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Earl Russell

Earl Russell Born: 18 August 1792 at Hertford Street, Mayfair, London

First entered Parliament: 18 August 1813

Age he became PM: 53 years, 316 days and 73 years, 72 days

Maiden speech: 12 May 1814 speaking against the enforced union of Norway with Sweden

Total time as PM: Six years, 11 days

Died: 28 May 1878 at Richmond Park, Surrey

Facts and figures

Nicknames: “Finality Jack” and “The Widow’s Mite”

Education: Westminster School and University of Edinburgh

Family: Russell was the third of three sons. He also had four half-brothers from his father’s second marriage. He was married twice - to Lady Adelaide Ribblesdale and then to Lady Elliot-Murray-Kynynmound - and had three sons and three daughters

Interests: Reading, writing, travel


Weak leader

Born premature and always small in stature, Lord John Russell served twice as prime minister. Neither period of office proved smooth, and his achievements were limited by weak leadership and difficult circumstances.

The third son of the Duke of Bedford, Lord Russell was an instinctive reformer. He came to Parliamentary attention for helping to write the 1832 Reform Bill, which increased the number of people eligible to vote.

He served as Leader of the Commons, and later as Home Secretary and Colonial Secretary under Melbourne.

He went on to lead the opposition to Peel’s government, but supported Peel in repealing the Corn Laws. And in 1846, after Peel resigned, Russell became leader himself.

Due to party disunity and his own ineffectual leadership, Russell was unable to get passed many of the measures he wanted. His government also had to face problems including poor trade, high unemployment and the Irish potato famine.

Liberalising trade

As PM Russell did manage to liberalise trade and limited women’s working hours. The Education Act of 1847 improved pay for teachers and granted money to non-conformist schools.

The Australian Colonies Act of 1850 gave representative government to New South Wales. Russell also achieved improvements to the Poor Law.

Queen Victoria trusted Russell He was forced to resign by his independent-minded Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston.

Russell then served briefly as Foreign Secretary under Lord of Aberdeen, and then later under Palmerston, having made up his differences with him.

In 1861 he was created Earl Russell. When Palmerston suddenly died in 1865, Russell formed a second government; his advanced age was outweighed by Queen Victoria’s trust in him.

Russell immediately tried to introduce a further Reform Bill to extend the political franchise, but his Cabinet failed to support him, and he resigned with little regret the next year.

Quote unquote

“I have made mistakes, but in all I did my object was the public good.”

Did you know?

Among Russell’s descendants was the philosopher Bertrand Russell, his grandson.

First wife - Adelaide Ribblesdale

Little is known about Russell’s first wife, who had been married before. Fifteen years his junior, she bore him two children but died when just 31.

Second wife - Frances Elliot-Murray-Kynynmound

Two years later Russell married again to a woman who was 23 years his junior. She took on responsibility of her stepchildren and gave birth to four children herself. Frances was as shy as her husband and they were never happier than when at home together as a couple.

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