MURRAY, Alexander (aft.1684-1743), of Stanhope, Peebles.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. aft.1684, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Sir David Murray, 2nd Bt., MP [S], of Stanhope by his 1st w. Lady Anne, da. of Alexander Bruce, 2nd Earl of Kincardine [S].  educ. abroad; adv. 1710.  m. 26 Aug. 1710 (with 20,000 merks), Grisell (separated 1714, d. 1759), da. of George Baillie*, s.psuc. fa. as 3rd Bt. c.7 Feb. 1729.1

Offices Held

Commr. chamberlainry and trade [S] 1711–14.

Burgess, Edinburgh 1712.2


On his return to Scotland from the ‘foreign university’ at which he had been educated, Murray won the coveted hand of the heiress Grisell Baillie (later to be a friend of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and to figure as ‘sweet-tongued Murray’ in Pope’s Iliad), despite competition from socially more advantaged suitors and against the express disapproval of her father. Although this was evidently a love match, the portion which the pretty and spirited Grisell brought to her husband and the influential political connexions which the alliance promised were more than incidental enhancements, especially as the Murrays’ efforts to solve their chronic financial problems seem to have required something approaching continuous transfusions of capital. The marriage, however, was a disaster: Murray’s ‘prepossessing’ appearance and manners soon gave way to saturnine moods and jealous rages. After the couple had lived a few miserable months under her father’s roof, Murray made himself a ‘voluntary outcast’. There was a brief reconciliation in 1711–12, when he was accepted back into the Baillie household, but ‘agonizing and uncontrollable passions’ overcame him again. According to one of the Duke of Atholl’s correspondents, the separation was ‘commonly reported to proceed from Mr Murray’s jealousy of the lady’s virtue . . . others think that he is not quite right in the head’. He remained fixated on his wife, and sought vainly to repair the breach. But a process for separation was instituted against him, and its completion in 1714 seems to have unbalanced Murray still further.3

The unhappy course of the marriage almost certainly produced significant effects on Murray’s behaviour in Parliament, where he sat for Peeblesshire after the election of 1710, especially since the connexion with the Baillies, and thus with the Squadrone, went against the grain of his own political heritage. His family had traditionally been stalwart episcopalians and cavaliers: his grandfather, a staunch Royalist, had been fined and imprisoned by Cromwell, and recompensed by Charles II with a baronetcy and a grant of lands; one uncle, James, had participated in the Jacobite rising in Scotland in 1689 and had subsequently served the exiled James II at St. Germain as a gentleman of the bedchamber; his father had absented himself from the convention of estates in 1689, to which he had been elected for Peeblesshire, had been arrested the following year, and had finally been deprived of his parliamentary seat in 1693 for failing to take the oath of allegiance to William III and sign the Assurance. Moreover, his own younger brother John was destined for notoriety as the Jacobite agent Murray of Broughton. During the time of his cohabitation with his wife his inherited devotion to loyalist principles would inevitably have conflicted with her family’s Presbyterian Whiggism. Afterwards, a desperate urgency to recover Grisell’s affections may occasionally have induced him to play up to his father-in-law’s political proclivities, where practicable.4

Murray himself was described as an episcopal Tory in the analysis of Scottish Members prepared after the 1710 election by the Duchess of Buccleuch’s chaplain, Richard Dongworth. In general his parliamentary record is impossible to distinguish from that of Hon. James Murray*, who as the more prominent of the two Members was probably also the more active. Such facts as can be established with certainty suggest tension between his cavalier sympathies and Squadrone connexions, complicated by a need for the pecuniary benefits to be obtained from the patronage of the Court. In his first session he was included in the published ‘white lists’ of ‘Tory patriots’ favouring an end to the war and ‘worthy patriots’ who had exposed the mismanagements of the previous ministry. In the vote on 10 Feb. 1711 he joined members of the Squadrone in support of Mungo Graham* in the disputed election for Kinross-shire. Recommended strongly by Lord Dupplin (George Hay*), he was included in November in the commission of chamberlainry and trade for Scotland, much to the disgust of George Baillie, who had not been consulted about the appointment and believed that it had been designed to cause a breach between them. Murray’s tenure of office stretched to Queen Anne’s death, but payment of his salary was at best erratic. Re-elected in January 1712 (the return being couched in such a way as to foster the erroneous interpretation among some historians that he was replaced by a namesake) Murray took a patriotic line over the malt tax crisis in the spring of 1713, vehemently supporting the bill to repeal the Union. On 31 May he sent Lord Treasurer Oxford (Robert Harley*) an extraordinary letter urging him to put the weight of the Court interest behind the motion for repeal. Otherwise, he argued, there would be a massive popular campaign in Scotland against the Union; the forthcoming elections of peers and Commoners would go entirely against the ministry; ‘the . . . nation of Scotland’ would be prepared to risk the subjection of the entire island (presumably to a foreign or Jacobite power) in order to win its own freedom; and continental rivals would have the opportunity to meddle in Scottish affairs to the detriment of English security and trade. On the positive side, the arguments he advanced to justify repeal consisted of nothing more than a patriotic attachment to the pre-Union constitution: he denounced the ‘representatives’ who had gone ‘beyond their express commissions . . . in acts destroying the very being and rights of their country’. After the Lords’ rejection of the bill to repeal the Union he joined with Lockhart on 1 June in proposing to a joint meeting of Scottish representatives from both Houses the maintenance of the campaign to harass the ministry, and gave a lengthy explanation of his motives to the Jacobite Harry Maule of Kellie:

I shall . . . come bluntly to what I think absolutely necessary for us to do for the future, and that is unanimously to oppose the strongest party . . . right or wrong. I find our Scots peers . . . have got it either one way or the other in their heads – that because the Whigs did not seem hearty in the main question [of dissolving the Union] . . . therefore ‘God Damn them’, says some, ‘We’ll demolish them’. Others say ‘What can we do; will we make both sides our enemy?’ . . . ‘No we will’ (says both of these sorts of our friends) ‘vote with the Court in everything after this’, never considering that this weakening of the Whigs falls upon themselves . . . If . . . neither one nor the other [party] will join you heartily, as is indeed too much the case, is it not your next and only course to join the weakest, or, which the same, oppose the strongest in everything? . . . No man can deny but that the Court is the strongest party and the only one that can carry this matter at any time through both Houses – and since they did not do it yesterday . . . they tell us plainly that they will not do it. Now allowing that the Whigs are as little for dissolving the Union as they – yea allowing them to be our mortal enemies at bottom – yet . . . (as is most certain) our joining with them in opposing the Court would straiten them mightily . . . and fright them more for the future, and would at the long run not only force them to allow us to go, but to encourage it at any rate to be rid of our mischief.

Disappointed at the rapid collapse of the anti-Union campaign and the reversion to their natural allegiance of most of the Scottish courtiers, Murray himself remained in opposition for the brief remainder of his parliamentary career. He voted against the French commerce bill on 4 June, and (notwithstanding the change of heart noticeable in other Scottish Tories) voted a second time against the bill on the 18th.5

Murray did not seek re-election for the county in 1713, having informed Lord Dupplin in September that ‘I have laid aside all thought of being a Parliament-man at this time, my private circumstances being such as to make my living at home absolutely necessary’. He did not stand at the election of 1715, but took up arms in the Jacobite rebellion of that year (possibly as much to assert the historic independence of his country as to defend the hereditary Stuart line). Captured at Preston, he languished for some months in the Marshalsea, before his appeals to the Duchess of Marlborough, among others, and his promises of future loyalty to George I secured him the benefit of the indemnity. For a time he kept up his Jacobite contacts, visiting France in 1718 and making a favourable impression on some of the Pretender’s men. ‘Sandy Murray’, wrote one of them, was ‘a very pretty gentleman, and very far from what he was represented by the family he had the misfortune to be concerned in.’ Another remarked that he was ‘a lad of very good sense, though not so much devoted to O[rmon]d as to our friend Mar, because he alleges the first has not given so good a proof of his sincerity in the cause as the latter’. Unable to call upon the Pretender in person, he wrote to Mar to state his ‘loyalty and disinterestedness’: ‘I am ambitious to be taken under your protection, and to be represented to his Majesty as one of his faithful subjects.’ Subsequently, however, he abandoned all such concerns and threw himself into the cause of economic and agricultural ‘improvement’, as George Lockhart discovered when in 1726 he sought to bring Murray back into the Jacobite fold. Lockhart had recommended him to the Pretender as an agent in the Highlands, where on the basis of property recently acquired by his father in the Ardnamurchan peninsula in Argyllshire, following sales in Peeblesshire, Murray was engaged in agricultural and mining enterprises as part of a general reconstruction of the family’s estate. ‘His residence in the Highlands’, wrote Lockhart, ‘and the affair he is intent upon (and which I lately heard is like to answer prodigiously) leads him to traverse and trudge through the Highlands without suspicion. He is a person of great worth and honour, and eminently zealous in your service.’ A few days later, ‘being informed he [Murray] was just come to town from the Highlands’, Lockhart ‘went a purpose to have a private chat with him’:

I began by asking him a great many questions about the temper and sentiments of particular persons in the Highlands, and of the chiefs of the Highland clans in general, their intentions to your [the Pretender] service when a proper occasion offered, and of the best methods for keeping them right . . . While I was thus preparing the way for making a closer proposition, he interrupted me by asking with some sort of emotion, if I was drawing him in? I answered, I did not well understand the import of those words, but if they meant to engage him to serve the King and his country, he had been drawn in, or rather voluntary gone in sooner and further than I had done, and I was persuaded he had acted upon principles of duty and honour, and would continue so.
‘My dear Mr Lockhart, you do me justice in believing the little I could ever do was from such motives, but I am now a new man. I like the King and my country as well as ever I did,  and I will draw my sword whenever there is to be a general effort for restoring the King and his kingdom of Scotland, but in the interim my head and heart are set upon improving the Highlands estate I have purchased, and bringing the mines to perfection (which will be a service done my country) and I will think upon and undertake no other business of any kind. Besides, when I got my life, after the last affair, I entered into engagements that will not allow me to be active in contriving or carrying on measures against the government, though when there’s a push made, I will venture all from the first.’6

Murray’s sanguine hopes for his various schemes came to nothing. By the early 1730s he had, as he put it, ‘sacrificed’ his ‘private fortune’, ‘the money credit of his friends’, and ‘even . . . his private character and constitution’. Bitter resentment, at what he felt to be sabotage by the agrarian violence of Campbell clansmen, encouraged and protected by their chieftain the Duke of Argyll, provoked him into standing for Parliament again in Peeblesshire, without success, and into publicizing his grievances in a series of memorials, which he sent to the House of Commons, to (Sir) Robert Walpole II*, Lord Chancellor Hardwicke (Philip Yorke†), and even to Argyll himself. Eventually gathered together and printed in 1740 under the title, The True Interest of Great Britain . . ., they offered a personal manifesto for the regeneration of the Scottish polity and economy, through constitutional reform and such specific engineering projects as the construction of a national network of reservoirs and canals for irrigation and transport. In particular Murray pronounced the survival of the heritable jurisdictions to be a blight upon Scotland (though without naming Argyll’s, which was the one he himself had in view), and called for their abolition. His case was made in the terms of civic humanist discourse, as he argued that the continued existence of such feudal powers enfeebled public virtue and thwarted economic improvement. Circumstances suggest, however, that clothing his proposals in the language of classical republicanism was an act of pragmatism rather than philosophy, prime evidence being the disingenuous condemnation of the ‘wicked and unnatural rebellion’ in which he had himself taken part, and a new-found enthusiasm for the Union, which he now wished to see extended to incorporate Ireland and the American colonies. Moreover, although professing as his ideal the ‘undebauched Roman commonwealth’, he interspersed praise for such contemporary republics as Venice and the Swiss cantons with frank adulation for the modernizing achievements of the French monarchy in the 17th and 18th centuries. But perhaps the most revealing aspect of these memorials was their form: repetitive, rambling and diffuse, indicative of a personality that bitter experience had rendered obsessive. By this time Murray’s efforts to exploit the mineral resources of his Argyllshire properties, through a lease to an investment consortium headed by the 8th Duke of Norfolk, had entirely collapsed. He had made over his whole estate to his brother in 1733, who in turn went bankrupt five years later.7

Murray died on 18 May 1743, lamented by at least some members of his own family, even though he had ruined their prospects. A verse eulogy preserved among their papers described him as having possessed an ‘ingenious head’, which could instruct in ‘intricate and perplexed affairs’. The family’s Jacobite traditions were carried on by a nephew, the 4th baronet, who was attainted for his part in the Forty-Five and went into exile abroad, where he died in 1770, after which the baronetcy was eventually resumed in his old age by Murray of Broughton.8

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. Buchan and Paton, Hist. Peeblesshire, iii. 448–50; Scot. Rec. Soc. lxxvi. 159; G. H. Johnston, Heraldry of Murrays, 76.
  • 2. Scot. Rec. Soc. xlii. 148.
  • 3. Lady Murray, Mems. of George Baillie (1824), 16–17, 141–3, 146, 151–2; Atholl mss at Blair Atholl, box 45, bdle. 11, no. 29, John Douglas to Atholl, 22 Oct. 1713.
  • 4. Buchan and Paton, 447–8; HMC Var. v. 162; Reg. PC Scotland, 1686–9, p. 458; 1690, pp. 378, 421; Scot. Hist. Soc. ser. 3, xlvi. 17, 165; APS, ix. 103, 249.
  • 5. SHR, lx. 66; SRO, Montrose mss GD220/5/808/18a–b, Graham to Montrose, 13 Feb. 1711; HMC Portland, x. 227; P. W. J. Riley, Eng. Ministers and Scotland, 181–3; Add. 29269, f. 10; 70249, Murray to Ld. Oxford, 31 May 1713; HMC Stuart, vi. 120; D. Szechi, Jacobitism and Tory Pol. 133–4; SRO, Dalhousie mss GD45/14/364/1, Murray to Maule, 2 June 1713; Parlty. Hist. i. 69, 74.
  • 6. NLS, Advocates' mss, Murray pprs. 2, ff. 34-35 HMC 9th Rep. II, 469; P. Rae, Hist. Late Rebellion (1718), 325; Add. 29269, f. 10; HMC Stuart, vi. 120, 235, 395, 516-17, 566; vii. 423; Buchan and Paton, 254, 281, 284, 298, 308, 448-9; Cal. Treas. Bks. and Pprs. 1720-8, pp. 220, 261; Lockhart Letters ed. Szechi, 290-3.
  • 7. R. M. Sunter, Patronage and Pol. in Scotland, 148–59; Murray, The True Interest of Great Britain . . . (1740); Murray, An Apology to the Reader . . . (1741); NLS, ms 3532, Murray to Argyll, 23 Feb. 1738–9; Advocates’ mss, Murray pprs. 1, ff. 120–1; 2, ff. 5, 10, 33, 57; 3, ff. 1–21; 7, ff. 118, 120–1, 151; Add. 29269, ff. 43–52; NLS, ms 1415, ff. 24–25.
  • 8. Add. 29269, ff. 62, 71; Buchan and Paton, 450.