William Temple Franklin may not be a household name, but he played a significant role in American history, specifically by contributing to the early United States of America’s close relationship with France under the lead of his grandfather, the world-famous Benjamin Franklin.


A politician, polymath, philosopher, diplomat, Benjamin Franklin is regarded as one of the chief intellectual driving forces behind the American Enlightenment and the American Revolution. More than that he was a scientist; Benjamin Franklin's inventions include bifocal eyeglasses, the lightning rod and a musical instrument called an armonica.

Benjamin Franklin served as the ambassador to France for approximately six years across the late 1770s and 1780s, intent on building a geopolitical alliance for his new country, joined by William Temple Franklin as his secretary and confidant.

These exploits are the centre of the new Apple TV+ historical drama series Franklin, bringing the story and role of Temple Franklin (as he is called in the drama) into new focus. But who was the real Temple Franklin, what was his relationship with his grandfather, and what is his significance to history?

Noah Jupe as William Temple Franklin in the Apple TV+ series 'Franklin'
Noah Jupe as William Temple Franklin in the Apple TV+ series 'Franklin'. (Photo by Apple TV+)

Born in London on 22 February 1760 or 1762, William Temple Franklin was the grandson of US founding father Benjamin Franklin.

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Temple was the illegitimate son of William Franklin, the Royal Governor of New Jersey during the American Revolution, who was himself the illegitimate (but acknowledged) son of Benjamin Franklin.

This intriguing dynamic placed Temple at the centre of a divided and complex family – during the American Revolution, his father remained loyal to the British Crown, while his grandfather championed the cause of American independence.

What was Temple Franklin’s role in the Franco-American alliance?

Despite the family rift, Temple's life became intertwined with his grandfather's momentous achievements as Benjamin Franklin became the ambassador to France. In 1776, at the age of 16, Temple joined his grandfather in Paris, just as the American colonies were declaring independence.

Fluent in French and possessing a keen understanding of European customs, Temple proved invaluable to his grandfather. He became Benjamin Franklin's secretary during the crucial negotiations that secured the Franco-American alliance on 6 February 1778.

However, Temple's role extended beyond clerical duties; his fluency facilitated open communication and helped to strengthen relations with the French court, a critical step in securing French support for the American cause.

Portrait of Benjamin Franklin by David Martin
Portrait of Benjamin Franklin by David Martin, 1767. (Photo by Getty Images)

Temple Franklin and the Treaty of Paris

Temple continued to serve as his grandfather's secretary throughout the war, and he was present for the signing of the Treaty of Paris on September 3, 1783, which formally ended the conflict and recognised American independence.

His role ensured smooth communication and record-keeping during this momentous occasion. Temple's meticulous notes and transcriptions provided valuable historical documentation of these events.

What happened to Temple Franklin after his grandfather returned to America?

Following the war, Temple returned to Philadelphia with his grandfather in 1785. However, business ventures proved unsuccessful and he failed to find steady footing to build his own wealth, on his own terms, despite his pivotal role in American history.

After the death of Benjamin Franklin in 1790, Temple eventually departed for Europe, where he spent the rest of his life, settling in France. His financial fortunes continued to be turbulent, and he oscillated between gaining and losing fortunes quickly with his career as a real-estate speculator.

During his time in France, a lot of Temple Franklin’s focus turned to curating the writing of his late grandfather, editing and publishing it.

However, this wasn’t enough to sustain him financially. Prior to his death, he slumped into destitution.

Did Temple Franklin have an affair with a French actress?

During Temple Franklin’s first period in Paris his grandfather attempted to set him up with the daughter of Madame Brillon – a multi-talented aristocrat, musician, and composer.

However, the Brillon family rejected the union because of Temple’s Protestant religion. Rebounding from the would-be relationship, the notably roguish Tempe instead began an affair with a married neighbour, and the pair had a son named Théodore.

How did Temple Franklin die?

Temple Franklin died in his mid-60s on 25 May 1823, in Paris, with no definitive cause of death.

While his legacy is now overshadowed by his grandfather's, Temple Franklin's contributions to history as a diplomat and secretary to Benjamin Franklin were instrumental in securing American independence by developing a relationship with the French.


His fluency in French and his close relationship with his grandfather provided a bridge between the American colonies and the French at a critical point in American history.

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James OsborneContent producer

James Osborne is a content producer at HistoryExtra where he writes, researches, and edits articles, while also conducting the occasional interview