20th of March

St Cuthbert, Bishop of Lindisfarne, 687. St Wulfran, Archbishop of Sens, and apostolic missionary in Friesand, 720.

Born. – Publius Ovidius Naso, B.C. 43; Napoleon, Duke of Reichstadt, 1811.
Died. – The Emperor Publius Gallienus, A.D. 268, assassinated at Milan; Ernest, Duke of Luneburg, 1611; Firmin Abauzit, Genevese theological writer, 1767; Lord Chief Justice, Earl of Mansfield, 1793; Mademoiselle Mars, celebrated French comic actress, 1847.


In the seventh century, when the northern part of Britain was a rude woody country occupied by a few tribes of half-savage inhabitants, and Christianity was planted in only a few establishments of holy anchorets, a high promontory, round which swept the waters of the Tweed, was the seat of a small monastery, bearing the descriptive name of Muilros.1 A shepherd boy of the neighbouring vale of the Leader had seen this primitive abode of religious zeal and self-denial, and he became impelled by various causes to attach himself to it. Soon distinguished by his ardent, but mild piety, and zeal for the conversion of the heathen, he in time rose to be superior or prior of Muilros; and was afterwards transferred to be prior of a similar establishment on Lindisfarne, an island on the Northumbrian coast. The holy Cuthbert excelled all his brethren in devotion; he gave himself so truly to the spirit of prayer and heavenly contemplation, that he appeared to others more like an angel than a man. To attain to still greater heights in devotion, he raised a solitary cell for his own habitation in the smaller island of Farne, where at length he died on the 20th of March 687. 

His brother monks, raising the body of Cuthbert eleven years afterwards, that it might be placed in a conspicuous situation, found it uncorrupted and perfect; which they accepted as a miraculous proof of his saintly character. It was put into a fresh coffin, and placed on the ground, where very soon it proved the means of working miraculous cures. A hundred and seventy-four years afterwards, on the Danes invading Northumberland, the monks carried away the body of Cuthbert, and for many years wandered with it from place to place throughout Northumbria and southern Scotland, everywhere willingly supported by the devout; until at length, early in the eleventh century, it was settled at the spot where afterwards, in consequence, arose the beautiful cathedral of Durham. There, for five centuries, the shrine over the incorrupt body of Cuthbert was enriched by the offerings of the faithful: it became a blaze of gold and jewellery, dazzling to look upon. The body was inspected in 1104, and found still fresh. In 1540, when commissioners came to reduce Durham to a conformity with the new ecclesiastical system, the body of Cuthbert was again inspected, and found fresh; after which it was buried, and so remained eleven hundred and thirty-nine years after the death of the holy man on Farne island, the coffin was exhumed, and the body once more and perhaps finally examined, but this time more rigorously than before, for it was found a mere skeleton swaddled up so as to appear entire, with plaster balls in the eye-sockets to plump out that part of the visage. It thus appeared that a deception had been practised; but we are not necessarily to suppose that more than one or two persons were concerned in the trick. Most probably, at the various inspections, the examiners were so awed as only to look at the exterior of the swaddlings, the appearance of which would satisfy them that the body was still perfect within. The case is, however, a very curious one, as exhibiting a human being more important dead than alive, and as having what might be called a posthumous biography infinitely exceeding in interest that of his actual life.


Lord Campbell, in his Lives of the Chief Justices, has traced the career of William Murray, Earl of Mansfield, with great precision and a good deal of fresh light. He shews us how he came of a very poor Scotch peer’s family, the eleventh of a brood of fourteen children, reared on oatmeal porridge in the old mansion of Scoon, near Perth, which our learned author persists in calling a castle, while it was nominally a palace, but in reality a plain old-fashioned house. One particular of some importance in the Chief Justice’s history does not seem to have been known to his biographer – that, while the father (David, fifth Viscount Stormont) was a good-for-little man of fashion, the mother, Marjory Scott, was a woman of ability, who was supposed to have brought into the Stormont family any talent – and it is not little – which it has since exhibited, including that of the illustrious Chief Justice. She came of the Scots (so they spelt their name) of Scotstarvit, in Fife, a race which produced an eminent patron of literature in Sir John Scot, Director of the Chancery in the time of Charles I., and author of a bitingly clever tract, entitled The Staggering State of Scots Statesmen, which was devoted to the amiable purpose of shewing all the public and domestic troubles that had fallen upon official persons in Scotland from the days of Mary downward. Marjory, Viscountess of Stormont, was the great-granddaughter of Sir John, whose wife again was of a family of talent, Drummond of Hawthornden. In the history of the lineage of intellect we could scarcely find a clearer pretension to ability than what lay at the door of the youth William Murray. 

It is not our business to trace, as Lord Campbell has done, the steps by which this youth rose at the English bar, attained office, prosecuted Scotch peers, his cousins, for treason against King George, became a great parliamentary orator, and the highest criminal judge in the kingdom, and, without political office, was the director of several successive cabinets. 

We may remark, however, what has hitherto been comparatively slurred, that the Jacobitism of Murray’s family was unquestionable. His father was fully expected to join in the insurrection of 1715, and he was thought to avoid doing so in a way not very creditable to him. An elder brother of William was in the service of ‘the Pretender’ abroad. When Charles Edward, in 1745, came to Perth, he lodged in the house of Lord Stormont, and one of the ladies of the family (sister to the Chief Justice) made his Royal Highness’s bed with her own fair hands. After this, the remark of Lovat at his trial to the Solicitor-General, that his mother had been very kind to the Frasers as they marched through Perth, may well be accepted as a simple reference to a matter of fact. 

The most important point in the life of the Lord Chief Justice, all things considered, is his transplantation to England. His natural destiny was, as Lord Campbell remarks, to have lived the life of an idle younger brother, fishing in the Tay, and hunting deer in Atholl. How comes it that he found a footing in the south? On this subject, Murray himself must have studied to preserve an obscurity. It was given out that he had been brought to London at three years of age, and hence the remark of Johnson to Boswell, that much might be made of a Scotsman ‘if caught young.’ To Lord Campbell belongs the credit of ascertaining that young Murray in reality received his juvenile education at the Grammar-school of Perth, and did not move to England till the age of fourteen, by which time he had shown great capacity, being, for one thing, able to converse in Latin. The Jacobite elder brother was the means of bringing ‘Willie’ southward. As a Scotch member during the Harley and Bolingbroke administration, he had gained the friendship of Atterbury, then Dean of Westminster. In the Stuart service himself, and anxious to bring Willie into the same career, he recommended that he should be removed to Westminster school, and brought up under the eye of the dean; professing to believe that he was sure of a scholarship at Christchurch, and of all desirable advancement that his talent fitted him for. Willie was accordingly sent on horseback by a tedious journey to London, in the spring of 1718, and never saw his country or his parents again. In a year he had obtained a king’s scholarship, and it is suspected that the interest of Atterbury was the means of his getting it. 

Lord Campbell duly tells us of the elegant elocution to which Murray attained. He succeeded, it seems, in getting rid of his Scotch accent; and yet ‘there were some shibboleth words which he could never pronounce properly to his dying day: for example, he converted regiment into reg’ment; at dinner he asked not for bread, but brid; and in calling over the bar, he did not say, ‘Mr Solicitor,’ but ‘Mr Soleester, will you move anything?’

1  The name and establishment were afterwards shifted a few miles up the Tweed, leaving ‘Old Melrose’ in decay. Only the faintest traces of it now exist.

On this Day in Other Sources.

On the assembly of the Lords of Parliament, their first care was the coronation of James II., who was conducted in procession from the Castle to the church of Holyrood, where he was crowned, with every solemnity, on the 20th of March, 1438. The queen-mother was named his guardian, with an allowance of 4,000 merks yearly, and Archibald the great Earl of Douglas and Angus (Duke of Touraine) was appointed lieutenant-general of the kingdom. 

– Old and New Edinburgh, pp.26-31.

Secretary Maitland was first pardoned, by the influence of Murray, contrary to the opposition of Bothwell; the other officers of state were gradually, readmitted, to perform their several functions, except the chancellor Morton, who lost that office, on the 20th of March [1566,] which was given to Huntley. 

– Life of Mary, pp.127-136.

In the General Assembly [held] at Montrose, this year, the 20th of March [1599, six] ministers were chosen to be on the secret counsel, and to have voice in parliament. 

– Historical Works, pp.340-416.

In the year 1705, Archibald Houston, Writer to the Signet in Edinburgh, was slain in the High Street. As factor for the estate of Braid, the property of his nephew, he had incurred the anger of Kennedy of Auchtyfardel, in Lanarkshire, by failing to pay some portion of Bishop’s rents, and Houston had been “put to the horn” for this debt. On the 20th March, 1705, Kennedy and his two sons left their residence in the Castle Hill, to go to the usual promenade of the time, the vicinity of the Cross. They met Houston, and used violent language, to which he was not slow in retorting. The Gilbert Kennedy, Auchtyfardel’s son, smote him on the face, while the idlers flocked around them. Blows with cane were exchanged, on which Gilbert Kennedy drew his sword, and, running Houston through the body, gave him a mortal wound, of which he died. He was outlawed, but in time returned home, and succeeded to his father’s estate. 

– Old and New Edinburgh, pp.191-198.

   “Resolved, That the former Acts made in England and Scotland, relating to the Post-Office, be repealed; and that in lieu thereof, one General Act be made for Establishing a General-Post-Office for Great Britain, and other Her Majesty’s Dominions, and for Foreign Parts.”  

– Dublin Intelligence, Tuesday 20th March, 1711.

– Treaty of Union Articles, 1700-1750.

With national irreverence, the good and great monarch’s tomb was neglected and dishonoured, probably even before the Reformation, since which time it has lain hid under the ruins of his favourite Abbey, till – six hundred years after his interment1 – the workmen employed in clearing the area of the church from rubbish, came upon a tomb, which from its situation in the chancel in front of the high altar place, was at once judged to be that of the great founder. The coffin, of stone, was found to contain only a portion of the bones of a man of good stature, no much decayed. 

– Sketches, pp.144-172

1  20th March 1816. – Montrose Courier of 29th.

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