Bacon's step-sisters

Francis had three older sisters from his father’s first marriage: Elizabeth, Ann, and Elizabeth. That’s not a mistake. Nicholas and wife Jane gave their third daughter the same name as the first. We don’t know why. It can’t be a case of George Foreman Syndrome (the man who named all his sons George) because then all the sons, including Francis, would be named Nicholas. Or at least the girls would all be Jane. Perhaps the elder Bess was gravely ill when the younger Bess was born. I don’t find the nicknames Liz, Liza, Beth, or Betsy yet, but Elder could have been Elizabeth, while YRedgrave_St_Marys_churchounger was always Bess. I would not be pleased to have a younger sister with my name, wearing my hand-me-downs, no doubt, and playing with my toys. You put up with things back then. I don’t find dates of birth for these girls, though surely they were recorded in the parish church. Maybe I’ll go there sometime and look. They were probably all born at the family home in Redgrave, Suffolk, which Sir Nicholas and Jane acquired from the Crown in 1542. The parish church was St Mary the Virgin, now a redundant Anglican church. (That’s a new term for me. It means a church that is no longer needed for regular worship.) But what a lovely place to be baptized and married! The Bacons were devout and politically astute. They would have attended together, children included, every Sunday and holy day when they were at Redgrave. I’m guessing Elizabeth the Elder was born between brothers Nick and Nat — between 1540 and 1546. She married three times over the course of her long life. First was Sir Robert Doyly (1542-1577) of Greenlands, Bucks. He was about her age; let’s assume he was also handsome and had a sense of humor. He must have been a descendent of Robert D’Oyly, who came to England with William the Conqueror and built Oxford Castle. Not bad for the granddaughter of a sheep reeve! She may have lived most of the time in Greenlands, a village in the triangle formed by London, Reading, and Oxford. Sir Robert had a circle of radical friends, including the Earl of Leicester and Sir William Peryam. Radical in the religious sense, meaning Protestant nonconformists. He died from a fever caught attending the assize at Oxford, where the prisoners were so sick and filthy they infected everybody. All his property was left to his wife.  He left vacant his seat in the House of Commons for Bossiney, a village in north Cornwall under control of the Earl of Bedford, who happened to be Francis Bacon’s godfather and the father of his Aunt Elizabeth’s second husband, John Russell. You can see where this is heading: Francis was “elected” to the seat for Bossiney and participated in his first Parliament in January, 1581. His family connections did him that much good at least. Elizabeth married Sir Henry Neville (c. 1520 – 1593) in 1578. He was born in 1520 and had been a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber to King Henry VIII. He must have seemed old to Elizabeth, being 58 when they wed. She was around 30. He probably kept saying things like, “The old king used to tell me…”, “Great Harry liked things to be done thusly…” Snore. Elizabeth was his third wife. His second was Elizabeth Gresham, the granddaughter of Sir Richard Gresham, who was also the grandfather of Elizabeth Bacon’s older brother Nathaniel’s wife. Handy for all one’s wives to have the same first name, isn’t it? Sir Henry and Elizabeth Gresham had 5 children. Their youngest daughter married one Edmund Doyley. Dense family connections, indeed. Elizabeth probably organized that merger.elizabeth_bacon_sr She married Sir William Peryam (or Perriam), one of her first husband’s radical friends, probably not long after Sir Henry died in 1593. She was his third wife. They also had no children. Sir William was a West Country gentleman, born in Exeter. A member of the Middle Temple, he became a serjeant-at-law in 1575, a judge in the court of Common Pleas in 1581, and was knighted and made Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer in 1593. His monument in Crediton Church preserves our only image of Elizabeth. Francis must have known Sir William, and yet I find only the bare mention of him in the biographies, which means there was no letter of any importance exchanged between him and his brother-in-law. Why didn’t Judge Peryam offer his brilliant young relation a clerkship? Elizabeth died childless in 1621. She must have been at least 78. A long life, probably an interesting one filled with intelligent society, religious study, family negotiations, estate management. Largely unrecorded. The second sister Ann cobham_familywas married only once, in about 1568, to Sir Henry Woodhouse of Waxham, on the coast of Norfolk. There’s a big nature reserve near there now. (That goes on my must visit list. I love romping around nature reserves thinking about the past.) Her brother Nicholas’s estate of Stiffkey is also on the Norfolk coast, but not that close by the standards of the time. I’m finding nothing about this gentleman, not even how he managed to get stingy Queen Elizabeth to knight him. Not a word about the marriage or any children, either. They must have lived respectable, prosperous, busy lives, sticking close to home on their windy estate. They were the sort of people shown in this portrait of Lord Cobham and his family.   The third sister, Elizabeth the Younger, married Francis Wyndham, a graduate of Cambridge and member of Lincoln’s Inn. He also became a Queen’s serjeant in 1577, and a chief justice of common pleas in 1579. (Can that be right? Historians do mix the two sisters up. If you want your children to be remembered, do not give them all the same names.) Wikipedia has a Francis Wyndham who was member of Parliament for Norfolk in 1572. I find a mention in British History Online of a Francis Wyndham who was a judge on the King’s Bench under Edward VI. I don’t believe our Francis the Younger was a judge. I think Elizabeth the Elder’s husband was the judge. Young Bess’s husband was probably just a solid country gentleman who occasionally sat in the House of Commons. Three sisters, well married, firmly knitted into the dense social fabric of the Elizabethan gentry. All staunch Protestants; perhaps a shade too staunch, leaning a little too far to the left for the Queen’s tastes, but never crossing the line into open rebellion. Solid citizens all, propertied, influential in their local spheres. And as far as history knows, having next to nothing to do with their extraordinary step-brother. Did they disapprove of him? Dislike him?  Was it mutual? Their husbands bumped into Francis in the courts of Westminster. They sat with him in the House of Commons. The sisters must have visited London from time to time. I don’t know how I’m going to deal with these distant half-sisters, but they’re bound to turn up in some book, sometime. We’ll just have to wait and see.

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