Coutts, Angela Georgina Burdett- (1814–1906), Baroness Burdett-Coutts, philanthropist, was born 21 April 1814 in Piccadilly, London, the youngest of the six children of the one-time radical politician Sir Francis Burdett (1770–1844) and his wife Sophia, daughter of the London banker Thomas Coutts. In 1837 she inherited the Coutts fortune from her grandfather's second wife, the former actress Harriot Mellon, then duchess of St Albans. Having succeeded to this fortune, then that of her parents, who both died in 1844, she took the name Coutts by royal licence. As one of the most famous and wealthy heiresses in England she was a familiar figure in leading literary, social and political circles, but to the British public she was always best known for her philanthropy. While grieving the loss of her parents she became so friendly with Arthur Wellesley, duke of Wellington (qv), that rumours circulated they would soon marry, despite the substantial difference in age. She flouted convention by proposing herself, and, while Wellesley refused, they remained close, though their views on Ireland differed. He offered sound advice on financial matters, which proved useful in her philanthropic work.
Among the causes she assisted were the Church of England, ragged schools, the rehabilitation of prostitutes, scientific research, colonial missions and programmes for rehousing people living in poverty in London's East End. With Charles Dickens, with whom she collaborated from 1840 to 1857, she founded Urania Cottage for former prostitutes and homeless women in Shepherd's Bush, Middlesex. Dickens dedicated Martin Chuzzlewit to her. An energetic member of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and president of the ladies’ committee, she provided many drinking troughs in public places. As president of the British Goat Society, she promoted goat-keeping among the disadvantaged to encourage self-reliance.
Like her father before her, she was committed to the notion that Ireland should have its own viable economy, and that measures to relieve distress should go hand in hand with lasting improvements. Her connection with Ireland lies in the support she provided west Cork from 1862, when she first received an appeal for financial assistance from the parish priest of a distressed district, Fr Charles Davis (1827–92). In keeping with her policy of avoiding the ‘demoralising effects’ of handouts, she funded relief stores where basic foodstuffs were sold at minimum cost at Cape Clear and Sherkin Islands, still distressed by the famine. In 1863 she financed the first of three Canadian immigrant parties from the region. Her long-term plan was to promote local industries and agriculture, and with this in mind she sent over a flock of sheep and encouraged an English market for Irish crafts, embroidery in particular. With west Cork facing renewed crisis in 1879 she was again contacted by the local clergy. Acting on the advice of Fr Davis, parish priest of Baltimore, she provided interest-free loans of up to £10,000 to fishermen to obtain the latest boats and fittings for mackerel fishing. The scheme proved highly successful, so that much of the loan was later repaid, leading The Times to comment in 1887 that ‘her confidence in the honour of the poor people has been amply justified’.
Visiting Ireland for the first time in 1884, she was received enthusiastically by the local people, who affectionately dubbed her the ‘Queen of Baltimore’. She returned in August 1887 to open an industrial fishery school in Baltimore, which provided instruction in navigation, boat-building and net- and rope-making. Funded by the government, she and Sir Thomas Brady (d. 1904), the fisheries inspector, had encouraged its establishment. Though in 1880 the British government did not accept her offer of an advance of £250,000 for the purchase of potato seed on the failure of the crop, it took its own measures. In all her dealings with Ireland she remained politically neutral. One of the first women to receive a peerage in her own right (in 1871), she was also the earliest woman to receive the freedom of the cities of London (in 1872) and Edinburgh (in 1874). Despite the disapproval of many relatives and friends, among them Queen Victoria, she married her American-born private secretary, William Lehman Ashmead Bartlett (1851–1921), in February 1881. She died 30 December 1906 at her London residence, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.