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He was born in Sicily where his father Sir John Acton, 6th Baronet, a former Prime Minister of Naples, had been forced to flee in 1806. His mother was the eldest daughter of his father’s brother, General Joseph Edward Acton. He succeeded to the baronetcy upon the death of his father in 1811. He was educated at Westminster School and Magdalene College, Cambridge.
On 9 July 1832 he married Marie Louise Pelina von Dalberg, only surviving child of Emmerich Joseph von Dalberg, Duke of Dalberg; they had one child, Sir John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton (1834–1902).
Baptised Ferdinand Richard Edward Acton, on 20 December 1833 his name was legally changed to Ferdinand Richard Edward Dalberg-Acton by Royal Licence.
- "Acton [post Dalberg-Acton], Sir [Ferdinand] Richard [Edward], Bart. (ACTN819FR)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
- Charles Mosley (ed.), Burke's Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage, 107th Edition, Wilmington, Delaware, 2003, vol I, pp. 34–37, ISBN 0-9711966-2-1
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