Russel, Lord William

, the third son of the preceding, and for whose sake indeed some account was thought necessary of his father, was born about 16H. Hi? was bred up in those principles of liberty for which his father had fought, but in his youth partook freely of the dissipations of the court of Charles II. until his marriage in 1667 reclaimed him, and he became afterwards a sedate and unblemished character, as to morals. He represented the county of Bedford in four parliaments, and was considered as one of the heads of the whig party. The first affair, however, in which he co-operated with this party, has thrown some obscurity on his character. When Charles II. exasperated against the court of France for withdrawing the pension he had been mean enough hitherto to receive, wished to join the continental confederacy against Louis XIV. the whigs, who dreaded the giving Charles an | army that might as likely be employed against their own country as against France, raised an opposition to the measure; and this being acceptable to the French king, an intrigue commenced between some of the vvhigs and Barillon, the French ambassador, the consequence of which was their receiving bribes from him to thwart the measures of the court. Sir John Dalrymple has given a list of the members who thus accepted money from the enemy of their country; and although lord Russel is said positively to have refused to act so meanly, there seems little reason to doubt that he was concerned in the intrigue. The defence set up for him on this occasion amounts tolittle more than that in certain cases the means may be justified by the end.

In 1679, when the king found it expedient to ingratiate himself with the whigs, lord William Russel was appointed one of his new council; but this could not last long, for in the following year he promoted the bill for the exclusion of the duke of York from the throne, the debate upon which was opened by him on the 26th of October, with a declaration of his opinion, that the life of his majesty, the safety of the nation, and the protestant religion, were in great danger from popery; and that either that parliament must suppress the growth and power thereof, or else popery would soon destroy, not only parliaments, but all that was dear and valuable to them, for which reason he moved, that they might in the first place take into consideration, how to suppress popery, and prevent a popish successor. The bill being accordingly passed in the House of Commons, his lordship, on the J5th of November, carried it up to the peers; who rejecting it, the Commons were exasperated at this, and lord Russel in particular said, that if ever there should happen in this nation any such change, as that he should not have the liberty to live a protestant, he was resolved to die one; and therefore would not willingly have the hands of their enemies strengthened. But these, and similar speeches from other members, having disgusted the court, the parliament was prorogued on the 10th of January, 1680-1. However, the necessity of the king’s affairs requiring the meeting of another parliament, his majesty called one, which assembled at Oxford on the 21st o March following; in which lord Russel served again as knight of the shire for the county of Bedford. But another bill of exclusion being moved for by sir Robert Clayr ton, who was seconded -.hy. his lordship, that parliament was | soon after dissolved, and no other called during the reign of king Charles II. who now seemed determined to govern without one.

This state of affairs led to a conspiracy, in which the duke of Monmouth, lord llussel, and others, were concerned, to act in concert with the duke of Argyle and the Scotch. The leaders of this party had different views; but lord William Russel is said to have wished for nothing more than the exclusion of the duke of York, and a redress of grievances. While this was in meditation, another plot was laid by other conspirators to assassinate the king on his return from Newmarket, at a farm called the Kye-house, from which this plot has taken its name. Both conspiracies having been discovered, lord William Russel was apprehended and brought to trial at the Old Bailey July 13, 1683. In the indictment, the noble lord was charged with the treasonable purpose of killing the king, which was made an inference from his being engaged in a plan of insurrection. “On the whole,” says Hume, after describing the nature of the evidence produced on the trial, “it was undoubtedly proved, that the insurrection had been deliberated on by the prisoner, and fully resolved; the surprisal of the guards deliberated on, but not fully resolved, and that an assassination had not been once mentioned or imagined by him. So far the matter of fact seems certain: but still, with regard to the law, there remained a difficulty, and that an important one. The English laws of treason, both in the manner of defining that crime, and in the proof required, are the mildest and most indulgent, and consequently the most equitable, that are any where to be found. The two chief species of treason contained in the statute of Edw. III. are the compassing and intending of the king’s death, and the actually levying of war against him; and by the law of Mary, the crime must be proved by the concurring testimony of two witnesses, to some overt act, tending to these purposes. But the lawyers, partly desirous of paying court to the sovereign, partly convinced of the ill consequences which might attend such narrow limitations, had introduced a greater latitude, both in the proof and definition of the crime; and the jury, after a very short deliberation, found the prisoner guilty, and sentence of death was passed upon him. As he refused to adopt some means which were very likely to have enabled him to escape, it has been imputed, by his admirers, to the pressing | solicitations of his friends, that he wrote a very meanly supplicatory letter to the duke of York, in which he declared,” that what he had done in opposition to his royal highness, did not proceed from any personal ill-will or animosity to him, hut merely from opinion, that it was the best way for preserving the religion established by law; in which if he was mistaken, yet he had acted sincerely, without any ill end in it. And as for any base design against the duke’s person, he hoped he would be so just to him, as not to think him capable of so vile a thought. But that he was now resolved, and did faithfully engage himself, that if it should please the king to pardon him, and if his royal highness would interpose in it, he would in no sort meddle any more in the least opposition to his highness, but would be readily determined to live in any part of the world, which the king should prescribe, and would wholly withdraw himself from the affairs of England, unless called by his majesty’s orders to serve him; which he should never be wanting to do to the uttermost of his power. And that if his royal highness would be so gracious to him, as to move on his account, as ijt would be an engagement upon him beyond what he could in reason expect, so it would make the deepest impression on him possible; for no fear of death could work so much upon him, as so great an obligation would for ever do.“A few days after he wrote a letter to the king, to be delivered after his death, as it was by his uncle col. Russel; in which he observed,” that his chief business was humbly to ask his majesty’s pardon for any thing he had either said or done, which might look like want of respect to him, or of duty to his government; in which, though he did to the last moment acquit himself of all designs against his person, or of altering the government, and protested he knew of no design then on foot against either, yet he did not deny, but he had heard many things, and said some things, contrary to his duty; for which he had asked God’s pardon," &c. &c.

As he drew near to the close of life, conjugal affection was the feeling that clung closest to his heart; and when he had taken his last farewell of his wife, he said, “The bitterness of death is now over.” He suffered the sentence of his judges with resignation and composure. Some of his expressions imply an unusual degree of indifference in this last extremity. The day before his execution he was seized, with a bleeding at the nose: “I shall not now let | blood to divert this distemper,” said he to bishop Burnet, who was present; “that will be done to-morrow.A little before the sheriffs conducted him to his carriage, that was to convey him to the scaffold, he wound up his watch, “Now I have done,” said he, “with time, and henceforth must think solely of eternity.

The execution was performed July 21, not on Towerhill, the common place of execution for men of high rank, but in Lincoln’s-inn-fields; and as he passed on in his coach, the multitude imagined they beheld virtue and liberty sitting by his side. He was the most popular among his own party, and perhaps the least obnoxious to the opposite faction; and his melancholy fate united every heart in a tender compassion for him. Without the least change of countenance, he laid his head on the block, and at two strokes it was severed from his body. He was, at the time of his death, only forty-two years of age. Burnet says, “he was a man of great candour and of a general reputation, universally beloved and trusted of a generous and obliging temper. He had given such proofs of an undaunted courage and of an unshaken firmness, that no man of that time had so entire a credit in the nation as he had. He quickly got out of some of the disorders, into which the court had drawn him, and ever after that his life was unblemished in all respects. He had from his first education an inclination to favour the non-conformists; and wished the laws could have been made easier to them, or they more pliant to the law. He was a slow man, of little discourse; but he had a tree judgment, when he considered things at his own leisure. His understanding was not defective, but his virtues were so eminent, that they would more than balance real defects, if any had been found in the other.

At the revolution an act was passed on March 16, 1688-9, for annulling and making void the attainder of William Russel, esq. commonly called Lord Russel; and about the same time Henry lord De la Mere published “The late Lord Russel’s Case: with Observations upon it,” in which he affirms that his lordship could not be guilty of the indictment he was tried on; which he inferred from the law of the case, and from the inconsistencies and contradictions in the evidence against his lordship. Sir Robert Atkyns also, one of the judges of the court of common pleas, published a “Defence of the late Lord Russet’s Innoeency,| printed in 1694; but the greatest honour paid to his memory is in the preamble to his father’s patent, transcribed in our account of him. His lordship married the lady liachel, second daughter, and at length heir to Thomas Wriothesley, earl of Southampton, lord high treasurer of England, the widow of Francis Vaughan, eldest son of Richard earl of Carbery. She died Sept. 29, 1723, aged eighty-seven. This lady’s “Letters,” published in 1773, exhibit her piety, virtue, and conjugal affection, and have immortalized her memory.

His implacable enemy, the duke of York, when James II. was reminded of his courage and virtues in a very affecting manner. Upon the approach of the prince of Orange, the infatuated king called an extraordinary council to consider of his highness’s proposals. Lord William Russel’s father, the earl of Bedford, being of the number, the king made earnest application to him, saying, “My lord, you are a good man, and have a great influence; you can do much for me at this time.” His lordship replied, “I am an old man, and can do but little, but I once had a son.” The king felt the full force of this appeal, and was struck dumb. 1

1 Collins’s Peerage, by Sir E. Brydges. Biog. Brit. Gen. Dict. Burnet’s Own Times. Birch’s Life of Tillotson. Hume’s History.