RUSSELL, Matthew (1765-1822), of Hardwicke House, co. Dur.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1802 - 19 Feb. 1807
26 Feb. 1808 - 8 May 1822

Family and Education

b. 24 Feb. 1765, o.s. of William Russell of Brancepeth Castle by 1st w. Mary, da. and coh. of Robert Harrison, merchant, of Sunderland. educ. Univ. Coll. Oxf. 1781; L. Inn 1782. m. 23 Feb. 1798, Elizabeth, da. of George Tennyson* of Bayons Manor, Lincs., 1s. 1da. suc. fa. 1817.

Offices Held

Capt. Dur. militia 1792, maj. 1800; capt. Workington regt. Cumb. militia 1811.


Russell’s father, a merchant and banker at Sunderland, ‘made an immense fortune’ from the coal mines at Wallsend and in 1796 bought Brancepeth Castle from Sir Henry Vane Tempest for £75,000. In 1800 Russell contested Durham city on the independent interest. A hostile squib rhymed:

Russell supporteth Pitt,
From justice not from whim,
For nought but pits
Have e’er supported him.

His ‘opulence’ was such as to put him ‘beyond a question of bias or dependence’. After his failure at Durham his father was at first prepared to finance another attempt, but a coalition of Whig opponents deterred him. His father then looked about for a snug seat for him. He was offered one for Bletchingley for £5,000, but opted for a life interest in a seat at Saltash on the Buller interest.1

Russell took up this option in 1802. In February 1807 he and his colleague were unseated on the petition of their opponents in the contest of 1806, and at the general election of 1807 there was a double return, but this time Russell, who bore most of the expense, was confirmed in the seat and held on to it. He could not be lured elsewhere: when his father was prepared to put him up at Grimsby on his father-in-law’s interest in 1807, he demurred, ‘preferring a quiet seat to be purchased, before a contest, a troublesome seat and certain expense more than the usual money’. He would not bite at the county of Durham in 1813 either, but in 1818 claimed that he could have secured the return of a candidate of his choice for the city.2 In 1815 his father purchased the borough of Bletchingley for £60,000. He was returned both for Bletchingley and Saltash in 1818, but the former was destined for a friend of the Prince Regent, Sir William Curtis*, and he declined to sell it on the open market.

Russell made no mark in Parliament, no known speech in 20 years. A Pittite, he voted against the censure of Melville, 8 Apr. 1805, and, after an inconspicuous hostility to the Grenville ministry,3 gave an equally unremarkable support to ministers after 1807. He voted with them on the Scheldt inquiry, 26 Jan. and 30 Mar. 1810, the Whigs being ‘doubtful’ of him, though he went on to vote against Burdett’s committal to the Tower, 5 Apr. 1810. Listed a government supporter after 1812, he voted for Catholic relief, 2 Mar., 13 and 24 May 1813, but against it on 21 May 1816. He voted with ministers on the civil list, 8 May 1815, and the army estimates, 6 Mar., but was in the majority against the property tax, 18 Mar. 1816. He returned to the ministerial fold on the civil list, 24 May.

In 1817 Russell came into his inheritance. He at once promised to subsidize his father-in-law’s interest at Grimsby and warned the Treasury off. Finding them unco-operative, he sulked, ignoring a Treasury circular to attend the House on 9 Mar. 1818. On the eve of dissolution the Treasury learned that Russell was ‘extremely dissatisfied and out of humour, and expresses himself everywhere in terms hostile to the government’; they supposed that it was merely on account of a neglected application for patronage. He himself admitted, 8 July, ‘I am now between government and C[arlto]n House—the latter Buller strongly impressed upon me if I wished for anything in any way whatever’. He remained discontented, and on 1 Nov. 1818 informed his brother-in-law Charles Tennyson* that if the Regent changed his ministers he would think it his duty to support him, ‘without he selected such persons as I cannot for a moment think he would’. He encouraged the Tennysons, father and son, to act as they wished in the House and to be as lax as himself in attendance. He had obtained leaves of absence in 1808, 1809, 1812, 1813, 1816 and 1817. Apropos of a Treasury letter in January 1819 he wrote that he considered it ‘merely as a circular such as I have been used to receive for the last 16 years’. He toyed with the idea of defecting with his adherents en bloc in March 1819, when he obtained leave of absence for a month. Yet he voted against Tierney’s censure motion, 18 May, before obtaining another month’s leave. On 25 July 1819 he informed Charles Tennyson that he expected Lord Liverpool’s refusal next day, ‘after which he will not presume upon my being his devoted servant, neither can I look up to him as an everlasting premier’. Russell died 8 May 1822.4

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Authors: Winifred Stokes / R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Gent. Mag. (1822), i. 472; H. C. Surtees, Castle of Brancepeth, 38; Pprs. publ. during Durham Election (1800), 13; see DURHAM CITY; Lincoln AO, Tennyson d’Eyncourt mss H61/28.
  • 2. Tennyson d’Eyncourt mss H64/19; H78/25; Grey mss, Bigge to Grey, 14 Aug. 1813.
  • 3. Fremantle mss, Buckingham to Fremantle, 20, 25 Feb. 1807.
  • 4. Tennyson d’Eyncourt mss H76/42, 43; H78/10, 56, 83; H83/14, 27; 2T d’E H3/3, 9; H9/1; 4T d’E H13/15.