Francis Bacon’s Life
A Brief Historical Sketch by Peter Dawkins
(Revised May 2013)
Francis Bacon was born at York House, Charing Cross, London, on 22 January 1561. He was baptised at St Martin-in-the-Fields on 25 January 1561 as second son of Sir Nicholas and Lady Ann Bacon. His father was Lord Keeper of the Great Seal of England and his mother was one of the most highly educated and accomplished women of her time. As a child he showed more than unusual promise and attracted the attention of Queen Elizabeth, who called him her “young Lord Keeper”. He was given a privileged private education by the best teachers of the time, which took place mainly at York House, the Lord Keeper’s London residence—a thriving hub of State business that adjoined York Place, the Queen’s Palace of Whitehall, or in the vacations at Gorhambury, St Albans, Sir Nicholas’ country home. There were also tours with the Court, visiting the many country mansions and palaces of the Queen and her courtiers.
Because of his father’s high office and his other family connections (his uncle, Sir William Cecil, later Lord Burghley, was the Queen’s Secretary of State until 1573 when he was made the Queen’s Lord Treasurer), Francis was likely to have been present at various Court entertainments, such as the regular Christmas festivities and the two great entertainments of 1575. These latter entertainments, which were pivotal events in the Queen’s reign, were the Arcadian Woodstock Tournament presented by Sir Henry Lee, the Queen’s Champion, and the sumptuous Kenilworth Entertainment laid on for the Queen at Kenilworth Castle by her favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. The Woodstock Tournament was the forerunner of the annual Accession Day Tournaments, whilst the Kenilworth Entertainment was designed by Leicester to persuade the Queen to marry him, which offer she turned down.
In April 1573, at the age of twelve, with the “new star” blazing away in the heavens (the supernova in Cassiopeia), Francis entered Trinity College, Cambridge University, accompanied by his brother Anthony. They were already learned in the Classics and could read, write and speak Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, Italian and Spanish. They were placed under the direct charge and tuition of the Master of Trinity, Dr John Whitgift, and lodged in rooms under his roof. (Whitgift afterwards became Archbishop of Canterbury.) Their contemporaries and friends at Cambridge included John Lyly, William Clerke, Edmund Spenser, Philemon Holland and Gabriel Harvey—the latter being their tutor in rhetoric and poetry as well as being a member of Sir Philip Sydney’s group of philosopher-poets, the English ‘Areopagus’.
Whilst a student at Cambridge, Francis became thoroughly disillusioned with the Aristotelian system of thought and teaching. As a reaction to this, and inspired with prophetic vision as to what to do to improve matters, his Grand Idea was born—an illumination matching the brilliance of the supernova shining overhead. For him it was like a spiritual birth or awakening, revealing to him his mission in life. Less than three years later, at Christmas 1575, with nothing more left that the university could teach him, he and Anthony left Cambridge, carrying with them the embryo of a plan by means of which Francis’ grand idea might be set in motion and gradually achieved. In this Anthony was a dedicated partner, even though for the next fifteen years their respective paths would separate them physically for most of the time.
On 27 June 1576 Francis, aged fifteen, and Anthony, aged seventeen, were entered as law students at Gray’s Inn, one of the four Inns of Court in London, to follow in their father’s footsteps. Five months later Francis and Anthony were admitted, as sons of Sir Nicholas Bacon, to the Grand Company of Ancients by Order of Pension dated 21 November 1576, which gave them certain privileges. However, by that time Francis was abroad on the continent.
Francis did not immediately take up residence at Gray’s Inn but, instead, following a plan of special education and training devised by Sir Nicholas Bacon, went “from the Queen’s hand” to France with Sir Amyas Paulet, the newly-designated English ambassador to the French Court, landing in Calais on 25 September 1576 and remaining in France with the embassy and French Court for nearly three years. This was just at the time when, on one hand, the functions of the French State were in disorder because of corrupt and feeble administration, and, on the other hand, the French Renaissance was at its height, with its poets, writers and artists encouraged and patronised by the French monarchy.
During this time in France, Francis studied the law, politics, history and culture of the land, worked for the Queen's intelligence service, invented cipher systems, and was entrusted by Paulet with an important commission that entailed some kind of dangerous journey and a brief visit to England bearing a message to the Queen. Francis made contact with Henri de Navarre’s Huguenot ministers, and also with the esoteric movement or society that was linked with the Rosicrucian fraternity in England, in which he was involved. During his three years in France, Francis travelled with the French Court to Fontainebleau, Blois, Tours, Poitiers and Chenonceaux, as well as living in Paris where the French Court was normally based. It also appears that he might have travelled with Catherine de Medici and Marguerite de Navarre’s entourage to the south of France, where the infamous Court of Love festivities took place at Nérac.
In Paris, on 17 February 1579, Francis dreamt that Gorhambury House was plastered all over with black mortar. Since Gorhambury was actually plastered white and known as the “White House” or “White Temple”, this was an ominous dream. In fact, three days later Sir Nicholas Bacon died of a chill caught at his official home in London, York House. As soon as news of the death arrived in Paris, Francis immediately set about organising his return home, arriving in England on 20 March 1579, some days after Sir Nicholas’ funeral. Carrying out the wishes of his deceased father and his uncle Lord Burghley, who now acted in loco parentis towards him and Anthony until their respective coming of age, Francis entered Gray’s Inn to study law. He took up residence in May 1580, with benefit of “special admittance” on account of his health, which meant that he was freed from the obligation of keeping Commons, could choose his diet and take his meals in the chambers which he shared with Mr Fulwood in Fulwood House.
However, law was not Francis’ great interest. It was not what he wanted to do, and about it he writes later that “the Bar will be my bier”. In later years he informed Dr William Rawley, his chaplain, secretary and biographer, that law was to him but an accessory, not his principal study, even though in law, according to Rawley, “he obtained to great excellency” and “in the science of the grounds and mysteries of law he was exceeded by none”. Francis’ passion in life was literary and educational, and devoted to the realisation of his grand idea. He had been both shocked and inspired by what he saw and experienced in France. The French Court was dissolute and its government was corrupt, but its culture otherwise was refined and glorious, whereas English culture at that time was uncouth and the English language still a sorry patchwork of almost incomprehensible dialects. Francis’ mission, therefore, was to create, with the help of others suited to the task, a magnificent English language and culture just as the French poets and philosophers had created theirs, but one that would promote virtue, not corruptness, and would be a vehicle for the new avenues of thought and discovery that he wished to encourage. His design was, as he described it, a renovation of all arts and sciences based upon the proper foundations, and one which, by means of a special method that he was to test out and then teach, could spread to other countries for the benefit of the whole world. It was a truly grand concept—one that he was later to call “The Great Instauration” or “Six Days Work”.
To help him in his educational and cultural endeavours he applied to his uncle Lord Burghley to exert influence with the Queen on his behalf, in recognition of his special abilities and circumstances, so that he might have not only royal approval but also a position whereby he could have sufficient influence and income, without having to practice law, to give him “commandment of more wits” than his own to assist him in his proposed task, since his own inherited resources were far too limited. The Queen, who was interested in the French academies and fond of grand entertainment, and Burghley, who was a patron of scholars and musicians, gave Francis to believe that such a place would be found for him; but, other than moral and verbal encouragement, in this “rare and unaccustomed suit” he was to meet with little success.
For fifteen years Francis was to be kept on a string concerning his suit. Nevertheless, devoting himself whole-heartedly to his great project and continually being buoyed up by promises of support from both Burghley and the Queen, Francis immersed himself in his writings and his study of human nature and the nature of all things, as well as studying law. From this time on, as he tells us in later years, he began to ring the bell that called the wits together—and there were many. During the 1580s Philip Sydney’s scholarly circle of philosopher-poets (the English Areopagitae or ‘Areopagus’) began the task of developing English poetry, followed by the ‘University Wits’ who raised the level of English drama and helped lay the foundations for the Shakespeare plays. The Renaissance magus, Dr John Dee, was at the height of his influence and making available his magnificent library at Mortlake—the largest in England—to the philosopher-poets and mathematicians. The Earl of Leicester, still dear to the Queen, provided an enthusiastic patronage of the poets and artists, making his London house available to them as well as patronising his own company of actors. The Areopagitae included Sir Philip Sydney, Gabriel Harvey, Edward Dyer, Daniel Rogers, Thomas Drant and “Immerito” (supposedly Edmund Spenser), whilst the University Wits included John Lyly, Thomas Lodge, George Peele, Robert Greene, Thomas Nashe and Christopher Marlowe.
Francis Bacon was called to the Bar as Utter Barrister on 27 June 1582, but seems to have remained a briefless barrister for a further twelve years, until forced by circumstances in 1594 to take up some Court briefs and plead at the King’s Bench in the Courts of Westminster. However, during this time, and in fact right up to her death in 1603, the Queen many times asked for Francis’ advice and used his talents to draw up various reports and papers for her on difficult matters—religious, political and legal.
Francis also assisted in the gathering of political intelligence, in which he was a key player. One of those feeding him intelligence was his brother Anthony who, at Burghley’s request, travelled Europe (France, Switzerland, Navarre) from 1579 to 1592 as one of the Queen’s intelligencers, becoming a personal friend of the Protestant theologian Theodore Beza, the Huguenot king Henri de Navarre (later Henri IV of France), and the essayist Michel de Montaigne. The head of the intelligence service was the Queen’s Secretary of State, Sir Francis Walsingham, who had set up one of the most efficient intelligence networks then in existence. (Walsingham had succeeded Lord Burghley as Secretary of State in 1573 when Burghley became the Queen’s Lord Treasurer.) As part of this work, in the early 1580s Francis was involved in creating a report or State Paper for the Queen entitled “Notes on the Present State of Christendom”. The countries covered included not just France, Italy and Spain, but also Austria, Germany, Portugal, Poland, Denmark and Sweden. Florence, Venice, Mantua, Genoa and Savoy are dealt with in most detail. (These Notes were not made available to the public until 1734.)
Cryptography was one of Francis’ interests and areas of expertise, and he assisted Burghley and Walsingham with decoding various correspondences. He also invented some new ciphers, one of his earliest creations being the Biliteral Cipher which he invented in his youth whilst at Paris, which later inspired the creation of the Morse Code and the binary code of all computer technology today.
In 1581 Francis began his thirty-six years of Parliamentary service as a Member of Parliament. In March 1584 he visited Scotland. On 10 February 1586 he became a Bencher of Gray’s Inn. Nearly two years later, on 23 November 1587, he was appointed a Reader of Gray’s Inn. As a Reader he was allowed his own private chambers. In fact, just two days previous to this, confirming a grant made nine years earlier, the Bacon Chambers were leased to Anthony and Francis Bacon for a term of fifty years, with leave to add an additional storey of rooms (which Francis eventually did). These buildings contained the original chambers of Sir Nicholas Bacon, which had been kept for Edward and Anthony Bacon’s use. By then Edward, Francis’ and Anthony’s half-brother, had ceased studying law and had acquired the lease of Twickenham Park from the Queen, as well as having two London houses and estates elsewhere. Since Anthony was still abroad, this meant that Francis had the unimpeded use of the chambers, both to live in and to pursue his great project. The library of Gray’s Inn was housed in one of the rooms of the Bacon Chambers.
From that time (1587) onwards we learn that Francis was regularly associated with other gentlemen of Gray’s Inn in devising and presenting masques and entertainments at Gray’s Inn and the royal Court at Greenwich, and writing speeches and devices to be used in the Queen’s Accession Day Tilts.
Francis’ movements tended to oscillate between Gray’s Inn, the royal Court when he was in attendance on the Queen, and Twickenham Lodge. The latter was situated in Twickenham Park, the Crown property leased by Edward Bacon, with land leading down to the River Thames immediately opposite the Queen’s palace of Richmond. The lodge with its park was a tranquil and beautiful place where Francis could write in peace, together with his friends and “good pens”. Edward seems to have allowed Francis the use of Twickenham Lodge whenever he wanted and it is here that Francis carried out his early experiments related to his Great Instauration project and, with the help of his team of “good pens”, wrote poetry (masques and plays) and intelligence reports. In November 1595, when Edward's lease expired, the Queen granted Francis Bacon the lease of Twickenham park. Gorhambury, the fine country house and estate at St Albans, although owned by Anthony Bacon, was, under the terms of Sir Nicholas Bacon’s will, Lady Anne Bacon’s home and residence until she should die. It was, in any case, rather far from London, whereas Twickenham Park was close to the city and linked to it by river. All the main royal palaces and noblemen’s houses in or just outside London, from Greenwich to Hampton Court Palace, fronted onto this one great Thames thoroughfare. Twickenham Lodge was thus an ideal place. Francis had the use of it and part of its park until 1607, when he surrendered the lease.
1588 saw the Spanish Armada approach the coast of England in July and suffer defeat, and the Earl of Leicester’s fever and death in September. Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex, took on the mantle of his step-father, becoming Elizabeth’s principal favourite, and Leicester House became Essex House.
In 1591 Francis appears to have almost given up his fruitless “rare and unaccustomed suit” with Burghley and the Queen, threatening that if his Lordship would not carry him on he would sell the small inheritance he had in order to purchase some means of quick revenue, and thereby give up all care of service (i.e. to Burghley and the Queen) in order to become some “sorry bookmaker or a true pioneer in that mine of truth which (Anaxagoras) said lay so deep”. Suspecting Burghley’s motives, Francis tried to make it absolutely clear to his uncle that just as he had vast contemplative ends so he had moderate civil ends, and that he did not “seek or affect any place whereunto any that is nearer unto your Lordship shall be concurrent”. In this Francis was particularly referring to his hunchback cousin, Robert Cecil, Burghley’s son by his second wife, Mildred, the sister of Lady Ann Bacon. Besides being Lord Treasurer and Master of the Court of Wards, the most lucrative office in the land, Burghley was doing his best to advance Robert as high and as quickly as possible to a similar status, although unlike Francis (and Burghley himself) Robert had no official legal training.
However, Francis did carry on serving the Queen with his legal and political advice, and with the use of his pen, and about this time (perhaps in response to his letter to Burghley threatening to retire) she made him Queen’s Counsel Learned Extraordinary—an honorary, unpaid position with duties that were not clearly defined, except that advising the Queen and protecting her interests, examining prisoners suspected of treason or other grave offences, and drawing up official reports, were some of the services Francis was called upon to perform. This was the first such appointment, which was the birth of what later became known as the Queen's (or King's) Counsel, or 'QC' for short. In this position Francis continued to be allowed near access to the Queen, which he had enjoyed from an early age.
At about the same time Francis struck up a good friendship with Essex, whom he had known since their youth. The earl, with his sparkling charisma and gallantry, was fast becoming the foremost favourite of the Queen and a popular hero with the people. Francis, completely disillusioned with and thwarted by his uncle Burghley, decided to assist Essex in every way possible, believing him to be “the fittest instrument to do good to the State”, but always with the reservation that his first duty was to the Queen. Essex in turn promised to help Francis. Ultimately this turned out to be a perilous mistake for Francis. Essex’s temperament was so hot-headed and imperious that, rather than helping Francis, he repeatedly made matters worse, with the Queen and he clashing like gladiators. Burghley and Robert Cecil came to loathe Essex, resulting in their admitted policy of doing their utmost to block the advancement of any of the Earl's friends, including the Bacon brothers. Most importantly, however, it was with the group of writers that were associated with or were to become associated with Essex and his friends that Francis had already launched his literary endeavours.
The Essex group, which had been linked with Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, Sir Francis Walsingham and Sir Philip Sydney until their deaths in the 1580’s, and with the Areopagitae of English poets that used to meet at Leicester House (later Essex House), included the Earl of Southampton, Lord Mountjoy, Lady Frances Essex, Penelope Rich, Elizabeth Vernon, and Mary Sydney, the Countess of Pembroke, all of whom periodically resided at Essex House. Associated with them were the circle of poets, writers and dramatists patronised by Essex, Southampton and the Pembrokes, who included Samuel Daniel, Ben Jonson, John Florio, George Wither, Edmund Spenser, Thomas Nashe, John Lyly and 'Shakespeare'. The other ‘University Wits’—Thomas Lodge, George Peele, Robert Greene and Christopher Marlowe were also connected with this group. In effect, these aristocratic patrons and their poets formed the 'Shakespeare Circle'. Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, may also have been part of the circle (there were certainly important family connections), although he and Essex did not get on well with each other.
Southampton—a scholar, poet, gentleman and soldier, and a patron of poets, scholars and playwrights, and of libraries and places of learning—considered himself to be, like Essex, the successor to Philip Sydney. To Southampton was dedicated, in 1593, the “first heir” of Shakespeare’s “invention”—the erotic narrative poem Venus and Adonis, followed in 1594 by the second Shakespeare poem, Lucrece. The writer Joseph Hall and poet John Marston, in an exchange of satires published during 1597-8, stated that the true author of the poems was a jurist, whom they nicknamed “Labeo”, who used a living person, a “swain”, to mask his authorship. They ultimately identified “Labeo” as Francis Bacon.
Southampton’s wife, Elizabeth Vernon, was Essex’s cousin. Essex’s wife, Frances, was the daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham and widow of Sir Philip Sydney. Penelope Rich was Essex’s golden haired, black-eyed, beautiful sister, who had previously been considered as a bride for Sir Philip Sydney; but sadly her father died before the match could be arranged and her guardian (Huntingdon) married her in 1581 to “the rich Lord Rich”. Sydney remained passionately in love with Penelope all his life and addressed her as “Stella” in his sonnets. After his death in 1586 Penelope became the mistress of Sir Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy.
Mary Sydney, Countess of Pembroke, was Sir Philip Sydney’s sister and the mother of “the Two Noble Brethren” to whom the 1623 Shakespeare First Folio was dedicated. Her husband, Henry Herbert, the 2nd Earl of Pembroke, whose country estate at Wilton bordered on the Wiltshire River Avon, was the patron of his own professional acting company, the Lord Pembroke’s Men, who owned and performed the early Shakespeare plays. Mary was a devoted patroness of the arts and learning, and of poets, who saw to it that her brother’s epic poem Arcadia was completed and published after his death. The poet Samuel Daniel was a tutor to Mary’s eldest son, William Herbert.
John Florio, a poet and scholar, was a friend of Giordano Bruno who came to England in 1585. Florio, who was previously in the service of the Earl of Leicester, entered Southampton’s household in the early 1590s. He tutored Essex in Italian whilst working on his own Italian-English dictionary and the English translation of the essays of Michel de Montaigne. Florio’s wife was a sister of the poet Samuel Daniel.
Oxford, the hereditary Lord Great Chamberlain who was brought up as a ward of Burghley, was noted as a poet and writer of comedies as well as being a patron of poets and dramatists, and of his own acting companies, Oxford’s Boys and Oxford’s Men. His harsh treatment of his wife, Anne Cecil, Burghley’s daughter, became a matter of great concern to the group of family and friends, as well as to the Queen, who between them contrived an eventual reunion of the couple by means of a ‘bed-trick’. It is thought that this affair informs the Shakespeare play, All’s Well That Ends Well, written in 1598, ten years after Anne’s death in 1588 and seven years after Oxford’s second marriage to Elizabeth Trentham in 1591. The play’s title was first recorded in Francis Bacon’s private notebook, the ‘Promus of Formularies and Elegancies’, in 1594.
The novelist and dramatist John Lyly, who had been at Cambridge University at the same time as Francis and Anthony Bacon, entered the service of the Earl of Oxford as Oxford’s secretary from 1580 onwards, writing plays for Oxford’s Boys from 1583 to 1590. Lyly eventually became one of Anthony Bacon’s “good pens” at Essex House.
In February 1592 Anthony Bacon returned home from the continent. Anthony, whom Francis called his “dearest brother” and “comfort”, shared Francis’ aspirations. His main love was literary and, like his brother, he was a secret poet, known only as such to his friends, as revealed in their letters to him. All the time he was abroad he had kept in communication with his brother Francis as well as with his uncle Burghley and Sir Francis Walsingham.
Anthony Bacon’s foreign contacts were wide-spread and he enjoyed friendship in many high places, “being a gentleman whose ability the world taketh knowledge of for matters of state, specially foreign”. His contacts and friendship with Henri de Navarre, later Henri IV of France, were later incorporated into the Shakespeare play, Love’s Labour’s Lost, as also was the result of his association and friendship with the King of Spain’s Secretary of State, Antonio Perez, who defected to England and upon whom the Shakespearean character of Don Adriana de Armado is based.
When Anthony returned to England he first of all joined his brother at Gray’s Inn, and started to pour all his energy and financial resources into his brother’s project whilst at the same time continuing his intelligence work. Together the brothers formed a team of secretaries and writers to assist them, dealing with foreign and home intelligence of all kinds, cryptography, translations of correspondence and books in foreign languages and the classics, and the writing of poetry (masques, plays, devices, etc.). Francis also “knit” Anthony’s service to the Earl of Essex, and from that time onwards Anthony developed and ran an intelligence service for Essex rather than for Burghley, so that Essex would have the chance of better intelligence than Burghley with which to inform the Queen and be kept in her high favour.
Later that year Francis composed a dramatic device (i.e. spectacle or show) called A Conference of Pleasure, for Essex to present at the Queen’s Accession Day Tilt on 17 November 1592. Four speeches of this particular spectacle are preserved in the Northumberland MS collection, grouped together under the title ‘Of tribute or giving that which is due’ and called: ‘The praise of the worthiest virtue’ (Fortitude), ‘The praise of the worthiest affection’ (Love), ‘The praise of the worthiest power’ (Knowledge), and ‘The praise of the worthiest person’ (Queen Elizabeth, the personification of Crowned Truth).
In 1593, just as ‘Shakespeare’ as a name was officially launched onto the public scene for the first time with the highly scholarly, erotic poem Venus and Adonis, Francis (as an MP representing Middlesex) dared to stand up in Parliament against an attempt by the Queen and her Council to diminish the House of Commons’ vitally important prerogative of raising taxes and discussing such matters in private. Francis also thought that the triple subsidy (taxation) being asked by the Queen and her Council, to be raised in half the normal time, would be too great for ordinary people to bear, and so, although agreeing that a substantial subsidy was needed to offset the costs of defending the country against the Armada, he recommended the proposal be moderated somewhat. Ultimately the Commons voted to debate the taxation proposals with the Lords, but with the caveat that it was extraordinary and not to be taken as a precedent. When the Commons met again afterwards to agree on what subsidies to provide, Francis agreed with the other MPs that the extra three subsidies should be provided, but he maintained, with an eminently good, compassionate and logical argument, that they must be spread over six years instead of the three years that Burghley was demanding. In the end it was agreed by the Commons that three subsides would be provided, spread over four years. Elizabeth was furious and Francis was made to feel her displeasure, being denied access to her presence, which hitherto he had enjoyed with an unusual freedom. She told him “that he must nevermore look to her for favour or promotion”.
Such a royal excommunication precipitated a major crisis for Francis, who supported himself and his literary work mainly by loans and credit; and, although helped by his mother and Anthony, who sold two estates to assist Francis (and eventually beggared himself on his brother’s behalf), Francis was driven by necessity to practice law seriously. So it was that on 25 January 1594 Francis pleaded his first case in the King’s Bench, with others to follow. His first pleading was so successful that Burghley, content with Francis as a lawyer and pressured by his own family who had taken pity on Francis’ predicament, undertook to make a report “where it might do him the most good”.
The Queen played a game of punishment or reward with Francis, trying to make him her creature in all ways, including the Parliamentary one. In 1594 the position of Attorney-General fell vacant and was kept vacant for a whole year, and several times it was intimated to Francis that the Queen might appoint him to this position and that it was only his conduct in Parliament that stood in the way. Essex, eager to help Francis, urged the Queen to appoint him to this position. But Francis would not recant, and there were other factors afoot. Robert Cecil suggested to Essex that if Sir Edward Coke, the Solicitor-General, were to be appointed as Attorney-General, which he felt the Queen would prefer, then perhaps Francis might be content with the lesser position of Solicitor-General instead. But Essex would not have it. Only the higher office would do for the friend of Essex! As Essex saw it, his own reputation was at stake.
Francis was in a difficult situation. He didn't particularly want the onerous legal position of Attorney-General, but he needed a position. Creditors were a continual problem, as his project was costly and he never had enough money. His brother Anthony was the main source of his help on this matter. The friendship between the two brothers, and the difficulties they endured through being forced year after year to raise loans from usurers, and the eventual bankruptcy of Anthony on his brother’s behalf, was strongly reflected in the Shakespeare play, The Merchant of Venice. In the play Antonio is a good caricature of Anthony, who did trade abroad (but in intelligence rather than merchandise) and who hazarded all for his brother’s sake; and Bassanio of Francis, whose ‘Portia’ he sought after was, in a philosophical sense, Wisdom on her Mountain of Beauty (‘Belmont’), and in a personal sense, his rich cousin, Lady Hatton (see below). Many times either one or the other brother had to attend court and pay the forfeits demanded for late repayment of the loans. Being a lawyer and ‘learned in the law’, Francis often pleaded his own case. He was even arrested for debt at one time (September 1598), unjustly as it happened, because of the maliciousness of a particular debtor, and had to be rescued from the awful possibility of incarceration in the Fleet.
It was about this time that Fulke Greville began to take an active part on Francis’ behalf with the Queen. Whether because of this, or because Francis declared his intention of retiring to Cambridge with a couple of men to spend his life in studies and contemplation, there seemed to be a slight shift in the Queen’s demeanour towards Francis. In May 1594 she appointed Francis as the Deputy Chief Steward of the Duchy of Lancaster, a lawyer’s post devoted largely to adjudicating land and property disputes in the Crown’s Lancastrian domains. Also, that summer, the Queen conferred on Francis some woodland in Somerset at a nominal rent, from which he could raise some finance. In June 1594 he was appointed to assist the investigation into the ‘Walpole Plot’; and, on the 18 or 19 July 1594, he set out for the north on some important business of the Queen. However, on this mission he only reached as far as Huntington when he fell ill, writing to tell the Queen of it on 20 July. As we next learn that he was in Cambridge on 27 July to receive his degree of Master of the Arts at a specially convened ceremony, the assumption is that, because of his brief illness, his mission was aborted. In August-September 1594 Francis was back in London, examining prisoners in yet another Catholic conspiracy.
So the Queen not only resumed employing Francis but also, in small ways, began to compensate him for the work he was doing for her. Nevertheless, financially it was not nearly enough, and she continued to remain undecided regarding the position of Solicitor-General, thereby prolonging Francis’ agony and punishment.
At some point during this summer period, in a letter to Essex, Francis explained that he neither had much hope nor much desire for the position of Solicitor-General—the lack of desire or appetite being because he was so preoccupied with “the waters of Parnassus” (i.e. poetic inspiration) which almost entirely quenched his thirst for other things, and the lack of hope because his only real reason for having the office, other than serving the Queen, was so as to be able to pay off his old debts and take on new ones.
Come October 1594 and the start of the new legal year, Francis Bacon was appointed as a second Treasurer (i.e. co-Head) of Gray’s Inn for the legal year, which appointment ran from the beginning of October to the end of the following June. It was not normal to have two Treasurers, but, as the Treasurer was responsible for the revels each year and that year the Inn planned to hold extra-grand Christmas Revels, this was almost certainly why Francis was given the unique one-year appointment. Because the revels had been intermitted for three or four years, the Inn was determined to redeem this lost time with something out of the ordinary.
It was decided that the Inn was to be turned into a mock royal Court and kingdom, ruled by a ‘Prince’ (the customary Lord of Misrule), in jesting imitation of the Queen’s royal Court, complete with masques, plays, dances, pageants, ceremonial and ‘serious’ business. The revels were called The Prince of Purpoole and the Honourable Order of the Knights of the Helmet—the former part of the title referring to the Manor of Purpoole or Portpoole, the original name of Gray’s Inn, and the latter part of the title referring to the philosophical ideal of the revels. The theme of these revels was built around the idea of errors being committed, disorder ensuing, a trial being held of the 'Sorcerer' responsible, who then restores order and transmutes everything to a higher and better level than before.
On 20 December 1594 the Gray’s Inn Christmas Revels began, with “The High and Mighty Prince Henry, Prince of Purpoole” proceeding in royal state to the great hall of Gray’s Inn and taking his seat on the throne. On the First Day of Christmas, St Steven’s Day, 26 December 1594, Francis Bacon was ceremonially called upon by the Prince of Purpoole and his Council to assist in “recovering the lost honour of Gray’s Inn”. For this, certain Grand Nights were decreed to take place during the Twelve Days, to provide something special for the entertainment of strangers (i.e. guests), those to be invited being the Lord Keeper, the Lord Treasurer, the Vice-Chamberlain and others from the royal Court, including their ladies, plus an embassy from the Templars (the Inner Temple Inn of Court, with whom Gray’s Inn is twinned). The first Grand Night took place on the evening of the Third Day, Holy Innocent’s Day, 28 December 1594. As prearranged, “there arose such a disordered tumult and crowd upon the stage, that there was no opportunity to effect that which was intended,” causing the masque to end abruptly in general confusion and the Temple barristers, led by their Ambassador, to return to their Inn, feigning offence. Those who remained were then set to “dancing and revelling with gentlewomen”, after which the Shakespeare play, A Comedie of Errors like to Plautus his Menæchmi, was performed by torchlight. The evening concluded with a masque of the Knights of the Helmet returning from a campaign in Russia against “Negro-Tartars”.
The following day, the Fourth Day of Christmas, 29 December 1594, a mock trial was held, at which the “Sorcerer or Conjurer” was arraigned at the bar and accused for causing the previous night’s disarray, for disgracing the “State of Templariá”, and for foisting “a company of base and common fellows, to make up our disorders with a play of Errors and Confusions”. However, the ‘Conjuror’ was acquitted with the resolution that “the Prince’s Council should be reformed, and some Graver Conceits should take their places” in order to recover their honour. The Conjurer (Francis Bacon) then conjured up a new entertainment called The Honourable Order of the Knights of the Helmet, which was presented on the second Grand Night, 3 January 1595, the Feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus. Unlike the previous Grand Night, there was no disorder or “errors”, and the evening concluded with dancing and celebration.
In The Honourable Order of the Knights of the Helmet Francis Bacon presented his philosophical ideals and an Order of knighthood dedicated to carrying them out. The purpose of the Order was to correct the errors of the past and bring order out of chaos. The knights vow to keep nineteen articles, full of Baconian philosophy and precepts, including vows to defend God and the State, to attack ignorance, and to defend truth and virtue ceaselessly and secretly. The name of this philosophical Order of knights refers to the divine Spear-shaker, Pallas Athena, the Tenth Muse and Patroness of the Arts and Sciences, whose helmet guards the sacred diadem of the Prince of Purpoole. In addition, the goddess presents helmets to her knight-heroes, hence the Order of the Knights of the Helmet. These helmets were said to bestow invisibility on the wearer as well as being ‘will helms’ (the derivation of ‘William’), meaning ‘helmets of strength’, a symbolism that has the further cabalistic meaning of righteousness, virtue, clear perception and judgement. All such knights are, metaphorically, spear-shakers or shake-speares, like the Gemini and St George. They are also ‘invisible brethren’, a term used to describe the Rosicrucian fraternity.
On Shrove Tuesday 1595 a specially adapted masque of The Prince of Purpoole and the Honourable Order of the Knights of the Helmet was performed before the Queen at Greenwich. The entertainment concluded with a performance of Proteus and the Rock Adamantine. This marked the culmination of the 1594-5 Gray’s Inn Revels. Both this Gesta Grayorum and Gray’s Inn became much celebrated as a result.
In this entertaining and dramatic way, these Christmas Revels presented Francis Bacon’s grand project for the complete reformation of philosophy and regeneration of all arts and sciences, thereby bringing order out of chaos, and knowledge of truth out of ignorance and confused thought. Moreover, there are many allusions to the Shakespeare play, Love’s Labour’s Lost, in these revels, and vice versa, inferring that Love’s Labour’s Lost was not only either already well known at Gray’s Inn or else about to be, but also that it was designed to have a close connection with the theme of the revels. Love’s labour (i.e. charity) is the means by which we may discover and know Truth, the Summary Law, which is divine Love—“the work that God works from beginning to end”. This is the whole purpose of Bacon’s Great Instauration, as he describes it.
In August 1595 Anthony moved into Essex House to act as the Earl’s virtual ‘Secretary of State’. 1595 was also the year in which the Lord Treasurer Burghley completed his personal coup d’état by seeing his son Robert, who was knighted in 1591 and made a member of the Privy Council, and who had been unofficially filling the vacant office of Queen’s Secretary of State for several years, achieve the politically powerful position of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. This climb to power culminated the following year when Robert was officially made the Principal Secretary of State, cementing the father-son combo which together held the reins of power in the Queen’s Government. (When Burghley died in 1598, Robert continued as Secretary of State, maintaining his position of power.)
In November 1595 the Queen formally appointed Coke as Attorney-General and Serjeant Fleming as Solicitor-General. Essex was mortified by this result, feeling it as a matter of pride, and bestowed on Francis a gift of land (assumed to be adjoining Twickenham Park) in recompense for what he felt was his failure to help his friend. Francis was able to raise money on this land to ease his situation, and later he sold it.
For the Queen’s Accession Day celebration on 17 November 1595, Francis wrote The Philautia Device and The Device of the Indian Prince for Essex to perform before Elizabeth, filled with flattering and adulatory references to her Majesty, which helped to reconcile her to Essex (who had, thanks to a book published abroad, been under a shadow of suspicion concerning his influence with the Queen upon the matter of succession). The device was sponsored by Essex and took place at York House. It was sufficiently successful with the result that the Queen was not only reconciled to both Essex and Francis but she also granted Francis the reversion of the lease of Twickenham Park.
A year later, Francis was again involved in composing a device for the 1596 Accession Day Tournament, this time for Robert Ratcliffe, the fifth Earl of Sussex. One of the speeches from the device, written by Francis Bacon, is preserved in the Northumberland MS collection.
In January 1597 Francis had a book published under his own name of ‘Francis Bacon’ for the first time, this being the first version of his Essays, which he dedicated with affection to his “Loving and beloved Brother”, Anthony, referring to Anthony as “you that are next myself”.
Besides his deep love for Anthony—his brother, friend, co-writer and partner in his grand scheme—Francis was also enamoured of his cousin, Elizabeth Cecil, one of Burghley’s grand-daughters, with whom he had flirted when younger. He continued his friendship with Elizabeth after she was married to Sir William Hatton in 1594, which friendship deepened over the years. When Elizabeth was widowed in 1597 Francis courted her seriously, requesting her hand in marriage. She had been left a very wealthy young woman by her deceased husband, and so marriage with her could bestow a double grace and solve Francis’ financial problems. But another disappointment was in store, and once again Sir Edward Coke, now Attorney-General and wealthy, won the day. A romanticised account of this courtship, turned into an allegory, can be seen to underlie the Shakespeare play, The Merchant of Venice.
In 1599 trouble between the Queen and Essex flared up dangerously, Essex consistently acting against the advice of Francis Bacon, who urged Essex not to seek a military position and not to go to Ireland at the head of the English army—both of which he did. Essex was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland on 24 March 1599 and set out for that country at the head of 17,000 troops with orders to put an end to the rebellion led by the Earl of Tyrone.
Just before he set out for Ireland, a potentially volatile situation arose, in which the Shakespeare play of Richard II was indirectly involved. A book based on the play had been published by a young doctor of civil law, John Hayward, a friend of both Essex and Francis Bacon, which in its preface likened Essex to Bolingbroke and seemed to exhort Essex to rise up against the Queen and usurp the throne. Hayward was arrested and threatened with torture. Francis was immediately called before the Queen to advise whether it was treasonable, and to explain and sort matters out, which he successfully did. Hayward, although remaining in prison until James Stuart came to the throne of England, was spared any torture or trial for treason.
Fifteen months later Francis was again involved on the same subject, when Essex was arraigned before the Queen’s Council on a charge of disobeying Her Majesty’s orders in Ireland. Francis, as the Queen’s Counsel, was given the specific role of charging Essex concerning the use of Hayward’s book, a role to which he objected, remarking that “it would be said that I gave in evidence mine own tales”.
When all this culminated in February 1601 with Essex’s abortive attempt to raise an armed insurrection against the Queen and her government, which led to his trial for treason and subsequent execution (25 February 1601), the Bacon brothers were devastated. Both of them had been misled for several years by Essex, who had been secretly plotting and preparing his insurrection, and they only learnt the full truth during and after the trial. Both brothers had worked hard to try to prove the supposed innocence of Essex, and Francis did all he could to mediate with the Queen on Essex’s behalf, right up to the end, at the expense of his own relationship with her. However, Francis was ordered by the Queen to take part in the trial as her Counsel Learned, to assist the State Prosecutor and protect her person. As if these tragic events were not enough, a few months after Essex’s execution Anthony, who had not been well, was reported to have died (27 May 1601).
After Essex’ execution, the Queen ordered Francis to write the official government account of the trial. After being heavily edited by the Queen and her ministers till it read as an entirely different document to what Francis had first penned, it was published as A Declaration of the Practices and Treasons attempted and committed by Robert late Earle of Essex and his Complices, against her Majestie and her Kingdoms.
Queen Elizabeth died two years later, on 24 March 1603, and on 25 July 1603 King James VI of Scotland was crowned King James I of England. Anthony Bacon had over the years done some good service for the Scottish king, and so Francis, who pleaded his case as a “concealed poet” who was for the most part one with his brother in “endeavour and duties”, was helped by King James as a result.
In Queen Elizabeth’s reign Francis had been continually by-passed in terms of being given a position where he could command both a sufficient income and influence for the needs of his great project, and his service under the Tudor queen had gone largely unpaid, except for the promise of the reversion of the position of Clerk to the Star Chamber when it became vacant, the granting under favourable terms of the lease of Twickenham Park, the lease of the Rectory of Cheltenham, the lease of some woodland in Somerset at a nominal rent, and the payment of a fee of £1200 for his services at Essex’s trial. With James, after a cautious start, it was to be different.
Francis’ philanthropic literary work in the reign of Elizabeth, and the largely unpaid legal work for his sovereign, had left him in dire straits financially. Anthony had died with debts that had to be paid, whilst Francis had his own debts, to cover which his Twickenham Park lease was mortgaged. The literary work was still continuing and had to be supported, and meaningful and sufficient patronage was still not forthcoming. Therefore, even though he inherited the manors and estates of Gorhambury from his brother, which brought a modicum of financial security, Francis still needed to earn a reasonable income, even if it meant practising law more fully and trying to obtain an official position in the King’s service.
First Francis was knighted on 23 July 1603, along with three hundred others at Whitehall, two days before the coronation of King James and his Queen, Anne of Denmark, in Westminster Abbey. Then, a year later, in August 1604, he was confirmed by letters patent as the King’s Counsel Learned Ordinary, with a pension of £40 per annum. It was at this time that he started writing the tracts that were the forerunners of his Great Instauration, and his first version of The Advancement and Proficience of Learning, to be published in October 1605.
In 1603 Francis was introduced to Alice Barnham, a wealthy alderman’s daughter, “an handsome maiden,” to whom he took a liking with a view to marriage when she was old enough (she was only eleven years old when they first met). A little over two years later, on 10 May 1606, when she was fourteen and he forty-five, they married in Marylebone Chapel. Bacon wrote two sonnets proclaiming his love for Alice; the first was written during his courtship and the second on his wedding day. At their wedding he was clothed “from top to toe” in purple. She brought with her a dowry of £6000 plus an annual income of £220, which Francis allowed her to keep for herself, whilst he settled on her a further income for life of £500 per annum. Francis treated his wife with much conjugal love and respect, and for nearly all the years of their marriage they appear to have lived together in peace and contentment, as well as in style. However, for whatever reason, there were no offspring, although Francis clearly hoped there would be, as can be seen from legal arrangements he made.
On 25 June 1607, the year after his marriage to Alice, Francis was appointed Solicitor-General with a pension of £1000 per annum. This was not a particularly onerous position but one which Francis had previously hoped for and which would leave him enough time to pursue his philosophical and poetic programme, and with funds to pay his “good pens”. In July 1608 the reversion of Clerk of the Star Chamber fell to him at last, which boosted his financial resources even further. On 17 October 1608, Francis Bacon was elected Treasurer of Gray’s Inn, a position he continued to hold for a further nine years (until 26 October 1617). In 1611 he was appointed Judge of the Marshal’s Court and President of the Court of the Verge.
During this early Jacobean period Francis became directly involved with the Virginia Company and its schemes to colonise North America, sitting on its council together with the Earls of Pembroke and Montgomery, and the Earl of Southampton. Moreover, Francis was largely responsible for drawing up, in 1609 and 1612, the two charters of government for the Virginia Colony. These charters were the beginnings of constitutionalism in North America and the germ of the later Constitution of the United States of America. 1609 also saw three other important and related events: the death of the magus John Dee, a champion of colonisation and a model for Prospero in the Shakespeare play, The Tempest; the confidential report sent to the Virginia Company council members by William Strachey concerning the shipwreck on the Bermudas of the Company’s flagship, the Sea Adventurer, which provided source material for The Tempest; and the publication of Shake-speares Sonnets with the cryptic dedication page mentioning “The Well-Wishing Adventurer” (a term for a Virginia Company member) and signed with the Masonic “TT”.
On Valentine’s Day, 14 February 1613, the marriage of James I’s daughter, Princess Elizabeth, to Frederick V, the Elector Palatine, took place in the royal chapel at the Palace of Whitehall. Elaborate celebrations followed, organised by Francis Bacon, which included two masques—The Masque of the Inner Temple and Gray's Inn, otherwise known as The Marriage of the Rhine and Thames, and The Memorable Masque of the Middle Temple and Lincoln's Inn, otherwise known as The Virginia Masque, by George Chapman. The latter was written by George Chapman, with costumes, sets and stage effects designed by Inigo Jones, and was performed in the Great Hall of Whitehall Palace the day after the wedding, 15 February 1613, by members of the Middle Temple and Lincoln’s Inn. The former was written by Francis Beaumont, and performed on 20 February 1613 in the Banqueting House of Whitehall Palace by members of Gray’s Inn and the Inner Temple. It should have taken place on Shrove Tuesday, 16 February 1613, but had to be postponed due to the fatigue of the King. Although Francis Beaumont is said to have written this masque, the chief contriver of it was, according to the Lord Chamberlain, Francis Bacon. When the masque was printed, the dedication began with an acknowledgement that Sir Francis Bacon, with the gentlemen of Gray’s Inn and the Inner Temple, had “spared no pain nor travail in the setting forth, ordering, and furnishing of this Masque”. The dedication continued: “And you, Sir Francis Bacon, especially, did by your countenance and loving affections advance it”.
On 26 October 1613 Francis was appointed as Attorney-General and Chief Advisor to the Crown. As Attorney-General, he became far more fully immersed in the King’s business, with far less time for writing any more. What little time he had for literary matters he mainly devoted to perfecting the writing and presentation of his New Method, the first two books of which he wrote in Latin and published in 1620 as the Novum Organum.
At the end of 1613 Francis devised, organised and paid for, at enormous cost, a beautiful and elaborate masque, The Masque of Flowers, to celebrate the nuptials of Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset, with Frances, Countess of Essex. This was presented at Court on 26 December 1613 by the gentlemen of Gray’s Inn as a unique wedding gift to the couple. This came about because the four Inns of Court, having been asked to present a masque for the wedding celebrations, decided that they could not manage it. Francis Bacon, who was Treasurer of Gray’s Inn, then stepped in to fill the gap, thereby providing a magnificent gift for the wedding that was also in the nature of a ‘thank-you’ complement to Somerset, who claimed to have used his influence with the King to secure Bacon’s promotion to Attorney-General. At the same time it gave honour to Gray’s Inn.
On 9 June 1616 Francis was made a Privy Councillor. That same year he took on a forty-year lease of Canonbury Manor, a fine mansion set in parkland on Islington’s hill, with panoramic views over London and fine oak-panelled rooms decorated with Masonic and Rosicrucian symbolism. This was the year when the “Invisible College” (which eventually gave rise to the Royal Society and other societies, academies and orders, based on Francis’ proposals and inspiration) was reputedly founded. Francis referred to this College in his New Atlantis as “the College of the Six Days’ Work”—Bacon’s whole project or ‘Great Instauration’ being based on his understanding of the biblical Six Days of Creation. The following year, 1617, this College made a brief public appearance when Bacon’s friend, Edmund Bolton, presented James I with a proposal to found a Society or College for the advancement of learning along Baconian lines, to be called “King James’ Academy or College of Honour”, the members of whom were to “love, honour and serve each other according to the spirit of St John”.
On 7 March 1617, Francis was appointed Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. Having made this appointment, King James immediately left Francis to act as his regent in England whilst he departed for Scotland for a six-month visit—the first of his reign as King of Great Britain. In the King’s absence, Francis took his place in Chancery with magnificent ceremony, and dressed in purple satin as he was on his wedding day.
Having taken up his new position, Francis worked hard to make up for the delays in Chancery caused by the illness of his predecessor, his old friend Lord Ellesmere, and by the tortuous workings of Chancery generally. He doubled the amount of time that he personally, together with his staff, were traditionally expected to spend on Chancery matters, in order to expedite and clear the cases of the court, although he made sure to reserve the depth of the vacations “for studies, arts, and sciences”, to which, he said in his inaugural speech, he was in his nature most inclined.
Ten months of hard work later and after Ellesmere’s decease, on 4 January 1618 King James bestowed the honour of Lord High Chancellorship upon Francis Bacon. By this time Francis had moved into York House, the home of his father as Lord Keeper of the Great Seal (and of all subsequent Lord Keepers), and where his father had died and he had been born and bred. This was a home which meant a great deal to Francis and he set about making it into a beautiful mansion, repairing and furnishing it lovingly and lavishly, connecting it by pipe to the City’s main water supply, building an aviary in its gardens, and installing in it a huge household of servants and retainers, dressed in his livery.
Fittingly, on 12 July 1618 his Majesty raised Francis to the peerage, creating him Baron Verulam of Verulam. Two and a half years later, on 3rd February 1621, in celebration of his 60th birthday and of over three years of faithful service as Lord Keeper and Chancellor, Francis was created Viscount St Alban by the King. Noticeably and uniquely, this title is named after the saint and not the place, St Albans.
Almost immediately upon receiving the title of Viscount St Alban, at the height of his public glory, a plot which had been hatched against him by those who envied him and his position came to fruition. It fell upon Francis like a bombshell, even though friends such as Tobie Matthew had tried to warn him that something dangerous was afoot. The result of the plot led to Francis’ impeachment in Parliament (during March-April 1621) on concocted charges of corruption, to which the King, in order to move attention away from the extravagant behaviour of his favourite Buckingham and his own weakness, ordered his Lord Chancellor to offer no defence and to plead guilty. Sentence was given on 3 May 1621. Francis was stripped of his office and banned from holding any further office, place or employment in the State or Commonwealth, or from sitting in Parliament. He was banished from the verge of Court, fined the enormous sum of £40,000 (the equivalent of about £20 million today) and imprisoned in the Tower of London.
Francis’ imprisonment at the end of May was, however, brief, and after a few days he was released, although banished from London and commanded to retire to Gorhambury until the King’s pleasure should be further known. Gorhambury was a beautiful and relaxing place for vacations, but to live there month after month meant that he and his wife were largely cut off from society, from their friends, and he from his books and papers and helpers, and the stimulating company of other good minds (although Ben Jonson was able to spend some time with Francis at Gorhambury). Francis longed to return to the metropolis and get moving with his writings, and he grieved greatly that his wife had to suffer on his behalf. He pleaded with the King to be allowed to return to London. He begged also for financial help in being able to at least live, having sold his plate and jewels and other commodities to pay his creditors and servants what he owed them, so that they should suffer as little as possible.
On 16 September 1621 King James issued a licence permitting Francis to return to London (but to lodge at Sir John Vaughan’s house, not York House, and only for six weeks), and on 20 September 1621 he assigned the fine of £40,000 to four trustees of Francis’ own choosing, which meant in effect that Francis was freed of its burden. Then, on 12 October 1621, King James signed a warrant for Francis’ pardon. From the historical evidence and the tone of Francis’ letters to Buckingham and the King, this pardoning of Francis would seem to have been because of an understanding Francis had with the King, as part of the agreement whereby he would plead guilty to the charges made against him: but nevertheless the damage was done and Francis’ good name was and remains to this day tarnished in the eyes of the world as a result.
Francis’ bitter experience was not yet over. Although the King had granted his pardon, the new Lord Keeper, Bishop Williams, delayed putting his seal on it. Until this was done, Francis was still legally not a completely free man and, more to the point, was shut out of London (his six weeks at Sir John Vaughan’s house having elapsed) and could not return to his beloved York House. Eventually it was made known to Francis that the delay was caused by Buckingham, who desired York House for his own purposes. Until Francis surrendered it, he would not be given either his full pardon or his freedom. Francis tried every way he could not to lose his London home, with its strong sentimental value and into which he had poured so much of himself and his finances, but eventually he had to give way. In mid-March 1622 he surrendered York House to Buckingham, the Marquis contracting to buy the lease for £1,300. Immediately Francis’ pardon and freedom arrived, signed, sealed and delivered, and by November his pension and a grant from the petty writs, both of which had been illegally stopped, had been restored to him—but not without him having to borrow money from friends and write to the King as a supplicant in great extremity.
To begin with, sometime at the end of March 1622 Francis moved with his wife and household to a house in Chiswick, but this was only temporary; for by June that year they had taken up residence in Bedford House on the Strand. This now became their London home, Gorhambury still being their country abode and family estate, in Francis’ ownership (unlike Bedford House, which was leased).
During his time of banishment from Court and forced retirement at Gorhambury (June 1621–March 1622) Francis would have been able to spend time on the final planning and organisation of the presentation of his Great Instauration to the world at large, gathering further material for his Natural History, the third part of his Great Instauration, and writing his revised and greatly enlarged final version of the Advancement of Learning. This latter work was to represent the first part of the Great Instauration, a portion of the second part (the Novum Organum) having already been published in 1620. Moreover, it was probably during the six weeks in London (September-October 1621) that he issued instructions for the collecting together of the Shakespeare plays and the purchasing of the publishing rights for them, so that they could be published collectively as his example of the fourth part of the Great Instauration—his working model or “machine” as he called it, by which the data collected concerning natural, human and divine nature might be “set as it were before the eyes”. For this he had Ben Jonson to help him, one of his “good pens who forsake me not”. His other remaining “good pens” included George Herbert, Thomas Hobbes, Peter Böener, Dr. William Rawley and Thomas Meautys.
Once back in London the composition and translation into Latin of the Advancement of Learning went full steam ahead, although it was not until the autumn of 1623 that it was finally published (as the De Augmentis Scientiarum). The timing of this went hand in hand with the publication of the Shakespeare plays, the printing of which was set in motion early in 1622, probably under the supervision of Ben Jonson, and the publication of which occurred during the last two months of 1623 (as the Folio of William Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories and Tragedies). Francis also busied himself at this time with researching and writing a history of the reign of King Henry VII, as part of his intended collection of histories of the later sovereigns of England, and with making a start on a collection of studies that would comprise his example of a Natural History. Both The History of the Reign of King Henry VII and the first of six essays on natural history (Historia Ventorum, ‘The History of Winds’) were published in 1622.
Always Francis did his best to maintain his wife in a state befitting a viscountess, and had settled on her a suitable income in addition to her own private one, which she had always enjoyed throughout their marriage. This meant that by February 1623 Francis was again in financial difficulties. He tried to sell Gorhambury to Buckingham, but the Marquis was at that time about to embark for Spain with Charles, the Prince of Wales, to pursue the proposal for the marriage of the King of Spain’s daughter to the Prince. Failing to sell Gorhambury, Bedford House had to be given up, as being too expensive to run. This left Gorhambury as their only family home, so that, when in London, Lady Bacon had to rely on staying with family or friends whilst Francis retired to his “cell”, his chambers at Gray’s Inn, where he could carry on with his writings.
When the provostship of Eton fell vacant in April 1623, Francis applied to the King for the position, as it would have fulfilled his original desire to have a suitable position with a small but sufficient income to sustain him wherein he could “command wits and pens” and oversee the education of bright young minds. But even in this he failed, the position having already been promised to another and King James being unable to believe that his ex-Lord Keeper and Lord Chancellor, who in title was a Viscount, would want to take up such a relatively humble position. The truth of the matter was, though, that beyond granting the pardon (which was never given in full, as Francis was denied being able to sit in parliament for the rest of his life), neither the King nor Buckingham did anything whatsoever to help Francis, other than to say friendly and encouraging things in answer to his letters and pleas.
So Francis remained at Gray’s Inn, writing copiously and urgently, and living at Gorhambury with his wife from time to time. Each year, usually in the summer months, he was subject to bouts of sickness, but always seemed to recover. He never lost his profound hope, his extraordinary mental faculties or his zest for completing his great work. Yet within three years he was to die, outliving by one year the King whom he had served so well, who died on 27 March 1625 and who was succeeded by his son Charles I.
Sir Francis Bacon, Baron Verulam, Viscount St Alban, eventually died of pneumonia on Easter Day, 9th April 1626, at the Earl of Arundel’s house in Highgate. His body was interred in the vault beneath the chancel of St Michael’s Church, Gorhambury, St Albans, over which a statue of him in his Lord Chancellor’s robes was later erected by Thomas Meautys, his private secretary. Meautys also published Francis Bacon’s Natural History, Sylva Sylvarum, and utopia, New Atlantis, before the end of the year.
Within a few weeks of Francis St Alban’s death a remarkable set of tributes—“tokens of love and memorials of sorrow”—were published in commemoration of him. These tributes, known as the Manes Verulamiani, are in the form of thirty-two Latin poems or elegies plus a preface written by Francis’ private chaplain, Dr William Rawley. The elegies, selected by Rawley from a much larger number of tributes to Francis, were largely written by scholars and Fellows of the Universities, and members of the Inns of Court, including a bishop, two royal chaplains and a Regius professor of divinity. The elegies refer to Francis Bacon as having been not only a great philosopher but also a concealed poet and playwright, “the very nerve of genius, the marrow of persuasion, the golden stream of eloquence, the precious gem of concealed literature,” who “immortalised the Muses” and renewed Philosophy “walking humbly in the socks of Comedy” and rising “in the loftier buskin of Tragedy”. He is likened to Apollo, “the brilliant Light-Bearer,” “Daystar of the Muses,” and “leader of our choir”, and to Pallas Athena, the Tenth Muse, “a Muse more rare than the nine Muses.”
Francis Bacon left copious manuscripts and letters, a library of books and a generous will—although he died so much in debt due to his misfortune that the benefits of his will could not be fully realised. Some of his letters and manuscripts were given into the care of his secretary Sir Thomas Meautys, others to his chaplain Dr William Rawley, and some to be looked after by his brother-in-law Sir John Constable and his literary friend Sir William Boswell, the English Ambassador at The Hague. Francis left them instructions to publish some and reserve others to a “private succession” of literary “sons”. His extensive library he bequeathed to Constable, but it seems that the books had to be sold because of the insolvency of his estate when he died.
© Peter Dawkins, 1999, 2009, latest revision May 2013.
The Francis Bacon Research Trust