Anthony Bacon

anthony_baconAnthony Bacon was Francis’s full brother and one of the three people we know he truly loved. The others were his father Sir Nicholas and his mother Lady Anne Bacon. Lady Bacon and her two brilliant boys were close throughout their lives. She never stopped chiding them with fierce affection about their diet, their behavior, and their friends. They over-indulged their servants. They stayed up too late. Were they praying twice daily, together with their household? Understanding the relationship among these three is essential to my understanding of Francis. This post will just introduce Anthony and get him through his years in France. After his return to England in 1592, his life and Francis’s are intertwined, so he will be a part of whatever I write about those years and be a character in those books as well.

Anthony Bacon’s only biographer is Dame Daphne Du Maurier. Yes, the woman who wrote Rebecca and the Jamaica Inn. The Golden Lads is chiefly about Anthony, while The Winding Stair picks up Francis’s life after Anthony’s death in 1601. She studied collections of letters in archives, going so far as to have hundreds of Anthony’s letters transcribed. I wish she had published them. She and her son tracked down the truth about Anthony’s prolonged stay in Montaubon, an important contribution to history. Her sources are impeccable and she writes with a novelist’s flair. This makes her books more enjoyable, but also slightly suspect. Was there a letter describing Lady Bacon’s frustrations as the new step-mother of six teenagers, or is Dame Daphne filling in the emotional history with her writerly imagination? Since I haven’t read Anthony’s letters and probably won’t unless someone publishes an edition, I can’t answer that question. So I read these biographies with pleasure and an extra serving of salt.

Anthony was born in 1558, three years before Francis. He was Anne’s third child. The first two were girls, Mary and Susan, who lived only briefly, but were greatly mourned. His birthdays must have been celebrated with more than the usual joy. We don’t have details of his childhood, but he and Francis seem to have been close from the beginning. So much so that when Anthony was sent to Cambridge at the normal age (for a gentleman’s son) of fifteen, twelve-year-old Francis was allowed to go with him. (I’ll write more about Francis Bacon’s education next month.)

Sir Nicholas Bacon died in February, 1579, leaving Gorhambury and some other properties to Anthony. There was a furious battle among the older brothers over the will (more next week). Anthony sailed for France that autumn, leaving his lady mother and his steward in charge of his estates. He had applied to his uncle, Lord Burghley, for permission to travel. (You had to have a passport, then as now. But back then you applied personally to a specific individual in the government, explaining where you going and why you wanted to go there.) His family and servants bewailed his absence in many letters. Anthony never listened to such complaints or even to advice from well-wishers like Sir Francis Walsingham. No doubt he learned to tune out the sound of advice from long practice in his mother’s company. He seems always to have been completely self-directed.

Cathedral in Bourges

He stopped in Paris and visited Bourges, a university town with a magnificent cathedral. Du Maurier tells us that Anthony was shocked by the licentiousness and corruption he found there. It was nothing like Cambridge! He followed brother Edward’s trail to the godly community in Geneva, where he also lodged with Theodore Beza. He met everyone who was anyone in the Calvinist circle, including the many visitors from other countries. Religious tourism was always big in Europe. Anthony Bacon made a favorable impression on one and all.

Like Edward, he longed to visit Italy. Unlike Edward, he was denied permission. Things were heating up south of the Alps, with Spain preparing to invade and the Inquisition setting up shop in Venice. Anthony went west instead, to Toulouse, Lyons, Montpellier, and Marseilles, spending a few months in each place, making friends, seeing the sights, and spending, spending, spending. He was the despair of his thrifty steward and his anxious mother. Even Francis, who was little better, chided him about expenses.

He fell ill in Marseilles; Du Maurier suspects malaria. Anthony suffered from recurring fevers for the rest of his life, in addition to gout and a supremely delicate digestive system. He continued to write letters, however, to his family and friends as well as to Sir Francis Walsingham and Lord Burghley. He was a keen observer of people and political situations and wrote with the Baconian gift for clarity. virginalHe also wrote poetry, none of which has survived. He seems to have been more cultured in the way of a courtier than Francis, more well-rounded with respect to the arts. He played the lute and the virginals, for example. I don’t think Francis played an instrument. Nor did he have much tolerance for the political cocktail party atmosphere of noble halls and ballrooms. Anthony, on the other hand, apparently loved hanging out with the French upper crust. Combine that with his intelligence, his learning, and his well-trained memory, and you have a very valuable political reporter.

He became great friends with Henri of Navarre, who became King Henry IV of France in 1589. Henri was a Protestant and thus an important ally of England. Sixteenth century French politics are too complicated for me and fortunately well off topic, so I’ll spare us all an attempt at a summary. Anthony visited the principality of Béarn, which is down along the border of Spain. He set up housekeeping in Montaubon in January 1585. This was a capital of French Protestantism and thus the perfect spot from which to report on events in France. All was well, for a while. The climate agreed with him, he had friends in high places, and a congenial household. He ignored repeated requests from his mother and steward and even Sir Francis Walsingham to return to England. He liked the south of France — who doesn’t? — and was having too much fun to come home. Until he was charged with sodomy.

This is the secret Du Maurier managed to unearth from the archives in Montaubon. Not a whisper of this calamity seems to have reached England (although I pretend Francis knew about it.) Anthony had rubbed some important people the wrong way, including Philippe de Mornay Plessis-Marly, causing someone’s long French nose to be poked into his domestic arrangements. Anthony’s household included a number of young pages, like any well-furnished home in those days. His favorite page was Isaac Bourgades. Another page declared before the Council for the Prosecution at Montaubon that Isaac had pursued and ‘mounted’ a third, younger page. This one quit. Another servant confirmed the story and further declared that Anthony frequently abused his pages in this fashion, bribing them to keep silent about it.

Du Maurier believes in the sex, but not the abuse. Nowadays, of course, we find the idea of a 28-year-old having sex with a minor abhorrent; a form of abuse however gentle or consensual. We don’t know how old those pages were, but it is safe to assume they were under 18. In those days, such antics weren’t something you would brag about, but disapprovers would be regarded as stuffy old women. That’s my impression, anyway. Sexual relations occurred on a continuum with fewer well-defined and strictly labeled points than we have today, in our rather sex-obsessed culture. I’ll blog about sex in more detail later. (Not those kinds of details! Zeitgeisty stuff.) I’m with Du Maurier: I can easily imagine Anthony dandling pretty boys on his knee and fondling them in his big fluffy bed, teasing them with sweets and rewarding them with trinkets. I can’t imagine him hurting them or threatening them with any sort of punishment. He and Francis were both known for being indulgent, undemanding masters whose servants tended to take advantage of them.

Anthony’s living room on a typical Friday night

The charge was very serious, however, and must have been terrifying. Sodomy was a crime punishable by death in France (and England) in those days. Charges were brought sometime before the summer of 1586. In September, Henri of Navarre intervened in Anthony’s defense. Charges were heard again November 17, 1587, and then the record falls silent. Anthony stayed on in Montaubon, trapped by debt. It must have been awful for him. Everyone must have known about the charges and about Henri’s intervention. He wrote to his family in England blaming illness for his long stay in Montaubon. He lingered there until 1590, during which year he moved to Bordeaux.

Sir Francis Walsingham died in April of that year, leaving Anthony without a spymaster. Anthony fell ill while traveling, typically, and needed months to recuperate. He found excellent new friends in Bordeaux, however: the poet Pierre de Brach and Michel de Montaigne, the great essayist who had such an influence on Francis. He went back to work, helping to free English spy Anthony Standen from prison and reporting on events in France. It wasn’t until he learned that his enemy du Plessis was headed for England that Anthony packed up his possessions and said farewell to France at last. He arrived in England on February 4, 1592. He had been gone for twelve years.

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