by Bishop Whitgift, acting president of the council in the marches in Sidney’s absence. If so, it must have been yet another dispute for which Russell, while sheriff, was summoned before the Privy Council for refusing to obey the council in the marches. In 1582 Whitgift is again said to have intervened, this time to terminate a disagreement between Russell and Thomas Hanford, his neighbour at Strensham, over the waters of the Avon, which both parties were diverting to their own use, to the inconvenience of others. A more protracted quarrel was waged with his wife and her father, both Catholics. However suitable so far as wealth and social standing were involved, a match between one of Russell’s protestant upbringing and a Catholic, could scarcely have been expected to run smoothly. Trouble broke out almost at once. By 1578 Russell had decided to exclude the issue of the marriage from succession to his estates, and on 31 Dec. conveyed his property by indenture to the 2nd Earl of Bedford and Gilbert Lyttelton, to hold to the use of an entail barring his children by Elizabeth Sheldon, subject only to the proviso that he might at any time by a sealed deed alter the entail. Despite this, he appears to have lived with his wife at least at times in the following years, although she later accused him of ill-treatment. In 1583 Russell caught a priest who confessed to saying mass in Sheldon’s house and in Russell’s own during his absence overseas. Russell appears to have attempted to use this disclosure against his father-in-law, but no corroboration of the priest’s statement was forthcoming and there was evidently no prosecution. About 1583 Russell and his wife finally separated. Russell’s friends later asserted that Sheldon by his power in the county threatened Russell with ruin, but a fair part of the blame was apparently Russell’s. Sheldon initially complained to the council in the marches, who, after an attempt at reconciliation, frustrated by Russell, reported to the Privy Council. Formal deeds of separation were drawn up by the lord chancellor and master of the rolls, but Russell, after accepting the arbitration, claimed that the income allowed his wife was too great. Probably in March 1584 he made a new and lower offer to his wife, on the grounds that ‘he meant to be good to his children, who should be no further burden’ to her. Again he changed his mind and threatened to send Sheldon and his sons a challenge. A messenger was sent to Sheldon and, although the latter denied him private speech, a clash took place at Harewell woods. Another was narrowly averted at Worcester quarter sessions. Russell attacked Sheldon’s house on the pretext of re-claiming his daughter—presumably he already had custody of his sons—and Sheldon’s son attacked Russell’s house in London. Thereupon Russell brought a suit in Star Chamber, reviving his old allegations of papistry against Sheldon. It would seem that the court finally settled the dispute: at all events, in July 1585 Russell rescinded the provisions in his earlier indenture and restored his children to their place in the succession.4
In the midst of this dispute Russell was elected senior knight of the shire for the first time, apparently without opposition. As such he was put on the subsidy committee 24 Feb. 1585. He was given leave of absence from Parliament, 5 Mar. 1585, ‘for his great business’. In 1586 and 1589 he was again senior knight for Worcestershire and as such he could have sat on the subsidy committees, 22 Feb. 1587 and 11 Feb. 1589. He continued throughout to hold county office. The assertion that he was attainted about this time rests on no more than the supposed ‘sale’ of Strensham, ‘late of John Russell attainted’, to Walter Copinger and Thomas Butler. The grant refers to a concealment of lands going back to the mid-fifteenth century when an ancestor and namesake was punished for his part in the Wars of the Roses. The grant, for a consideration, removed a possible flaw in Russell’s own title.5
In August 1590 Russell was recommended by the 2nd Earl of Pembroke for membership of the council in the marches, but was not appointed. In 1592 he obtained licence to travel overseas. It is not known whether he went, but by September 1593 he had returned to Strensham to die. Under his will, made in April 1587 before he set out for the Low Countries, he bequeathed his soul to God, ‘most humbly beseeching Him, even for Jesus Christ’s sake ... by whose precious death and passion my only hope and trust is to be saved’, to receive it. His younger children were suitably provided for, and as his executor he appointed his old friend, (Sir) William Russell. He had been a careful custodian of the family estates inherited from his father, and had added to them, amongst other lands, the manor of Eckington.6
Ref Volumes: 1558-1603
Author: S. M. Thorpe
- 1. Vis. Worcs. (Harl. Soc. xxvii), 119; PCC 64 Lewyn; C142/241/126.
- 2. J. L. Hotson, I, William Shakespeare, 21-2; HMC Hatfield, ii.
- 3. St. Ch. 5/R41/32; Hotson, 37; VCH Worcs. iv. 204.
- 4. Strype, Annals, iii(2), p. 457; Fuller, Worthies, iii. 382; APC, x. 217; Strype, Whitgift, i. 217; C142/241/126; St. Ch. 5/R41/32, S15/38, R12/34.
- 5. Lansd. 43, anon. jnl. f. 171; D’Ewes, 409, 431; VCH Worcs. iv. 204; CSP Dom. 1581-90, p. 622; APC, xix. 304; xxi. 404; C66/1328, m. 31; LR2/70-1.
- 6. Lansd. 63, f. 95; 111, f. 43 seq.; Signet Office Docquet Bks. 1584-1624 (Brit. Rec. Soc., Index Lib.), 25; PCC 64 Lewyn; C142/239/124; Habington’s Worcs. (Worcs. Hist. Soc.), i. 32, 132, 188, 199, 201, 268-9, 303, 310, 312, 389-94, 416, 488; ii. 57, 112, 128, 142, 159, 251, 258, 306, 315; VCH Worcs. iii. 424; iv. 27, 71, 96, 148, 167, 202, 331.