Lord Digby and his future brother-in-law
This double portrait, painted by Van Dyck around 1635, shows the young George Digby (1612-77) with the then William, Lord Russell (1613-1700); Digby married Russell’s sister Anne in 1640. Created Baron in 1641, he succeeded Lord Falkland as King Charles’ Secretary of State after Falkland’s death at the first battle of Newbury in 1643. In late 1645 he was appointed Lieutenant General of the royal forces north of the Trent, but after various military defeats and the capture of yet another cache of compromising correspondence with the King, he was forced to flee to Ireland, and eventually to France. Named Secretary of State to Charles II in 1657, he had to renounce the office when he converted to Roman Catholicism. He had inherited his father's title, as second Earl of Bristol, upon John Digby's death in January 1653/4. After the Restoration, he was involved in bitter intrigue against Edward Hyde, the Earl of Clarendon, the King’s chief minister. Temporarily Digby reverted to Protestantism in order to resume political life, from which Catholics were excluded by law, and took his seat again in the House of Lords.
For more on Digby, see also the individual portrait of him in this and The Best of Men character galleries.
William Russell also married an Anne in 1637; she was the daughter of King James I's favourite, Robert Carr and his wife Frances, both of whom had been tried and sentenced to death for the 1613 murder of Sir Thomas Overbury. They were subsequently pardoned by James, but lesser people involved in this sensational case went to the gallows. Frances had been married first to Robert Devereaux, later known in The Best of Men and The Licence of War as the Earl of Essex, the Parliamentary General. Their marriage, inconvenient to her and her then lover, Carr, had been annulled on the dubious grounds that it had never been consummated because of Devereaux's impotence.
A staunch Presbyterian, Russell sided with John Pym's party when he entered Parliament in 164o. Upon his father's death in 1641, he succeeded to the title, becoming fifth Earl of Bedford, and as war loomed he was appointed Parliament's General of Horse. He later joined Essex's forces and fought at Edgehill, yet by the summer of 1643 he veered towards the 'peace party' who were trying to arrive at terms with King Charles. After these terms were rejected, as described in The Best of Men, Bedford went over to the King at Oxford, and was pardoned his past politics. Although he fought at Gloucester and Newbury for the Royalists, they remained suspicious of his loyalty, and in December of the same year he returned to Parliament's side. Suspicion greeted him there, however, and he was denied his seat in the Lords, so he retired to his estate at Woburn. He is the friend that the Earl of Pembroke leaves London to visit in The Licence of War. By the Restoration, he re-entered public life, still supporting the Presbyterian party, but once more he had to retire in 1683 after his son, also William, was executed for his role in The Rye House Plot to assassinate Charles II and the future King James II. Following the Glorious Revolution of 1688, Bedford again re-entered public life, was made a Privy Councillor, and was created first Duke of Bedford and Marquess of Tavistock in 1694. He died at Bedford House, in London.