History of the Burney family in King’s Lynn

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Lynn’s trade and commerce prospered during the Georgian Age, with a few merchant families dominating town commerce and politics, using their wealth to rebuild their houses in the latest style. In 1751, poor health drove Dr Charles Burney to bring his young family from London to King’s Lynn. Dr Burney’s son, James Burney was a small child when the family came to King’s Lynn and later sailed twice with Captain Cook and George Vancouver, who was then a young midshipman.

Charles Burney’s cultural influence became pre-eminent in Lynn. Music, dancing, books and picture collecting became the new vogue. After being offered the position of organist at St Margaret’s Church, now Lynn Minster, Burney was soon organising balls at the town hall and teaching music and dancing to the town’s elite.

The cultural influence and importance of the Burney family has been further confirmed by Frances Burney. Born in 1752 in a house in Chapel Street, Frances or Fanny became a literary phenomenon.

Frances Burney had written incessantly and secretly since she was ten, confiding to her diary the domestic daily life and hectic social whirl of the Burney family. Her diary and many vivid and colourful letters have survived and offer a unique insight into Georgian social and political life. Her first novel “Evelina or the History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World” was first published in 1778 and was an immediate bestseller. Five English editions were printed and it was translated throughout continental Europe.

The mix of social comedy, realism and wit made the novel a huge success and led London society to speculate on the identity of the writer, who was universally assumed to be a man. Frances was taken up by literary and high society and became the first woman to make writing novels respectable.

Critical appreciation of Frances Burney’s novels and plays continues to grow, sparked by new interest in 18th-century women writers.