MURRAY, William (c.1600-1655), of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Westminster and Ham, Surr.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press




Family and Education

b. c.1600,1 o. s. of William Murray, minister of Dysart, Fife and Margaret, da. of David Murray of Lochmiln.2 educ. page, Household of Prince Charles, from c.1603.3 m. by 19 Dec. 1625, Katherine, da. of Col. Norman Bruce of Clackmannan, 4da. suc. fa. 1616;4 cr. earl of Dysart and Lord Huntingtower, 3 Aug. 1643;5 d. Dec. 1655.6 sig. W[illiam] Murray.

Offices Held

Groom of Bedchamber, Household of Prince Charles by 1624-5,7 king’s Household 1625-at least 1643.8

Constable, Huntingtower, Perths. 1631-45;9 j.p. Surr. 1635-at least 1640, commr. array 1642.10


Murray belonged to a junior branch of the family which held the earldom of Tullibardine. His background as the son of a mere Scottish minister made him an unlikely member of the English Court. He arrived there as a child, recruited by his uncle, Thomas Murray, tutor to Prince Charles, to serve as the latter’s ‘whipping boy’, taking the punishments due to Charles himself. This role in time brought him an unusual degree of favour and trust with his master. Murray was probably already a groom of the bedchamber, one of the prince’s intimate body-servants, when he followed him to Spain in 1623, an act distinguishing him from his uncle, who lost his post as Charles’s secretary by opposing the Spanish Match.11 In Madrid he presumably encountered the splendours of Philip IV’s art collection, which seem to have influenced his own taste. By this time Murray may have been acting as a London agent of the Scottish Kirk.12 Such ties with his homeland notwithstanding, he was granted English nationality by the 1624 Parliament. In February 1625 he escaped with facial wounds when, having agreed to postpone a duel over a petty quarrel, he was attacked by his second, a Scottish soldier, who accused him of cowardice. Although Murray killed his assailant, he seems not to have faced charges subsequently.13

On the death of James I Murray was promoted to the King’s Household. At the start of the new reign he seems to have aligned himself at Court with his superior officer, the lord chamberlain, the 3rd earl of Pembroke, who nominated him for a parliamentary seat at Fowey in 1626. Murray’s only recorded actions in the Commons that year related to the remonstrance against the duke of Buckingham. On 13 June he successfully opposed the inclusion of Scotland in a clause about the duke’s alleged manipulation of Crown appointments, arguing that the kingdom lay outside Westminster’s jurisdiction, and that the Scots themselves were perfectly capable of addressing such abuses. On the next day he was sent to help ascertain whether the House would be permitted to present the remonstrance to the king.14

The identity of Murray’s parliamentary patron in 1628 is uncertain, but his return for East Looe suggests the hand of Buckingham, whose client John Mohun* enjoyed influence there. Certainly, in the following October, Mohun described Murray to (Sir) James Bagg II* as ‘our noble friend’. Moreover, Murray’s performance in the Commons in 1628 was more openly supportive of the duke, for when the House pondered grievances centring on the royal favourite on 5 June, he warned that an outright attack on Buckingham would merely provoke Parliament’s dissolution. While eminently shrewd, this advice failed to divert the debate. On 3 May Murray was again employed to request an audience with the king, in connection with Charles’s offer two days earlier to guarantee liberties.15

Whatever Murray’s relationship with Buckingham, he remained ultimately dependent on the king, and his awareness of his own vulnerability showed in his comment three years later to his friend Sir Henry Vane*: ‘our Court is like the earth, naturally cold, and reflects no more affection than the sunshine of our gracious master’s favour beats upon it’. No assessment of Murray’s capacity for survival in this environment is complete without Bishop Burnet’s lurid pen-portrait of him:

he was well tuned for a court, very insinuating, but very false; and of so revengeful a temper, that rather than any of the counsels given by his enemies should succeed, he would have revealed them, and betrayed both the king and them. It was generally believed that he had discovered the most important of all his secrets to his enemies. He had one particular quality, that when he was drunk, which was very often, he was upon a most exact reserve, though he was pretty open at all other times.

Burnet, a well-known enemy of Murray’s daughter the duchess of Lauderdale, was scarcely an impartial chronicler, but his description reflects Murray’s contemporary reputation, if not all the facts.16 Certainly Murray understood the need to maintain a fa├žade. In 1627 he was sent to obtain the agreement of a reluctant Archbishop Abbot to license Robert Sibthorpe’s theological defence of arbitrary taxation. While Murray was unyielding in his demands, Abbot found him personally ‘witty and full of good behaviour’. Clarendon (Edward Hyde†), who regarded Murray as unreliable, found him ‘very mysterious in all his actions’, though others who encountered him on his diplomatic missions were more inclined to interpret this secretiveness as extreme discretion. An element of rivalry with fellow courtiers was unavoidable, and the king in 1646 noted with surprise: ‘Will seems ... to be very right set concerning all my friends in general, and even to those who he conceives have not obliged him’. Nevertheless, the public perception in 1641 that Murray and the duke of Lennox were able ‘to guide all the Court much at their pleasure’ certainly exaggerated the groom’s actual power, much as a minor playwright’s description of him as a ‘true Maecenus of liberal arts’ glossed over the limitations of his artistic patronage.17

Murray was entirely at the king’s beck and call, whether he was needed for running messages to Secretaries Conway (Sir Edward Conway I*) and Windebank (Sir Francis Windebank†), checking on the fleet at Plymouth in 1627, or co-ordinating the commissioning of royal artworks in 1639.18 Payments to Murray for secret service occur as early as May 1628, and in late 1632 he performed the delicate task of informing the queen’s mother that she would not be a welcome guest in England that Christmas.19 He was frequently requested to obtain favours from the king, on matters as diverse as a grant of royal mines in Yorkshire, a stalled Chancery case, and a hoped-for place in the privy chamber, but his capacity to secure largesse or offices for others has been exaggerated.20 During the six months from September 1640 to February 1641, when his influence was supposedly reaching its peak, he procured just seven signet grants, an insignificant percentage of the total, and a smaller number even than were obtained by some of his fellow grooms. Of these seven, three related to Murray personally.21 While his advisory role on Scottish matters was widely attested, he was indeed more demonstrably successful at securing rewards for himself, though even here his wishes were not invariably granted. A petition for a grant of disafforested royal lands, made with another groom, Endymion Porter, was rebuffed in 1627 as untimely, while another bedchamber partnership with James Maxwell in pursuit of a patent for repairing weaponry took two years to clear the Council of War.22 The king’s backing alone was not necessarily sufficient for a scheme’s success. A grant in 1634 of prize goods allegedly concealed from the Crown was questioned by the Admiralty commissioners, and received only qualified support from the Privy Council when Murray tried to enforce his rights in the Exchequer Court. Charles agreed to a fresh hearing of one of the suits, and in 1639 Murray even petitioned for the office of Exchequer examiner, presumably hoping that this would give him tighter control over the depositions made by witnesses in these cases, but in the following year he cut his losses and sold his interest in the grant.23 By contrast, a further joint venture with Porter to search out concealed Crown rectories in Ireland proved successful, as, presumably, did a grant of impositions on Rhenish wine imports.24 From 1625 Murray also received pensions amounting to £900 per year, and exploited his position to build up an estate around his seat of Ham House. Even though he failed to convert his Crown lease into a freehold, he could afford in 1637-9 to remodel Ham’s reception rooms in line with the latest Court fashions, drawing on the Office of Works for artists and craftsmen, and indulging his taste for contemporary Dutch paintings and Italian Old Masters.25

Murray’s distinctive combination of royal confidence, kinship ties with leading Scottish Covenanters, and experience of secret service, brought him to greater prominence upon the outbreak of the First Bishops’ War. He accompanied the king north in 1639, and during negotiations in mid-June he was despatched to stir up divisions in the Scottish camp. In the aftermath of the next year’s conflict he conveyed the Scots’ demands south to the queen, and again dabbled in factional politics. Clarendon credited him with detaching the marquess of Montrose from the Covenanters, but he was also said to have revealed to the latter Montrose’s private correspondence with the king.26 The ambiguity of Murray’s political role was highlighted in the summer of 1641 when, on a mission to the Low Countries to seek safe passage for the queen’s mother, he also carried with him assurances for the queen of Bohemia about Parliament’s intentions towards the Palatinate. How far Murray anticipated the coming crisis is unclear, but during 1641 he put the bulk of his property into trust for his wife and daughters, thereby protecting them subsequently from sequestration by Parliament.27 In October that year, while attending the king in Edinburgh, he was at the centre of the notorious ‘Incident’, a plot to arrest and possibly murder the marquess of Hamilton and earl of Argyle, the leaders of the Scottish opposition to Charles. In the investigation which followed the betrayal of the plot, Murray implicated Montrose as a leading conspirator, possibly even the instigator of the affair, thereby obscuring his own role and that of the king. Montrose never forgave him, but Hamilton’s decision to use him as his intermediary in seeking restoration to Charles’s favour implies that he did not hold Murray personally to blame. Nevertheless, in London the groom was firmly associated in the public mind with an event which had severely undermined trust in the king, and the general perception that he acted with royal approval was reinforced by rumours that he was to be promoted to the rank of gentleman of the bedchamber, an enormous honour for a man of his background.28

A gulf was now developing between the perceptions of Murray in England and Scotland. In the south, he was blamed for Parliament’s emissaries in Edinburgh failing to obtain recognition from the king in late 1641. His precise involvement in the failed ‘Five Members’ coup of January 1642, which Clarendon believed he helped to betray, remains uncertain. However, his association with two royal plots in rapid succession doubtless contributed to the Common’s demand on 15 Feb. for his removal from Court as a dangerous counsellor. In response, the Presbytery of Edinburgh testifed on 1 Mar. to Murray’s good character. Probably at about this time the Scottish church leadership also applied to have him appointed their representative with the king.29 It is not surprising, then, that Murray came to see Scotland as the solution to Charles’s problems. In early April he used information received from the leading Covenanter the earl of Lothian (William Carr (Kerr)*) to stiffen the king’s resistance to Parliament’s demands about the militia, and during the summer he attempted to secure at least Scottish neutrality in the coming conflict. He already recognized that the king’s acceptance of the Scots’ demands for Presbyterian church government was vital in securing a deal with them, warning Hamilton that if Charles maintained his opposition to this, ‘the two kingdoms will shatt [sic] upon him in despite of what his best servants can do’.30 Following the outbreak of the First Civil War, Murray expanded his secret service role, with Parliament’s agents hot on his trail. In 1643-4 he was based in Oxford, where he was joined for six months by his family. In August 1643 his services were rewarded with the Scottish earldom of Dysart; the scale of his operations is suggested by his reimbursement that December for special expenses amounting to £8,700.31

Murray remained a pivotal figure in negotiations between Charles and the Scots. In 1643 he intervened to secure better treatment for Lothian, who had fallen into the king’s hands. By early 1646 discussions were being delayed by Charles’s reluctance to recall Murray, who was then engaged on Scottish business with the queen in France, for fear of alienating Montrose. On 29 Jan. the French agent in London, De Montereul, reported: ‘The arrival of William Moray [sic] is the last hope of both parties, he being much in the confidence of the Scots and the English of [the Presbyterian] party, and having much influence over the mind of the king’.32 When Charles finally relented, Parliament obtained warning of Murray’s return to England, and he was arrested in disguise at Canterbury on 5 February. De Montereul managed to recover the secret correspondence which he was carrying, and Murray under interrogation maintained ‘an air of sincerity and innocence which could not be surpassed’, revealing nothing which could be used against him. With Parliament intent on his execution, and both the French agent and the Scots commissioners in London working frantically to secure his release, he proceeded to an inconclusive court-martial, and was at length bailed in August.33 Within a month he had been dispatched to the king at Newcastle. As Charles recognized, Murray was now under pressure to persuade him to accept the Covenant, but, ever the courtier, he knew better than to push his views too hard, engaging instead in a tortuous attempt to accommodate the royal conscience. The king’s refusal to make serious concessions, and a futile mission in October to London bearing his latest proposals, seem finally to have convinced Murray of the hopelessness of this strategy, and by December he was laying plans for Charles’s escape to the Continent. These were betrayed by an accomplice, and when the king was handed over to the English Parliament in January 1647, Murray was denied permission to accompany him to Holdenby House.34

While any hope remained of rallying Scotland behind the Crown, Murray could be found employment. In early 1648 he ran missions between the queen, Prince Charles, Hamilton and Argyle in the run-up to the second Civil War; and following the executions of Hamilton and Charles I, he was active in rallying Presbyterian opinion behind Argyle as the figure most likely to achieve a settlement with the new king. To this end, he probably colluded with Charles II in the final betrayal of Montrose.35 After Cromwell’s conquest of Scotland, however, Murray lost his usefulness, and in the subsequent in-fighting among the royalist exiles he probably suffered from the enmity of his old rival (Sir) Edward Nicholas*. A visit to his daughter in England in 1653 was viewed with suspicion, on account of her social ties with Oliver Cromwell*. In the following year Murray was innocently caught up in a plot against one of his cousins, being linked with an alleged conspiracy against Charles. Though now living in Antwerp, he managed at least one more journey to Scotland, dying in Edinburgh in December 1655. As he had no sons his earldom, being a Scottish creation, passed to his eldest daughter.36

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. Murray’s date of birth is not known, but he was reputedly about the same age as Charles I: D. Mathew, Scot. under Chas. I, 233.
  • 2. Scots Peerage ed. J.B. Paul, iii. 398-9.
  • 3. G. Burnet, Hist. of his own Time, 447; Oxford DNB sub Thomas Murray.
  • 4. CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 555; Scots Peerage, iii. 398, 402.
  • 5. CP.
  • 6. Pritchard, 12.
  • 7. HLRO, O.A. 21 Jas.I, c. 53; LC2/6.
  • 8. CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 23; Docquets of Letters Patent 1642-6 ed. W.H. Black, 374.
  • 9. Tollemache mss 502, 505.
  • 10. C231/5, p. 183; C66/2859; Northants. RO, FH 133.
  • 11. Scots Peerage, iii. 397-8; Burnet, 110; Oxford DNB sub Thomas Murray.
  • 12. C. Rowell, et al. Ham House, 61; C. Russell, Fall of the Brit. Monarchies, 523, n. 157.
  • 13. HLRO, O.A. 21 Jas.I, c. 53; Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 604.
  • 14. N and Q (ser. 4), x. 325; Procs. 1626, iii. 433, 445.
  • 15. SP16/96/36; 16/118/37; A. Duffin, Faction and Faith, 96; CD 1628, iii. 233; iv. 117, 127.
  • 16. SP16/204/72; Burnet, 447; Mathew, 233.
  • 17. Historical Collections ed. J. Rushworth, i. 437-41; Clarendon, Hist. of the Rebellion ed. W.D. Macray, v. 48n.; SP16/221/25; Chas. I in 1646 ed. J. Bruce (Cam. Soc. lxiii), 69; R. Baillie, Letters and Jnls. i. 332; G.E. Bentley, Jacobean and Caroline Stage, iv. 477-8.
  • 18. CSP Dom. 1627-8, pp. 239, 398; 1631-3, p. 590; Orig. Pprs. of Rubens ed. W.N. Sainsbury, 211.
  • 19. CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 99; 1631-3, p. 459; C115/106/8423.
  • 20. CSP Dom. 1631-3, p. 266; SO3/9, unfol. (Nov. 1627); 3/12, f. 57.
  • 21. SO3/12, ff. 117-18, 121v, 125v, 132, 136, 137v.
  • 22. CSP Dom. 1629-31, pp. 2, 304-5; 1631-3, p. 64; Univ. London, Goldsmiths’ ms 195, ii. f. 67.
  • 23. CSP Dom. 1634-5, pp. 34-5; 1637, p. 237; 1639-40, pp. 66-7; 1654, pp. 68-9; PC2/45, pp. 367-8.
  • 24. SO1/2, ff. 85v-86; K. Sharpe, Personal Rule of Chas. I, 313; CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 581.
  • 25. CSP Dom. 1625-6, pp. 23, 555; Pritchard, 2-3; Rowell, 15-6, 61; SO3/12, ff. 121v, 132.
  • 26. K.M. Brown, ‘Courtiers and Cavaliers’, Scottish National Covenant ed. J. Morrill, 162; CSP Dom. 1639, p. 320; 1640-1, p. 46; Clarendon, Hist. of the Rebellion, i. 390n.; Oxford DNB.
  • 27. CSP Dom. 1641-3, p. 28; CCC, 2553.
  • 28. Clarendon, Hist. of the Rebellion, i. 389n., 390n., 394; Russell, 325-7; P. Donald, Uncounselled King, 313-5; CSP Dom. 1641-3, pp. 159, 163, 179.
  • 29. Baillie, i. 332; Clarendon, Hist. of the Rebellion, i. 484; CJ, ii. 433b; Russell, 523 n. 157; Oxford DNB.
  • 30. Corresp. of Earl of Ancram ed. D. Laing, i. 133-4; Russell, 490, 523.
  • 31. HMC Hamilton, ii. 61-2; CCC, 2553; Black, 374. Burnet alleged that Murray did not receive his earldom until three years later in Newcastle, having it backdated to give him precedency over certain rivals; certainly the grant seems not to have passed the great seal until at least the early 1650s: CP.
  • 32. Corresp. of Earl of Ancram, i. 167; Baillie, i. 415; S.R. Gardiner, Gt. Civil War, iii. 19-20, 45; Montereul Corresp. ed. J.G. Fotheringham (Scottish Hist. Soc. xxix), i. 105, 125.
  • 33. Gardiner, Gt. Civil War, iii. 69-70; Montereul Corresp. i. 130, 132, 139-41, 170; Corresp. of Scots Commrs. ed. H.W. Meikle, 158, 174; B. Whitelock, Memorials of Eng. Affairs, i. 571; ii. 59.
  • 34. Chas. I in 1646, pp. 63, 65, 72, 75; Baillie, ii. 229; Gardiner, Gt. Civil War iii. 186; Letters of Chas. I ed. C. Petrie, 209; Montereul Corresp. i. 402, 407; Brown, 185 n. 13.
  • 35. HMC Hamilton ii. 72; HMC Pepys 251; R. Ashton, Counter-Revolution, 439; Gardiner, Gt. Civil War, iv. 123; S.R. Gardiner, Commonwealth and Protectorate, 183, 201, 206, 230-1; Nicholas Pprs. ed. G.F. Warner (Cam. Soc. n.s. xl), i. 78, 120, 172.
  • 36. Nicholas Pprs. ed. G.F. Warner (Cam. Soc. n.s. l), ii. 6, 20, 27-8; Montereul Corresp. i. 141; Pritchard, 12.