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Murray, Alexander, of Elibank, Jacobite earl of Westminsterlocked

  • Hugh Douglas

Alexander Murray of Elibank, Jacobite earl of Westminster (1712–1778)

by Allan Ramsay, 1742

Murray, Alexander, of Elibank, Jacobite earl of Westminster (1712–1778), Jacobite agent, was born on 9 December 1712, the sixth son of Alexander Murray, fourth Lord Elibank (1677–1736), and his wife, Elizabeth (d. 1756), daughter of the Edinburgh surgeon and politician George Stirling. He was commissioned into the 26th regiment of foot (the Cameronians) on 11 August 1737, but never advanced beyond the rank of lieutenant. Like his brother Patrick Murray, fifth Lord Elibank, Murray was attracted to Prince Charles Edward, but neither joined the prince when he arrived in Scotland in 1745. Horace Walpole wrote that 'both were such active Jacobites that if the Pretender had succeeded they would have produced many witnesses to testify their great zeal for him'. Yet both were 'so cautious that no witnesses of actual treason could be produced by the Government against them' (Walpole, 1.17).

Although he came of an old and distinguished border family, Murray was without means until he contracted a marriage of convenience, details of which are unknown, which brought him an income of £3000 a year. He lent Prince Charles a few hundred pounds at a high rate of interest at a time when the Stuart heir was in dire financial straits, and this gave him access to the prince's innermost circle. In autumn 1750, when Prince Charles's prospects improved sufficiently for him to pay a brief secret visit to London and be received into the Church of England, Murray became embroiled in a political disturbance. During a hotly disputed Westminster election he supported the anti-government candidate, Sir George Vandeput, and on 20 January 1751 a complaint was laid that he had exhorted a mob to violence by shouting, 'Will no one have courage enough to knock the dog down?' (Scots peerage, 3.514).

Murray was summoned before the House of Commons on 1 February and was committed to Newgate prison. When brought before the house again and ordered to kneel to receive sentence, he refused, telling the speaker, 'Sir, I beg to be excused; I never kneel but to God' (Walpole, 1.29). He was recommitted to Newgate for contempt, and held for a further two months before being again brought before the house. When release was refused he attempted unsuccessfully to obtain a writ of habeas corpus, but was freed on 25 June when parliament was prorogued. He drove to his brother's house in Henrietta Street surrounded by a great crowd carrying a banner proclaiming, 'Murray and Liberty'. Such displays incensed the authorities. Publication of a pamphlet pleading his case led to the imprisonment of the suspected author, and on 25 November a motion was carried in the Commons recommitting Murray to prison. By then, however, he had fled to France.

While pursuing his quarrel with the House of Commons, or very soon after, Murray became embroiled in an attempt to seize the Hanoverian royal family and set the Stuarts back on the throne. There is no evidence that Prince Charles himself instigated this coup during his visit to London, but Murray became so deeply enmeshed in the affair that it became known as the Elibank plot. Many leading Jacobites became involved, including Sir John Graeme, Henry Goring, Lady Primrose, Jeremy Dawkins, MacDonald of Lochgarry, and Earl Marischal, then Frederick of Prussia's envoy in Paris.

The plan was to seize St James's Palace and the Tower of London, kidnap George II and members of his family, and take them to France. Murray later proposed that the king should be assassinated, but Prince Charles, to his credit, refused to sanction this. In its final shape the plan was simply to seize the king and his family on 10 November 1752, at which point Charles would sail to England. However, when Murray landed secretly in October to lead the attack on the royal palace and the Tower, he found that none of the expected troops had materialized and the English Jacobites were in a high state of alarm, with good reason. Their suspicion that the plan had been leaked to London was confirmed the following spring when Archibald Cameron was arrested and executed. Clementine Walkinshaw, whom Charles had just brought to Ghent as his mistress, was blamed, but the real betrayer of the plot was Alasdair Ruadh MacDonnell, alias Pickle the Spy.

Murray remained in exile for the next two decades, still within the prince's innermost circle, criticizing Charles for his drinking, trying to persuade him to send Walkinshaw away, and acting as go-between to the prince's other mistresses. James Edward Stuart created him earl of Westminster in 1759. Outside the Jacobite movement he corresponded with David Hume and meddled in the affairs of others—in a quarrel between his friend Captain Forbes and John Wilkes, as well as in the bitterly disputed lawsuit over who should succeed to the dukedom of Douglas. According to Lord Elcho, Murray tried to abduct Elcho's mother to steal her money (Lord Elcho, Short Account of the Affairs of Scotland in the Years 1745–6, 1907, 164–5). He was permitted to return from exile in April 1771. He died at Taplow, Buckinghamshire, on 27 February 1778, and was buried there on 7 March.


  • C. Petrie, ‘The Elibank plot, 1752–53’, TRHS, 4th ser., 14 (1931), 175–96
  • F. J. McLynn, Charles Edward Stuart: a tragedy in many acts (1988)
  • H. Walpole, Memoirs of King George II, ed. J. Brooke, 3 vols. (1985)


  • U. Edin. L., corresp.


  • A. Ramsay, oils, 1742, National Museum of Scotland; on loan to Scot. NPG [see illus.]
  • J. Faber junior, mezzotint (after A. Ramsay), Scot. NPG
Transactions of the Royal Historical Society
J. B. Paul, ed., , 9 vols. (1904–14)
G. E. C. [G. E. Cokayne], , 8 vols. (1887–98); new edn, ed. V. Gibbs & others, 14 vols. in 15 (1910–98); microprint repr. (1982) and (1987)
, 63 vols. (1885–1900), suppl., 3 vols. (1901); repr. in 22 vols. (1908–9); 10 further suppls. (1912–96); (1993)