In an earlier post, I recounted the last occasion a member of the Lords had been tried by his peers (Lord de Clifford in 1935). I mentioned that 86 peers opted to serve in hearing the case, compared with 500 who had sat to hear the case against Earl Russell in 1901 when he was tried for bigamy.
The 2nd Earl Russell married in England in 1890. In 1900 he obtained a divorce, but from a court in Nevada. He then went through a marriage ceremony in Nevada. Three months later, his first wife, Countess Russell, obtained a decree for divorce on the grounds of bigamous adultery. His lordship was arrested and charged with bigamy and tried by his peers. According to the late Lord Longford in his history of the House of Lords, the Lord Chancellor, Lord Halsbury (acting as Lord High Steward) interpreted the law in such a way as to make Russell guilty. Given the intepretation, Russell pleaded guilty. He was sentenced to three months in Holloway ‘as an offender of the First Division’. He served the sentence but he was later given a free pardon by the King.
The 2nd Earl was the elder brother of the philosopher Bertrand Russell, who succeeded to the title as the 3rd Earl Russell in 1931. Their grandfather was Lord John Russell, who became the first Earl, and was an architect of the Great Reform Act and later Prime Minister. The last Earl Russell to seve in the House was the 5th Earl, Conrad Russell, the distinguished historian (professor of history at Yale, University College London and King’s College London) who sat as an elected hereditary peer until his death in 2004 and was a noted contributor to debates.