British aristocracy and early Christian Science—the Murray family
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Christian Science saw growth not only across America but “across the pond” as well. Some members of the British aristocracy were becoming increasingly interested in the movement, and one of the more prominent families to do so was that of the Lord and Lady Dunmore, and their children.
Charles A. Murray (1841–1907), also known as the 7th Earl of Dunmore, was born in London. He was a Scottish peer, Conservative politician, explorer, and author. He married Lady Gertrude Coke (1847–1943), who was born in Holkham, England, in 1866. While living in India in 18941, Lady Dunmore studied Mary Baker Eddy’s book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures and experienced healing. Afterward Lord Dunmore had a similar experience, and when the family later returned to London, they introduced Christian Science to their friends and supported its growth in the city. Of their six children, three were actively interested in Christian Science: Lady Victoria A. Murray (1877–1925), Lady Mildred Murray (1878–1969), and Alexander E. Murray (1871–1962), who was also known as Viscount Fincastle and would later become the 8th Earl of Dunmore.
The family became devout Christian Scientists. They made multiple trips to America over the years and met with Eddy. As a teenager, Lady Victoria, a goddaughter of Queen Victoria, started healing people through prayer. She took Christian Science Primary class instruction with Eddy’s student Julia Field-King, who had been a pioneer in bringing Christian Science to London when Eddy first sent her there in 1896. Along with their two daughters, Lord and Lady Dunmore joined The Mother Church (The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston) on June 4, 1898, and all of them, including their son Alexander E. Murray, were also made honorary members in September 1903.
In its early years, the Murray family’s allegiance to Christian Science provided the movement with a good deal of heightened visibility in Britain and America, both in Christian Science publications and in the popular press. Often advertised in British newspapers, Lord Dunmore frequently introduced visiting American Christian Science lecturers (such as Bicknell Young) at London events, and he had some sway with the press himself:
I have the management of all press advertisements & whereas last year we could hardly let one newspaper to print the notices of our Sunday & Wednesday services I have let them now printed in the Daily Telegraph. Daily news, Daily Chronicle, Daily graphic, observer, Sunday Times – 6 papers.2
The July 1899 Christian Science Journal reported that several family members attended the annual communion service at The Mother Church. A reserved pew on the main floor of the church was occupied by Lady Dunmore, Lady Mildred, and Viscount Fincastle, who had recently received the Victoria Cross, having come straight from his regiment in India to be present at the service.3 The report explained:
The reservation of a pew for the Countess of Dunmore and her family was wholly a matter of international courtesy, and not in any sense a tribute to their rank. It was intended simply as a compliment to the country of which the party were distinguished representatives. It was evidently accepted in this sense, for when the church became crowded and the aisles were filled, Lord Fincastle and his sister, who is a young woman about nineteen or twenty years of age, arose and surrendered their seats to two older women. They stood in the aisle during the remainder of the service.
Alexander Murray did not, however, remain a Christian Scientist; by the time he became the 8th Earl of Dunmore in 1907, he had apparently lost interest. Access to the press, and public coverage of the family as they practiced Christian Science, would be part of their contribution to the growth of the movement.
Newspaper clipping with caption: “Lord and Lady Dunmore and their daughters arrive for the morning session of the Christian Scientists.” The Mother Church in Boston, Massachusetts, 4 June 1899. P08786. Photo by Post photographer.
From 1900 to 1904, Lady Dunmore and Lady Mildred were listed in the directory of the Journal as Christian Science practitioners in London. Lord Dunmore joined them in 1901. Lady Victoria was listed as both a practitioner and teacher in Manchester, England, from 1901 until her death. To read more about the healing work of Lady Victoria and her associates in the north of England, read the profile of her in our “Women of History” series.
By invitation of Eddy, Lord and Lady Dunmore and their two daughters took the Normal class taught by Edward A. Kimball in the Board of Education of The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in June 1901. According to Kimball, the family came to the class with a keen interest but limited knowledge of Christian Science. They all eventually grasped it, except for Lady Dunmore. “She seems to manifest but little mental acuteness on any plane,” Kimball wrote to Eddy. “There does not seem to be much spiritual animus, and she does not seem either to have what benefit would result from a keen intellectual insight of C. S.” Kimball also believed that Lord Dunmore cared deeply for Christian Science but did not understand its technicalities:
He thought when he came here the material animals were made by God- and he had many other similar beliefs… There is much of the glow of enthusiasm and no evidence of hypocrisy…. At present there is not sufficient maturity of understanding & judgment to warrant dependence upon him as a leader[.] If watched and protected he ought to and doubtless will turn out to be a valuable worker.
Ultimately, Kimball wrote to Eddy, “Taking the Dunmore family as a whole & considering the fact that they have been of the effete nobility of Great Britain- I think they are doing pretty well….4
Considering their limited understanding of Christian Science, Eddy had still sent Lord Dunmore a request earlier that year:
Would it be offensive to you to be appointed a member of the Board of Lectureship under the auspices of my church in Boston?…You know best of all how to suit your people. May I appoint you to lecture on C.S.?5
He respectfully declined, as he felt he had not lived an appropriate lifestyle long enough to be taken seriously. Nevertheless, such a request was advantageous to Christian Science, as Lord Dunmore and his family were often featured in the press as supporters with high social positions. The Christian Science governance in Boston was prepared to use the influence of their aristocratic adherents to promote the movement. In 1906 they called on Lord Dunmore, asking whether he would be willing to come meet with Eddy in America and write a magazine article, as they tried to offset reports of her ill health. Lewis Strang wrote to Eddy on December 17:
I am confident that it will also be a great benefit to the work in England if a man of Lord Dunmore’s standing is able to speak authoritatively at this time regarding you. This he would be able to do with great effectiveness if he could say that he had on this visit to United States seen and talked with you.6
Strang would later write, “We think that his visit on the whole has been a very profitable thing to our Publication Committee work.” In fact, Lord Dunmore—guided by the Committee—did assist in these efforts, submitting an article titled “The Truth About Christian Science” to publications that included The Cosmopolitan and The Saturday Evening Post.7 It was later reprinted in the April 1907 Journal.
The movement also leveraged Lord Dunmore’s royal contacts to advance Christian Science, as indicated in a letter sent to Lord Dunmore in 1901:
With this letter I send you an engrossed copy of the enclosed ‘A Meeting in Memoriam.’ which our beloved Teacher and Mother, the reverend Mary Baker G. Eddy, desires that you, as a Peer of the Realm shall present to His Imperial Majesty Edward VII or to the person through whom it may reach him. I therefor respectfully ask you to so present it to His Majesty in the behalf of our Teacher and of The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A. and for which please accept our grateful thanks in advance.8
In February 1904, Lord and Lady Dunmore, along with their daughters, helped establish the General Association of Teachers, London, England. Lord Dunmore served as its secretary until he passed away in 1907. At the time of his death, newspapers described him as “the most prominent Christian Scientist in England.” Lady Dunmore served as chair of the Association in 1905. She spent “the latter part of her life in spreading the teachings of Christian Science, especially among her own family” until her death in 1943.9 It seems as though Lady Mildred may have drifted away from Christian Science after she married her second husband, John P. M. G. Fitzgerald, in 1919; based on the records available, we have found no further information concerning her involvement.
Lady Victoria, however, devoted herself to the cause and is considered a pioneer in bringing Christian Science healing to Northern England. She settled in Manchester in January 1901, began taking patients from all social classes, and taught the first Christian Science class there that December. In 1902, along with Florence Coutts-Fowlie, she helped organize and then build First Church of Christ, Scientist, Manchester, in 1904. The second Christian Science church established in Great Britain, and occupying the first church edifice erected there, it was dedicated in 1908. “Your faithful labors, patient hope, prevailing prayers and great progress give proof of His promise ‘Lo I am with you always, even unto the end,’” wrote Eddy to Lady Victoria. She added:
It gives me courage and great gratitude to know that those so young in years may even outstrip their elders. What if the strong faith of your godmother, the good Queen Victoria, dropped upon you at your birth the mantle of her excellence! what joy is ours in Christian Science! infinite Love all our own, tireless Love watching our waiting, pointing the path, guiding our footsteps and turning them hither and thither as wisdom directs — then when the lesson is learned supplying the need and ending the warfare.10
Lady Victoria devoted the rest of her life to the Christian Science movement.
Snapshot of Lady Victoria A. Murray addressing a group of people at the laying of the cornerstone of First Church of Christ, Scientist, Manchester, England. c. 1903. P07730. Unknown photographer.
Through their public endorsement of and active participation in Christian Science, along with their access to the press and other nobility, the Murray family did a great deal in growing the movement in Britain during its early years. Eddy, along with church officials, recognized—and took advantage of—this opportunity to promote the movement abroad. To learn more about the Murrays, as well as other European aristocrats and their relationship with early Christian Science, follow along with the Mary Baker Eddy Papers team as we continue to publish items from the Library’s collection.
- Some accounts place this date as 1892, but the most frequently identified date, including a reminiscence by Lady Dunmore herself, points to 1894. See “The Truth About Christian Science,” The Christian Science Journal, April 1907, to read Lord Dunmore’s account.
- Charles A. Murray to Mary Baker Eddy, 2 May 1901, 029.11.015, https://mbepapers.org/?load=029.11.015
- “Communion Service at The Mother Church,” The Christian Science Journal, July 1889, 233–234.
- Edward A. Kimball to Mary Baker Eddy, 1 July 1901, 155DP2.25.009, https://mbepapers.org/?load=155DP2.25.009
- Mary Baker Eddy to Charles A. Murray, 19 January 1901, L14209, https://mbepapers.org/?load=L14209
- Lewis C. Strang to Mary Baker Eddy, 17 December 1906, V03560, https://mbepapers.org/?load=V03560
- Alfred Farlow to Lewis C. Strang, 19 January 1901, L16775, https://mbepapers.org/?load=L16775
- Unknown to Charles A. Murray, 1901, L00270, https://mbepapers.org/?load=L00270 This letter could possibly have originated in the office of the Committee on Publication and been written by Alfred Farlow, or it might have been written by a secretary serving in Eddy’s household. Her secretaries at the time the letter was written included Calvin A. Frye and Joseph G. Mann.
- Key, Lieut-Colonel Robert E., “Gertrude, Countess of Dunmore”, 27 August 1943, Reminiscence, LSC009.10.
- Mary Baker Eddy to Lady Victoria A. Murray, 21 March 1904, L08760, https://mbepapers.org/?load=L08760