The son of Dr. Philip Francis, a man known by his translations of Horace, Aeschines and Demosthenes, Francis is educated in Dublin and London and holds a variety of clerical posts in the government from 1756 to 1773. He may have written the Letters of Junius, a series of bitter lampoons against the government of King George III published by a London newspaper from 1769 to 1772, when he was a clerk in the war office. The authorship of the letters has been assigned to Francis on a variety of grounds, including a computer-aided analysis of the Junius texts in the 1960s.
In June 1773 the prime minister, Lord Frederick North, appointed Francis a member of the newly created four-man council that is to rule British possessions in India with Governor-General Hastings. He leads two of his colleagues in a struggle against Hastings, in part because he covets Hastings’ job, but there are also differences between the two men on policy matters, including land-revenue collection. Although Hastings gains the upper hand by 1776 after two of the opposing councilors die, Francis continues his attacks and, in 1780, the governor-general wounds him in a duel.
Returning to England in 1781, Francis turns public opinion against Hastings with a series of anonymous pamphlets. He enters the House of Commons of the United Kingdom in 1784 and is the moving spirit behind Hastings’ impeachment, begun in 1788. The acquittal of Hastings in 1795 embitters Francis deeply and leads to his defeat in a parliamentary election. He served again in Parliament from 1802 to 1807, at which time he retires from politics. He is knighted in 1806.
Sir Philip Francis dies in London on December 23, 1818.