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Sir Francis Burdett, 5th Baronet (25 January 1770 – 23 January 1844) was an Englishmarker reformist politician, the son of Francis Burdett and his wife Eleanor, daughter of William Jones of Ramsbury manor, Wiltshiremarker, and grandson of Sir Robert Burdett, Bart. From 1820 until his death he lived at 25 St James's Place.

Burdett Family History

Sir Francis Burdett (5th Bart.) was a member of the Burdett family of Bramcote and inherited the family baronetcy from his grandfather Sir Robert Burdett in 1797.

Education and Early Life

He was educated at Westminster Schoolmarker and the University of Oxfordmarker. When young, he was for a long time the notorious lover of Lady Oxford (according to the journal of Thomas Raikes), and afterwards travelled in France and Switzerland. He was in Parismarker during the earlier days of the French Revolution.

Returning to England in 1793, he married Sophia Coutts, the second daughter of the wealthy banker Thomas Coutts. She brought him the large fortune of £25,000. They had a daughter – Angela Burdett-Coutts – who inherited the Burdett family's baronetcy from his father and became the first Baroness of the Foremarkmarker Burdett family.

In 1796 he became Member of Parliament for Boroughbridgemarker, having purchased this seat from the representatives of the Duke of Newcastle, and in 1797 succeeded his grandfather as 5th Baronet.

Political career

Baronet and Member of Parliament

His inheritance included the family seat of Foremarke Hallmarker and 'the hamlets of Ingleby and Foremarkmarker (sometimes referred to as a manor) which were under his Lordship'.

In Parliament he soon became prominent as an opponent of William Pitt the Younger, and as an advocate of popular rights. He denounced the war with France, the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, and the proposed exclusion of John Horne Tooke from parliament, and quickly became the idol of the people. He was instrumental in securing an inquiry into the condition of Coldbath Fields Prisonmarker, but as a result of this step he was for a time prevented by the government from visiting any prison in the kingdom. In 1797 he made the acquaintance of Horne Tooke, whose pupil he became, not only in politics, but also in philology.

His last election?
Sophia, Lady Burdett by Sir Thomas Lawrence.
At the general election of 1802 Burdett was a candidate for the county of Middlesex, but his return was declared void in 1804, and in the subsequent contest he was defeated. In 1805 this return was amended in his favor, but as this was again quickly reversed, Burdett, who had spent an immense sum of money over the affair, declared he would not stand for parliament again.

At the general election of 1806 Burdett was a leading supporter of James Paull, the reform candidate for the City of Westminster; but in the following year a misunderstanding led to a duel between Burdett and Paull in which both combatants were wounded. At the general election in 1807, Burdett, in spite of his reluctance, was nominated for Westminster, and amidst great enthusiasm was returned at the top of the poll.

He took up again the congenial work of attacking abuses and agitating for reform, and in 1810 came sharply into collision with the House of Commonsmarker. A radical named John Gale Jones had been committed to prison by the House, a proceeding that was denounced by Burdett, who questioned the power of the House to take this step, and vainly attempted to secure the release of Jones. He then issued a revised edition of his speech on this occasion which was published by William Cobbett in the Weekly Register.

A warrant for his arrest

The House voted this action a breach of privilege, and the speaker issued a warrant for Burdett's arrest. The charge was libelling the House of Commons. Barring himself in his house for two days, he defied the authorities, while a mob gathered in his defence. Burdett's colleague Thomas Cochrane offered assistance, but, realizing that Cochrane intended to use military tactics during this civil and political affair, Burdett declined. At length the house was entered, and under an escort of soldiers he was conveyed to the Tower of Londonmarker. Released when parliament was in recess, he caused his supporters much disappointment by returning to Westminster by water, and so avoiding a demonstration in his honor. He then brought legal actions against the speaker and the sergeant-at-arms, but the courts upheld the action of the House.

portrait by Sir Martin Archer Shee
In parliament Burdett denounced corporal punishment in the army, and supported all attempts to check corruption, but his principal efforts were directed towards procuring a reform of parliament, and the removal of Roman Catholic disabilities. In 1809 he had proposed a scheme of parliamentary reform, and returning to the subject in 1817 and 1818 he anticipated the Chartist movement by suggesting universal male suffrage, equal electoral districts, vote by ballot, and annual parliaments; but his motions met with very little support. He succeeded, however, in carrying a resolution in 1825 that the House should consider the laws concerning Roman Catholics. This was followed by a bill embodying his proposals, which passed the Commons but was rejected by the House of Lordsmarker. In 1827 and 1828 he again proposed resolutions on this subject, and saw his proposals become law in 1829. In 1820 Burdett had again come into serious conflict with the government. Having severely censured its action with reference to the Peterloo Massacremarker, he was prosecuted at Leicester assizes, fined 1000 pounds, and committed to prison for three months. After the passing of the Reform Bill in 1832 the ardour of the veteran reformer was somewhat abated, and a number of his constituents soon took umbrage at his changed attitude.

His legacy and death

Consequently he resigned his seat early in 1837, but was re-elected. However, at the general election in the same year he forsook Westminster and was elected member for North Wiltshire, which seat he retained, acting in general with the Conservatives, until his death. He was nick-named by fellow conservatives as "Old Glory". His wife, Lady Burdett to whom he was devoted died on 13 January 1844. Sir Francis, then 74, became inconsoleable and felt he had nothing left to live for. He refused all food and died just ten days later on the 23 January 1844. He and his wife were buried at the same time in the same vault at Ramsbury Church, Wiltshire. He left a son, Robert, who succeeded to the baronetcy, and who inherited his very large fortune, and five daughters, the youngest of whom became the celebrated Baroness Burdett-Coutts after inheriting the Coutts fortune from her grandfather's widow Harriet (Duchess of St Albans) and appending the Coutts surname under the terms of Harriet's will. He was a member of the Literary Association of the Friends of Poland.



  • See Alexander Stephens, Life of Horne Tooke (London, 1813); Spencer Walpole, History of England (London, 1878-1886); C Abbot, Baron Colchester, Diary and Correspondence (London, 1861).

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