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ELIZABETH MURRAY Duchess of Lauderdale





Elizabeth Murray born in 1626 daughter of the first Earl of Dysart was probably the most powerful and influential woman in 17th. century Scotland, by all accounts something of a femme fatale, oft painted by Society artists, renowned for her wit and beauty yet at times ruthless and unscrupulous and finishing up loathed and detested.

Her life spans the tumultuous years of the Civil War, the Commonwealth and the Restoration. There is no doubt she was on friendly terms with Cromwell and there were even wild allegations of impropriety with the Lord Protector himself. She was though undoubtedly a secret Royalist, and a member of the Sealed Knot Society an underground movement which plotted to restore the monarchy.

She married Sir Lionel Tollecache a Suffolk landowner in 1647. He didn't however enjoy the best of health and died in somewhat suspicious circumstances in 1669 and there was even talk that his wife was reposonsible for his demise having had him poisoned.

Shortly afterwards she married the Duke of Lauderdale with whom she had certainly had an affair. The Duke was Secretary of State for Scotland and Lord High Commissioner and was much detested for his vicious suppression of the Covenanters who were seeking no more than to practice their religion in their own way; this notwithstanding that he himself had been a signatory to the National Covenant. Elizabeth Murray was though almost certainly the eminence grise behind many of his actions

Together they spent lavishly on their various properties in Scotland but particularly at Thirlestane which beacame one of the finest baroque houses in the country albeit it was paid for out of Treasury not personal funds.

The Duchess was known to take huge bribes and indeed at one point impeachment proceedings were raised against her by the Town Council of Edinburgh.

Lauderdale died in 1682 by which time he had lost much of his power and support but Elizabeth struggled on for another sixteen years albeit in rather reduced circumstances. She was buried not with her husband at St. Mary's Haddington but at Petersham Church in Surrey

A most interesting talk on a fascinating lady.


Ruth Boreham is an independent historical researcher based in Edinburgh -

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