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Odo William Leopold Russell, 1st Baron Ampthill GCB GCMG PC (20 February 1829 – 25 August 1884), known as Lord Odo Russell between 1872 and 1881, was a British diplomat and ambassador and the first British ambassador to the German Empire. He was born in Florence in 1829 into the Russell family, one of England's leading Whig/liberal aristocratic families. His father was Major-General Lord George William Russell, second son of the 6th Duke of Bedford and his mother was Elizabeth Anne, Lady William Russell, niece of the Marquess of Hastings, who was Governor-General of India during the final struggle with the Mahrattas. His uncle was the first Earl Russell, twice Prime Minister.

Lord Ampthill, by Leslie Ward, 1877.

His education, like that of his two brothers, Francis, who became eventually 9th Duke of Bedford, and Arthur, who sat for a generation in the House of Commons as member for Tavistock, was carried on entirely at home, under the general direction of his mother.

In March 1849 Odo was appointed by Lord Malmesbury attaché at Vienna. From 1850 to 1852 he was temporarily employed in the foreign office, whence he passed to Paris. He remained there, however, only about two months, when he was transferred to Vienna. In 1853 he became second paid attaché at Paris, and in August 1854 he was transferred as first paid attaché to Constantinople, where he served under Lord Stratford de Redcliffe. He had charge of the embassy during his chief's two visits to the Crimea in 1855, but left the East to work under Lord Napier at Washington in 1857. In the following year he became secretary of legation at Florence, but was detached from that place to reside in Rome, where he remained for twelve years, until August 1870. During all that period he was the real though unofficial representative of England at the Vatican, and his consummate tact enabled him to do all, and more than all, that an ordinary man could have done in a stronger position.

Russell's personal success with Otto von Bismarck led to his appointment as ambassador at Berlin in October 1871. Always prudent, discreet, and just, his conduct of the embassy stood in distinct contrast to that of his predecessor, Lord Augustus Loftus, ‘foolish … pompous and inclined to swagger’ (Derby, diary, 10 Nov 1884, Stanley MSS, Lpool RO). Russell admired the new Germany and liked Germans: during his thirteen years in Berlin he never forfeited the confidence of Bismarck. Just as he had understood his Constantinople chief, Stratford de Redcliffe, and had never been broken by his suspicious rages, so too he achieved a sympathetic understanding of Bismarck. He withstood the Iron Chancellor's rages about real or imaginary plots, dispelled his darkest suspicions of British policy, and penetrated to the core of Bismarckian motives and strategy. Russell was trusted by Crown Princess Frederick and the Hohenzollerns, but his cordiality to Bismarck's enemies was never tainted by the suspicion of intrigue. Nor was the objectivity of his dispatches compromised by his private belief that Kulturkampf must fail, or by his revulsion at Bismarck's persecution of Roman Catholicism. From the outset, he recognized Germany's colonial aspirations, though his appreciation of this complex situation was imperfect. In 1879 he was responsible for the novelty of attaching a commercial expert to the Berlin embassy staff.

Ampthill was short, liverish, and stout from early manhood. He had an enormous head, a genial face, glinting golden spectacles, a generous mind, suave manners, and a gentle disposition. He was a heavy eater, though temperate in drink. He died of peritonitis on 25 August 1884, at his summer villa at Potsdam, and was interred on 3 September in the Bedford vault at Chenies. Bismarck thought him title


On 5 May 1868, Russell married Lady Emily Villiers (a daughter of George Villiers, 4th Earl of Clarendon) and they had six children:

  • Hon. Arthur Oliver Villiers Russell, later 2nd Baron Ampthill (1869-1935)
  • Hon. Odo William Theopilus Villiers Russell (1870-1951)
  • Hon. Constance Evelyn Villiers Russell (1872-1942)
  • Hon. Victor Alexander Frederick Villiers Russell (1874-1965)
  • Hon. Alexander Victor Frederick Villiers Russell (1874-1965)
  • Hon. Augusta Louise Margaret Romola Villiers Russell (1879-1966)
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Lord Augustus Loftus
as Ambassador to the North German Confederation
British Ambassador to the German Empire
1871 – 1884
Succeeded by
Edward Malet
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baron Ampthill
1881 – 1884
Succeeded by
Oliver Russell




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