MANSFIELD, James (1734-1821).

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



10 June 1779 - 1784

Family and Education

bap. 30 May 1734, s. of John James Manfield of Ringwood, Hants by his w. Elizabeth.  educ. Eton 1745-50; King’s, Camb. 1750-5; changed his name to Mansfield while at Camb.; M. Temple 1755, called 1758, bencher 1772, treasurer 1785. unm.  Kntd. May 1804.

Offices Held

K.C. 1772; solicitor-gen. Sept. 1780-Apr. 1782, Nov.-Dec. 1783; c.j., Chester 1799-1804; c.j. of the common pleas 1804-14; P.C. 8 May 1804.


In 1776 Mansfield, a successful lawyer, was offered a seat at Morpeth by Lord Carlisle, but apparently confident that he would soon obtain legal office incompatible with a seat, he refused.1 On 18 Apr. 1778 North, then considering who to make attorney and solicitor-general in case of a reshuffle, wrote to the King: ‘Mr. Wallace and Mr. Mansfield, the gentlemen who stand foremost, are sensible men and good lawyers, but I doubt whether in Parliament we shall draw from them all the assistance we shall want.’2 Eventually Mansfield successfully contested Cambridge University, backed by the chancellor, the Duke of Grafton, defeating both the Administration candidate, Lord Hyde, and Fox’s friend, John Townshend.3 In Parliament he voted with Administration, and in September 1780, on Wedderburn’s promotion to the bench, he was appointed solicitor-general. Dismissed on the formation of the Rockingham Administration, he continued in opposition after Shelburne took office. William Eden wrote to Lord Loughborough on 3 Sept. 1782:4 ‘Mansfield ... is very earnest for the demolition of Lord Shelburne’s Government at any rate, and yet he has not fallen in love with Fox.’ Mansfield voted against Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783, and naturally hoped to return to office on the formation of the Coalition,5 but was not re-appointed till November. After the dismissal of the Coalition he went into opposition, and at the general election of 1784 was defeated at Cambridge University.

Mansfield was described by Wraxall as a man ‘of acknowledged talents, parliamentary no less than professional’, who ‘manifested great energies of mind and character’.6 He spoke frequently in the House, and in 1781 the English Chronicle wrote that he was ‘a man of keen but not elegant parts—he speaks with point, labour and precision, but without any of those graces which give energy to talents, and make eloquence pleasing, as well as instructing’.

Mansfield died 23 Nov. 1821.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: I. R. Christie


  • 1. Jesse, Geo. Selwyn his Contemporaries, iii. 133.
  • 2. Fortescue, iv. 116-17.
  • 3. Jesse, iv. 167, 180, 187-8.
  • 4. Auckland Corresp. i. 32.
  • 5. Add. 34419, f. 149.
  • 6. Mems. i. 425.