Curator's choice - artefacts
Medal of Sir Francis Burdett (1770-1844) 1810
The obverse of this 48mm diameter bronze medal is inscribed, ‘THE INTREPID CHAMPION OF FREEDOM, THE ENLIGHTENED ADVOCATE OF THE RIGHTS & LIBERTIES OF THE PEOPLE.’ No small accolade and a justified epithet for the principled aristocratic English reformist politician, Francis Burdett, a true Radical, who became something of a national hero in the struggle for parliamentary reform and the upholding of the people’s personal rights and liberties in the early years of the nineteenth century.
Educated at Westminster School and Oxford University, Francis Burdett then travelled to France and Switzerland and was deeply influenced in his political opinions during his days in Paris during the French Revolution.
In 1793 he married Sophia Coutts, the second daughter of the wealthy banker Thomas Coutts, and inherited the family baronetcy from his grandfather, Sir Robert Burdett of Bramcote, in 1797. He first entered parliament for Boroughbridge in 1796 and quickly became an adversary of William Pitt. He denounced the war with France, the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, and the proposed exclusion of fellow radical, John Horne Tooke from parliament on the technicality of his clergyman status.
Burdett lived at The Grange from about 1801 to at least 1812 and Horne Tooke at Chester House and they became close friends. Both detested the political corruption and clampdown on personal liberties. In 1807 Burdett fell out with another radical, James Paull, which ended up in a duel at Coombe Wood, near the Portsmouth Road. It was not fatal, but both required medical treatment for wounds. The same year Burdett was returned to parliament for Westminster amidst great enthusiasm. His attacks on the activities of the House of Commons continued unabated and he deplored the imprisonment of radical John Gale Jones, questioning the power of the House to do this and fighting for his release. He then issued a revised edition of his speech on this occasion which was published by William Cobbett in the Weekly Register. The House of Commons voted this action a libellous breach of privilege. Burdett was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower. The medal, struck in 1810, commemorates his release from prison later in the year.
Burdett remained MP for Westminster for thirty years and supported all attempts to check corruption, advocating reform of the prison system and above all campaigning for the rights of minorities and the removal of Roman Catholic disabilities. In many ways, his aims for parliamentary reform in 1817-18 anticipated the Chartist movement, by suggesting universal male suffrage, equal electoral districts, vote by ballot, and annual parliaments. His criticism of the government’s heavy handling of the Peterloo Massacre sent him to prison yet again along with a heavy fine.
Eventually, his lifetime struggle was recognised in the Repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts in 1828 and Catholic Emancipation in 1829. This was followed with the first instalment of parliamentary reform in 1832. In later life, Burdett’s radicalism waned somewhat and he opted for the Conservative seat of North Wiltshire in 1837, which he held up to his death in 1844.
Diameter: 48mm. Thickness: 2.5mm. LDWIM : S067