Lady Anne Bacon

AnneCookeBacon
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.

Elizabeth_Hoby
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.

Pix & notes: Coughton Court

I visited Coughton Court in 2009, on the first trip I made purely for book research. It was June Coughton Courtand every rose in England was blooming. I was staying in Stratford-upon-Avon and eccentrically insisted on using public transportation to get around. The bus driver on the A435 seemed surprised and disgruntled at having to stop at this unusual place to let me off and rigorously refused to understand my English. Luckily, some of the passengers — old folks with shopping baskets — leapt to my assistance. You don’t get that kind of fun when you drive!

The Throckmortons

Sir_Nicholas_Throckmorton_from_NPG
Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, from the National Portrait Gallery

Members of this illustrious family have been living in this spectacular house since the mid-sixteenth century, which makes them ancient in our day, but newly feathered in Francis Bacon’s. The gatehouse was built by Sir George Throckmorton, who found time between sessions of Parliament and opposing King Henry VIII’s break with Rome to father 8 sons and 9 daughters. A busy man!

And a long-suffering wife, Katherine Vaux, daughter of the first Baron Vaux of Harrowden and Elizabeth FitzHugh, descendant of Edward III. Sir George spent some harrowing months in the Tower for his pro-Catholic words and deeds, but he managed to escape hanging, probably thanks to his wife’s excellent connections.

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The irresistible Sir Walter. Portrait by Nicholas Hilliard, from the National Portrait Gallery.

 

His successor at Coughton Court, eldest son Robert, was equally committed to the Catholic cause. His Wikipedia page has obviously been edited by a Catholic — the word ‘persecution’ appears repeatedly. Watch out for those loaded words, boys and girls! ‘Prosecute’ is a neutral term describing a legal action. ‘Persecute’ is a drama word, identifying a villain and a martyr. Since two of Sir Robert’s grandchildren and one of his sons-in-law were actually convicted of conspiring to assassinate the queen, I would suggest the phrase “justifiably suspicious of” to describe the attitude of the government toward the Throckmortons of Coughton Court.

Sir Nicholas Throckmorton was the fourth of Sir George’s sons. He was brought up in the household of Catherine Parr, Henry’s last wife and a committed Protestant. (This was undoubtedly one of those child-rearing exchange programs the upper class engaged in back then.) He thus had the advantage of being on board with the new religion from the get-go. He became one of Queen Elizabeth’s most trusted diplomats. His daughter Elizabeth married Sir Walter Raleigh in 1591, getting both her and Sir Walter in hot water with the queen.

The National Trust has owned the house since 1946, although Throckmortons continue to live there today and manage the nursery.

The gatehouse

dining room Coughton CourtI scanned these photos from the National Trust souvenir book. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the house ourselves. The exterior pix are all mine. That’s the gatehouse from the front at the top of this post.

The house has a priest hole, but those things are deuced difficult to take pictures of. There is also a winding stone staircase leading up to the roof, whence you’ll find a magnificent view. Apparently this was a popular destination for dinner guests in the eighteenth century. I can imagine women in Regency dresses climbing that stair, or women wearing bum rolls to bell their skirts, but I don’t see how Georgian panniers could possibly fit.

The dining room, like most of the gatehouse, was extensively repaired and remodeled in 1956, bedroom coughton_courtpresumably by the National Trust. The lovely oak paneling and the marble chimney-piece date from the time of Charles I, who was James I’s second son. Bacon must have known him.

This room, called the Tapestry Bedroom, is a composition of Victorian elements. In earlier centuries, that tester would have been the real thing, covering the whole bed to keep rats and other things from falling on you while you sleep. It would support full curtains too, to keep out those dangerous drafts.

The gardens

The house is interesting, but it’s far from the main draw. Coughton Court has extensive grounds and several connected walled gardens, all of which are breathtakingly beautiful, especially in late June, when I was there. The grounds are 25 acres and every inch is beautifully landscaped. There isn’t a view on the property, any way you might turn, that isn’t stunning. I’d love to visit again in a different season.

References

National Trust. 2002. Coughton Court Warwickshire: House and Gardens. Norwich: Jarrold Publishing.