Rachel Wriothesley Vaughan Russell
Henry King (1592–1669)
Born to loving and privileged parents—Rachel de Rouvigny and Thomas Wriothesley, fourth earl of Southampton—Rachel Wriothesley (1636–1723) lived her early life in undistinguished conformity to the mores of her class, although her early life—like her later years—showed her ability to negotiate personal relationships with great success. Her first marriage, to Francis, Lord Vaughan, was short-lived but placid, and the young widow characteristically maintained excellent relationships with her husband's family. It is her second marriage, to Lord William Russell, a leading Whig, and its aftermath, which has won Lady Russell posterity's attention. The ardor of her attachment did not abate over the fourteen years of their marriage, which ended in 1683 when he was executed for treason after the Rye House Plot. Although Lois Schwoerer stresses Lady Russell's strong personality and the many activities and successes which continued during her long widowhood (Lady Rachel Russell: One of the Best of Women [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988]), here we focus on her relationship to her husband. The letters from which we take our extracts were written to the Reverend John Fitzwilliam (d. 1699), once chaplain to her father and source of sustained advice and comfort in the years following her husband's death. They first reached print as an effort to vindicate Lord Russell's character politically, in part on the basis of his wife's devotion to his memory. We rely here on the edition of 1801, in which the letters are appended to a biography of Lord Russell.