Bedford, John Russell, 1st earl of

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Bedford, John Russell, 1st earl of (c.1485–1555). The founder of the fortunes of the house of Russell was born in Dorset of gentry stock and became a gentleman of the bedchamber to Henry VII and Henry VIII. In the 1520s he was much employed in diplomatic and military matters. From 1529 to 1536 he was MP for Buckinghamshire and in 1537 became comptroller of the household. In 1539 he was created baron and given the Garter. From 1540 to 1543 he served as lord high admiral and from 1542 to his death as lord privy seal. His gains from the dissolution of the monasteries were gigantic, and included Tavistock in Devon, Woburn in Bedfordshire, and Covent Garden in London. In 1549 he helped to suppress the western rising and was advanced to the earldom of Bedford. Though he endorsed the proclamation of Lady Jane Grey in 1553, he succeeded in retaining the favour of Mary. The DNB remarks demurely that he was ‘by no means in favour of the restoration of the abbey lands to their original uses’. In his Letter to a Noble Lord, Burke declared that ‘the grants to the House of Russell were so enormous … as to stagger credibility’. Russell he dismissed as ‘the prompt and greedy instrument of a levelling tyrant’.

J. A. Cannon

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