Susanna Elizabeth Phillips (née Burney) (1755-1800)

Image by National Portrait Gallery. Licensed under Attribution, Non-Commercial, No Derivative Works



 Susanna Phillips (née Burney) (circa 1775-1800)
  By Edward Francisco Burney

  Born: 1755
  Died: January 6, 1800

  National Portrait Gallery








Birth and Early Life
Susan Elizabeth Burney (also known as Susanna or Susannah) was born in 1755 in London, the third daughter of Charles Burney (1726-1814) and his first wife, Esther Sleepe (c.1725-1762). She was very close to her elder sister, Frances Burney, with whom she continued a regular correspondence in adulthood.

Music Salon
As the most musical of the Burney children, Susan grew up particularly close to her father, the well-regarded musician and music historian. She was a regular fixture in her father's London music salon, and she mixed with many famous musicians, including the castrato singer Gasparo Pacchierotti. Susan's letters provide unique insight into London's musical culture of the eighteenth century, as she had privileged access to private events such as rehearsals and informal gatherings. For music historians, Susan's notes help to document the network among patrons and artists as well as amateur and professional musicians.

Marriage and Family Life
Susan met Captain Molesworth Phillips (1755-1832) in October 1780. Phillips was an officer in the Royal Marines, and a close friend of Susan's brother James. Both Molesworth and James had been along on Captain Cook's last expedition, and Phillips had apparently behaved with great bravery. Susan and Molesworth were engaged in early 1781, and were married in 1782. In 1784, the pair lived briefly in Boulogne, then moved to Mickleham, Surrey, near Juniper Hall. They had three children: Frances Raper, née Phillips (1782-1860), Charles Norbury Phillips (1785-1814), and John William James Phillips (1791-1832). 

Disintegration of Marriage & Move to Ireland
By 1787 the Phillips' marriage had begun to fall apart, and by 1795, it had nearly collapsed. Phillips had proven himself to be a gambler and a womanizer, and treated his wife badly. After inheriting his Irish estate from an uncle, Phillips left for Belcotton, County Louth in 1795, taking his eldest son Norbury with him. As Phillips had given up their residence at Mickleham, Susan and her two remaining children had to stay with family in London. In August 1796, Phillips came to London and demanded that Susan join him in Ireland, along with their Frances and William. Susan reluctantly joined him, realizing that if she did not, she would likely not see her son Norbury again. At Belcotton, an old-fashioned farmhouse with few amenities, Susan was cut off from family and friends. She was essentially abandoned by her husband, who was openly carrying on an affair with his second cousin, Jane Brabazon.

Illness and Death
Susan's health seriously declined while at Belcotton, but her husband was unwilling to allow her to return to England. In 1799, her concerned family was able to convince Phillips to allow Susan to come home due to her ill health. Susan survived the sea journey, and alighted at Parkgate, near Chester, on December 30, 1799. However, she died a few days later, on January 6, 1800. She is buried at the parish church of St. Mary & St. Helen, Neston, Wirral, Chester.

Further Reading

Online Resources

Brief biographical outline of Susan Burney
Available through the British and Irish Women's Letters and Diaries Collection

Selected letters exchanged between Susan Burney and Frances Burney
Available through the British and Irish Women's Letters and Diaries Collection

Cheshire Parish Register Project
Susanna Elizabeth Phillips' burial record available through last-name search under "Database" link

Molesworth Phillips DNB entry
By Albert Frederick Pollard and Andrew C. F. David
Available to online subscribers to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Print Resources

Burney, Frances. The early diary of Frances Burney, 1768-1778: with a selection from her correspondence, and from the journals of her sisters Susan and Charlotte Burney. Ed. Annie Raine Ellis. London: George Bell, 1889.

Kelly, Linda.Susanna, the Captain & the Castrato: Scenes from the Burney Salon, 1779-80. London: Starhaven Books, 2004. 

---. "Writing About Susanna Burney." The Burney Letter 11.1 (Spring 2005): 1-2.

Olleson, Philip. The Journals and Letters of Susan Burney: Music and Society in Late Eighteenth-Century England. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing, 2012.

---. "The Susan Burney Letters Project." Society for Eighteenth-Century Music Newsletter 6 (April 2005): 4.

---. "The Susan Burney Letters Project." The Burney Letter 10.2 (Fall 2004): 1, 5.

Price, Curtis, Judith Milhous, and Robert D. Hume. Italian Opera in Late Eighteenth-Century London: The King's Theatre, Haymarket, 1778-1791. London: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Willier, Stephen. "Gasparo Paccierotti in London: The 1779-1780 Season in Susanna Burney's Letter-Journal. Studi Musicali 29.2 (2000).

Woodfield, Ian. Salomon and the Burneys: Private Patronage and a Public Career. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2003.

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