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Lady Isabel Burton

Lady Isabel Burton, 1861
Born Isabel Arundell
20 March 1831(1831-03-20)
London, England
Died 22 March 1896 (aged 65)
London, England
Resting place Mortlake Cemetery, St. Mary Magdalene's Church, London, England
Nationality English
Religious beliefs Roman Catholic
Spouse(s) Richard Burton (m. 1861–1890) «start: (1861)–end+1: (1891)»"Marriage: Richard Burton to Isabel Burton" Location: (linkback:

Isabel Burton (born Isabel Arundell) (20 March 1831 - 22 March 1896) was the widow of explorer, adventurer, and writer Sir Richard Francis Burton.

She was the daughter of Hon. Henry Raymond Arundell (1799-1886) of Kenilworth, Warwickshire, nephew of James Everard Arundell (1785-1834), 10th Baron Arundell of Wardour [1]. Her mother, Eliza, was the sister of Robert Tolver Gerard (1808-1887), 13th Baronet of Bryn, Lancashire, and 1st Baron Gerard of Bryn.

Isabel was one of eleven children born into the House of Wardour, a respected and well-to-do Catholic family in England. She grew up enmeshed in London society and attended the convent of the Canonesses of the Holy Sepulchre, where she excelled as a writer and in theological studies. While on a school trip to Boulogne, she first met her future husband, Richard Burton, whom she claims to have fallen in love with immediately, though it would be another four years until their courtship began, and ten years until their marriage. Because of her strict Catholic background, her relationship with Burton caused strains within her family and she ultimately married him against the wishes of her parents. This was to be a major source of pain for her as the years progressed.

She was an intelligent, resourceful and devout woman, but is always seen in the shadow of her husband, one of the most famous of all Victorians. She was a strong supporter and advocate for her husband and assisted him on many of his most significant writings. He has credited her with being his most ardent supporter. He encouraged her to write and she wrote a number of books, including among them a history of their travels in Syria and Palestine, as well as an autobiography, published posthumously. Some scholars believe that Burton himself wrote under her name, though it is unclear.

She is perhaps best known for burning some of his papers and manuscripts after his death, including his revised translation of The Perfumed Garden, which was to be called The Scented Garden, and of which the largest part consisted of the usually unpublished final chapter dealing with pederasty, plus Burton's extensive (and comprehensive) notes on the subject.

In an appendix to her unfinished autobiography[1], her posthumous collaborator points out that she had a first offer of 6,000 pounds for the manuscript, a considerable fortune in those times, and moreover that she need never have disclosed her actions at all, or blamed them on her husband. He further claims that she acted from a sincere belief that "out of a thousand men who read the work, 15 would read it in the scientific spirit in which it was written, and the other 985 solely for filth's sake", and feared that publication would blight, not her husband's worldly reputation - for his interest in the subject was notorious - but, by tempting others to sin, his prospects in the world to come.

She is buried with her husband at Mortlake, Surrey in an elaborate tomb in the shape of a Bedouin tent.

Fiona Shaw portrayed her in the movie Mountains of the Moon.


  • The inner life of Syria, Palestine, and the Holy Land: from my private journal. London: H.S. King & Co., 1875.
  • Arabia, Egypt, India: a narrative of travel. London: W. Mullan and Son, 1879.
  • Prevention of cruelty, and anti-vivisection. London: William Mullan, 1879.
  • The revival of Christianity in Syria: its miracles and martyrdoms. London : E. Stanford, 187-?.
  • Iracema, the honey lips: a legend of Brasil by José de Alencar. Translated by Lady Isabel Burton. London: Bickers & Son, 1886. (New York: Luso-Brazilian Books, 2006. ISBN 0-85051-524-6)
  • Lady Burton's edition of her husband's Arabian nights: translated literally from the Arabic by Sir Richard Francis Burton. London: Waterlow, 1886-1887.
  • The life of Captain Sir Richd F. Burton. London: Chapman & Hall, 1893.
  • The romance of Isabel, Lady Burton, the story of her life. London: Hutchinson & Co., 1897
  • The passion-play at Ober-Ammergau. London: Hutchinson, 1900.


  1. ^ Lovell, Mary S. A Rage to Live, W.W. Norton, 1998

Further Information

  • [2] has most of Isabel Burton's writings, as well as those by her husband Richard Burton.
  • Burton, Isabel. The Romance of Isabel, Lady Burton
  • Lovell, Mary S. A Rage to Live, W.W. Norton, 1998.


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