The murder of Lord William Russell

Murder of a lord

Owen Manning


The murder of Lord William Russell took place on the night of April 5th 1840. He was killed by his valet François Benjamin Courvoisier by a thrust to the neck while in his bed. The wound was believed by the coroner to be quick and painless.

Lord Russell, aged 73 years old, was part of the aristocratic Russell family and a member of parliament until his retirement. On the morning of April 6th 1840, Lord Russell’s house maid, Sarah Mancer discovered that the lower floors of Lord Russell’s town home were ransacked. Fearing robbery, she went to the swiss valet François Benjamin Courvoisier. She lead him down to the ground floor where he examined the scene, and agreed that it was robbery. They then went to Lord Russell’s bed chamber and while Courvoisier was opening the shutters Mancer found Lord Russell dead with his throat cut.

They immediately summoned the police and Courvoisier pointed to the damage to his pantry door exclaiming that the robbers entered there. The police after much debate and deliberation came to the conclusion that the robbery was staged as to divert attention away from someone in the house. The evidence that it was fake was the fact that the robbers left several valuable items tied up in a bundle such as several silver pieces of cutlery and silver candlesticks. Also, several items that Courvoisier said were stolen were found throughout the house. In addition, the police found in Courvoisier’s possession a “stolen” ten pound bank note along with a chisel that matched the marking on the door that the robbers supposedly entered. The police also found out that the box containing the bank note could only be opened by a key that Lord Russell entrusted to Courvoisier, meaning that only he could have opened the box.

The absurd amount of time that Courvoisier spent pointing out the amount of evidence left by the robbers further increased the suspicion of the police. The poor way in which the robbery was carried out furthered the polices suspicion that this was a fake robbery gone wrong. The large amount of wealth hidden and left in the house led to the conclusion that the robbery was a setup.  With the evidence leading to Courvoisier as the murderer he was arrested after three days of investigation.

The motive to the murder was uncovered when Courvoisier concede that he was accused of stealing silverware form his lord and was dismissed.  The trial that took place was quite a sensation for the newspapers due to the fact that Lord Russell was a former member of parliament. During the trial the defense tried to point the blame at the house maid but it was for not. This was because Courvoisier confessed believing that he was in the right to kill Lord Russell for his unjust dismissal. Unfortunately, he was found guilty and sentenced to a public hanging outside Newgate Prison on July 6th, 1840


Walton, Geri. “Murder of Lord William Russell.” Geri Walton. November 14, 2016. Accessed October 06, 2017.

“The Murder Of Lord William Russell.” History And Other Thoughts. Accessed October 06, 2017.

“Murder Of Lord William Russell.” Times [London, England] 14 May 1840: 5. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 6 Oct. 2017.