This name appears to be derived from ‘rous’, meaning ‘red’. This was commonly found among the Normans or French in the personal name Rufus. Walter Russel witnessed a charter in favour of the Abbey of Paisley between 1164 and 1177. John, son of Robert Russel of Duncanlaw, is mentioned in a charter of around 1180. Robert Russel witnessed a deed relating to the lands of Threipland in 1259, and Robert Russel appears on the Ragman Roll, doing homage to Edward I of England in 1296. Anderson relates that the name of Russel came to Aberdeenshire in one Rozel, an English baron who fought at the siege of Berwick and in the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333. He subsequently settled in Scotland, obtaining the estate of Aden; his family was to be styled ‘Russel of that Ilk’. In 1680 Patrick Russel, married to a sister of Archbishop Sharp, purchased the lands of Moncoffer in Banffshire. The Russels of Ashiesteel in Selkirkshire were a prominent local family, particularly distinguished in military service. Colonel William Russel of Ashiesteel was adjutant general of the army of Madras, and served under General Lord Clive throughout all his campaigns between 1756 and 1767. His son, Major General Sir James Russel, also served in India and commanded a brigade of cavalry at the Battle of Mahedpoor in 1830. Alexander Russel was an eminent doctor and naturalist in the mid eighteenth century, and published a Natural History of Aleppo in 1756. In England the descendants of Rufus rose to become the powerful Dukes of Bedford. Lord John Russell, third son of the sixth Duke, was sent by his father to Edinburgh University, where he greatly admired the independent and democratic philosophy of the Scots. He entered politics and was the architect of the first Reform Act of 1832, extending the right to vote. He was created Earl Russell in 1861. His grandson was Bertrand Russell, the third Earl and one of the greatest philosophers of the twentieth century.

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