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John Francis Stanley Russell, 2nd Earl Russell, known as Frank Russell (12 August 1865 – 3 March 1931), was the elder surviving son of Viscount and Viscountess Amberley, and was raised by his paternal grandparents after his unconventional parents both died young. He was the grandson of the former prime minister John Russell, 1st Earl Russell and elder brother of the philosopher Bertrand Russell. He was married three times, lastly to Elizabeth von Arnim, who caricatured him in her novel Vera.[1] Despite his landmark achievements in other respects, this Earl Russell is most famous for being tried for bigamy in 1901, after which he was known to Edwardian society as the "Wicked Earl".

The Earl Russell
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for India
In office
MonarchGeorge V
Prime MinisterRamsay MacDonald
Preceded byDrummond Shiels
Succeeded byThe Lord Snell
Personal details
Born12 August 1865
Died3 March 1931 (aged 65)
Spouse(s)Mary Edith Scott
Marion Cooke
Elizabeth von Arnim


Marital historyEdit

Frank Russell was twice divorced, and separated permanently from his third and last wife three years after they married. He also had extramarital affairs.

His first wife was Mary Edith Scott (Mabel). They married in 1890. Mabel tried to divorce him (and lost) in 1891, then sued for restoration of conjugal rights in 1894. The Earl was granted a judicial separation in 1895, but she appealed and it was overturned. His mother-in-law also tried to harass him and was convicted of libel in 1897.[2] Mabel, Countess Russell made her living by singing on the variety stage even while she was married to Frank Russell.

Russell next married Marion Cooke (born c. 1857–1858),[3] a twice-divorced daughter of an Irish master-shoemaker, and former wife of George John Somerville, in the United States in 1900, after establishing domicile in that country and obtaining a divorce in Nevada. The British authorities considered such a divorce invalid,[4] and Lord Russell was arrested and was convicted of bigamy in the House of Lords on 18 July 1901. He was sentenced to only three months in prison on account of the "extreme torture" he had suffered in his first marriage.[5] The first Countess Russell had already obtained a divorce, and he married Mrs Somerville on 31 October 1901, three days after it became absolute. His second wife divorced him in 1915, after obtaining an annual income for life, suggesting some collusion.[6]

Russell married thirdly the novelist Elizabeth von Arnim (née Mary Annette Beauchamp), widow of Count Henning August von Arnim-Schlagenthin (d. 1910), the next year. Von Arnim, who had a three-year affair with H.G. Wells, ended her relationship with Wells when his other lover Rebecca West became pregnant. She became involved with Russell in 1914 and married him on 11 February 1916.[7][8] The marriage failed quickly and acrimoniously, and the couple separated in 1919. However, they never divorced. At the start of the Second World War von Arnim moved to the United States, where she died in 1941.[9]

Earl Russell had no children, but his second and third marriages brought him several stepchildren. His second wife Marion had one son by her first husband and two sons by her second husband. His third wife Elizabeth had five children by her first husband.

Russell as a motoring enthusiastEdit

Russell was an early motorist. He is famed for having the registration A 1. This is frequently reported as being the first number plate issued in Britain, but it is not – it was, however, the first registration issued by the London County Council. "Motoring Illustrated" of 19 December 1903 reported that the London county Council started issuing numbers on 7 December 1903, whereas other authorities started before that date. From surviving records, the first number known to have been issued is Hastings' DY 1 issued on 23 November 1903[10]. It is also frequently reported that the Earl queued all night to obtain the number and only just beat another potential applicant for the number by a few seconds. There does not appear to be any contemporary record of this in motoring journals, though several report that he obtained the number A 1. Thus, it seems unlikely that this story is correct too.

Political careerEdit

Russell became the first peer to join the Labour Party and was Leader of the first small Labour group in the House of Lords. He was Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport and Under-Secretary of State for India in Ramsay MacDonald's government from 1929 to 1931.

Russell also spoke in favour of reform of the divorce laws, but his efforts to obtain such reforms, starting in 1902, were partly negated by his own personal history.[11]

Other activitiesEdit

Russell supported his brother's pacifism during the First World War, and was a close friend of George Santayana.


  1. ^ Erica Brown. Literary Encyclopedia: Elizabeth von Arnim (1866–1941).
  2. ^ "LADY SCOTT TO BE RELEASED.; Her Eight Months in Holloway for Libeling Earl Russell Expired." The New York Times 15 July 1897. This Lady Selina Scott was not Lady Selina Bond, née Scott (d. 1891) Archived 2007-10-31 at the Wayback Machine, sister of the 3rd Earl of Eldon and wife of Nathaniel Bond.
  3. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-02-10. Retrieved 2008-01-18.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^ "EARL RUSSELL ARRESTED His Nevada Marriage Results in a Charge of Bigamy." The New York Times, 18 June 1901.
  5. ^ "EARL RUSSELL CONVICTED; Pleads Guilty to Charge of Bigamy Before ..." The New York Times, 19 July 1901.
  6. ^ Ian Watson. "Mollie, Countess Russell", Russell: the Journal of Bertrand Russell Studies 23 (2003): 65–68. Watson points out that she received a large annual income, payable from the rents of Telegraph House, sold by her brother-in-law Bertrand in 1937.
  7. ^ C.D. Merriman. "Elizabeth von Arnim: Biography and Works"
  8. ^ Erica Brown. Literary Encyclopedia: Elizabeth von Arnim (1866–1941). Brown says that Elizabeth would have been happy to have continued the affair, but Frank Russell wanted to divorce his second wife and marry her.
  9. ^ The Enchanted April NYRB Classics
  10. ^ Newall, Les (September 1995). "A 1 – Britain's First Registration". "1903 and all that" newsletter (61): 8.
  11. ^ Christopher Hudson. "The wife who changed history – by asking for the first divorce" Daily Mail 18 January 2008

Further readingEdit

  • Anonymous. Russell's parents and grandparents. This university website has portraits of the 2nd Earl Russell and describes him as "already quite uncontrollable, as later demonstrated by his marital and financial turbulence" when he came to live with his grandparents.
  • Rupert Furneaux. Tried by their Peers. Cassell, London, 1959. Two chapters are devoted to trials for bigamy, that of Elizabeth Chudleigh, Duchess of Kingston and that of the 2nd Earl Russell.
  • Ian Watson. "Mollie, Countess Russell", Russell: the Journal of Bertrand Russell Studies 23 (2003): 65–68.
Political offices
Preceded by
Drummond Shiels
Under-Secretary of State for India
Succeeded by
Lord Snell
Peerage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
John Russell
Earl Russell
Succeeded by
Bertrand Russell