He was the fourth son of John Coutts (1699–1751), who carried on business in Edinburgh as a corn factor and negotiator of bills of exchange, and who in 1742 was elected lord provost of the city. The family was originally of Montrose, but about 1696 one of its members had settled at Edinburgh, where in due course Thomas received his education at the Royal High School. Soon after the death of John Coutts the business was divided into two branches, one carried on in Edinburgh, the other in London.
The banking business in London was in the hands of James and Thomas Coutts, sons of John Coutts. From the death of his brother in 1778, Thomas, as surviving partner, became sole head of the firm; and under his direction the banking house rose to the highest distinction. His ambition was to establish his character as a man of business and to make a fortune; and he lived to succeed in this aim and long to enjoy his reputation and wealth. A gentleman in manners, hospitable and benevolent, he counted amongst his friends some of the literary men and the best actors of his day. Of the enormous wealth which came into his hands he made munificent use.
His private life was not without its romantic elements. Soon after his settlement in London he married Elizabeth Starkey, a young woman of humble origin, who was in attendance on the daughter of his brother James. They lived happily together, and had three daughters: Susan, married in 1796 to the 3rd Earl of Guilford; Frances, married in 1800 to John, 1st Marquess of Bute; and Sophia, married in 1793 to Sir Francis Burdett. Mrs Coutts died in 1815. Soon after her husband married the popular actress, Harriot Mellon, leaving to her the whole of his immense fortune. He died in London on 24 February 1822.
In 1827, his widow married the 9th duke of St Albans. She died ten years later, bequeathing her property to Angela, youngest daughter of Sir Francis Burdett, who then assumed the additional name and arms of Coutts. In 1871, this lady was created Baroness Burdett-Coutts.
- See C Rogers, Genealogical Memoirs of the Families of Colt and Coutts (1879); and R Richardson, Coutts & Co. (1900).
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. The article is available here: