Russell, English noble family. It first appeared prominently in the reign of Henry VIII when John Russell, 1st earl of Bedford, 1486?–1555, rose to military and diplomatic importance. He was lord high steward and lord keeper of the privy seal under Henry VIII and Edward VI, was created 1st earl of Bedford in 1550, and had a part in arranging the marriage of Mary I to Philip II of Spain. He died possessing great wealth and lands, which have remained in the family until the 20th cent.; these now include Woburn Abbey and large parts of Bloomsbury in London. His son, Francis Russell, 2d earl of Bedford, 1527?–1585, was an influential privy councilor under Elizabeth I and president of the council of Wales. Francis Russell, 4th earl of Bedford, 1593–1641, was the most important opponent of Charles I in the House of Lords and was the brightest hope for reconciliation between king and Parliament when he suddenly died in 1641. He also began the draining of the Fens. William Russell, 5th earl and 1st duke of Bedford, 1613–1700, fought first for Parliament and then for the king in the civil war. His son was Lord William Russell (see separate article). In 1694, when his son's attainder was reversed, the 5th earl was made duke of Bedford, a title that had been held in the 15th cent. by John of Lancaster, brother of King Henry V. John Russell, 4th duke of Bedford, 1710–71, was one of the politicians who attacked Robert Walpole and served in the cabinets of Henry Pelham, duke of Newcastle, Lord Bute, and George Grenville. He was the leader of a faction of Whig politicians, known as the Bedford group, which had considerable electoral power. Francis Russell, 5th duke of Bedford, 1765–1802, was a follower of Charles James Fox and one of the friends of the prince of Wales (later George IV). His criticism of Edmund Burke's pension elicited Burke's Letter to a Noble Lord (1796). Bedford was a notable stockbreeder. One of the most outstanding members of the family was the 5th duke's nephew, John Russell, 1st Earl Russell (see separate article). His grandson Bertrand Russell (see separate article) became 3d Earl Russell. The current duke, Andrew Ian Henry Russell, 15th duke of Bedford, 1962–, succeeded to the title in 2003. The family seat is Woburn Abbey (see Woburn, England).
See various studies of the family to 1771 by G. Thomson, especially Two Centuries of Family History (1930); C. Trent, The Russells (1966).