Francis Bourdillon was born in Runcorn, Cheshire, where his father was the local vicar. He grew up in Sussex when his father was transferred to Woolbeding, near Midhurst, West Sussex. He was educated at Haileybury and Worcester College, Oxford, where he received his BA in 1877 and his MA in 1882. Between 1876 and 1879 he acted as tutor to two of Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein’s children, grandchildren of Queen Victoria, as Prince Christian was married to Princess Helena, one of Queen Victoria’s daughters. In 1882 Bourdillon was employed as a private tutor at Hurlingham House School in Eastbourne, East Sussex.
In 1882 he married Agnes Smith. They had three children and lived in Buddington, near Midhurst. Between 1878 and 1921 he worked primarily as a poet, publishing thirteen volumes of poetry as well as editing poems from Old French. He is best known for his poem The Night Has a Thousand Eyes but his poetry covered a wide range of subjects. He also wrote a romantic novel, Nephele, and essays which were published by the Religious Trust Society. Some of his best poems are Old and Young, The Debt Unpayable, A Violinist, and On the South Downs.
In the 1911 Census he is shown as living apart from his wife in Easebourne, West Sussex, with five female servants while she is living with her sister and her two adult children in Bournemouth. He died in Easebourne in 1921. He was a member of The Alpine Club and one of his sons, Robert, was a World War I pilot, medical practitioner, and a founding member of the Oxford University Mountaineering Club in 1909. His grandson, Tom Bourdillon, was a member of the Successful British Everest expedition in 1953 but was to die in 1956 in a climbing accident in Switzerland.