Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Murray, Elizabeth

MURRAY, ELIZABETH, Countess of Dysart, and afterwards Duchess of Lauderdale (d. 1697), was the elder daughter of William Murray, first earl of Dysart [q. v.], by his wife, Catharine Bruce of Clackmannan. As the earldom was conferred with remainder to heirs male and female, and the earl had no son, the succession to the title fell to Elizabeth, who became Countess of Dysart in 1650. On 5 Dec. 1670 she obtained from Charles II a charter confirming her title, and allowing her to name any of her issue as heir to the honours.

In 1647 Elizabeth married her first husband, Sir Lionel Tollemache, third baronet, the descendant of an ancient Suffolk family, and by him she had three sons and two daughters. Sir Lionel died in 1668. Scandal had already made very free with Elizabeth's reputation. The improbable rumour was long current that she was the mistress of Oliver Cromwell when he was in Scotland, and that she secured immunity to her relatives from the Protector's exactions through her personal influence. Sir John Reresby, nearly thirty years later, after Cromwell's death, writing of an interview with her, described her as having 'been a beautiful woman, the supposed mistress of Oliver Cromwell, and at that time a lady of great parts' (Memoirs, p. 49). It is more certain that in her first husband's lifetime she had formed a liaison with John Maitland, duke of Lauderdale [q. v.], which scandalised even the court of Charles II. After the death of his first wife Lauderdale married Lady Elizabeth in February 1671-2. As both mistress and wife of the duke a vast amount of patronage 1ay within her power, and, sharing her husband's unpopularity, she was the subject of many lampoons. But she had her parasites. Bishop Burnet, in 1677, had hopes of securing some advantage for himself at her hands, and addressed her in poetical strains of the most fulsome flattery. After describing the 'deep extasie' into which her appearance had thrown him, he wrote—

Cherub I doubt's too low a name for thee,
For thou alone a -whole rank seems to be :
The onelie individual of thy kynd,
No mate can fitlie suit so great a mind.

Soured by the disappointment of his hopes, he afterwards became one of her most inveterate enemies.

Even in advanced years she held a prominent place among the ladies of the court of Charles II, and was usually mentioned along with Lady Cleveland, Lady Portsmouth, and the numerous beauties of doubtful character who were then the leaders of fashion. But a 'love of litigation and insatiable greed characterised her as much as her passion for gallantry. Before the death of her husband, the duke of Lauderdale, she prevailed upon him to settle all his estate upon her ; and when his brother succeeded, on the duke's death, to the earldom of Lauderdale, in 1682, she at once began a series of law-pleas against the earl which brought him to the verge of ruin. She directed that the duke should have a most extravagant funeral, and that the whole of the expense should be borne by the Lauderdale estates. The duke had purchased Duddingston, near Edinburgh, and presented it to her, but for the purpose raised 7,000l. with her consent on her estate of Ham. Though she retained possession of Duddingston after the duke's death, she compelled the Earl of Lauderdale to repay the money borrowed for its purchase. In this case, through lack of documentary evidence, the earl incautiously referred the matter to her oath, and Fountainhall distinctly charges her with perjury. That Fountainhall was not alone in this opinion is shown by a letter to Lord Preston on 16 Oct. 1684, now in the collection of Sir Frederick Graham, bart., of Netherby. At that time the duchess was suspected of having furnished funds to the Earl of Argyll (whose son was married to her daughter), to assist in Monmouth's rebellion. The writer says : 'It will be hard to prove that she sent money to my Lord Argyll ; for no doubt she did it cunningly enough, and can for a shift turn it over on [her daughter] my Lady Lome, who can hardly be troubled for it. Thus they will be necessitated to refer all to the duchess's oath, in which case, one would think, she is in no great danger. Shall an estate acquired without conscience be lost by it ? But she is as mean-spirited in adversity as she was insolent in prosperity.' It is supposed that when Wycherley wrote his comedy of the 'Plain Dealer,' the character of the Widow Blackacre was intended as a portrait of the duchess, whom the dramatist must have met at court. In a late pasquil the ghosts of her two husbands, Sir Lionel Tollemache and the Duke of Lauderdale, discuss her character and conduct in painfully free language. The duchess died on 24 Aug. 1697, and was succeeded in the earldom of Dysart by her eldest son, Sir Lionel Tollemache, from whom the present Earl of Dysart is descended. She had no children by the Duke of Lauderdale.

The portrait of the duchess, painted by Sir Peter Lely, is preserved at Ham House.

[Douglas's Peerage; Burnet's Hist. of his own Time; Maidment's Scottish Pasquils; Hist. MSS. Comm. 7th Rep. p. 378; Fountainhall's Decisions.]

A. H. M.