Archiver > WORLD-OBITS > 2005-07 > 1122047213

From: "Peter_McCrae" <>
Subject: RUSSELL; Conrad Sebastion Robert-OCR/04-UK
Date: Fri, 22 Jul 2005 16:46:53 +0100

Professor the Earl Russell
(Filed: 15/10/2004)
The Daily Telegraph & the

Professor the 5th Earl Russell, who died yesterday aged 67, held the Chair
of British History at King's College, London, from 1990 to 2002 and was a
leading revisionist historian of the English Civil War; during the 1990s he
became a vocal and effective spokesman for the Liberal Democrats in the
House of Lords.

Russell rejected those conventional interpretations of the Civil War which
saw it as a clash between theories of the Divine Right of Kings and of
parliamentary supremacy. Instead, he saw the conflict in terms of the
inherent structural weaknesses of a monarchy whose role included the
enforcement of religious conformity, but whose responsibilities extended
across three countries - England, Scotland and Ireland - with very different
religious traditions.

The truest predictor to the sides people took in the Civil War, he found,
was not people's views about the constitution, but the attitude people in
England took to the Scottish revolt against Charles I's attempt to enforce
observance of the Prayer Book. In Russell's view, the Civil War could also
be seen as a struggle to enforce the hegemony of England within the British
Isles, an imperial vision shared by both Charles and Cromwell.

Russell was a flamboyant figure, with a fine head of unruly hair, an
ever-present cigarette and a precise, donnish voice. After taking his seat
in the House of Lords in 1988, he made good use of his vast fund of
historical knowledge to enliven and illuminate current political issues with
recondite references to historical parallels. In 1996 he was chosen as the
Highland Park/Spectator Peer of the Year for his combination of learning and
parliamentary skill.

That year he also drew a comparison between peerages given to business
cronies of political parties and the "the slimy trail of finance" whereby
James I sold peerages or gave them to his creditors in lieu of payment.

The following year, after Tony Blair claimed that he never gave money to
beggars, Russell suggested in a letter to The Daily Telegraph that "he
should remember that need may happen to anyone. Belisarius in his day was
the best general in the Roman Empire, but ended up sitting at the gates of
Rome chanting 'give a ha'penny to Belisarius'. If, after Mr Blair has
reformed the welfare state and gone out of office at the moment his pension
fund goes broke, I find him at King's Cross chanting 'give a tenner to
Tony', I will give to him, even if my gorge rises at it".

Conrad Sebastian Robert Russell was born on April 15 1937. His father was
the philosopher Bertrand Russell (1884-1970); his mother, Marjorie "Peter"
Spence, was the philosopher's pipe-smoking former secretary who became his
third wife in 1936.

The earldom was created in 1861 for Conrad's great-grandfather, Lord John
Russell, twice Prime Minister and an architect of the 1832 Reform Bill.
Bertrand Russell had succeeded as the 3rd Earl Russell in 1931.

Young Conrad spent part of his infancy in America where, before the war, his
father had been a visiting fellow at various universities. On the family's
return to England, he was sent first to Dartington School, then to Eton,
where he was bullied because he had not been to the right prep school, could
not play cricket and did not understand the social rules. "We were asked to
write an essay on the Boxing Day meet," he recalled; "but I had no idea what
it was."

When he was 15, his parents' marriage hit the rocks during a holiday in
Sicily. A bitter divorce ensued, as a consequence of which Conrad was
forbidden by his mother (who obtained custody) from ever seeing his father
again. Conrad Russell's memory of the split remained raw. Recalling the
moment his mother had woken him to tell him a taxi was coming in 10 minutes
to take them away from his father for good, he reflected: "I kept thinking
that if I had been awake I would have been able to persuade her not to rush
out of the door. I have never been able to tackle anything in the first hour
after waking up ever since."

He did not see his father throughout his teens, and was haunted by his
mother's claim that Bertrand Russell was mad and that the illness was
hereditary. When, in about 1970, he ended the rift with his father, his
mother was so angry that she refused to see her son again. Cruelly, she cut
him off just as he was leaving the house for an interview for a fellowship
at Oxford. He was not appointed. Russell sometimes said that he felt his
family was under a "Greek curse" that caused madness, misery and suicide as
well as greatness.

After leaving Eton, Russell went up to Merton College, Oxford, to read
Modern History. Known by his Oxford friends as "the Hon Con", he became an
exotic Oxford character, striding about in a scarlet cape. He involved
himself in fashionable Left-wing causes, joining the Labour Party in 1956
and becoming a founder member of the university CND group.

He was also much admired by women, not only on account of his good looks and
romantic radicalism, but also because he led the struggle to admit them into
the Oxford Union. He rounded off this glittering period in characteristic
style by taking a First, despite arriving half an hour late for the most
important paper.

After coming down from Oxford, in 1960 Russell was appointed lecturer in
History at Bedford College for Women, part of London University. Two years
later he raised a few eyebrows when he married one of his students,
Elizabeth Sanders. From then on, however, he listed "uxoriousness" as one of
his recreations, between swimming and cricket, and they remained devoted. At
Bedford, he began to publish his ideas on the political history of the Tudor
and Stuart periods. His first book, The Crisis of Parliaments: English
History 1509-1660 (1971), was followed by the seminal Origins of the English
Civil War (1973) and Parliament and English Politics 1921-1629 (1979).

From 1979 to 1984 he was Professor of History at Yale University. On his
return to Britain, he was appointed Astor Professor of History at University
College, London. He became Professor of British History at King's College in

He wrote three further works on the Stuart period: The Causes of the English
Civil War (1990); Unrevolutionary England 1603-1642 (1990); and The Fall of
the British Monarchies 1637-1642 (1991).

Throughout his academic career Russell maintained an active involvement in
politics. But after standing as Labour candidate for South Paddington in the
general election of 1966, he became disenchanted with the Labour Party and
wavered for several years about whether to leave and join the Liberals,
whose leader, Jeremy Thorpe, he greatly admired.

He eventually changed sides during the election campaign of February 1974:
"The political correctitudes of Right and Left", he declared, "I find
equally off-putting. They are the enemies of thought."

He took his seat in the House of Lords in 1987, following the death of his
half brother, John Conrad Russell, the 4th Earl Russell.

As Liberal Democrat spokesman on social security during the 1990s, he
mounted an effective opposition to the Conservative Government's Child
Support Act (which set up the ill-starred Child Support Agency) and against
new laws to restrict benefits for asylum seekers.

Russell had a reputation for honesty which made all parties happy to deal
with him. One of his close friends in the Lords was the late Lady Young, the
former Conservative Cabinet minister who campaigned against the lowering of
the age of consent. Although they disagreed completely on this as on many
other issues, the two peers admired each other immensely. Lady Young
described him as "greatly respected and completely reliable". In 1999 he
came top in his party when the elections to retain hereditary peers were

Unlike some Liberal Democrats, Russell had little time for Tony Blair. In
1995, in an article in the Daily Telegraph, he wrote of Blair: "I will say
what Herbert Morrison said when told that Aneurin Bevan was his own worst
enemy: 'Not while I'm around 'e ain't'." Blair's policies of aping the
Tories, he argued, were fundamentally dishonest: "If Labour have no plans to
raise tax at all, they must stop whingeing about social justice."

In 1993 Russell attracted press attention when he came to the defence of one
of his former students at King's College, Austen Donnellan, who had been
accused of "date rape" by another student at the college. King's had reacted
to the allegations by trying to hush up the matter and persuade Donnellan to
leave, but the case came to court and Donellan was acquitted.

Russell criticised the behaviour of the King's College authorities and
observed "when I was an undergraduate I think women could afford to say 'no'
when they meant 'yes'. Now they can't. The more freedom a woman has, the
plainer her sexual signalling has to be".

Russell's last book was An Intelligent Person's Guide To Liberalism (1999).

Earl Russell and his wife Elizabeth, who died last year, had two sons. He is
succeeded in the earldom by his eldest son, Nicholas Lyulph Russell,
Viscount Amberley, who was born in 1968.

© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2005.

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