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William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield

2 of 21 portraits by John Singleton Copley

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

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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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) overall
Purchased, 1864
Primary Collection
NPG 172

On display in Room 14 at the National Portrait Gallery

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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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Current affairs

William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne resigns as Prime Minister over the proposed peace terms with the United States. Frederick North, 2nd Earl of Guilford briefly forms a government with Charles James Fox in April but is succeeded by a government under William Pitt the Younger who, at the age of 24 becomes the youngest British Prime Minister ever to take office.
The highwayman John Austin is the last person to be publicly executed at Tyburn.

Art and science

Physician and natural philosopher Erasmus Darwin begins publication of A System of Vegetables, a translation from Latin of the work of Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus in which he coins many common English names of plants.


Defeat of Charles James Fox's India Bill in the House of Lords which aimed to assist ailing British East India Company.
American War of Independence: Treaty of Paris is signed by Britain, France, Spain and the United States, under which the British government recognises US independence. Britain begins to evacuate loyalists and the last British troops leave New York City three months later.

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