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William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield

3 of 15 portraits of William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield

William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, by John Singleton Copley, exhibited 1783 - NPG 172 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield

by John Singleton Copley
oil on canvas, exhibited 1783
89 5/8 in. x 58 5/8 in. (2276 mm x 1490 mm)
Purchased, 1864
Primary Collection
NPG 172


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Mansfield was a judge renowned for the quickness and depth of his understanding of complex legal matters and for the strict impartiality of his judical conduct. Perhaps his most famous judgement was in 1772 in the case of James Somersett. Somersett had been brought to England as a slave, had then escaped, but was recaptured and was awaiting shipment to Jamaica. Mansfield's judgement was that slavery was so odious that nothing but positive law could support it. No such law being found to exist, Mansfield concluded there was no legal backing for slavery and that no black people could be removed from England against their wishes. This judgement was a key stage in the process leading to the abolition of slavery. Mansfield is seen here in his Peer's robes.

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