Kingston Russell

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Kingston Russell House, west facade

Kingston Russell is a large mansion house and manor near Long Bredy in Dorset, England, west of Dorchester. The present house dates from the late 17th century but in 1730 was clad in a white Georgian stone facade. The house was restored in 1913, and at the same time the gardens were laid out. The house is on land which was granted to the Russell family (not ancestors of the Russell Dukes of Bedford),[1] by an early king, probably King John (1199–1216) at the end of his reign, or his son Henry III. Kingston Russell manor is now part of Long Bredy parish, but earlier appears to have had its own church. The main part of the manor adjoins Winterbourne Abbas to the east and Compton Valence to the north, whilst the house itself adjoins Long Bredy. It is situated in an area known for ancient tumuli and the Kingston Russell Stone Circle. The Poor Lot barrow group forms a boundary with Littlebredy and Winterbourne Abbas.[2]


The Victoria County History of the County of Dorset (1908) notes that Little Bredy, of which Kingston Russel is a part, may have been the borough of Brydian in the Saxon period. It goes on to say that if Little Bredy is indeed the borough of Brydian then "It was ... important as guarding the one gap in the downs which connects south-east with south-west Dorset."[3]

Pedigree of Russell of Kingston Russell

File:Rubbing of the Dyrham brass, Saint Peter's Church, Dyrham, South Gloucestershire, England.jpg
Sir Maurice Russell (1356-1416) of Dyrham and Kingston Russell and first wife Isabel Childrey. Rubbing from funerary brass at Dyrham Church. Note Russell armourials in small escutcheon in gable of canopy

Kingston Russell takes the second part of its name from the Russell family who were granted the manor for their service to the King. The manor was held in-chief from the King by Grand Serjeanty, the particular service performed for the King was originally as Marshal of the Buttery, as the entry in the Book of Fees dated 1211 records for the Hundred of "Alvredesberge" (since dissolved), Dorset:[4]

Johannes Russel tenet Kingeston pro dimidia hyda terre de domino rege ex tempore Willelmi Bastard quondam Rege Anglie per serjanciam essendi marescallus buteilerie domini regis ad Natale Domini et ad Pentecosten.
John Russell holds Kingston for half a hide of land from the Lord King from the time of William the Bastard sometime King of England through the serjeanty of being marshall of the king's buttery (store of wine barrels) at Christmas and at Pentecost.

The serjeanty changed during the minority of King Henry III to the counting the King's chessman and storing them away after a game.[5] John Russell of Kingston Russell was a household knight of King Richard I from at the latest 1195[6] then also of his brother King John and then of his infant son King Henry III, of whose household he became steward.[7] In the capacity of Household Knight he acted as part of the backbone of the king's army, as a temporary castellan, sheriff, diplomat[8] and general trouble-shooter. He thus served as Constable of Sherborne Castle, and Governor of Corfe Castle, both in Dorset. He undertook an important diplomatic assignment in 1220 to recover Princess Joan, infant sister of Henry III, from the court of Hugh X of Lusignan to whom she had been betrothed and by whom then rejected. Russell died in 1224. He married Rose Bardolph, da. of Thomas Bardolph and widow of Henry de Pomeroy, feudal baron of the large barony of Berry Pomeroy in Devon, consisting of 32 knight's fees. The marriage to this widow of a tenant-in-chief was likely to have been a reward from the king for Russell's services, and brought Russell a life-interest in her large dower lands. John Russell was granted as a further royal mark of gratitude the marriage of one of the heiresses of James de Newmarch, feudal baron of North Cadbury, who had died in 1216 without male heir, leaving 2 infant heiresses, whose marriages became the property of the king by feudal custom. The wardship of the eldest daughter Isabelle was granted by King John to John Russell, who married her to his eldest surviving (3rd.) son Ralph, the marriage of the other daughter Hawise having been acquired by John de Bottrell/Bottreux. The Newmarch lands were thus split in half, one moiety consisting of nearly 17 knight's fees,[9] in Gloucestershire (including Dyrham), Somerset, Buckinghamshire, Wiltshire and Berkshire going to the Russells,[10] with the second half, including the caput of North Cadbury, being confirmed to Bottrell by Henry III in 1218, per the Close Rolls. Sir Ralph Russell continued to hold Kingston Russell from Henry III by Grand Serjeanty, viz "that he should present a cup of beer to our Sovereign Lord the King on the 4 principal feasts of the year"[11] Sir Ralph Russell and Isabel's heir was Sir William Russell (1257–1311), Constable of Carisbrook Castle, Isle of Wight. He married Katherine de Aula, heiress of Yaverland, Isle of Wight (and possibly later Jane Peverell). On 12 July 1284 William was granted by King Edward I (1272–1307) a market and free warren as the following entry in the Charter Rolls records:[12]

Grant to William son of Ralph Russel, and his heirs, of a weekly market on Thursday at his manor of Kyngeston Russel, co. Dorset, and of a yearly fair there on the vigil, the feast and the morrow of St. Matthew (i.e. 21st. September) ; grant also of free warren in the demesne lands of the said manor.

William died before his son and heir Theobald (1303–1349) had reached his majority of 21, and the infant Theobald was granted in wardship to Ralph III de Gorges, 1st Baron Gorges (d.1224) of Knighton, Isle of Wight and Wraxall, Somerset. Gorges married off the young Theobald to his 2nd daughter Eleanor. Gorge's son, Ralph IV, 2nd. Baron Gorges, found himself without his own male heir, with only three sisters as heiresses to his ancient and noble line. He thus made his nephew Theobald II Russell his heir, apparently with the provision that he should change his name to Gorges, bear the ancient Gorges armourials and inherit the bulk of the Gorges lands, including Wraxall, Somerset, 6 miles west of Bristol. Theobald Russell "Gorges" thus established a new line of Gorges at Wraxall, where the family became well established (see Sir Ferdinando Gorges). The eldest son of Theobald and Eleanor was Ralph (1319–1375), the second son being Theobald, who duly adopted the name Gorges and inherited his mother's lands at Wraxall and Bradpole, Dorset. Ralph his elder brother had as his heir Sir Maurice Russell (c.1352-1416) of Dyrham, Gloucestershire. To the latter, whose funerary brass can be seen at Dyrham Church, descended Kingston Russell, the manor and hundred of Redhove (Redhone) and Beminster Forum (Beaminster) in the manor of Bradpole, as well as the manor of Dyrham, Gloucestershire and Horsington, Somerset. By his first wife Isabel Childrey he had two daughters who on the death of his son Thomas in 1432 from his second marriage to Joan Dauntsey, became his co-heiresses. Margaret Russell (d.1466) the eldest daughter had married firstly her father's neighbour Sir Gilbert Denys of Siston and thus Kingston Russell and Dyrham passed to the Denys family. The Denyses appear never to have lived at Kingston Russell, and in 1542 Sir Walter Denys (1501–1571) of Dyrham, great-great-grandson of Sir Gilbert Denys and Margaret Russell sold Kingston Russell to his younger brother Sir Maurice Denys (1516–1563),[13] who sold it in March 1543/4 to the Crown.[14]

Erroneously claimed as Heritage of Dukes of Bedford

File:Rubbing of the Denys funerary brass, Saint Mary the Virgin, Olveston, Gloucestershire, England.jpg
Denys monumental brass, 1505, Olveston Church. The arms of Russell of Kingston Russell are blazoned at top right: On a chief three bezants
Arms of Russell of Dyrham & Kingston Russell
Arms of Russell Dukes of Bedford

It was long thought that Sir Theobald Russell (1303–1349) had a third son William who became the ancestor of the Russell Dukes of Bedford. In fact Theobald had 5 sons, the additional 2 being John and Richard, as the 1944 research of Mr Raymond Gorges has revealed[15] Wiffen proposed that Sir Theobald Russell had married secondly Eleanor de la Tour of Berwick, who is a confirmed ancestor of the Bedford Russells. However, this marriage can never have taken place as Theobald Russell died in 1340/1 famously leading the forces defending the Isle of Wight against French invasion, and his widow Eleanor de Gorges survived him until 1376. Gladys Scott-Thomson FRHS in her exhaustive and scholarly work on the early Bedford pedigree, Two Hundred Years of Family History, London, 1930, has not found any proven link between the Bedford Russells, descended from a certain Henry Russell, a Weymouth merchant from Berwick-in-Swyre, and the Russells of Kingston Russell. There is much scope for confusion, as Berwick is only 3 miles to the south-west of Kingston Russell. It is interesting to compare the armourials of the two families, which have certain similarities. The arms of Russell of Kingston Russell survive earliest (without tinctures) on the funerary brass of Sir Maurice ("Morys") Russell at Dyrham Church, dated 1416/17. They are shown also on the Denys monumental brass of Walter Denys (d.1505) at Olveston Church, where the Denys arms are quartered with the Russell arms of his grandmother Margaret, together with those of Gorges (New).[16] These Russell arms are: Argent, on a chief gules three bezants.[17] A bezant is a Byzantine gold coin, much beloved by crusaders. The arms of the Russell Dukes of Bedford are: Argent, a lion rampant gules on a chief sable three escallops of the first. Thus both arms have a field argent, both use a chief, which is filled with three circular or near circular devices - bezants and escallops. It may well be that the Ducal House created their arms as differences from their supposed ancestors of Kingston Russell. Mr Wiffen, who was commissioned by a 19th-century Duke of Bedford to write a history of the ducal family, proposed that the arms with the escallops were the original arms of Russell of Kingston Russell, which proposition was followed by Burke's Armorials (1884), and that a cadet branch of the Russell family adopted the bezant arms as differences. This is clearly erroneous as the bezant arms alone appear in mediaeval rolls of arms. It would not have been diplomatic for Mr Wiffen, whose work is fatally flawed in the matter of the connection of the two families but otherwise contains much valuable information, to have reported to his generous patron that the lineage of the Dukes was a cadet branch, and indeed even if that an uncertain one.[18] In reality, the earliest Earls of Bedford were unconcerned about the age of their lineage, deeming the possession of a "Great Man" as a recent ancestor all that mattered.[19] Like Napoleon, the first Earl could say witheringly to those who questioned the antiquity of his House: "Moi, je suis l'ancetre".

Hugo de Rosel, the fictitious Norman ancestor of the Russells of Kingston Russell invented by Le Neve, York Herald, in 1626. Woburn Abbey collection.

So convinced were the noble Russells that they were descended from the Russells of Kingston Russell that Francis Russell, 2nd Earl of Bedford purchased, or procured the transfer, of Kingston Russell from the Crown in 1560. This was clearly a move prompted by sentimentality, albeit erroneous, since the Russells by then had many properties for habitation, including Tavistock Abbey in Devon. In 1626 Edward Russell, 3rd Earl of Bedford (died 1627) commissioned William Le Neve, the York Herald, to produce a Russell pedigree. Scott Thomson states this to be "wrong in most of its details, and from the point of view of strict verity it is an unworthy document".[20] Le Neve's technique seems to have been that he visited Normandy in search of any important personage called "Russell". He surmised that English Earls (the Dukedom was not created until 1694, the Earldom in 1550) must have had noble ancestors from the time of Charlemagne at least, and thus gave the Dukes a certain Hugo de Rosel, dug out from dusty archives somewhere in France, as their early ancestor. In fact the name Russell was quite common in the Middle Ages, signifying "red-headed".[21] Le Neve went a step further and provided an illustration of the proposed noble forefather, a total work of fiction, but endearingly amusing nonetheless, showing the ignorance which existed in the 17th century as to what a Norman knight would have looked like. He thus bears a Saracen's curved sword, perhaps a reference to the Norman tenure of Sicily, where cultures of East and West synthesised.

At some point possibly around the 1640s, part of the manor, including the house, came into the possession of the Michel family, who partly rebuilt the seventeenth century Kingston Russell House as it still stands today at the end of a long driveway. The Michel family also owned Dewlish House in Dewlish, Dorset and removed there sometime during the 1760s when the house was then let. Admiral Sir Thomas Hardy, 1st Baronet, Nelson's flag captain, was born at Kingston Russell on 5 April 1769, his mother being the daughter of Thomas Masterman of this place. At some time before 1861 the Dukes of Bedford bought Kingston Russell for a second time, and when Lord John Russell (1792–1878) the prominent Liberal statesman, 3rd son of the 6th Duke of Bedford, was raised to the peerage as an earl on 30 July 1861, he chose the title Earl Russell of Kingston Russell, which title is still extant (the famous philosopher Bertrand Russell was the third earl of this title). By the turn of the twentieth century however, the house was in a dilapidated condition and the estate was sold in 1913 to George Gribble Esq. The new owner - with architect Philip Tilden, who later worked for Winston Churchill - demolished a stub wing from the older Tudor building, extended the Carolean/Georgian wing by the addition of two small three-storey wings at either end of the original two-storey structure, and laid out the gardens. His son Julian Royds Gribble won the Victoria Cross in the First World War, but was killed in action in 1918; the current village hall was constructed as a gift the village, in memory of him. The Gribble family moved away in the 1920s. Since then, the house has had a number of different owners. Since 1984 it has been owned by Dr HHJ Carter & Miss T. Silkstone, who are the longest continuous owner-occupiers of the house since the 1760s. The house is not open to the public, though it has welcomed visitors from bodies such as the Georgian Group.

Chapel of St. James

A small chapel dedicated to St. James once stood nearby. It is reputed to have been built by the Russells and was financed by them through tithes and the glebe in Pitcombe. The last rector of the chapel was Roger Bond who was appointed to it, along with Little Bredy in 1531. The inhabitants then used the church at Long Bredy for burials. After its closure it was leased variously. In 1565 it was granted to Edith Cole, widow and John and Joan Martin, her children for their lives. It was then granted to John, Henry and William Mintern for their lives from 1585, then in 1605 to Fenton, esq. captain of the guard, and 1607 to George Ward. The chapel of St James then came to the Mellers of Little Bredy who sold the tithes and part of the glebe to the Michels. By this time the chapel was in ruins and in John Hutchins' time only the walls remained. During the time of the Michel's residence of the manor, according to Hutchins, it was inhabited by poor people.



  1. See Scott-Thomson, Gladys,F.R.H.S. Two Centuries of Family History, London, 1930 (being a study of the Bedford Russell early pedigree) for a thorough disambiguation of the two Russell families of Dorset, Russell of Kingston Russell (pedigree given as Appendix D, pp.324-328, and Russell of Berwick-by-Swyre, ancestors of the Dukes of Bedford); Also J. Horace Round, Origin of the Russells. Even highly reputable historical publications confuse the two families, e.g. the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004, which states the 1st Earl of Bedford to have descended from John Russell(d.c.1224) of Kingston Russell, even though it quotes as a source Scott-Thomson's work, clearly not thoroughly consulted. Church, S.D. makes the same error, repeated several times, whilst quoting as a source Round, who specifically and at great length refuted the assertion
  2. "Winterbourne Poor Lot Barrows". Retrieved 11 December 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Full text of "The Victoria history of the county of Dorset;"". Retrieved 11 December 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Full text of "Liber feodorum. The book of fees, commonly called Testa de Nevill, reformed from the earliest MSS"". Retrieved 11 December 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. The keeper of the royal chessmen function is mentioned in an inquisition in the 3rd year of the reign of Edward III (c.1329) after the death of Nichola, the wife of Nicholas de Morteshorn who held the manor from Sir William Russell (d.1310/11) for the term of her life.
  6. Church, p.18/19
  7. Church, S.D. The Household Knights of King John, Cambridge, 1999
  8. Church, p.36
  9. Church, p.138
  10. Livery of Isabel's lands being granted to Ralph Russell in 8 Henry III (1224) per Burkes Armorials 1884, p.879, Russell.
  11. Burkes Armorials, 1884. p. 879, Russell.
  12. "Full text of "Calendar of the Charter Rolls Preserved in the Public Record Office"". Retrieved 11 December 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Licence to alienate KR dated June 1542, Letters & Papers, Henry VIII, vol. 17, 443(10).
  14. Duke of Bedford's MSS. Copy of indenture between Henry VIII and Maurice Denys dated March 2, 1543/4
  15. Gorges, R. op. cit.
  16. When Theobald (Russell) "Gorges" tried to re-adopt the ancient Gurges arms, he was challenged by the family of Warburton, who had claimed them in the interval. The case was brought in 1329 before the Earl Marshal, who found in favour of Warburton, and forced Theobald to adopt new arms for his new Gorges line: Lozengy or and azure, a chevron gules. These can be seen blazoned on the Denys brass of 1505 at Olveston. The family subsequently recovered the old Gurges arms. (Burkes Armorials, 1884, Gorges).
  17. Burkes Armorials 1884 provides the tinctures.
  18. Wiffen, J.H. Historical Memoirs of the House of Russell from the Time of the Norman Conquest, 1883
  19. Scott Thomson, op.cit.
  20. Scott Thomson, op.cit. p.31.
  21. Barlow, F. William Rufus, London, 1983, p.11. "Bynames like ruffus, rosellus, blundus, brunus, niger which describe a person's appearance were in very common use (in 11th century)"

External links

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