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William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield

Personal data
Date of birth2 March 1705
Place of birthScone Palace, Perthshire, Scotland
Date of death20 March 1793(age 88)
Place of deathKenwood House
SpouseElizabeth Finch
ResidenceKenwood House
Alma materChrist Church, Oxford
Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench
In office8 November 1756 - 4 June 1788
Prime ministerThe Duke of Newcastle
Succeeded byLord Kenyon
Preceded bySir Dudley Ryder
Lord Speaker
In officeFebruary 1783 - 23 December 1783
Prime ministerThe Duke of Portland
Succeeded byThe Earl of Northington
Preceded byThe Earl of Hardwicke
Chancellor of the Exchequer
In office5 April 1757 - 8 April 1757
Prime ministerThe Duke of Newcastle
Succeeded byHenry Bilson Legge
Preceded byHenry Bilson Legge
Attorney General for England and Wales
In office6 March 1754 - 8 November 1756
Prime ministerThe Duke of Newcastle
Succeeded bySir Robert Henley
Preceded bySir Dudley Ryder
Solicitor General for England and Wales
In office15 December 1742 - 6 March 1754
Prime ministerThe Earl of Wilmington
Succeeded bySir Richard Lloyd
Preceded bySir John Strange

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William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, SL, PC (2 March 1705 - 20 March 1793) was a British barrister, politician and judge noted for his reform of English law. Born to Scottish nobility, he was educated in Perth, Scotland before moving to London at the age of 13 to take up a place at Westminster School. He was accepted into Christ Church, Oxford, in May 1723, and graduated four years later. Returning to London from Oxford, he was called to the Bar by Lincoln's Inn on 23 November 1730, and quickly gained a reputation as an excellent barrister.

He became involved in politics in 1742, beginning with his election as a Member of Parliament for Boroughbridge, and appointment as Solicitor General. In the absence of a strong Attorney General, he became the main spokesman for the government in the House of Commons, and was noted for his "great powers of eloquence" and described as "beyond comparison the best speaker" in the House of Commons. With the promotion of Sir Dudley Ryder to Lord Chief Justice in 1754, he became Attorney General, and when Ryder unexpectedly died several months later, he took his place as Chief Justice.

As Lord Chief Justice, Mansfield modernised both English law and the English courts system; he sped up the system for submitting motions and reformed the way judgments were given to reduce time and expense for the parties. For his work in Carter v Boehm and Pillans v Van Mierop, he has been called the founder of English commercial law. He is perhaps best known for his judgment in Somersett's Case, where he held that slavery was unlawful in England (although this did not end slave trafficking altogether).


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