The Bacon's bitter butter battle

Sir Nicholas died like the Great Elizabethan he was, deeply in debt. He had settled estates on his eldest sons, ample ones, sufficient to establish each as one of the foremost members of the society of his county. He left his wife well provided for, with all the plate and jewels and tenancy for her lifetime at Gorhambury. Also other leases and a hundred pounds to retain the servants. And this fateful admonition: “In consideration of which legacies and in consideration of such assurances of manors, lands and tenements as I have assured unto my said wife and for all loves that have been between us, I desire her to see to the well bringing up of my two sons Anthony and Francis that are now left poor orphans without a father.”

All Francis inherited was a modest manor called Marks, a property called Woolwich Marsh (near the Woolwich Armory tube stop, I think), and a few dubious leases. Together these properties brought him £30o per annum, which was plenty of money for an ordinary person, but a pittance for a courtier and a mockery compared to his eldest brother Nicholas’s £6,000.

And then there were the debts, far greater than any of the late Lord Keeper’s sons had imagined. They hastened to protect their own legacies from the creditors and fell into a furious wrangle. Nicholas and Nathaniel opposed Anthony and Lady Bacon. Edward the Amiable seems to have kept out of it. Poor Francis had no stake.Battle_tewkesbury

Nathaniel claimed that Pinner Park in Middlesex ought to have been left to him, not Anthony. Anthony laid claim to a lease at Redbourne (near St. Albans) which Nicholas considered his. They fought bitterly and at length, both sides writing frequent letters of complaint to uncle William, Lord Burghley, who must have had the most prodigious patience. (I will blog about the mind-boggling range of his correspondence later.) Jardine & Stewart phrase his reponses beautifully: “[He] subsequently produced from their discussions, and from consultations with Anthony, a list of contested articles with his own preferred resolutions.” The list was undoubtedly cogent and the resolutions equitable. Both were ignored.

The elder brothers were far from unified, often contradicting one another. Nathaniel wrote, “where brethren do fall out the dislikings between them are more hardly appeased than those between strangers.” True, indeed. The delays and bitterness were increased by hostility between Nicholas and Lady Bacon. He alleged that she had taken goods to which she was not entitled. The brothers threatened to take their step-mother to court, which distressed Lord Burghley, who was married to Lady Bacon’s sister.

The legal matters were eventually settled, presumably without the drastic measure of hauling a lady into court. Anthony ended up with the manor at Redbourne, where he often stayed in later years. But the rift between the oldest and youngest sons of Sir Nicholas was never healed. Nicholas and Nathaniel, while never particularly active at Court or on a national scale, became powerful, influential men, who never did anything to help their extraordinary youngest brother at any time in his complicated life. A source of potential comfort and support was denied Francis at the outset of his adult life by a poorly written condition in his father’s will.

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