Obituary: William David Mungo James Murray

Born: 7 July, 1930, in London. Died: 21 October, 2015, in Perthshire, aged 85.
Landowner and minister of state for Scotland during the Thatcher administration. Picture: TSPLLandowner and minister of state for Scotland during the Thatcher administration. Picture: TSPL
Landowner and minister of state for Scotland during the Thatcher administration. Picture: TSPL

As a young man growing up between a home in the heart of rural Perthshire and a castle by Solway Firth, William Murray had ambitions to become a farmer.

But, on the advice of his father, who urged him to go south and forge a career other than one on the land, he read history and law and became a barrister, involved in criminal defence work and as counsel for the Bank of England in forgery cases.

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It wasn’t until 1971, on the death of his father, that stewardship of the land became his focus once more when he took over responsibility for the family seat of Scone Palace and the extensive Scone Estates, a role enthusiastically carried out in tandem with myriad other responsibilities from government minister to Crown Estate Commissioner.

He served Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative administration as minister of state for Scotland and later as minister of state for Northern Ireland. He was a director of a number of public companies, a JP and honorary sheriff, with an interest in the welfare of offenders, and a champion of the heritage that lives on in the country’s greatest properties as a founding member of the Historic Houses Association.

The son of Mungo Murray, the 7th Earl of Mansfield and Mansfield, MP for Perth, and his wife Dorothea, he was born in London and spent his childhood between the family homes of Logie House near Methven in Perthshire and Comlongon Castle, an impressive Border stronghold near Dumfries.

Educated at Eton, he went up to Christ Church, Oxford in the late 1940s, initially studying history before turning to the law. He spent his national service, from 1949-50, serving as a lieutenant with the Scots Guards during the Malayan Emergency, the guerilla war that attempted to end Commonwealth rule.

Called to the bar at the Inner Temple in 1958, he spent much of his legal career as a barrister at 2 Harcourt Buildings, London. He developed an extensive common law practice, latterly became involved in criminal law and was retained counsel for the Bank of England.

On his father’s death he succeeded to two earldoms – a peculiarity of peerage law dating back generations – and subsequently gave up the legal profession.

Fascinated by politics, he had previously been a canvasser for the Conservatives, he entered the political sphere and also became involved in business, being appointed a member of the first British delegation to the European Parliament and a director of a various companies. He was an opposition spokesman in the House of Lords until 1979 when Mrs Thatcher came to power and he became minister of state for Scotland. In 1983 he held the same post for Northern Ireland.

He retired from active politics in 1985 and took up an appointment by the Queen to become First Crown Estate Commissioner, combining the running of the hereditary lands of the Monarch with an active interest in his family estates.

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At that time the Crown Estate was effectively the third-largest property portfolio in the UK, as far as turnover was concerned. It was a huge responsibility but a role that he enjoyed enormously.

He was also simultaneously looking after the Scone Estates which, by then, had become a much more sophisticated operation than that of his youth and, though he had once yearned for a farmer’s life, he was now at the helm of the family’s iconic house Scone Palace, and associated lands, steering it, as custodian during his lifetime, to a new era.

The house had been opened up to the public by his parents in the 1960s but he was fascinated by tourism and historic houses and today the property is well known as a venue for a variety of events from the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust Scottish Game Fair to the 1980s Rewind Festival, antiques fairs and first Cycletta north of the Border.

As a result of his interest in history and the nation’s heritage he, along with Lord Montagu of Beaulieu and the Duke of Grafton, was involved as one of the founding members of the Historic Houses Association and chaired the Scottish branch in the late 1970s. His own family home boasts some of Scotland’s most intriguing historic links. One thousand five hundred years ago it was the capital of the Picts. Since then it has been the seat of parliaments and the crowning place of the Kings of Scots, including Macbeth and Robert the Bruce. It was also the site of an early Christian church and housed the Stone of Destiny. A replica coronation chair and stone is on display today in the palace.

Lord Mansfield himself had close links to the current Royal Family and was a personal friend and regular host to her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, and was a Deputy Lord Lieutenant.

In addition to his public and professional duties, which included spells as a JP and an honorary sheriff in Perthshire in the mid-1970s, he gave generously of his time and expertise to charities.

He was president of the Scottish Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders and of the Scottish Association of Boys Clubs.

Throughout all of his responsibilities, his determination, sense of duty and strong work ethic was evident, particularly over the past 30 years when, with characteristic stoicism and humour, he soldiered on following a heart attack, three episodes of two different types of cancer, diabetes and Parkinson’s Disease.

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One of his greatest pleasures was relaxing at his home in Portugal, on the Arrabida Peninsula, where his maternal grandfather had been the British ambassador.

Lord Mansfield, who was also 13th Viscount Stormont and Lord Scone, 11th Lord Balvaird and Hereditary Keeper of Bruce’s Castle of Lochmaben, is survived by his wife Pamela, their children Alexander, Georgina, James and Murray and grandchildren Isabella, William, Iona, Louisa and Hercules.