Lord Odo Russell and his Roman Friends

Odo Russell, writes Alec Randall, was Britain’s unofficial diplomatic agent at the Vatican during the years when Italy was unified and when the controversy took place over the Papal Syllabus.

In British diplomacy of the nineteenth century a most engaging personality is surely Odo Russell, younger of the brothers of Hastings, who became Duke of Bedford in 1872, when his younger brother became Lord Odo Russell. Abundant testimony exists to his unassertive charm, intelligence, exceptional diplomatic skill and judgment. He attracted, and held, the esteem, even the affection, of such diverse persons as Queen Victoria, Pope Pius IX, Bismarck and Gladstone. Yet there has never been any regular biography of him.

The excellent account of his career in the pre-war ‘Encyclopaedia Britannica’ has been reduced in the current new edition to four lines. There is a good account of his service in the ‘Dictionary of National Biography’, but this was published long ago; it emphasises his work in Rome for about twelve years, as British ‘agent’ at the Vatican, ‘of great delicacy and responsibility, of which he acquitted himself to the satisfaction of his official chiefs’.

His son, also named ‘Odo’, but generally called ‘Theo’ to avoid confusion, had a distinguished diplomatic career, British Minister to the Holy See 1923 to 1928, at The Hague 1928 to 1933. After he retired, he wished to write the biography of his father, but gave up when he discovered that a mass of private letters had disappeared.

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