The son of Major-General Lord George William Russell and Lady William Russell, and the grandson of John Russell, 6th Duke of Bedford, Russell was born in Curzon Street, London, and commissioned into the Scots Fusilier Guards in 1838, retiring in 1844.
Married Elizabeth Sackville-West
He was Liberal Member of Parliament for Bedfordshire from July 29, 1847 - May 26, 1872, when he succeeded to his dukedom and took his place in the House of Lords. In 1886, he broke with the party leadership of William Ewart Gladstone over the First Irish Home Rule Bill and became a Unionist.
He took an active interest in agriculture and experimentation on his Woburn Abbey estate and was President of the Royal Agricultural Society in 1880. On 1 December 1880, he was made a Knight of the Garter. From 1884 until his death he was Lord Lieutenant of Huntingdonshire.
He died in 1891, aged 71 at 81 Eaton Square, London, by shooting himself as a result of insanity, while suffering from pneumonia. After being cremated at Woking Crematorium, his ashes were buried at the ‘Bedford Chapel’ of St. Michael’s Church in Chenies, Buckinghamshire.