Francis BACON

(1st V. St. Albans)

Born: 22 Jan 1561, London

Died: 9 Apr 1626, near London

Father: Nicholas BACON (Sir Lord Keeper of the Great Seal)

Mother: Anne COOKE

Married: Alice BARNHAM 10 May 1606/7, London, England (dau. of Benedict Barnham and Dorothy Smith)

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Francis Bacon

Portrait attributed to Paul van Somer

Francis was the second son by Sir Nicholas second wife, Anne Cooke, daughter of Sir Anthony Cooke of Gidea Hall; by his first wife had had six children, three of them sons. 

Bacon's mother was a thorough Calvinist. He adhered to the middle road of the Church of England, however, neither authoritarian nor sectarian. His religion was more formal than fervent.

His original appointments undoubtedly derived from the position and influence of his father. It is worth noting that the Queen admitted Bacon to the rank of Barrister early, in 1584. A wealthy father provided well for the prior four but died before he arranged much for Francis, when he was eighteen. Bacon did inherite a small estate worth about 300. In 1601 he inherited the better estate of his brother Anthony (the other son of Bacon's mother), but Anthony had died heavily in debt.

At age 31 (1592) Bacon wrote to William Cecil, baron Burghley, who was his uncle, seeking a position. The letter is one of the more eloquent statements of the needs driving patronage. Probably Burghley obtained Bacon's appointment as clerk of Star Chamber. This was a governmental position with a salary of 1600 per annum. However, what Bacon received in 1589 was the reversion of the position when the current incumbent died. He had to wait nineteen years. Finally in 1608 he entered upon the income. 

However, Cecil had his own son, Robert, to look out for, and it appears that the two Cecils viewed Bacon as competition. In fact Bacon did not thrive until the accession of James, and more after the death of Robert Cecil, Lord Salisbury.

As a boy he was a favorite of Queen Elizabeth, who delighted in his knowledge.

In his thirteenth year (1573) Francis entered Trinity College, Cambridge where he studied under Whitgift. At Cambridge, when he was not yet fifteen years old, Bacon fell out of love with Aristotelianism, which he saw as a philosophy that produced only disputes.

Bacon left Trinity College, Cambridge in 1575 without a degree. After three years in the residence of the English Ambassador in Paris, he entered Gray's Inn. M.A. confered by Cambridge University, 1594--don't list. Returned to Parliament in 1584, he served in Commons until his elevation to the peerage.

Under Elizabeth Bacon functioned as a Queen's Counsel, but without an official appointment. He never got the appointment he desired and pursued under Elizabeth. From 1592 to 1601 Bacon was in Essex's service. Essex headed a court faction opposed to the Cecils. His brother Anthony was also in Essex's service. For Essex, Bacon organized masques intended to influence the Queen (the arts used for propaganda). Essex presented Bacon with a valuable property (worth about 1800) when he failed a second time (1595) to get him a position. Bacon's role in the trial of Essex is well known and has been the subject of much comment. Except for one well documented gift, Bacon's financial reward (as opposed to Essex's influence to promote his career) is unclear, or better wholly undocumented. Given Bacon's lack of income commensurate with his aspirations, I find it difficult to believe that he did not receive other rewards, in keeping with the universal practices of patronage, for the constant advice, formally composed, that he tendered to Essex, for the masques he composed, etc.

With the accession of James things began to look up. Bacon did not marry until the late age of forty-eight (1607), and contemporary figures relate that he was by preference homosexual. He had a preference for young Welsh serving-men.

He was appointed to the commission to consider union with Scotland, and became a King's Counsel with a pension of 60. Solicitor General, 1607, with salary of 1000. Appointed Attorney General, 1613. Appointed member of Privy Council, 1616. Appointed Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, 1617. Appointed Lord Chancellor, 1618-21. Created Lord Verulam in 1618 and Viscount St. Albans in 1621. Impeached for bribery in 1621. Although Bacon was never primarily a lawyer (except perhaps for the crown), he did practice some; around 1610 he was earning about 1200 per annum from his practice.

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Bacon as a young man

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Sir Nicholas Bacon, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal

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Anne Cooke, mother of Sir Francis Bacon

Portrait attributed to George Gower, 1580

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Anthony Bacon, Sir Francis eldest brother

A dangerous political situation was developing. It would seem that the real problem was that many people, and the Parliament that was meeting, had finally had it with Buckingham's influence over the King (and the resulting political influence of Buckingham's family). Instead of attacking the King directly, Sir Edward Coke and parliament attacked the two highest ministers, Bacon, Lord Chancellor and Henry Montague, Lord Treasurer.

But Bacon fell suddenly in 1621 (the same year that James fell from grace by trying to abolish Parliament), when he was found guilty of having accepted bribes while serving as a judge. Actually it was common practice during this era for all judges to accept gifts from the winning parties. It was really a political, rather than a moral, trial. A strong faction in Parliament disliked Bacon's friendship with James and seized an opportunity to pretend moral oturage. His public career was ruined, and he retired to write and to conduct scientific research.



F.H. Anderson, Francis Bacon, His Career and His Thought, (Los Angeles, 1962)

J.G. Crowther, Francis Bacon, the First Statesman of Science, (London, 1960)

Benjamin Farrington, Francis Bacon, Philosopher of Industrial Science, (New Yor, 1949)

Catherine Drinker Bowen, Francis Bacon: The Temper of a Man, (Boston, 1963).


For More information See:

Rictor Norton, "Sir Francis Bacon", The Great Queens of History


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