Sir Francis Buller, 1st Baronet

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The Right Honourable
Francis Buller
Sir Francis Buller, 1st Baronet.jpg
King's Bench.
In office
6 May 1778 – 19 June 1794
Succeeded by Sir Francis Buller-Yarde-Buller, 2nd Baronet
Personal details
Born (1746-03-17)17 March 1746
Devon, England
Died 5 June 1800(1800-06-05) (aged 54)
London, England
Education King's School Ottery St. Mary
Christ's Hospital, London.
Occupation Judge

Sir Francis Buller, 1st Baronet (17 March 1746 – 5 June 1800) was an English judge.


Buller was born at Downes House in Devon, the son of James Buller, Member of Parliament for Cornwall, and his wife Lady Jane, daughter of Allen Bathurst, 1st Earl Bathurst. He was educated at the King's (Grammar) School, Ottery St Mary and Christ's Hospital, London. In 1763, at the age of 17, he married Susanna, daughter and heiress of Francis Yarde of Churston Court, Devonshire. In February 1763, he was entered at the Inner Temple as a pupil of special pleader William Henry Ashurst, taking out his own certificate as special pleader in 1765. In Easter term 1772, he was called to the bar and rose rapidly through it, becoming King's Counsel on 24 November 1777. On 6 May 1778, at only 32, he was made a puisne judge of the King's Bench.[1]

Gillray's cartoon of Buller.

His conduct on the bench, however, was often the subject of severe criticism, accused of being hasty and prejudiced. He has been the subject of controversy over time due to an alleged statement he made that a husband could thrash his wife with impunity provided that he used a stick no bigger than his thumb.[1] This claim was widely circulated and led to Buller being cariactured as "Judge Thumb" by James Gillray in 1782. Under the system of coverture marriage, the couple were one legal person, over which the husband had rights and responsibility; accordingly, crimes by him against her were not recognised except in the most extreme cases. If Buller did make the ruling, it was a refinement of earlier precedent; a death of a wife by beating with a pestle had been ruled murder, but only after consideration that "though a husband by law may correct, the pestle was no instrument for correction".[2]

He was one of the three judges in the 1783 appeal hearing of the Zong massacre case. He also presided over an important trial in 1785 involving the validity of a patent held by Richard Arkwright, the cotton manufacturer. The jury held the patent to be invalid because the specification was unclear. Expert evidence showed that Arkwright had claimed inventions made by others. Arkwright had by that time established several cotton spinning mills, and continued to prosper despite losing the patent battle.[citation needed]

Buller was always the second judge in his court, though when Lord Mansfield was absent through illness (e.g., the last two years of Mansfield's life), he took the lead and in effect acted as Lord Chief Justice. However, on Mansfield's death, William Pitt delayed and then in the end appointed Kenyon to the role. (Buller was thought to be the superior lawyer).[1] As additional recognition, Pitt made Buller a baronet on 13 January 1790. On 19 June 1794, Buller resigned from the King's Bench and took his place in the Common Pleas.[1]

He was a guardian of Anna Eliza Brydges[who?] and a trustee to the 1796 settlement between her and Richard Temple, later the first Duke of Buckingham and Chandos. Buller built the original house now occupied by Two Bridges Hotel on Dartmoor. His health in the late 1790s was undermined by frequent attacks of gout and by a slight stroke of paralysis.[citation needed]

Buller had arranged to resign in a few days but, during a game of piquet at his house in Bedford Square, he was stricken again. He died during the night of 4/5 June 1800.[1] His widow, Lady Susanna, lived until 1810. He was succeeded by his eldest surviving son, Sir Francis Buller-Yarde-Buller, 2nd Baronet.[citation needed]



 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainCourtney, William Prideaux (1886). "Buller, Francis". In Stephen, Leslie. Dictionary of National Biography 7. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 


External links[edit]

Baronetage of Great Britain
Preceded by
New creation
(of Churston Court)
Succeeded by
Francis Yarde-Buller