John RUSSELL of Strensham

Born: 1493, Strensham, Worcestershire, England

Died: 1556

Father: Robert RUSSELL

Mother: Elizabeth BAYNHAM

Married: Edith UNTON (dau. of Sir Thomas Unton of Wadley and Elizabeth Hyde) 11 Jan 1519


1. Thomas RUSSELL

The details in this biography come from the History of Parliament, a biographical dictionary of Members of the House of Commons.

Born 1493/94, first son of Robert Russell of Strensham by Elizabeth, dau. of Thomas Baynham of Clearwell, Glos. Married, settlement 11 Jan 1519, Edith, dau. of Sir Thomas Unton of Wadley, Berks., by whom he had one son, Thomas. Suc. fa. 28 Jun 1502. Kntd. aft. 3 Nov 1529. Jt. (with s. Thomas and John Gostwick) supervisor, lands of bpric. of Worcester by 1523, sole 1533-40; commr. subsidy, Worcs. 1523, 1524, loan 1524, musters 1539, 1546, relief 1550, goods of churches and fraternities 1553; other commissions 1533-47; j.p. Worcs. 1531-d., Glos. 1532; sheriff, Worcs. Mar-Nov 1538, 1541-2, 1546-7.

The Russells had held Strensham since the late 13th century and one of them had represented Worcestershire in Parliament as early as 1365. John Russell's inheritance, of which he had livery in May 1516, included, besides Strensham and other Worcestershire lands, property in Buckinghamshire, Derbyshire and Gloucestershire.

The name of Russell was common and the Worcestershire knight had several contemporary namesakes. One of these, the Member for Westminster in the Parliament of 1545, is readily distinguised from John Russell of Strensham, with whom his career and background had no point of contact except the fact that Strensham was held of the Abbot of Westminster. On the other hand, Sir John Russell, knight of the shire for Buckinghamshire in 1529 and later 1st Earl of Bedford, could have been confused, at least in the earlier stages of his career, with the younger knight and the two were accordingly distinguised in some contexts as ‘senior’ and ‘junior’ and in others, notably in the accounts of the royal household, by the addition of a territorial label to the younger man's name. Kinship was later claimed and acknowledged by both families: as early as 1533 Russell of Strensham wrote that he had sought the future earl's assistance in a suit, and his grandson, John, born in 1551, was to be brought up in the household of Francis Russell, the 2nd Earl. None the less, the connexion is not discernible except perhaps through the marriage of the 1st Earl's grandfather into a Worcestershire family, while the arms of the two families are quite distinct. A third namesake and more probable kinsman, who settled at Little Malvern, Worcestershire, after a career as secretary to Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham, to Princess Mary and to the council in the marches of Wales, was never knighted and so is only liable to be confused with Russell of Strensham before his own knighting. It was probably the secretary who was placed on the Herefordshire bench in 1528 and on the Shropshire one early in 1529: Russell of Strensham did not become a justice in Worcestershire until 1531 but he did hold two of his Worcestershire manors of the Cornwalls of Herefordshire and acted as a feoffee for Sir Richard Cornwall.

Russell's youth and relative inexperience make it probable that his parliamentary career opened in 1529, although he could have sat in 1523 when the names of the knights of the shire are lost. He was knighted at York Place in the course of the first session and seems also to have gained a foothold at court: by the following New Year's Day he and his wife begin to appear in the accounts of the royal household and he was later to attend the coronation of Anne Boleyn and the reception of Anne of Cleves. After the sixth session Russell and his fellow-knight Sir Gilbert Talbot sued out a writ de expensis from Chancery and claimed £160 for their combined wages for 400 days, that is, presumably for the 365 days so far consumed by the Parliament, with 35 days added for the 12 journeys they had made to and from it. When payment was withheld by Sir Edward Ferrers, Sheriff of Worcestershire, they brought an action against him in the Exchequer, claiming damages of £40: whether they succeeded is not known. In the next session Russell's name appears on a list drawn up by Cromwell on the dorse of a letter of Dec 1534 and thought to be of Members with a particular, but unknown, connexion with the treasons bill then on its passage through Parliament. He was to sit for the shire again in 1539 and doubtless did so in the intervening Parliament of 1536, when the King asked for the return of the previous Members; he did not reappear in the Commons thereafter unless perhaps in 1545 (when the names of the Worcestershire knights are unknown), although his re-election on that occasion is unlikely in view of his son Thomas's return to the previous Parliament at a by-election held on 27 Dec 1542 after the death of Russell's former colleague Sir Gilbert Talbot.

Russell enjoyed Cromwell's confidence and it was from him that the minister sought information in 1535 when the King heard of the disputes at Worcester priory, where charges of treason had been brought against one of the monks; Russell replied that he had already been consulted by the subprior and had advised him to inform the council in the marches. This seeming reluctance to become involved may have been prudent in view of Cromwell's failure to sustain any charge: Russell had been similarly cautious in his earlier handling of a Worcestershire person accused of speaking against the King. Although nothing is known of Russell's own religious sympathies, two or possibly three of his family were Knights of St. John, his brother Giles attaining the high rank of turcopolier in the order. Russell's own experience as an episcopal administrator may have swayed him towards conservatism. As early as 1523, during the episcopate of the Italian Ghinucci, he had been appointed joint supervisor of the lands of the bishopric of Worcester and ten years later he reminded Cromwell of a promise to favour his suit to regain it. This he did and 30 years later the office was held by his son, who as an infant had shared it with him and John Gostwick in 1523. In 1534 Russell took the oath of fealty from the Abbot of Tewkesbury and in the following year he served on the commission for tenths of spiritualities in the county as well as the city of Worcester. He was summoned to attend the King with 100 men at the time of the northern rebellion and in Mar 1538 he was named to complete William Walshe's term as sheriff, later accounting for the whole shrieval year. Early in 1540 he assisted at the surrender of Pershore abbey and three years later he was mustered to serve in the French campaign.

Russell died on 15 Aug 1556, three days after making a will in which he named his son executor and noted that his wife Edith was ‘visited with such infirmity as she is not well able to govern herself’. He was buried in Strensham church where a mural brass was erected to his memory.


G. Scott Thomson, Two Cents. of Fam. Hist.

R. S. Thomas, ‘Pol. career, estates and connexions of Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke and Duke of Bedford’
(Swansea Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1971)

C. Rawcliffe, The Staffords, Earls of Stafford and Dukes of Buckingham 1394-1521

W. Porter, Knights of Malta

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