Definition of burgess in English:



  • 1British historical An inhabitant of a town or borough with full rights of citizenship.

    • ‘Although it gave no additional powers, it did change the title of inhabitants from burgesses to citizens.’
    • ‘No resident burgess is in anger to call a bailiff or wardemen by any name such as thief, knave, backbiter, whoreson, false, foresworn, cuckold, or bawd.’
    • ‘If one burgess had a complaint against another, he was expected to bring it before the town court, not to resort to any external legal authority.’
    • ‘This placed an onerous tax burden on townsmen (taxation had been extended beyond burgesses to resident non-burgesses).’
    • ‘In March 1340 he travelled to London on community business, to show proof to the city authorities that Lynn burgesses were exempt from murage exactions there.’
    inhabitant, resident, native, townsman, townswoman, householder, local
    View synonyms
  • 2British historical A Member of Parliament for a borough, corporate town, or university.

    • ‘Try as she might, she could not persuade the knights and burgesses of the Commons to leave such royal matters to her.’
    • ‘These include the most commonly studied groups: the executive (mayors and bailiffs) and parliamentary burgesses.’
    • ‘The Return of the Names of Every Member… is the basic source for lists of parliamentary burgesses.’
    • ‘But now it had been crushed by the knights of the shires and burgesses in Parliament assembled.’
    • ‘This new borough was also endowed with land, the income from which was used to pay the salaries of two burgesses at parliament.’
  • 3(in the US and also historically in the UK) a magistrate or member of the governing body of a town.

    • ‘At Lynn in 1340 John de Swerdestone and Adam de Walsoken were elected collectors of the wool custom by the mayor and burgesses, as specified by the king.’
    • ‘Although illiterate, he was named one of the chief burgesses, then chamberlain, then alderman in 1565, and finally High Bailiff in 1568.’
    • ‘This created a form of town council (the corporation), made up of aldermen and chief burgesses, headed by a high bailiff.’
    • ‘More than 260 townspeople now belong to the institution and there are four grades; commoner, landholder, assistant burgess and capital burgess.’
    • ‘In the 15th century the Yelde Hall was erected and used by the bailiffs and burgesses of the town as a council chamber.’
    1. 3.1US historical A member of the assembly of colonial Maryland or Virginia.
      • ‘As a burgess, "Loudoun" Lee served on committees dealing with "Propositions and Grievances," "encouraging Arts and Manufactures" and "Privileges and Elections."’
      • ‘Bacon won election to the burgesses, Virginia's upper house, but was arrested when he tried to take his seat.’
      • ‘He became a burgess, and supported the government during Bacon's Rebellion.’


Middle English: from Anglo-Norman French burgeis, from late Latin burgus ‘castle, fort’ (in medieval Latin ‘fortified town’); related to borough.