MURRAY, Hon. William (1705-93), of Ken Wood, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



29 Nov. 1742 - 8 Nov. 1756

Family and Education

b. 2 Mar. 1705, 4th s. of David, 5th Visct. Stormont [S], by Margery, da. of David Scott of Scotstarvet, Fife.  educ. Perth g.s.; Westminster 1718-23; Ch. Ch. Oxf. 1723-7; L. Inn 1724, called 1730.  m. 20 Sept. 1738, Lady Elizabeth Finch, da. of Daniel, 7th Earl of Winchilsea, s.p.  cr. Lord Mansfield 8 Nov. 1756; Earl of Mansfield, Notts., with sp. rem. to Louisa, Viscountess Stormont 31 Oct. 1776; Earl of Mansfield, Mdx. with sp. rem. to his nephew David, 7th Visct. Stormont 1 Aug. 1792.

Offices Held

K.C. 1742; solicitor-gen. 1742-54; attorney-gen. 1754-6; P.C. 19 Nov. 1756; l.c.j. King’s bench 1756-88.


Murray was one of Newcastle’s closest friends and until 1756 his political henchman. When Henry Pelham died, Newcastle appointed Murray and Sir Thomas Robinson as his spokesmen in the Commons. For the next two years Murray was ‘equally the buckler of Newcastle against his ally, Fox, and his antagonist, Pitt’.1 But political combat was not his forte. Though Lord Waldegrave described him as ‘the ablest man, as well as the ablest debater, in the House of Commons’, he ‘wanted spirit’2—a judgment echoed by almost all Murray’s contemporaries. Constantly baited by Pitt, who sensed his antagonist’s weakness, he was unhappy and ill at ease.

When in May 1756 the office of lord chief justice fell vacant, Murray at once claimed it, ‘agreeably to his constant asseverations that he meant to rise by his profession, not by the House of Commons’.3 In vain Newcastle offered him the equivalent of the chief justice’s salary of £6,000 p.a. in the form of permanent places and pensions if only he would remain in the House of Commons.

The experience of this last session [Newcastle wrote to Murray, 29 May 1756] shows me that nobody but yourself will or can support me; and I will go further, will or can, in this House of Commons, support the King and his measures against such a formed opposition and at such a critical conjuncture ...
Our friend Stone said most wisely to me: the attorney-general out of the House of Commons, Fox disobliged, the possibility (I wish I could not say the probability) of a breach in the royal family, an alliance between the House of Austria and France-four terrible events.

Murray replied:

If I could submit to what I should look upon as my disgrace (the higher and more certain the equivalent was in my way of thinking, the more it would be so) I am assured it would tend to your dishonour as a man and ruin as a minister. I should not be able to stand the shame nor yet the reproach of such a measure, especially in the present situation ... I have, with your judgment and approbation, carefully avoided the appearance of being the minister in, or being the head of, the House of Commons. If I should be now marked as such your enemies will run at you through me, and those who are politically connected with you will grow jealous.4

He had his way and, after some difficulty with the King about a peerage, was appointed lord chief justice and created Lord Mansfield. In June 1757, when Newcastle joined Pitt, he insisted that Mansfield should enter the Cabinet to support him against Pitt. Mansfield seems to have left the Cabinet about September 1762 and henceforth his part in politics is not easy to trace: he was frequently consulted by Administration (especially where legal issues were concerned), spoke regularly in the House of Lords, and was rumoured to have influence with the King. Still, his part was never decisive and he avoided the limelight. In January 1770 he refused the great seal, preferring the permanency of the lord chief justice’s place. It is as a judge, particularly in the development of English mercantile law, that his claim to greatness lies.

Mansfield died 20 Mar. 1793.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Romney R. Sedgwick


  • 1. Walpole, Mems. Geo. II, ii. 224.
  • 2. Waldegrave, Mems. 31-32.
  • 3. Walpole, Mems. Geo. II, ii. 223-4.
  • 4. Add. 32865, ff. 161, 205.