Friday 27 September 2013

The Privileged, Tragic Life of Francis Russell, Marquess of Tavistock

Francis Russell, Marquess of Tavistock (London, England, 27th September 1739 – Bedfordshire, England, 22nd March 1767) 

Francis Russell, Marquess of Tavistock

Well, the journey from Massachusetts home to Covent Garden was a smooth one and this morning finds me happily at my bureau as London bustles into life outside, quill in hand and tea tray fully loaded. We heard yesterday of a gentleman who died before his time and today is another sad tale of a promising life cut short, though instead of an American composer, we are in the company of an English peer. We Gilflurt ladies have always been happy to welcome a gentleman of noble birth to Henrietta Street and today I've opened the salon doors to wish happy birthday to Francis Russell, Marquess of Tavistock.

As the son of influential Whig statesman, John Russell, 4th Duke of Bedford and his second wife Gertrude Leveson-Gower, it was almost inevitable that the young Marquess would forge a career in politics and so it would be though his early ambitions were more of the military sort. Ambitious, fiercely intelligent and with an established family name in the political sphere, upon his graduation from Cambridge, Russell contested and won the parliamentary seat for Armagh Borough at just 20 years of age. Two years later he left the Irish House of Commons and and won the vacant seat for Bedfordshire, assuming his place in Westminster. He would serve as Member of Parliament for Bedfordshire until his death six years later, though he indulged his love of all things military by serving with a local militia.

Russell's first love was for the very married Lady Pembroke but, with no prospect of divorce despite her husband's own adultery, our hero cast around for a suitable alternative. On 8th June 1764 Russell was married to Lady Elizabeth Keppel, grand daughter of Charles II, daughter of William Anne van Keppel, 2nd Earl of Albemarle, and Lady Anne Lennox. The couple had three sons within three years of their marriage and seemed to live a charmed life. Fashionable, successful and wealthy, their privileged existence was shattered by tragedy in early 1767, the first of several that would strike the family.

Lady Elizabeth Keppel adorning a Herm of Hymen by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1761
Lady Elizabeth Keppel adorning a Herm of Hymen by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1761

Whilst out hunting in the land surrounding his home at Houghton House, the Marquess fell from his horse. His skull was fractured by a kick from the animal and Russell suffered fatal injuries. He was only 27 years old when he died, the heir to the Dukedom of Bedford laid to rest in the Bedford Chapel of the parish Church of St. Michael in Chenies, Buckinghamshire. For the Russell family there was to be further tragedy and the couple's young children were orphans within twelve months, the Marchioness claimed by consumption during a visit to Lisbon. Elizabeth's body was brought home to England so that she could be interred beside her husband at Chenies.

The tragic early death of Francis Russell robbed Whig politics of a talented young politician and we can only wonder what he might have achieved had he lived. His three sons followed their father into the House of Commons and one would later be the victim of a gruesome murder but that is a story for another time! 


Emily Hill ~ AV Harrison Publishing said...

Thank you for the post regarding the life of Francis Russell. What an illustrious legacy he obviously left with his sons. Waiting for the REST of the story! How exciting, how Shakespearean!

Catherine Curzon said...

The rest of the story will be told in time, I promise!

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing another fascinating glimpse into history. Looking forward to the rest of the story!

Catherine Curzon said...

A pleasure; thank you for paying me a visit!

Barbara Monajem said...

I'm looking forward to the rest of the story, too. (What a pleasant-looking man he was!)

Catherine Curzon said...

He certainly was!

Unknown said...

The Leverson-Gower's (Looson-Gore) are like silver thread in the aristorcratic tapestry of history,Madame?

Catherine Curzon said...

What a wonderful way of describing them!