Baroness Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts
Person Female Born 21/4/1814 Died 30/12/1906
One of the great Victorian philanthropists who sought to rid London of its slums. Also one of the richest women in Britain in the mid 19th Century, widely respected for her undying generosity and piety, she was known as the 'Queen of the Poor' and 'Nursing-Mother of the Church of England'. She funded Livingstone's expeditions to Africa, helped set up the NSPCC, closely involved with the RSPCA for many years, was the first woman to be a member of the Royal Society and the first to be given a peerage, in 1871 and was buried in Westminster Abbey in honour of her charitable services.
Her father was Sir Francis Burdett, Baronet (MP), but her great wealth came from her maternal grandfather, Thomas Coutts, the banker, via his second wife Harriot Mellon (1777-1837). Harriot, a young actress, met Coutts when he was 70 (can you see where this is going?). He was married but set Harriot up financially and in society. On his wife's death in 1815 he married Harriot, to the dismay of his two daughters, and on his death Harriot inherited his entire fortune, having promised to ensure his family were looked after. At age 47 she married again, to the 26-year old Duke of St Albans. She greatly increased the Coutts fortune and, having no offspring herself, she chose one of Coutts' descendents, Angela, to inherit the bulk of the wealth. As stipulated in Harriot's will, Angela added her grandfather's name to her own and, at 23, became the owner of Coutts bank.
She had had a conventional upbringing with a governess, Hannah Brown, who became her companion and friend and partner for over 50 years. Together they repelled many suitors/gold-diggers but her proposal to the Duke of Wellington (aged 77) when she was 32 suggests they had strange criteria in their search for her matrimonial partner. It was only when she was 67, after Hannah's death, that loneliness caused her to marry the 30-year old American, William Lehman Ashmead Bartlett in 1881 (who, incidentally, was an Old Cholmeleian, an old boy of Highgate School). The marriage caused a scandal but it lasted 25 years, until her death and seems to have been a happy one. He took her name, became an MP and a horse-breeder. She entertained lavishly at both her town house, 1 Stratton Street, and at her Highgate home, Holly Lodge.
In 2006 the British Library obtained letters between Angela and her sister, appropriately named Clara Money, which shed new light on the circumstances surrounding her marriage. Harriot's will (remember Harriot?) stipulated that Angela should not marry a foreigner. Clara considered the American Bartlett to be so inappropriate as a brother-in-law that she invoked this clause and successfully claimed three fifths of Angela's income.