Tuesday, February 24, 2015

John Russell, Bishop of Lincoln (d. 1494)

Lincoln Cathedral, arms of Bishop John Russell on enamelled brass escutcheon on his tomb in Russell Chantry.

Bishop John Russell of Lincoln was an important clerical servant of EDWARD IV and chancellor of England under RICHARD III.

Born in Winchester, Russell was educated at Oxford, where he taught until about 1462. In the mid-1460s, he entered the service of Edward IV, who employed Russell on various diplomatic missions, including the negotiations surrounding the marriage of the king’s sister, MARGARET OF YORK, to Duke CHARLES of BURGUNDY in 1468. In February 1471, Russell also acted as a diplomat for the READEPTION government of HENRY VI, but he was readily taken back into Yorkist service after Edward IV’s restoration in April. In 1472, Edward again sent Russell to Burgundy, and in 1474, the king appointed him keeper of the privy seal and dispatched him to SCOTLAND to negotiate a marriage between Edward’s daughter Cecily and the son of JAMES III. Russell became bishop of Rochester in 1476 and bishop of Lincoln in 1480. One of the executors of Edward IV’s will, Russell helped officiate at the king’s funeral in April 1483.

On 10 May 1483, Richard, duke of Gloucester, having assumed the protectorship of his nephew EDWARD V, dismissed Archbishop Thomas ROTHERHAM of York from the chancellorship, replacing him with Russell. According to some sources, the bishop, who was experienced and learned and a natural choice for the post, accepted office with reluctance. Although Russell served Gloucester loyally when he became king as Richard III, there seems to have been no close bond between Richard and his chancellor, who may have felt betrayed when Richard took his nephew’s crown in June 1483. In any event, as chancellor, Russell handled negotiations with both Scotland and BRITTANY, and he may have assisted Archbishop Thomas BOURCHIER in persuading Queen Elizabeth WOODVILLE to release her younger son, Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York, into Gloucester’s custody. Having perhaps grown uncertain of his chancellor’s loyalty, Richard dismissed Russell from office on 29 July 1485, less than a month before the Battle of BOSWORTH FIELD. After Richard’s death, Russell was taken readily into favor by HENRYVII, who, like his Yorkist predecessors, employed the bishop as a diplomat. After spending his last years mainly in his diocese, Russell died in December 1494.

Because Russell closely fit the author profile that emerges from the work itself—an educated cleric who was familiar with the workings of Richard’s government and who was an eyewitness to at least some of the events being described—some modern historians identified Russell as the author of the CROYLAND CHRONICLE, a useful source for the last decade of Edward IV and for the reign of Richard III. However, most scholars today dismiss that claim, arguing that the Chronicle is much different in style from any of Russell’s known writings.

Further Reading: Ross, Charles, Richard III (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981).

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