William Murray, Lord Mansfield


William Murray, Earl of Mansfield was buried in the north transept of Westminster Abbey on 28 March 1793. He was born on 2 March 1705 at Scone Abbey (later Palace) in Perth, Scotland. He was a son of David Murray (d.1731) and his wife Margery (Scott) and was educated in Perth before moving to London to attend Westminster School. Holding many high ranking judicial posts he was Lord Chief Justice of England from 1756-88. He played a key role in ending slavery in England with his judgment in the case of James Somerset. On 20 September 1738 he married Lady Elizabeth Finch but they had no children. In 1776 he was created Earl of Mansfield. 

The large white marble monument was executed in 1801 by the sculptor John Flaxman. It depicts William seated in judicial robes, flanked by figures of Wisdom and Justice. At the back of the monument is a seated youth representing Death. It was moved to its present position in 1933.  Prior to that it had faced into the north transept. The inscription reads:

‘ “Here Murray long enough his country’s pride is now no more than Tully or than Hyde”. Foretold by Ar. Pope and fulfilled in the year 1793 when William Earl of Mansfield died full of years and of honours: of honours he declined many: those which he accepted were the following: he was appointed Solicitor General 1742, Attorney General 1754, Lord Chief Justice and Baron Mansfield 1756, Earl of Mansfield 1776. From the love which he bore to the place of his early education, he desired to be buried in this cathedral (privately) and would have forbidden that instance of human vanity, the erecting a monument to his memory, but a sum which with the interest has amounted to two thousand five hundred pounds was left for that purpose by A.Bailey Esqr. of Lyon’s Inn, which at least well meant mark of esteem he had no previous knowledge or suspicion of and had no power to prevent being executed. He was the fourth son of David, fifth Viscount Stormont, and married the Lady Elizabeth Finch, daughter to Daniel, Earl of Nottingham by whom he had no issue. Born at Scone 2nd March 1704. Died at Kenwood 20th March 1793.’

The inscription gives ‘old style’ dating for his birth and the quote at the beginning is from the pen of poet Alexander Pope.

His nephew David Murray, 2nd Earl of Mansfield and Viscount Stormont was buried with him on 9 September 1796, aged 70 (although he directed that his embalmed heart be buried with his first wife at Scone church). He was the eldest son of David, 6th Viscount Stormont and his wife Anne (Stewart) and succeeded his father as 7th Viscount Stormont and his uncle as 2nd Earl of Mansfield. He was educated at Westminster School and was ambassador to Vienna and to Paris and also President of His Majesty's Privy Council and Knight of the Thistle. His first wife was Henrietta, daughter of Count von Bunau and his second Louisa. His children were David, George, Charles, Henry and Elizabeth.

A photograph of the monument can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library.

Further reading:

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004

"Lord Mansfield" by Edmund Heward (1979)

"John Flaxman's monument to William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield" by V.Coltman, Church Monuments vol. XXII, 2007

"Lord Mansfield: Justice in the age of reason" by Norman Poser, 2013.