RUSSELL, Sir John (d.1405), of Strensham, Worcs.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1386-1421, ed. J.S. Roskell, L. Clark, C. Rawcliffe., 1993
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Sept. 1397

Family and Education

s. and h. of Robert Russell of Strensham ?by Katherine, da. of John Vampage of Pershore, Worcs. m. (1) bef. Mich. 1382, Agnes, 3s. inc. William*, 3 da.; (2) aft. 1389, Margaret (d.1397), da. of Sir Hugh Hastings of Elsing, Norf., wid. of Sir John Wingfield of Letheringham Suff.; (3) between 24 Dec. 1398 and 15 Jan. 1399, Elizabeth (1 Jan. 1348-Sept. 1423), posthumous da. and event. sole h. of William de la Plaunk of Haversham, Bucks. by Elizabeth, yr. da. of Sir Roger Hillary, c.j.c.p., of Bescot, Staffs., wid. of Sir John Birmingham, Robert, Lord Grey of Rotherfield and John, Lord Clinton.1 Kntd. by Oct. 1378.

Offices Held

Tax surveyor, Worcs. Aug. 1379.

Commr. to put down rebellion, Worcs. Mar., Dec. 1382; confiscate all horses belonging to the Lords Appellant of 1387-8, Sept. 1397; of weirs, Worcs. June 1398.

Master of the King’s horse 10 Feb. 1391-31 Jan. 1398.2

J.p. Worcs. 27 July 1397-May 1401, Glos. 14 Nov. 1398-c. July 1399, Suff. 28 Nov. 1398-c. July 1399, Oxon. 18 Apr.-July 1399, Warws. 26 Apr.-July 1399.

Member of the King’s Council c. Sept. 1397-July 1399.

Parlty. cttee. to complete business 31 Jan. 1398.


The Russells of Worcestershire were among the most notable figures to bear the name. They were established at Strensham (near Pershore) by 1283, and John also inherited the Worcestershire manors of Peopleton and Dormston.3 The date of his hereditary succession is uncertain, as are some other aspects of his early career. It seems likely, however, that before he came into the family estates he saw military service overseas. He was probably the John Russell who in October 1373 sailed for Ireland in the company of Sir William Windsor, the King’s lieutenant, and who in March 1378 was granted a lease at the Exchequer of ‘Plumpton Hall’ in Northamptonshire, a property then forfeited by Windsor’s wife, the notorious Alice Perrers. Before his first Parliament he was knighted, and on 29 Mar. 1383 he was retained as bachelor to Thomas Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, with an annuity of £20 in peacetime and £40 during war, as well as ‘bouche au court’ for himself, a chamberlain, a groom and three horses when at home, and for an additional two grooms and two horses while on campaign. These were substantial allowances, indicating Russell’s worth in a military capacity, yet he chose to leave Beauchamp’s service four years later in order to become a member of the royal household, and it was as a ‘King’s knight’ that he was granted on 25 Nov. 1387 an annuity of £50, payable at the Exchequer, ‘in consideration of his having been retained to stay with the King for life, whereby he lost fees which he was wont to receive from his lord’. Russell’s desertion of Warwick could not have been worse timed, for the earl was about to take over the government as one of the Lords Appellant. Yet Warwick seems to have borne him no ill will, for on 12 Feb. following, while the Merciless Parliament was in session, Sir John was able to obtain a royal licence to crenellate his manor-houses at Strensham and Dormston. In July 1389, after Richard II had regained control, he granted him custody of the alien priory of Deerhurst (Gloucestershire) for term of his life, at an annual farm of £200, from which he was permitted to deduct his annuity at source. Russell reached an agreement with the prior enabling him to have unlimited access to the priory and accommodation there for himself and the members of his household whenever required.4

Sir John was evidently a skilful horseman, and is known to have taken a leading part in tournaments, such as the famous jousts held at Calais in May 1390 between contenders from England and France. His prowess in this respect attracted Richard II’s attention, and in 1391 he was appointed master of the ‘great horses’. By Michaelmas 1392 he was one of a select group of only eight knights of the Chamber. It may have been the King’s growing determination to take his revenge against the Lords Appellant which led Russell to quarrel with Sir Nicholas Lilling*, the most trusted councillor of his former lord the earl of Warwick. In the Parliament which met at Winchester in January 1393 he made allegations that Lilling, then sitting in the Commons, had recently come to Defford (Worcestershire) with 500 armed men in order to prevent him from entering his house, and that although he knew the identity of those who had murdered Russell’s bailiff of Dormston two years previously, he had neglected his duty as a j.p. to arrest them. Lilling was imprisoned at Windsor until he had entered a formal undertaking not to harass Russell’s tenants any more. From September 1394 until April 1395 Russell was in Ireland in the King’s service, and in July 1396 his office as master of the horse took him to Paris with a gift of palfreys for the French king’s daughter, Isabella, shortly to become Richard II’s queen.5 Meanwhile, in October 1395, Sir John had purchased property in the parish of St. Mary Aldermanbury in London, and had named among his feoffees in the same Roger Walden, the new treasurer of the Exchequer and future archbishop, and John Lincoln, Walden’s successor as secretary to the King. It was about this time, too, that he took as his second wife Margaret, the widow of a wealthy Suffolk landowner, Sir John Wingfield, and although she did not survive for long afterwards, on 9 Sept. 1397, after her death, he was able to obtain the wardship of Wingfield’s heir (whom he later married to his own daughter, Elizabeth).6

By that date Richard II’s enemies, the former Lords Appellant, were under arrest and due to be judged in the forthcoming Parliament, to which Russell had himself been elected after an absence from the Commons of 18 years. Besides being a party to the judgements passed there, he also benefited personally from the forfeiture of the earl of Warwick’s estates. By grants made at the end of September he received, in lieu of an additional annuity of 25 marks which he had been promised, lands and rents at Wick and ‘Abblewell-mulle’in Worcestershire and, ‘for his gratuitous good service’, the manors of Earls Croome and Baughton and holdings at Strensham and Eckington. However, for these last, and despite his claim to have a just title to the properties, he had to pay 200 marks to secure tenure, so it is clear that his profit from the fall of Richard’s enemies was quite modest in comparison with those gained by the likes of Sir John Bussy*, Sir Henry Green* and Sir William Bagot*. Why this was so is uncertain, for Russell was evidently as much in royal favour as they were; but perhaps he had a personal disinclination, or thought it imprudent, to become rich through Warwick’s downfall. As master of the horse Russell had the responsibility of taking over the stables of the condemned men, but at Shrewsbury on the last day of the Parliament (31 Jan. 1398) he obtained a discharge from his office, and ‘in consideration of his good and gratuitous service’a pardon of any arrears due on his accounts. It was also conceded that he need not take up any further office against his will and that, notwithstanding his indenture of retainer which bound him to do so, he should not be compelled to take part in any military expeditions either at home or overseas. This left him free for tasks of a more important nature, for on the very same day he was appointed to the committee of 12 lords and six commoners authorized to finish the uncompleted business of the Parliament, and, more specifically, to look into the charges of treason made, the one against the other, by Henry of Bolingbroke, duke of Hereford, and Thomas Mowbray, duke of Norfolk. The committee met at intervals in the course of the year, with Russell, by now also an official member of the King’s Council, an active participant.7

At Christmas 1398 Russell was granted the marriage of the wealthy widow of John, Lord Clinton. Elizabeth was an heiress in her own right, having inherited from her parents the manors of Compton Chamberlain (Wiltshire), Claybrooke (Leicestershire) and ‘Planches’and ‘Bolneys’in Haversham (Buckinghamshire), which were now hers in their entirety, since her sister and coheir Katherine (widow of Sir Bernard Brocas*) had died childless just two months earlier. Furthermore, she brought with her three dowers: from her first marriage (to Sir John Birmingham), the manors of Birmingham (Warwickshire) and Dorton (Buckinghamshire) along with a moiety of Kingston Bagpuize (Berkshire), from her second (to Lord Grey), three manors in Oxfordshire and an advowson in Warwickshire; and from her third (to Lord Clinton), other estates of considerable substance. The Russells encountered the opposition of Clinton’s grandson and heir, William, when they sought to take possession of the last-mentioned properties, but in February 1399 William formally confirmed Elizabeth’s jointure in Maxstoke castle and six other manors in Warwickshire, in Temple Guiting (Gloucestershire) and in premises in Southwark (Surrey), and he promised not to trouble them further. As his side of the marriage agreement, Russell granted Elizabeth a life interest in nearly all of his own estates in Worcestershire and in his property in London, and by entail he ensured the inheritance of their issue (should they have any) in preference to his other children. The feoffees chosen to complete the transaction included not only Archbishop Walden but also Sir John Cheyne I* of Beckford (currently in deep disgrace with the King for his association with the late duke of Gloucester).8

Russell escaped the notoriety of Bussy, Bagot and Green, although he was considered by contemporary chroniclers to be just as prominent as they were at meetings of Richard II’s council. Indeed, he proved an industrious and active councillor throughout 1398 and up until Richard’s departure for Ireland in the spring of 1399. Then, he and his fellows were left with great responsibilities for the administration of the country during the King’s absence. When news came of Henry of Bolingbroke’s landing in Yorkshire, they were consulted by the duke of York, the guardian of the realm, as to the best course of action, and immediately advised the removal of the government to St. Albans. Sir John and his kinsman, Robert Russell I*, hurriedly raised troops for the duke’s army, but York made his peace with Bolingbroke and Sir John was forced to flee for his life. Surprisingly, he escaped being taken prisoner (like Bagot) or executed (like Bussy and Green), and the only strict measure taken against him seems to have been his removal, on 29 Aug., from the keepership of Deerhurst priory, on the grounds that ‘the possessions are dissipated and the divine services not held on account of [his] infirmities’. Indeed, when Henry mounted the throne he showed considerable leniency towards Russell: the latter was allowed to keep the issues of the priory estates up to Michaelmas, and apparently also to retain the earl of Warwick’s manor of Earls Croome (at least until the earl’s death in 1401). Furthermore, he remained on the Worcestershire bench, and when William, Lord Clinton, took the opportunity afforded by the political crisis to seize the Clinton dower estates in Warwickshire, the King upheld the rights of Sir John’s wife. When the Russells’ dispute with Clinton came for arbitration in June 1400, they were able to call upon Henry IV’s councillors Sir John Cheyne I, Master John Prophet, John Doreward* and John Shadworth* of London to act on their behalf. In August 1401 Russell was one of just three men summoned from Worcestershire to attend a great council. That there was no hint of retribution against him for his activities in the last two years of Richard II’s reign is perhaps proof that he was respected as a man of moderate opinion and temperament.9

In his few remaining years Russell made settlements of his estates, providing for the inheritance (after the deaths of himself and his wife), of the property in London and of ‘Bolneys’in Haversham by the younger of his two sons named John. The heir to the rest was his eldest son, William, and his other children, including Margaret (afterwards wife of Sir Ralph Rochford), received contingent remainders. John Russell III*, who later settled in Herefordshire and became well known as a lawyer and the Speaker of the Parliaments of 1423 and 1432, was allowed a reversionary interest in ‘Bolneys’, and may possibly be identified as the elder of Sir John’s sons of that name (and perhaps as illegitimate). Sir John made his will on 7 Apr. 1404, requesting burial in the chancel of Strensham church, which he instructed his executors to have enlarged, using the sum of £20 supplied for that purpose. His tomb was to have a monumental brass depicting him with his three wives, and 1,200 masses were to be said for his soul. Among the religious orders remembered were the Benedictines at Pershore and Godstow (where his sister was a nun), the Cistercian nuns at Whistones and all four orders of friars in Worcester; while Pershore church, the chaplain at Dormston and Russell’s personal priest all received bequests. That one of the largest sums of money he left (£20) was to be spent on works on the chancel of Deerhurst priory church is indicative of his affection for that place. Russell’s furs were to be divided among his sons, and various furnishings among the servants. His eldest son, William, was to have all the moveable goods at Strensham, with the exception of a bed with silk hangings embroidered with the arms of the earl of Huntingdon, which his widow was to keep for life; and his favourite son, the younger John, was to have all the contents of the London house, the testator’s best fur coat and his weapons and armour, as well as a psalter, a primer and a valuable cross which he usually wore. Eight of his best horses were to be shared between William and John. Russell’s executors were to oversee the completion of a new tower at Strensham, in particular the fitting of a lead roof. Among those given the task were his widow, Elizabeth, the prior of Worcester cathedral, the abbot of Pershore, Sir John Cheyne of Beckford and the lawyers Thomas Hodyngton*, John Russell III, John Brace* and Thomas Belne*, the last three each being given life annuities of £1 to be good counsellors to Sir John’s widow and children. Russell died at Letheringham, Suffolk (his second wife’s manor) on 31 Jan. 1405, and his body was brought back to Strensham for burial.10

Elizabeth, Lady Clinton, continued to hold the Russell estates until her death in 1423. All of her children, including any she might have had by Sir John, predeceased her, and, accordingly, ‘Bolneys’ and the London house fell to John Russell, junior.11

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: L. S. Woodger


  • 1. CP, iii. 314-15.
  • 2. E101/106/4.
  • 3. G. Scott Thomson, Two Cents. Fam. Hist. 336; Vis. Worcs. (Harl. Soc. xxvii), 117-18; T.R. Nash, Worcs. ii. 395-6; Reg. Wakefield (Worcs. Hist. Soc. n.s. vii), nos. 51-52, 459; CIPM, ix. 319; VCH Worcs. iv. 66, 148, 202-4; CP25(1)260/25/15; CCR, 1392-6, p. 505.
  • 4. CPR, 1370-4, p. 340; 1381-5, p. 238; 1385-9, pp. 372, 446; 1388-92, p. 71; 1391-6, p. 366; CCR, 1389-92, p. 83; CFR, ix. 72.
  • 5. Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. xiv. 253; E101/402/20, f. 34d, 403/22, ff. 10, 12d; CPR, 1392-6, pp. 269, 483, 509, 549; CCR, 1392-6, p. 114; E364/30 m. B.
  • 6. Corporation of London RO, hr 124/24-27; SC8/248/12400; CPR, 1396-9, p. 356; Norf. and Norwich RO, Reg. Harsyk, ff. 243-4. He retained the Wingfield estates in Suff., which in 1404 were estimated to be worth £75 a year: E179/180/64.
  • 7. CPR, 1396-9, pp. 222, 252, 275, 314, 359; VCH Worcs. iv. 64, 74, 170; CCR, 1396-9, p. 227; CIMisc. vi. 234, 243; RP, iii. 360, 368-9, 383; T.F. Tout, Chapters, iv. 38, 55-56.
  • 8. CPR, 1396-9, p. 456; CIPM, ix. 31; x. 281, 335; xi. 126; VCH Warws. iv. 10, 139, 207, 248; vi. 12; vii. 59; VCH Bucks. iv. 46, 368-70; CCR, 1396-9, pp. 433-4, 440, 466; CP25(1)260/25/57; London hr 127/51, 58, 71.
  • 9. T. Walsingham, Hist. Ang. ed. Riley, ii. 232; J.F. Baldwin, King’s Council, 141-3, 253, 552; E403/562 m. 15; Med. Legal Recs. ed. Hunnisett and Post, 324; CPR, 1396-9, p. 589; 1399-1401, p. 84; CCR, 1399-1402, pp. 2, 3, 134, 193-4, 197, 280, 393; PPC, i. 160.
  • 10. London hr 128/84; C139/12/36; Lambeth Pal. Lib. Reg. Arundel, i. f. 222d.; VCH Worcs. iv. 206; Nash, ii. 393.
  • 11. CCR, 1405-9, p. 19; 1422-9, pp. 98-99, 101-3; C139/12/36; Reg. Chichele, ii. 266-9.