MURRAY, Hon. James (c.1690-1770).

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



22 Feb. 1711 - 1713
1713 - 7 Apr. 1715

Family and Education

b. c.1690, 2nd s. of David Murray, 5th Visct. Stormont [S] by Margery, da. and h. of David Scott of Scotstarvet, Fife, and bro. of Hon. William Murray†, 1st Earl of Mansfield.  educ. adv. 1710. unmcr. Earl of Dunbar (Jacobite peerage) 2 Feb. 1721.

Offices Held

Commissary for commercial negotiations with France 1713–15.

Sec. of state [S] to the Pretender Oct. 1715; gov. to Prince Charles Edward 1725–41.1


Murray’s father had found the Revolution hard to stomach, and although he had not publicly declared himself for either side he had been pronounced a rebel in 1689 by the Scottish privy council for failing to attend when summoned to the committee of estates. Four years later he had been fined a substantial amount for absenting himself from the Scottish parliament. Despite taking the oath of allegiance to Queen Anne, he made little secret of his cavalier scruples, and between 1705 and 1707 talked and corresponded freely with the Pretender’s agents, subscribing memorials to reassure Louis XIV of the ‘loyalty’ of the Scots, and receiving instructions prior to the 1708 invasion attempt, during which he was taken into custody, on suspicion, by the government in Edinburgh. According to Nathaniel Hooke he was ‘riche, et puissant’, and ‘fort déterminé’ in the Jacobite interest. He did not break contact after 1708, and although merely a spectator of the Fifteen, was none the less subjected to precautionary imprisonment once more. His first-born, later 6th Viscount, also fell under suspicion at that time and joined his father in prison, but it was Stormont’s second son, James, who was to contribute the most to the Jacobite cause, making a long career after 1714 in the Pretender’s service. That Murray should have spent the rest of his life in exile, while his formidable younger brother, Lord Mansfield, secured all the professional and political prizes under the Hanoverians, was due as much to differences of character between the two as to differences of principle. Murray’s wit and charm were of a superficial nature, while his cocksure vanity and almost palpable ambition were always likely to make him enemies and betray him into misjudgments.2

Murray had not even reached his majority when he was put up by Lord Annandale in Dumfriesshire at the general election of 1710. Assuming the likelihood of his return, his friend and ‘comrade’ Lord Dupplin (George Hay*) furnished Robert Harley* with a testimonial of his worth:

His father bid me tell you that he has declared to him he will renounce him for ever if he do not serve the Queen according to your directions, and I am sure he needed not have done this, his own sense making him as forward in such a good cause as any could desire. He has entered advocate at Edinburgh with a great deal of applause, and is a very pretty gentleman.

Such was Murray’s popularity among Scottish Tories, combined with their distrust of the Duke of Queensberry, who had opposed his election, that although he was defeated by a fellow Tory (and future Jacobite), William Grierson*, his petition was easily successful. His first step in Parliament seems to have been a false one, for the story runs that he offered his services to the Duke of Argyll, only to be rebuffed. Thereafter, according to George Lockhart*, he recruited himself into what one historian has characterized as a ‘steering committee’ of Scottish episcopalian Members, comprising Lockhart himself, John Carnegie, Sir Alexander Cumming, 1st Bt., and Sir Alexander Areskine, 2nd Bt., the aim of which was to take over the direction of Scottish parliamentary business and in so doing to ‘shake off that servile dependence which the Scots peers expected and had too much enjoyed from the commons’. The measures the group promoted were chiefly directed towards the advancement of episcopalianism in Scotland, the very first proposal, in the 1710–11 session, being for a bill of toleration. Once having settled on this objective, however, the five Members disagreed on how far and how fast it should be followed, and differences began to be manifest on the question of whether or not to co-operate with the Court. While Lockhart and Areskine favoured an independent line, and the pursuit of their aims willy-nilly, Murray and the others were more cautious, and indeed ‘full of scruples and objections’ such as Scottish courtiers had already expressed, so that, in Lockhart’s words, ‘it looked as if these three had imparted the design and were instructed to thwart it as much as possible’. Meanwhile, on issues that were not specific to Scotland, Murray seems to have joined in the back-bench Tories’ hue and cry after the Whigs, for he was listed among the ‘worthy patriots’ who in this session exposed the mismanagements of the old ministry.3

The presence in the Commons of Alexander Murray, another Scots Tory, renders impossible any definite ascription of the parliamentary activity recorded in the Journals. However, the fact that James Murray was elected in second place in the ballot in May for commissioners to be appointed under the abortive land grants resumption bill is striking testimony to a rapidly acquired stature as a Tory back-bencher. Evidently he was chosen on the October Club’s slate, despite the fact that his name does not appear on any of the published lists of the club’s membership. However, he was primarily active in the House in Scottish affairs. In January he signed a circular letter from Scottish Members to the attorney-general, on the subject of the staple in the United Provinces, the contract for which was about to be renewed, to put the case that under the Union Scots merchants should be entitled to freer access to Dutch markets. At other times, however, his pursuit of the economic welfare of his fellow countrymen may have been somewhat less conscientious. A satire written against him some 20 years later alleged that once, during Murray’s time as a Member,

when a bill for encouraging the exportation of timber from Scotland was brought into the House, which would have been of great advantage to his country, he wilfully absented himself by remaining in the court of requests, under pretence that Hon. Charles Rosse* had not desired him particularly to attend, that is had not given him money to that end, and this bill was lost by a majority of one voice.

As before, his greatest concern seems to have been the protection of the episcopalian clergy. Probably listed among the supporters of the toleration bill in the division of 7 Feb. 1712, he was certainly one of its leading advocates, and with his colleagues on the reconstituted ‘steering committee’ was involved in discussions with interested peers on how the wording of contentious clauses might be ‘adjusted’. Then in March, when Scottish episcopalian spokesmen attempted to follow up their success over the toleration, he was once again to the fore. He moved on 13 Mar. for leave to bring in a bill to restore to lay patronage in Scotland, telling against a motion to adjourn and being named to the drafting committee. Thereafter he managed the bill through the Commons. On 14 Mar. he spoke in favour of the restoration of the ‘Yule vacance’, the Christmas recess of the court of session. He was also responsible for the motion of 31 May 1712 to address for the resumption of the bishop’s rents in Scotland for the relief of episcopalian clergy. Bishop Nicolson thought that Murray had made ‘one of the most topping figures . . . in the House of Commons’. Before Parliament met again, Murray joined other Scottish Tory MPs and peers in signing a letter to Lord Dun to urge that the episcopalian clergy be persuaded to take the oaths and pray for the Queen, in order to disprove the insinuations made by Presbyterian opponents of the toleration.4

For Murray as for other Scottish Members the 1713 session was overshadowed by the crisis over the malt tax and the move to repeal the Union. When the idea of increasing the malt tax and imposing it upon Scotland was first reported to the Commons from ways and means on 19 May 1713 a ‘Mr Murray’ told, with Lockhart, for a successful motion to recommit. Then on the evening of 21 May, after the committee had reaffirmed its decision, the Scots MPs met and deputed three of the pro-episcopalian ‘steering committee’, namely Murray, Carnegie and Lockhart, to request an immediate meeting with Lord Treasurer Oxford (Harley) to represent to him the ‘very bad consequence’ they expected for ‘our country’. Efforts to stave off the malt tax having come to naught, a second general meeting voted for a conference with the Scots peers in order to promote a parliamentary motion for the dissolution of the Union. Although Murray signed the resolution in favour of this strategy, he swiftly reverted to the Court after the motion’s rejection by the Lords on 1 June. He voted on 4 June in favour of the second reading of the French commerce bill, and both spoke and voted again for it at the engrossment on the 18th.5

Nomination in November 1713 as one of the commissaries to carry out further negotiations towards a commercial treaty with the French was Murray’s reward for rallying to the ministry over the commerce bill. The appointment threatened him with some embarrassment over his responsibility to his constituents to promote Scottish mercantile interests, and in itself indicated how far he had departed from ‘patriotic’ duty in support of government: thus when, in January 1714, the convention of royal burghs sent him a memorial of the ‘particular state’ of Scottish trade, he responded by articulating some ‘doubts’ and misunderstandings that may well have represented an attempt at procrastination. Taking office also necessitated his putting himself forward for re-election at Elgin Burghs, the constituency to which he had transferred in 1713. Although his return at the general election had been against the wishes of the leading magnate in the district, Lord Findlater, by the time of the by-election Murray had made his peace with Findlater and was returned without a contest. He had then to survive an attempt by the Whigs on 19 Apr. to declare the commissaries disqualified from sitting, as holders of a ‘new’ office, under the terms of the 1706 Regency Act, a motion that was dismissed after a straight party vote. Classified as a ‘Jacobite’ (i.e a Tory) in Lord Polwarth’s analysis of the general election returns for Scotland, he voted on 12 May against extending the schism bill to cover Catholic education. Murray has been identified by one modern historian as a ‘probable’ Jacobite in this session, though largely on the basis of his future career. He was not, however, one of the ‘independent’ Scottish Jacobites associated with Lockhart; indeed, Lockhart regarded him as a Court tool, more particularly a follower of Bolingbroke (Henry St. John II*). The five-man ‘steering committee’ seems finally to have broken up in May and June 1714 over the renewed bill to resume the bishops’ rents in Scotland, which had been put forward on the initiative of Murray, Carnegie and Cumming, prompted, according to Lockhart, by Bolingbroke. The three men, he claimed, had become Bolingbroke’s ‘favourites’, having enlisted themselves under him, in the assumption that, as ‘the rising sun’, he could guarantee them ‘great things’, by way of patronage. In Lockhart’s account Murray figures as the prime mover of the bishops’ rents bill, eventually winning over the two more sceptical members of the ‘steering committee’, Lockhart himself and Areskine, with the argument that ‘he knew so much of both my Lords Mar and Bolingbroke, he would assure us and we might depend upon their utmost assistance to the bill’. Of Bolingbroke himself Murray had said that he was ‘a good man and a wise man and knew what was to be done and when to do it’, which may have been a hint about contingency plans regarding the succession. When the Court became alarmed by reports of the sweeping nature of Lockhart’s draft bill, Murray’s attitude towards the measure underwent a parallel shift from enthusiasm to caution. It was Murray who undertook the management of the ministerial compromise of a bill appointing investigative commissioners in the first instance, rather than proceeding with Lockhart’s proposal to resume the revenues immediately. To the eventual delight of Lockhart this bill ran out of parliamentary time. Differences between Murray and Lockhart also surfaced during debates on the Scottish militia bill during June. Murray supported the Court and attacked Lockhart’s factious defence of the Duke of Argyll’s hereditary rights.6

Murray was described as a Tory tout court, both in the Worsley list and in a list of the Members re-elected in 1715. He stood unsuccessfully for Kinross-shire, but was chosen again in Elgin Burghs, only to lose out on petition. His departure from the Commons was regretted by Tories like the Reverend James Greenshields, the controversial Scottish episcopalian minister, who declared Murray to be ‘one of the best Members for North Britain’. Fleeing to the Jacobite court abroad, he served Bolingbroke for a time in the capacity of private secretary before being sent back to Scotland in the autumn of 1715, in advance of the planned Jacobite invasion, with credentials as the Pretender’s Scottish secretary of state. Unfortunately for him, he was captured in Flanders en route, and after a spell in Newgate was released in the summer of 1716. The next two years were spent as a Jacobite agent in London and in Scotland. He had now ‘dropped’ Bolingbroke, and, even more remarkably, had ‘got clear of my creditors’, or so he claimed. Returning to the Continent in 1718 he undertook various diplomatic missions for the Pretender, including the negotiations for the ill-fated marriage to Maria Clementina, at which Murray himself acted as proxy for the absent spouse. An inveterate intriguer even by the standards of the Jacobite court, he joined with his brother-in-law John Hay to contrive the downfall of Lord Mar, and was rewarded in 1721 with a Jacobite peerage, a place in the order of the Thistle, and appointment as Protestant governor to the young prince, Charles Edward, a post he was to hold until the 1740s. When Hay also fell from favour Murray took over control of the Pretender’s administration, but without ever being formally invested with the office of secretary of state. Such eminence increased still further his stock of enemies, those who objected to him as, for example, a ‘vain, white-livered jackanapes’. That at the same time he did not entirely lose his charm is evident from the favourable impression he made on Horace Walpole†, who described him as ‘very sensible, very agreeable, and well bred’. Of himself, he wrote, ‘Jamie Murray, when he has forgot politics and when politics have forgot him, will still pass for no disagreeable person for one to live in friendship with’, though in truth his real friends were now few and far between.7

Murray finally retired from the Pretender’s service in 1747, by which time he had fallen out of favour with Charles Edward, allegedly for advising the young Prince Henry, whose governor he may also have been, to take holy orders. He was himself received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1751, and spent the last 20 years of his life with his widowed sister at Avignon, in increasingly pious seclusion. Dying in August 1770, he left the bulk of his property to Henry (now Cardinal) York, and requested that 10,000 masses be said for the happy repose of his own soul.8

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. Scot. Hist. Soc. ser. 3, xxxi. 17, 21; CJ, xvii. 575; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1708–14, p. 599; 1714–19, p. 94; G. H. Jones, Mainstream of Jacobitism, 158, 164–5; Ruvigny, Jacobite Peerage, 44.
  • 2. Reg. PC Scotland, 1685–9, p. 401; Scot. Hist. Soc. 17–18; Orig. Pprs. ed. Macpherson, ii. 14; Hooke Corresp. (Roxburghe Club), i. 229, 391, 403; ii. 141, 238, 256–62, 164–5, 353, 370, 389, 495, 543–4.
  • 3. Scot. Hist. Soc. 18; HMC Portland, iv. 564; D. Szechi, Jacobitism and Tory Pol. 102; Lockhart Pprs. i. 325–6, 338.
  • 4. HMC 1st Rep. 117; NSA, Kreienberg despatches 14 Mar., 16 May 1712; Szechi, 114; Huntington Lib. Q. xxxiii. 168, 170–2; Boyer, Pol. State, iii. 150, 308; Lockhart Letters ed. Szechi, 57; HMC 10th Rep. I, 184–5; Chandler, iv. 311; Bodl. Ballard 36, f. 127; Buccleuch mss at Drumlanrig Castle, 101, no. 76, Nicolson to [–], 5 June 1712; Spalding Club, Misc. iv. 84–87.
  • 5. Lockhart Letters, 73, 75; Aberdeen Univ. Lib. Duff House (Montcoffer) mss 3175/2380, ‘Resolution of the Commons to Call a Meeting of the Lords’, [23] May 1713; Parlty. Hist. i. 69; Szechi, 137; Boyer, v. 389.
  • 6. Recs. R. Burghs Scotland, v. 115–16, 118–20; Szechi, 151, 158, 201; Boyer, vii. 403; Bull. IHR, xxxix. 64; Szechi thesis, app.; Lockhart Pprs. 444–9; Lockhart Letters, 101; NLS, Advocates’ mss, Wodrow pprs. letters Quarto 8, ff. 133–4.
  • 7. P. W. J. Riley, Eng. Ministers and Scotland, 260; Ballard 36, f. 168; Scot. Hist. Soc. 8, 19–26, 121, 134–5; HMC Stuart, i. 415, 434–6, 459; ii. 69, 260 and passim; iii–iv, passim; v. 481; vi. 330, 345, 360; vii. 60, 469; Jones, 110, 140; A. and H. Tayler, Stuart Pprs. at Windsor, 71–72; Ideology and Conspiracy ed. Cruickshanks, 183, 186; Jacobite Challenge ed. Cruickshanks and Black, 48; Horace Walpole Corresp. ed. Lewis, xiii. 218.
  • 8. Scot. Hist. Soc. 140–1, 232; Ruvigny, 44; Horace Walpole Corresp. 218; Tayler, 71–72.