Lady Anne Bacon

Lady Anne Bacon

Francis Bacon’s mother, Anne (c. 1528 – 27 August 1610), was one of the five daughters of Sir Anthony Cooke. The Cooke sisters were renowned for their learning and intelligence, an unusual source of fame for women in any age. Sir Anthony, like Sir Thomas More, was a humanist scholar inspired by the renaissance of classical learning that swept across Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. (Humanist, because humans were the focus, not God or mysticism.)

Sir Anthony was a tutor to Edward VI and thus close to power in the turbulent years preceding Elizabeth’s accession. Unlike Sir Thomas More, Sir Anthony was a Protestant, well-aligned with Elizabeth’s views on religion; not surprisingly, since he helped to form them. Sir Anthony believed that girls should be educated as well as boys and taught his daughters to read and write fluently in both Latin and Greek. He undoubtedly gave them a solid foundation in classical literature as well. He served on religious commissions and held important public offices, but is now chiefly remembered for having taught Francis Bacon’s mother her Greek. Funny how the wheel turns.

Bacon’s redoubtable aunts

Anne’s sisters were Mildred (b. 1526), Margaret (c. 1536), Elizabeth (b. 1540), and Catherine (c. 154?.) Mildred married William Cecil, 1st Lord Burghley, Elizabeth’s Lord Treasurer and the most powerful man in the kingdom. Her son, Robert, born two years after Francis, in 1563, blocked Francis’s path all his life. Only after Robert’s death in 1612 did Francis begin to achieve the positions of real influence and prestige. One of Francis’s earliest preserved letters is to his Aunt Mildred, begging her to forgive his awkwardness (“I am not yet greatly perfect in ceremonies of court”) and to mention with favor his current suit to his Lord uncle. What he was pursuing at that time isn’t mentioned. Mildred must have received near daily letters from her sister Anne requesting attention and favor for Francis and his brother Anthony.

Lady Elizabeth Hoby

Aunt Catherine married Sir Henry Killigrew, a diplomat and ambassador to Scotland and the Netherlands. She died in 1583, leaving four daughters.

Aunt Margaret married Sir Ralph Rowlett, an MP and sometime Sheriff of Essex and Hertfordshire. She died in 1558. They had no children. Neither Catherine nor Margaret figures in my stories.

Aunt Elizabeth, on the other hand, is one of my favorite Elizabethans. She was an extraordinary woman. In our day, she’d be running for president. I introduce her in book 3, The Widows Guild, as the founder of the influential Andromache Society. She will continue to play an important role in my books, as she must have done in Francis’s life.

The portrait shown here and on the cover of my book shows Lady Elizabeth in her widow’s cowl, after the death of her first husband, Sir Thomas Hoby. Her second husband was John, Lord Russell, who had the ill grace to die before his father, thus preventing Elizabeth from becoming a countess, to her lasting disgruntlement.

The mother of a genius

Lady Bacon was a gifted linguist, fluent in Italian, Latin, and Greek, and even possessed of some Hebrew. Her translation from Latin to English of Bishop John Jewel’s An Apology or answer in defense of the Church of England was highly regarded throughout Protestant Europe. It was published without her name on it, of course; she was a lady and ladies did not write books. Nevertheless, she was a respected participant in the campaign to develop and propagate Protestant doctrine. She was a devout Calvinist who supported and protected nonconformist preachers at her home in Gorhambury throughout her long life. (She lived to the exceptional age of 82.) Her beliefs were considerably more radical than those of her husband, her sons, or the established church. She did not hesitate to make her views known to the authorities of church and government when she deemed it necessary. Judging from the tone of her letters, she was not one to be easily persuaded from her chosen course.

Here’s an excerpt from a letter she wrote Lord Burghley after a conference between bishops and nonconformist preachers at which Lady Bacon felt the preachers had not been given a fair hearing*:

“I know well, mine especiall good Lord, it becometh me not to be troublesome unto your Honour at any other time, but now chiefly at this season of your greatest affairs and small or no leisure; but yet because yesterday’s mornings speech, — as, in that I was extraordinarily admitted, it was your Lordship’s favour, — so, fearing to stay too long, I could not so plainly speak, nor so well perceive your answer as thereto as I would truly and gladly in that matter, — I am bold by this writing to enlarge the same more plainly and to what end I did mean.”

In other words, her brother-in-law got her into an important conference at which she was unable to express her opinions, so now she’s going to bend his ear at length, no matter how busy the poor guy is. I like that “enlarge the same more plainly.” I can just see Lord Burghley taking off his spectacles to rub his forehead. And yet he read every letter and responded.

Lady Bacon was in charge of her two gifted sons’ early education (Anthony and Francis). No notes about her curriculum or materials survive, but we can imagine a program centered on religious doctrine in many languages. Her standards were high. She and her sons were close all their lives. Her letters are an endearing mix of scolding them for insufficient piety, worrying about their health (chronically delicate), and anxiety about scoundrels and false friends scheming to take advantage of their innocence and inexperience. You can imagine how much the 26-year-old Francis appreciated that advice.

Letters from home

Here are some illuminating examples. These are all letters to Anthony. (I’m copying in more than I meant to, but they’re irresistible.)

“I trust you, with your servants, use prayer twice in a day… Your brother [Francis] is too negligent herein.”

“Let not Lawson [Anthony’s friend], that fox, be acquainted with my letters. I disdain both it and him…. Send it back, to be sure, by Mr. Fant sealed; but he will pry and prattle.”

“Procure rest in convenient time. It helpeth much to digestion. I verily think your brother’s weak stomach to digest hath been much caused and confirmed by untimely going to bed, then musing nescio quid [I don’t know what] when he should sleep, and then in consequent by late rising and long lying in bed: whereby his men are made slothful and himself continueth sickly. … Let not your men see my letter. I write to you and not to them.” [Sounds like Francis kept writer’s hours.]

“I am glad and thank God of your amendment [improved health]. But my man said he heard you rose at three of the clock…. I like not your lending your coach yet to any Lord or Lady. If you once begin, you shall hardly end.” [She had a spy in Anthony’s house! Amazing that he tolerated it, but those were different times.]

“If you deal with Elsdon, be very well advised… These days are full of fraud. My man said you wished to have strawberries to gift. I have sent I think all there be, and this day gathered… I send them by the boy of my kitchen, a shrewd-witted boy and prettily catechized, but yet an untoward crafty boy. … It is here very hot indeed. Let not your men drink wine in this hot weather; nor your brother’s neither; tell him.” [That pretty, crafty boy sounds ideal for the Bacon brothers. And I love the way she jumps from fraud to strawberries.]

“Be not too bold with κυριω θησαυραριω [lord’s treasure, I think]. Lose not his φιλιαν [love, friendship]. You know what I mean… Be not overcredulous nor too open. Sub omni lapide latet anguis [under every stone lurks a snake].”

Anthony has recently returned from several years of intelligence work in France, where he was befriended by kings and courtiers, walked a fine line between Catholics and Huguenots, and maintained a vital, encrypted correspondence with Lord Burghley, Sir Francis Walsingham, and the Earl of Leicester, with Francis managing the correspondence. Over-credulous? Methinks not so much.

Can’t you just imagine the two brilliant, sophisticated Bacon brothers getting letters like this from their mother every single day? They loved her, but there must have been a lot of eye-rolling. Whilst enjoying the freshly picked strawberries.

* The letters are taken from Spedding, James, ed. 1890. The Letters and the Life of Francis Bacon. Vol. I. London: Longmans, Green, and Co.

Even imaginary people need something to read

Character worksheets usually have lists of features that supposedly add depth to the people who populate your works of fiction. Some include things like their favorite flavor of ice cream, which is not much help for historical fiction. And how is supposed to help you write their reaction to discovering a body on the library floor? Other worksheets ask for life extremes, like the greatest fear or happiest moment. I don’t rank the events of my life on a scale and couldn’t tell you what my happiest moment was. I’ve had many happy moments, lucky me, each happy in its own special way. I’m afraid of many things too, including driving in a hailstorm and spiders. What does that tell you about my investigative proclivities? (Nothing, is the correct answer.)

Most people will supply conventional fears like “speaking in public,” or big happy events like “the birth of my first child,” which I find completely unhelpful in character development.

I want to know how my characters live. Where do they work? What do they eat? What do they do in the evening? Where did they go to school and what sorts of students were they? What do they read? That tells me more about their everyday selves than the obvious, unrevealing questions in the worksheets. Besides, I’m nosy about these things.

All my characters are curious people with big dreams, even the bad guys, so they all read something.

The Elizabethans

From the English Broadside Ballad Archive at UCSB.

You’d think someone would have compiled a list of books read by Francis Bacon, but no one has. The
information is directly available, since his library was not preserved. It could have been — one of his lifelong friends was Thomas Bodleian, founder of the eponymous library at Oxford University — but it wouldn’t surprise me to discover that Francis borrowed most of the books he read.

That said, he read a lot. Some of what he read has been deduced from what he wrote. He must have read most of the major works on natural philosophy and religion written during his lifetime. He also read Montaigne’s Essays and Machiavelli’s The Prince. He had a solid foundation in Roman literature and would certainly have read things like Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Holinshed’s Chronicles, the source Shakespeare relied on for his history plays.

Thomas Clarady loved chivalric romances, like Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: a boyhood taste that lived on well into adulthood. When his wits were exhausted from studying legal works, he would turn to old friends. He devoured Le Morte D’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory and Orlando Furioso, once Sir John Harington translated it into English in 1591. He also had a good grounding in Latin literature, but liked Christopher Marlowe’s translation of Ovid’s The Art of Love better than anything assigned to him in school.

Benjamin Whitt also liked the romances, but devoured broadsides and  pamphlets, the more outlandish, the better. These cheap publications were the popular literature of the day, strictly speaking beneath an educated man like men. Well, we all have our vices.

The example shown here is from the English Broadside Ballad Archive of the University of California, Santa Barbara. 

The Texans

buroker-the-emperors-edgePenelope ‘Penny’ Trigg, the protagonist of my Lost Hat, Texas, series, has a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from the University of Texas at Austin. She can’t afford art books, but her family gives them to her for Christmas and birthdays. One of her most treasured books is a collection of photographs by the Mexican photographer Graciela Iturbide. For fun, Penny likes science fiction and fantasy. Being an independent artist-entrepreneur herself, she gravitates toward indie authors like Lindsay Buroker, Sean Platt, and Johnnie Truant.

Tyler Hawkins, Penny’s venture capitalist boyfriend, mainly reads technology and business journals. He’s not long on imagination. Every now and then, like on a long flight, he’ll read something like Barry Eisler’s international thrillers.

Otilia ‘Tillie’ Espinoza is a romantic through and through. She prefers contemporary romance, especially ones with plus-sized heroines. She loved Katie Graykowski’s Perfect Summer. She also reads all of Courtney Milan’s books. She wishes there were more sexy romances with Latina heroines. The hero can be whatever, as long as he’s gorgeous and kind to animals. Krystal Cameron likes snappy paranormal chick lit and zippy fashionista mysteries, like those by Diane Vallere. Sadly, these heroines tend to encourage Krystal’s less than orthodox decision-making strategies.


Now, doesn’t that tell you more than today’s flavor of ice cream?