Conrad Russell, 5th Earl Russell

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The Right Honourable
The Earl Russell
File:Lord Russell, LibDem Conference Brighton Sept 2003.jpg
Lord Russell at the Liberal Democrat Federal Conference in Brighton, September 2003
Personal details
Born (1937-04-15)15 April 1937
Harting, West Sussex
Died 14 October 2004(2004-10-14) (aged 67)
London (Park Royal)
Nationality British
Alma mater Oxford University
Occupation politician, historian
Profession academic

Conrad Sebastian Robert Russell, 5th Earl Russell (15 April 1937 – 14 October 2004) was a British historian and politician. His parents were the philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell and his third wife Patricia Russell. He was also a great-grandson of the 19th century British Whig Prime Minister Lord John Russell.[1] He succeeded to the earldom on the death of his half-brother, John Russell, on 16 December 1987.

Educated at Eton and Merton College, Oxford, Conrad Russell was an academic historian working on 17th century British history, having extensively written and lectured on parliamentary struggles of the period. Russell was also a passionate advocate of liberalism, from a long family line of distinguished liberals.

After his death from complications of emphysema, Russell was succeeded as Earl by his son, Nicholas Lyulph. Another son, John Francis, is also a politician.

Academic career

Russell was a prominent historian on the origins of the English Civil War. His major works include Crisis of Parliaments: English history 1509–1660 (1971), Origins of the English Civil War (edited, 1973), Parliaments and English politics, 1621–1629 (1979), Unrevolutionary England, 1603–1642 (1990), and Fall of the British monarchies, 1637–1642 (1991). His work on early Stuart Parliaments was profoundly influenced by the work of Alan Everitt, who had argued that the English gentry were preoccupied with defending their positions in the localities rather than responding to the demands of the Crown. This no longer seems entirely plausible in the light of the work done by Richard Cust, Clive Holmes, Peter Lake and Christopher Thompson. Russell argued that the English civil war was much less a result of long term constitutional conflicts than had previously been thought, and that its origins are to be sought rather in the years immediately preceding the outbreak of war in 1642 and in the context of the problems of the multiple kingdoms of the British Isles, a hypothesis for which he was indebted to the pioneering study of H. G. Koenigsberger. This area is still being explored by historians like John Adamson and David Scott even if their detailed conclusions vary from those reached by Russell.

He was Lecturer (and later Reader) in History at Bedford College, University of London (now part of Royal Holloway), 1960–1979; Professor of History at Yale University, USA, 1979–1984; Astor Professor of British History at University College London, 1984–1990; and Professor of British History at King's College London from 1990 to his retirement in 2003. Russell's expectation that he would succeed Michael Howard as Regius Professor of History at the University of Oxford was unfulfilled, partly because of doubts long-held in the university about his scholarship and partly because his political partisanship made him unacceptable for such a prestigious post.

Political career

As a young man, Conrad Russell's political allegiance varied between the Labour Party and the then very weak Liberal Party. He stood as the Labour candidate in Paddington South in the 1966 general election, but failed to win the seat from the Conservatives.

He succeeded to the title of the 5th Earl Russell on the death of his half brother, John Conrad Russell, in 1987. He was the first parliamentarian to take his seat as a Liberal Democrat, shortly after the party was formed in 1988 from a merger of the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party.

In 1999, all but 92 hereditary peers were removed from the House of Lords. Lord Russell was elected at the top of his party's list of hereditary peers to retain their seats, though he had consistently argued in favour of abolishing the Lords completely, and replacing it with an elected senate.

He was vice-president of the Liberal Democrat Youth and Students 1993–1994 and honorary president of the Liberal Democrat History Group 1998–2004.


Russell's health worsened in the late 1990s and he died of respiratory failure at Central Middlesex Hospital in 2004.[2] Russell was predeceased by his wife in 2003.

Titles and styles

  • 15 April 1937 – 16 December 1987: The Honourable Conrad Sebastian Robert Russell
  • 16 December 1987 – 14 October 2004: The Right Honourable The Earl Russell

Published Books

In his book Academic Freedom,[10] Russell examines the ideal and the limits of academic freedom, and the relations between the university and the state. He notes (p. 24) that his father's career is a reminder that a free society is not a guarantee against losing an academic job for holding very unpopular opinions on non-academic subjects, as Bertrand Russell in fact did twice.


External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Position created
Elected hereditary peer
Succeeded by
The Earl of Glasgow
Peerage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
John Russell
Earl Russell
Succeeded by
Nicholas Russell