Scone Palace is not only one of the most important historical sites in Scotland, it has also been in one family’s hands for hundreds of years: For young Viscount William Stormont, the future Earl of Mansfield and the one-day Steward of Scone Palace, the challenge ahead is that of any next generation member; how to successfully continue the legacy handed to him by his family.
On the border to the Scottish Highlands, stands Scone Palace. Today, a historic five-star tourism attraction, Scone’s history traces back at least to the 9th century claiming its fame for being the crowning-place of the Kings of Scots and home to the Stone of Scone, also known as the Stone of Destiny. It was believed at the time that no king was allowed to reign over Scotland before being crowned at Scone upon the Stone of Scone. When entering the estate of Scone Palace, the rich history seems palpable in the atmosphere and the beauty of the red sandstone house is enhanced by green lawns and majestic trees.
But Scone is not only one of the most important historical sites in Scotland, it has also been in one family’s hands for hundreds of years: For young Viscount William Stormont, the future Earl of Mansfield and the one-day Steward of Scone Palace, the challenge ahead is that of any next generation member; how to successfully continue the legacy handed to him by his family. As part of the Murray clan, Viscount Stormont’s family can trace their lineage back to approximately 1100 A.D.. After a difficult 16th century the family’s fortunes took a turn for the better after 1600 in a plot point taken straight out of a fairy tale. Legend has it, a Murray ancestor, Sir David Murray of Gospertie, foiled a plot to kidnap and murder the Scottish king. As a reward, he was given the title Lord Scone and Scone Palace by the King. In the ensuing years, various descendants have been lawyers, diplomats, and Chief Justices. But the family’s great legacy has always centred around Scone.
Tharawat Magazine travelled to Scotland to discover the beautiful grounds of Scone Palace and had an opportunity to sit down with Viscount Stormont to discuss what it is like to be the heir to a 16th generation legacy, and the challenges and opportunities he faces in thriving in a 21st century business climate.
Many people might find it hard to believe that your family legacy goes back 16 generations. Can you give us a little bit of insight on the story?
It’s all very confusing because we have different names: I am now Viscount Stormont, my father is the Earl of Mansfield, but our actual surname or Clan name is Murray. We are not the chieftains of the Clan; we are cousins who did exceptionally well for ourselves. We can trace our heritage back to 1100. Essentially since William the Conqueror coming over with the Norman invasion, so we’ve been in this region for 900 or so years.
At what point did your family earn the title? Was that always part of your family heritage?
Our family made a leap up in the 1600s when a certain Sir David Murray of Gospertie supposedly foiled a plot and saved the king from being kidnapped and probably murdered.
And because of that, he was rewarded greatly. And that’s when he was given the title Lord Scone and was given what was previously an Abbey as his secular Lordship and we’ve been here for 400 years ever since.
How did Scone Palace become such an important historic site?
The reason people come to Scone is not really because of us. It’s really because this was the crowning place of Scottish kings, and also the first site of recorded Parliament in Scotland. The last word in Shakespeare’s play Macbeth is ‘Scone’. MacDuff, the man who killed Macbeth, says ‘thanks to all and one for coming to see me crowned here at Scone’. Scone is of immense importance in terms of Scotland’s national history because it was essentially the seat of power. The first date that can be attached to Scone is about 840.
Tell us a little bit more about what you meant when you said your branch of the family has done particularly well for itself. How has your family expanded its fortunes?
It was about a hundred or so years after we first came to Scone that a fourth son of the family really picked up his game. He went to London at a very young age and decided to go into the judiciary and be a lawyer and that’s when our family regained its fortune. He did extraordinarily well for himself, became the Lord Chief Justice and was described on quite a few occasions as being the second most powerful man in the British Empire, second to the King. The second Earl was the ambassador in Paris, he was the number one diplomat in his generation. The third Earl was a stalwart member of Court and Parliament. We have had many family members who have distinguished themselves.
When did what could be described as commercial activities on the estate begin?
It was around the time of the third Earl (early 19th century) when we began with real estate up in Scotland. Our initial activities were highly traditional in forestry and agriculture and the like. The third Earl supposedly planted 3.5 million trees! He sponsored a man named David Douglas who was the head gardener here. Douglas went to Canada and brought back various species of trees. So the first Douglas Fir is actually right here in the grounds of Scone Palace. That was one of the major legacy pieces of our family. Through Douglas’ work, the Forestry Commission here in Great Britain was started. Prior to that, it’s not that they weren’t business minded, it’s more that they were the ruling elite and not businessmen. And I would say that didn’t change until very recently. For 400 years, we’ve essentially been farm operators. Scone is a great area to grow fruit. So we have an extensive agricultural estate with arable land leading up into a pastoral area with cattle and sheep. Alongside that, we are active in forestry though we are not doing it at the scale that we used to. There are still some traditional activities such as shooting and fishing going on. More recently we have been getting into renewable energy ventures. Very soon we will set up our first solar field, so that’s quite exciting. Scotland’s largest horse race course is also on the property. Most of all however, our responsibilities centre around Scone Palace and the tourism attractions we help create here.
I believe it’s fair to say that the change of mindset towards having operating businesses as a family was a struggle. In fact, I will be the first member of my family to have a formal business education, which is quite interesting after 16 generations.
Your mother and father live here at Scone and you have three sisters living and working in London. So how does the family business work right now?
To date we’ve followed the tradition of primogeniture. So my grandfather to my father and then to me and that’s the transition that’s actively happening now. I have three sisters in London but going by the system of primogeniture, even though siblings and aunts and uncles are involved in a branch of the business structure, the main asset is preserved by the two or three living male heirs. And it’s been like that for 400 years. Having worked in America, there is a complex in my mind now that sees that as being antiquated and, in many ways, it is a system that carries a lot of liability. There are one or two individuals who have a lot to live up to and if things don’t go well, then it can all go very wrong very quickly.
Can you talk about the difficult balance you have to strike between having this beautiful historic place here but also having to commercialise its use?
I’d say we’ve taken our time, rightly so. But if we supplanted and put it in the USA, it would be some huge theme park right now. So we’ve struck that balance between it still being the family-owned estate as well as being an attraction. The thing about Scone is that the history here is just too important for it not to be accessible by the public. In a way, it would be very selfish for people not to have access to it. I’m quite ambitious so for me, it’s like be number one or go home. So I want to see Scone become an absolutely phenomenal destination. I want to see Scone being the landmark place that people have to visit when they come to Scotland.
What would you say is your biggest fear in taking on this legacy?
The greatest fear is sort of an interesting one because I’m still playing with that in my mind. Is my biggest fear failure in itself or not stepping up to meet the mark? I’ve developed to a stage where I’m quite confident in my abilities, and that’s not going to be a problem. Where there is still some fear is in this changing world. That despite all your efforts, the rug can still get pulled from underneath you, as it were. So yeah, that is a worry and I think there are many, many other CEOs who are worried about similar things.
What is it that inspires you to move forward and re-access the sense of confidence that you just mentioned?
It is something that I’m working on right now with a lot of introspection. I think there’s some steely determination inside me. In terms of how do I re- motivate and encourage myself, for better or for worse I think pressure from the heritage does drive you forward. It’s that need to succeed. I don’t want to be known as ‘William, nice guy but he just went home’. That would really hit me hard. I would love people to say ‘That’s William, Earl of Mansfield, oh and he achieved this’. I want to carve out my own niche and be known for that.
As a young man who is restless and has ambition how do you feel about the fact that you’re going to have to localise your ambitions to this place?
That is sort of a never-ending debate and worry. I know some people who reject their heritage and future responsibilities. As an ambitious person, I definitely want to go out and make my own life and forge my own path. At the same time, I am incredibly passionate about Scone. There are many things I’m passionate about in general but Scone is at the top of the list. So I’m very happy to come back here and localise my efforts and my concentration. I learned from my time in America that you can build the structure to suit yourself and that’s what we’re doing now to empower our CEO here which will allow my father to step back more. And to allow me to go to business school and burgeon my own path.
Can you tell us a little bit more about your mother and father and how they motivated you to come with so much enthusiasm into the family business and the overall legacy?
My parents are great people but they’re also very different people. My mother is full of energy and likes to put that to work. My father is much more retiring, he’s a very intelligent man. Although quite distant in some ways, it is very obvious how much he cares for and loves me and my sisters. He has a hands-off approach which allowed me to have the complete horizon to look at and make up my own mind. One thing I remember, is being taken to the different farms around Scone. I recall holding his hand, being dragged around the farmyard and meeting Mr. Thom whose family has been farming on the estate for as long as we’ve been here. When you meet that kind of individual, even as a five-year-old, you think ‘Wow they have been around for a long time, their family has been working here for centuries’. So you begin to learn in a very gentle way how things have worked and how things should work and their importance in the whole picture.
When it comes to generational transitions one thing we always seem to come back to is this idea of shared values. But your transition into being a business family is very recent, as you said yourself. So how does your family define values in business?
I could write a book on this really. One thing I would say now is that you should always be rebuilding or recasting your values. They need to evolve with time because if the system and the structure are rigid, they will break. But in terms of our family, with our recent transition to being a family in business, I would say we’ve taken some values from hundreds of years ago and recast them into the modern day. Some of them are just lasting truths. We always have and always will value expertise but also understand that it is always changing and it will change in the next generation as well. Maybe one of the greatest newer values is the understanding that evolution is going to happen and it’s going to be for good or for bad so make sure you’re on the side of good.