FRANCIS, Philip (1740-1818), of St. James's Square, Westminster and East Sheen, Surr.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1784 - 1790
1790 - 1796
1802 - 1807

Family and Education

b. 22 Oct. 1740, o.s. of Rev. Philip Francis, DD, of Dublin by Elizabeth née Rowe. educ. Roe’s sch. Dublin; fa.’s sch. Esher; St. Paul’s 1753-6. m. (1) 27 Feb. 1762, Elizabeth (d. 5 Apr. 1806), da. of Alexander Mackrabie, merchant, of Fulham, Mdx., 1s. 5da.; (2) 9 Dec. 1814, Emma, da. of Rev. Henry Watkins, preb. of York, s.p. suc. fa. 1773. KB 29 Oct. 1806; GCB 2 Jan. 1815.

Offices Held

Clerk, sec. of state’s office Apr. 1756-Jan. 1763; first clerk, War Office Jan. 1763-Feb. 1772; member of council, Bengal 1774-81.


‘In this school of virtue’, said Francis of Parliament, ‘I have learned much and paid more.’ With a reputation for penuriousness, he admitted that his seats cost him £15,000.1 In 1790, when he was listed by the Whig election managers as prepared to pay £3,500 for a seat if he failed at Hindon, he purchased a seat for Sir Robert Clayton’s borough of Bletchingley for £4,200. He remained a staunch Foxite, attending assiduously and speaking regularly for opposition. (He was absent from only three of their surviving division lists in the Parliament of 1790.) He continued to write articles and pamphlets, ‘hardly being able to remember a time when he did not write for the newspapers’, and published his major speeches, which were ‘studied, and consequently formal in the delivery’, for ‘to the labour of speaking in the House of Commons he came rather late in life, and unpractised in the art’. He was reported, in 1795, to speak too long and ‘very often greatly exceeds the part allowed him in the political drama’. Indeed, William Windham, who envied his clarity and his elocution, noted that ‘about my performances ... great fuss is made, while of his nobody speaks a word’.2

Francis’s favourite theme, allowed to be peculiarly his province, was Indian affairs. He had since his return from Bengal exhibited against Warren Hastings ‘an inveteracy of hatred such as to disgust the liberal-minded’. Excluded from Hastings’s prosecution, he observed its course ‘more constantly than any other Member’ and prompted the managers. But, as Sheridan remarked, he was ‘inclined to sustain on his own shoulders the whole weight of the concerns of India’.3

His contention was that Bengal, the premier colony, should be preserved by peace and non-expansion and that alliances with native princes should be avoided, while their rights should be respected; above all, that the East India Company, now ‘poor in revenue and bankrupt in trade’ and acquiring territory irresponsibly, was not a fit body for the government of India, a task which the British government should face up to; until administration accepted full accountability to Parliament for Indian affairs, abuses such as Hastings was impeached for would continue. This policy, which he outlined on 22 Dec. 1790, he repeated, with variations, on countless occasions to a House which he invariably considered ill-attended for a matter of great moment. He deplored the sending out of extra English troops to India and the freedom of action given the governor-general, 17, 28 Feb. 1791, and asked why soldiers, rather than civilians, were given the rule of the province: ‘We were obliged to resort to the grand remedy of absolute power’ (24 May). Why was the House not kept informed of Indian dispatches and of the state of the war there? (9 Feb. 1792, seconding Maitland’s motion). While supporting Dundas’s motion congratulating Cornwallis on his conduct of war, he thought tribute money rather than territory should have been exacted in the peace treaty (19 Dec.); and on 23 Apr. 1793 he opposed Dundas’s resolutions on the renewal of the East India Company charter, treating the Company’s position as wholly anomalous; he was opposed to its obtaining any loans (10 Apr. 1794): indemnifying it was a fraud (14 Apr.).

Francis was also a critic of Pitt’s foreign policy. He opposed the increased military establishment, 9 Dec. 1790, and the armament against Russia, 1 Mar. 1792. He championed the Poles against their partitioners and helped to raise a subscription for their relief. (When on 7 Apr. 1794 George Canning deprecated this in the House, Francis rose in what Canning described as ‘one of the most violent passions that I had ever witnessed’ and poured on him ‘the coarsest Billingsgate invective’.) While their mutual crusade against Hastings had made him an intimate of Edmund Burke, their contrasting attitude to the French revolution drew them asunder. Francis privately deplored Burke’s attack on the revolution, visited Paris as a sympathizer in 1791, was favourable to repeal of the Test Act that year, and joined the Friends of the People in 1792. He defended them in the House, 30 Apr. 1792 and again in February 1795, and played a major part in devising their plan for parliamentary reform. For this he was rated ‘very furious and wrong headed’ by such Portland Whigs as Sir Gilbert Elliot, who added, ‘he seems to have no objection to a convulsion’. He opposed the royal proclamation against sedition in the House, 25 May 1792, lamenting in private the ‘degenerate and base servility of the times’, though he did nothing about it at the Surrey county meeting. He opposed the reform of Stockbridge borough in the interests of a general reform, 10 Apr. 1793, and on 6 May, as ‘one of the ring-leaders of the reforming confederacy’, presented the metropolitan petition for reform, with over 6,000 signatures, complaining next day that ‘corruption has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished’. He helped to promote financial relief for his leader Fox in 1793. He was an opponent of war with France, 15 Dec. 1792, and he objected to the landing of German troops in England, 10 Feb. 1794, the raising of militia by subscription, 24 Mar., and the suspension of civil liberty at home, 15 Feb. 1795. He was in the chair of the meeting of the Friends of the People that applauded the failure of the ‘treason’ trials, 3 Jan. 1795, though John Horne Tooke* thought Francis’s own evidence unhelpful. He opposed the legislation against sedition in November 1795, criticized the government’s choice of loan contractors, 26 Feb. 1796, and supported Lechmere’s corn bills of March and May, in the interests of cheap bread for the poor. He was an opponent of public lotteries and objected vehemently to the slave trade, though his own attempt to introduce a bill ‘for the better regulation and improvement of the situation of the negroes’ was rejected without a division, 11 Apr. 1796.4

Francis was defeated at Tewkesbury in 1796 when, in partnership with Peter Moore*, who acted for him, he attempted to open up the borough on behalf of the householders. He was sued for expenses by an innkeeper and the judge, Lord Kenyon, finding in the innkeeper’s favour, suggested that there existed an illegal agreement between them whereby Moore paid Francis’s expenses. Francis subsequently denied this, insisting that he paid his own way. He was left without a seat. On 20 Feb. 1797 in a letter published in the Morning Chronicle he rebuked Burke for labelling him, with other Friends of the People, a stickler for universal suffrage. He pointed out that the Friends had come out in favour of a ratepayer electorate (9 Apr. 1794) and that this principle was embodied in the plan of reform drawn up by himself and approved by the Friends on 30 May 1795. He quoted a speech of his, 8 Mar. 1794, disavowing universal suffrage as a ‘dangerous chimera’ and his repetition of this view in the House on 23 Jan. 1795 and 11 Apr. 1796. He was active in county meetings and at the Whig Club in advocating the dismissal of the ministry, and parliamentary reform, May 1797. At that time he was a self-confessed republican, who thought the ‘old limited monarchy’ worn out and inadequate, but he soon found fault with Fox’s policy of secession from Parliament, which he equated with ‘dispersion’. In a letter to Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, he referred to fighting under Fox’s standard ‘not only without pay but without hope’.5 Had the Whigs taken office, he was expected to have the Board of Control. As it was, he remained in the Whig conciliabula and frequented the Prince of Wales’s circle at Brighton. Lady Holland remarked that he was ‘very vain, and any distinction quite turns his head, especially from people he rather calls great folks’. He was an opponent of the Irish union, but thought Pitt must carry it, with patience. Early in 1801 he was the Prince’s emissary to Earl Fitzwilliam during the King’s illness.6

Francis resumed his parliamentary career in 1802 as Lord Thanet’s Member for Appleby, at his own expense. Lord Minto reported, ‘he says he shall be a very different man. I should not be surprised to see him high in office. He told me one day that he wished to act with Windham and me; that however does not look much like office.’ To Thanet he wrote, 19 Apr. 1804, ‘I will say and do everything that you and my Lady desire, from henceforward evermore. For many reasons, but particularly because I care very little what I say or do now.’7 He had visited Paris in the summer of 1802 and informed Buonaparte, who had expressed his wishes for the duration of peace, ‘That depends on you, General’.8 The illness and death of one of his daughters detained him there until the following spring. On 11 Mar. 1803 he warned the House that the peace of Amiens was ‘a hollow truce’. He was reported ready with a speech in support of Patten’s censure motion but he adhered to Fox’s line and, after recovery from a dangerous illness in June, supported his motion for a council of general officers, 2 Aug. He also discredited Sheridan’s attempts to link the Prince of Wales with Addington’s administration. Fox was gratified by his loyalty, and Fox’s lieutenant, Grey, conscious of his value as a publicist.9 On 5 Dec. 1803 he opposed the Irish martial law bill, calling for tenderness and conciliation. He supported Wrottesley’s motion for inquiry into the conduct of the Irish government, 7 Mar. 1804. Having on 29 Feb. led the opposition to the volunteer consolidation bill, he steadily supported the combined opposition that brought down Addington in April and was at once suspicious of the failure of Pitt to make his ministry a comprehensive one.10 Listed a Foxite, he opposed Pitt throughout. He had remained a critic of the East India Company, 14 Mar., 29 July 1803, and was an outspoken opponent of the Marquess Wellesley’s expansionist policy, 6 Apr., 3, 7 May 1804. With a view to reversing it, on 10 July 1804 he proposed an inquiry into Indian affairs since 1782. He was placed on the East India select committee in 1805, but had to be satisfied with Wellesley’s replacement by Cornwallis, whose death he sincerely lamented, 3 Feb. 1806.

When Fox took office, Francis hoped for the governor-generalship of Bengal. As he reminded Windham, his intermediary with Lord Grenville who owed him ‘nothing’:

In 1780, I stood next to the governor-general in the government of India ... with the prospect of the succession to the first place, which I might easily have realised ... If you can name a man, among all the King’s subjects, better entitled than I am to be trusted with the task ... name him ... the government of India is the only real reparation that can be offered me for all my sufferings in that country and for the slight and injustice I have met with in England from the year 1781 to this hour ... without that motive, the wealth of India, if it were still as rich as when it was conquered by Lord Clive, would not tempt me to go there.

Fox could not accommodate Francis and he was offered instead the governorship of the Cape Colony, with £10,000 a year, the Prince of Wales adding ‘Francis, if you will accept the Cape, I’ll send you on farther when I come into power’. In addition he was offered membership of the Privy Council and the order of the Bath: in a memorandum to Windham, he wrote ‘I must decline the government, but I accept of the honours [on condition that] (1) some honourable position be now given to me, equal clearly to a quarter of the above salary ... (2) that my son shall be handsomely provided for ... (3) that I am at full liberty to pursue my own line with respect to India’. Francis was ‘not eager for the boisterous extremity of Africa’, which would be ‘a cruel banishment’ and, as to a peerage, ‘they know but little of the doctrine of equivalents, still less of the state of facts, who think that the executive power of this kingdom has any rank or emolument to bestow, that would bear a comparison with the government of Bengal’. He was embittered when he ended up with only the order of the Bath, speaking of ‘a life of unrewarded service’ and saying later of an invitation to dinner at the Pavilion, ‘that is perhaps all I shall get after two and twenty years’ service’. His rancour against Fox led to a flirtation with Canning and to an extraordinary scene in the House on 31 Mar. 1806, when he sat with opposition, ‘from habit’, so he said and ostensibly to criticize tax proposals, but in reality to embarrass Fox by charges of desertion and disregard of his Indian qualifications. Fox tried to placate him and Francis regretted the quarrel: ‘let him keep his places and his titles for those who cannot live without such things’, he wrote, ‘but let him restore to me that friendship and that heart without which I cannot live otherwise than unhappy’.11

Had Francis been sent to Bengal, he was prepared to bury the hatchet with Wellesley and obstruct James Paull* in his efforts to impeach Wellesley.12 In his disappointment he joined Paull in his attacks and Prinsep in his motions critical of East India Company finances. Nor would he support Tierney’s election treating bill, 21 Mar., 29 Apr. 1806: ‘if you gave the voter nothing to eat or drink in a journey of 200 miles, he would scarcely be alive by the time he came to the place of polling’. He objected to the exemption of foreign investors from the property tax, 23 May. But he supported the repeal of Pitt’s Additional Force Act, 30 Apr., and remained staunch for the abolition of the slave trade, objecting to compensation to slave-owners, 10 June 1806, 20 Feb., 6 Mar. 1807. On Fox’s death he had fresh hopes of employment, rather than mere decoration, suggesting to Windham that he could not better be disposed of than as civil governor of Buenos Aires. When this possibility receded, he reserved for himself the government of Jamaica, 7 Jan. 1807.13 Nothing came of this. He voted for Brand’s motion after the dismissal of his friends from office, 9 Apr. His last speeches were inevitably on India, though he had ‘long wished to give up all concern with the affairs of India, on account of the inadequate effects which he had found to result from his earnest and frequent appeals to the House on that subject’, 25 Mar. 1807.

Francis had ‘behaved so shabbily’, in Lord Thanet’s view, that he was ‘glad to be rid of him’ and paid him compensation to resign his pretensions to Appleby in 1807. Neither he nor his son Philip, who had been nibbling at Bridport, obtained a seat. Nor would he help the Whigs in their election campaign. He was represented to Samuel Whitbread as his admirer, but by now he was too sour to admire anyone.14 He was still fond of publicity. In 1810 he published his Reflections on the abundance of paper in circulation. In January 1811, anticipating a Whig return to office, he commended himself to the Prince and to Grey, suggesting that he might be appointed Irish secretary. Neither then nor on the expiration of the Regency restrictions did the Prince offer him anything beyond hospitality. He was invited to become a Friend of Constitutional Reform, but described it to John Cartwright, 2 Apr. 1811, as ‘a hopeless enterprise’, as ‘the mass of the English population is inert’.15 His last public act was to defend detainees under the suspension of habeas corpus in 1817.

The publication in 1813 of Taylor’s Junius Identified, attributing to Francis the authorship of the Junius Letters, sparked off a controversy which has continued to this day. Francis characteristically told Dudley North, ‘I have denied distinctly my being the author, and after that they who believe I am must believe me to be a liar or a scoundrel or both’. Despite his ‘great cleverness’ and his ‘vivacity and fine sense’, he was, as Lady Holland remarked, flawed:

His temper is irritable to madness; indeed, he is more or less always in a passion, for if he begins temperately, the ardour of his imagination works him to rage before the sentence closes. He has a remarkable facility in writing all state papers, protests, petitions, etc. etc.

Nathaniel Wraxall paid tribute to his rare talents—‘a vast range of ideas, a retentive memory, a classic mind, considerable command of language, energy of thought and expression’—but added, ‘Acrimony distinguished and characterized him in everything. I believe I never saw him smile.’ So ‘one of the luminaries of the reign’ was a byword for peevishness.16 He died 23 Dec. 1818.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Francis Letters, 418; Parkes, 357.
  • 2. Francis Letters, p. vi; Gent. Mag. (1819), i. 84; Parl. Portraits (1795), i. 93; Windham Diary, 175.
  • 3. Farington, vii. 45; Parkes, ii. 279; Parl. Deb. vi. 878.
  • 4. Malmesbury Diaries, ii. 472; Harewood mss, Canning jnl. 10 Apr. 1794; Parkes, ii. 282; Burke Corresp. vi. 85, 88, 150, 170; Windham Pprs. i. 233; Morning Chron. 21 Mar.; Blair Adam mss, Windham to Adam, 13 July; Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 4 Nov. 1792; Minto, ii. 2, 11, 20, 42; Add. 50829, Portland to Adair, 4 May 1793; Courier, 9 Jan. 1795; Farington Diary (Yale ed.), i. 277; Oracle, 25 Nov. 1795.
  • 5. Parl. Deb. vi. 509; Debrett (ser. 3), iv. 684; N. Riding RO, Wyvill mss ZFW7/2/91/13, 15, 22, 23, 27; The Times, 1, 9 June; Morning Chron. 7 June, 28 Aug. 1797; Minto, ii. 412-13; Holland, Mems. Whig Party, i. 100-1; Jnl. of Lady Holland, i. 268-9; Parkes, ii. 305-7.
  • 6. The Times, 22 Mar.; Arundel Castle mss, Suffolk to Norfolk, 8 June 1798; B. Connell, Whig Peer, 412, 415, 416; Jnl. of Lady Holland, i. 190, 255; Chatsworth mss, Lady E. Foster jnl. 20 Jan., 1, 7 Feb. 1799; Malmesbury Diaries, iv. 17.
  • 7. Francis Letters, ii. 493; Parkes, ii. 348; NLS mss 11054, f. 167.
  • 8. Glenbervie Diaries, i. 337; Broughton, Recollections, vi. 129.
  • 9. Add. 47565, f. 105; 51585, Tierney to Lady Holland, 2 Apr.; Morning Chron. 13 June; Grey mss, Spencer to Grey, 22 Aug. [1803]; Whitbread mss W1/889.
  • 10. Prince of Wales Corresp. v. 1868.
  • 11. Add. 37847, f. 20; 37883, ff. 143, 145, 147, 152; HMC Fortescue, viii. 33-5, 48; Prince of Wales Corresp. v. 2149, 2158-9; Parkes, ii. 355; Creevey Pprs. ed. Maxwell, i. 149; Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 10 Mar.; Grey mss, Francis to Howick, 22 Apr. 1806.
  • 12. HMC Fortescue, vii. 337; Colchester, ii. 74.
  • 13. Add. 37884, f. 155; 37885, f. 190; 37886, f. 101; HMC Fortescue, x. 371; Prince of Wales Corresp. v. 2241.
  • 14. Grey mss, Thanet to Howick, 24 May 1807; Brougham mss 34191; Whitbread mss W1/4185.
  • 15. Prince of Wales Corresp. vii. 2817; Grey mss, Francis to Grey, 20 Jan. 1811; Parkes, ii. 373; Creevey Pprs. i. 149; Cartwright Corresp. ii. 4.
  • 16. Holland, Further Mems. Whig Party, 404; Jnl. of Lady Holland, i. 268-9; Wraxall Mems. ed. Wheatley, iii. 439; Gent. Mag. (1819), i. 84; Sidmouth mss, Hill to Addington, 1 Apr. 1803.