John and Elizabeth Russell
Died: 24 Jul, 1584
Location in the Abbey: Chapel of st edmund
Type of memorial: Statue
Type of material: Marble; alabaster

In the chapel of St Edmund in Westminster Abbey are two monuments to John, Lord Russell and his daughter Elizabeth.

John (Russell), Lord Russell

His large monument of alabaster and marble shows his effigy reclining in his ermine-lined red Parliamentary robes, with his head supported on his elbow. There are columns and many shields of arms (including those of Russell, De la Tour, Meschems, Herring, Froxmere, Wise, Sapcote, Semark and Cook). Two female bedeswomen support the achievement of arms. The monument was redecorated by order of the Earl of Bedford in the 19th century and the most recent re-painting was done in the 1960s. At his feet is a small effigy of his infant son Francis, who was also buried in this chapel in 1581. 

The inscriptions were composed by his wife Elizabeth, one of the most accomplished women of her day, except for one written by John's son in law. They are in English, Latin and Greek. The central English inscription reads:

"Righte noble twyse [twice] by virtue and by birthe, of Heaven lov'd, and honour'd on the earthe, his countris hope, his kindreds chiefe delighte, my husbande deare more than this worldes lighte, deathe hath me refte: but I from deathe will take his memorie, to whom this tombe I make. John was his name; ah was; wretche, must I saye, Lorde Russell once; nowe my teare-thirsty clay"

The first Latin panel can be translated:

"A poem of an afflicted mother to her surviving daughters. Now weep, my girls, now make your pious moan, alas! the glory of your house is gone: death, hasty death, hath seized the stock that grew, and flourished with a stem of beauteous hue. Your sire, esteemed by all, by all desired, for learning, and for piety admired. Then you, his heirs, be what he was before, who shone by birth, but shone by virtue more"

The second, translated from the Greek:

"The once bright glory of his house, the pride of all his country, dusty ruins hide: mourn, hapless orphans, mourn, once happy wife, for when he died, died all the joys of life. Pious and just, amidst a large estate, he got at once the name of good and great. He made no flattering parasites his guest, but asked the good companions to his feast"

The third Latin panel can be translated:

"One of the same lady on the same subject in Latin. How was I startled at the cruel feast, by death's rude hands, in horrid manner dressed; such grief as sure no hapless woman knew, when thy pale image lay before my view. Thy father's heir in beauteous form arrayed, like flowers in spring, and fair, like them, to fade; leaving behind unhappy wretched me, and all thy orphan progeny: alike the beauteous face, the comely air, the tongue persuasive, and the actions fair, decay; so learning too in time shall waste; but faith, chaste lovely faith, shall ever last"

The fourth panel:

"A poem of the afflicted Lady Elizabeth Russell, on the death of her son.

Behold! the grandsire's joy, his sire's delight! my very soul, dire fate hath closed in night! O! that the Almighty will before this day, from this vain world had taken me away! But I in vain exposulate with Jove, who bids me only seek for joys above"

The fifth panel:

"On the death of the Honorable the Lord John Russell; an Epicedium of his loving son-in-law Sir Edward Hoby, Kt.

Ah Russell! Death in sleep hath closed thine eyes; but thy free soul, far hence above the skies, expatiates; thoughtful now of death no more; whose virtuous life hath taken care before for such an end: And having yielded breath, still lives a glorious conqueror over death. Who, and what man thou wast, thy race portend, thy virtuous life, and thy lamented end. Accept this verse I offer at thy stone; you was my sire in love, and I your son".

John was the son of Francis, 2nd Earl of Bedford, but died before his father on 24 July 1584. His wife Elizabeth, born 1528, was the daughter of Sir Anthony Cook and widow of Sir Thomas Hoby of Bisham Abbey. She was a sister to Lady Burghley and died in 1609 and lies buried, with a monument, in Bisham church, Berkshire. By Sir Thomas she had two sons, Edward and Thomas (who married Margaret Hoby) and two daughters. She married John on 23 December 1574 and had two daughters, as well as son Francis.

Elizabeth Russell

She was a daughter of John and Elizabeth and was born in the precincts of Westminster Abbey in her father's house and baptised in the Abbey. Elizabeth I and the Countess of Sussex were her godmothers and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester her godfather. She was a maid of honour to the queen but died young of consumption in 1601. Her free-standing monument, once within a railing around the monument to her father, consists of an alabaster and marble pedestal, on which is her statue, seated in an osier, or wicker, chair with her right foot resting on a skull. Her head reclines on her right elbow and her left arm points to the skull. This led to the odd idea that she died by pricking her finger. But the skull is merely a symbol of mortality. The pedestal is decorated with ribbons, swags, ox heads and an eagle. Hers was the first memorial in England to depict a seated figure on a free-standing monument. The Latin inscription can be translated:

"She is not dead, but sleepeth. Sacred to the happy memory of Elizabeth Russell, her afflicted sister Anne has erected this monument".

Her sister Anne married Lord Herbert.

Photos of the monuments can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library.

Further reading:

For Lady Russell: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004.

"Historical memoirs of the House of Russell" by Jeremiah Wiffen, 2 vols. 1833.

Click on the images to enlarge