Francis Basset, 1st Baron de Dunstanville

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Francis Basset in 1778 on the Grand Tour in Rome, with the Castel Sant'Angelo and St. Peter's Basilica in the background. Portrait by Pompeo Batoni, Prado, Madrid
Francis Basset in 1778, painting by Pompeo Batoni, Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, Madrid
Francis Basset, wearing a red suit and undergraduate robes, with a mortar-board on the wall beside him. Portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds, private collection
Arms of Basset of Heanton Punchardon and Umberleigh, Devon and Tehidy, Cornwall: Barry wavy of six or and gules

Francis Basset, 1st Baron de Dunstanville and Basset FRS (9 August 1757 – 14 February 1835) of Tehidy in the parish of Illogan in Cornwall, was an English nobleman and politician, a member of the ancient Basset family.


He was the eldest son and heir of Francis Basset (1715–1769) of Tehidy by his wife Margaret St. Aubyn, a daughter of Sir John St Aubyn, 3rd Baronet of Clowance in Cornwall. His was the junior branch of the Basset family, the senior line of which was seated at Umberleigh and Heanton Punchardon in North Devon, but nevertheless his Cornish branch owned more land, and from the many mineral and tin mines within its possessions it amassed great wealth. In 1873 (the first time such a survey had been performed) they were the fourth largest landowner in Cornwall, as revealed by the Return of Owners of Land, 1873, with 16,969 acres, after the Rashleigh family of Menabilly (30,156 acres), the Boscawens of Tregothnan (25,910 acres) and the Robartes of Lanhydrock (22,234 acres). Dolcoath, one of the richest copper mines in England, belonged to the Cornish Bassets. Competition from Welsh mines forced Francis to close it in 1787, but the improving market for copper allowed him to reopen it in 1799. A shrewd businessman, he was a partner in the Cornish Bank of Truro and chairman of the Cornish Metal Company, and added to his already large fortune as a result.


Basset was baptized at Charlbury, Oxfordshire on 7 September 1757 and was educated at Harrow School (1770–71), Eton College (1771–74) and King's College, Cambridge (1775).[1] In 1777 he left university early to perform a Grand Tour in Italy, with Rev. William Sandys acting as his Cicerone. In Rome he had his portrait painted by Pompeo Batoni, who did not finished it until after Basset's departure. It was despatched to England on board the Westmorland, which was seized by the French and sold to the Spanish. Two portraits of him by Batoni are today in the collections of the Prado and the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, Madrid.[2]

He returned to England in 1778, and partly due to his family's great influence in Cornwall, was appointed to the honourable position of Recorder of Penryn in Cornwall. Like his father, he served as a Member of Parliament for his family's pocket borough of Penryn in Cornwall (in 1760 his father was possessed of 82 tenements in the borough, 36 more in the parish, and about 60 of his tenants were electors),[3] which seat he held between 1780 and 1796. The constituency returned two MPs, and the other, also elected due to the Basset family's control of the borough, was at some time his first cousin Sir John St Aubyn, 5th Baronet.

In August 1779[a] as part of the national move to counter a Franco-Spanish invasion fleet gathered in connection with the American War of Independence, he marched 600 Cornish miners to Plymouth and strengthened that town's defenses and fortified Portreath. As a reward, he was created by the King a Baronet, "of Tehidy, County Cornwall" on 24 November 1779.

Following his marriage in 1780 he finally graduated from King's College as a Master of Arts in 1786. He purchased Radnor House on the banks of the River Thames in Twickenham, which he owned from 1785 until 1793.[4]

He was one of the dominant political figures in Cornwall, rivalled in influence only by Viscount Falmouth and Sir Christopher Hawkins, 1st Baronet. Each of them sought to use their powers of patronage to control elections to the House of Commons (Cornwall, with 44 seats, was grossly over-represented in Parliament given its population). Basset was personally on bad terms with Hawkins, and they fought a notorious duel in 1810, although neither was injured. Not surprisingly, he was a determined opponent of electoral reform, which he saw as a threat to his own power base.

He was elevated to the peerage on 17 June 1796 as Baron de Dunstanville, and later on 30 November 1797 also as Baron Basset of Stratton, with special remainder to his daughter.

Marriage and children[edit]

He married twice:

His second marriage, when he was close to seventy, and so soon after his first wife's death, caused some derisory comment, and was generally thought to be inspired solely by the hope of producing a male heir: "the one ambition in his life which he never fulfilled". The hope of a male heir was not realised, nor did he have any grandchildren, as Frances never married.

Death and succession[edit]

He died on 14 February 1835 without surviving male issue, whereupon his barony of de Dunstanville became extinct as did his baronetcy, while the barony of Basset passed by the special remainder to his only child, Frances Basset, 2nd Baroness Basset, his daughter by his first marriage.


Basset Monument on Carn Brea

On the highest point of Carn Brea in Cornwall is a 90-foot (27 m) high celtic cross, erected by public subscription in 1836. It is dedicated to Francis Basset and inscribed "The County of Cornwall to the memory of Francis Lord de Dunstanville and Basset A.D. 1836".[5][6] 50°13′16″N 5°14′56″W / 50.22111°N 5.24889°W / 50.22111; -5.24889 (Basset Cross)

Depiction in literature[edit]

He is a recurring character in the Poldark novels by Winston Graham, where he is shown in a generally sympathetic light. The novels describe the long-standing struggle between Basset and George Boscawen, 3rd Viscount Falmouth for political supremacy in Cornwall. This relates in part to control of the pocket borough of Penryn.[7]


  1. ^ The History of Parliament biography describes him as lieutenant-colonel of the North Devon Militia in this year, but an ode published in the Gentleman's Magazine of November 1802, p.1048, makes it clear that it was his distant senior cousin Francis Basset (1740–1802) of Heanton Punchardon in North Devon who held this post.


  1. ^ "Bassett or Basset, Francis (BST775F)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  2. ^ "The captured cargo that unpacks the spirit of the grand tour". The guardian. Retrieved 4 August 2017. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ History of Parliament, Penryn Constituency [1]
  4. ^ "Radnor House". Twickenham Museum. Retrieved 10 June 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. ^ As shown by the stone inscription on the south of the monument. See inscription text on Basset Cross photograph
  6. ^ "Tuesday's Post". Jackson's Oxford Journal. 17 September 1836. A chaste and elegant monument from the chisel of Westmacott put up in parish of Illogan, Cornwall, to the memory of the late Lord De Dunstanville
  7. ^ History of Parliament, Penryn Constituency [2]

External links[edit]

Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by
Sir George Osborn
William Chaytor
Member of Parliament for Penryn
With: John Rogers 1780–1782
Reginald Pole-Carew 1782–1784
Sir John St Aubyn 1784–1790
Richard Glover 1790–1796
Succeeded by
Thomas Wallace
William Meeke
Peerage of Great Britain
New creation Baron de Dunstanville
New creation Baron Basset
Succeeded by
Frances Basset
Baronetage of Great Britain
New creation Baronet
(of Tehidy)