Bacon's cousins


Sir Edward Hoby, 1583. Wikipedia.

Edward Hoby (1560 – 1 March 1617) was the son of Elizabeth Cooke, (later Lady Russell) and Thomas Hoby, ambassador to France in 1566. Elizabeth, like Francis Bacon’s mother, was one of the famous Cooke sisters. Edward was just one year older than Francis and also a courtier dependent on their uncle, Lord Burghley, for patronage. According to the Dictionary of National Biography (via my good friend Wikipedia), Edward was frequently employed on confidential missions. That means Lord B sent him abroad with messages to be delivered and discussed in person. He would not have been empowered to make serious decisions, but the success of his commission would rely on his discretion and judgment. Bacon was never sent on such missions. He must have resisted them on the grounds of his delicate health. Or perhaps one had to pursue them actively and he chose not to. He didn’t like to travel.

Edward married well, twice, but had no children by either wife. First wife was the daughter of William Paulet, 1st Marquess of Winchester. She must have died soon after. He married again in 1582, at the tender age of 22. Second wife was Margaret, the daughter of Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon, cousin of Queen Elizabeth. Edward was knighted for that achievement, probably to bring his rank closer to that of his wife. Bacon was passing the bar during this period, though he must have attended both his cousin’s wedding and the knighting ceremony. There is no evidence that he made any attempt to attach a baroness of his own, ever. He must have longed for that knighthood, though.

Edward sailed to Cadiz with the Earl of Essex (a magnificent adventure to burn the Spanish fleet in its port). He served his queen and later, his king, in an assortment of profitable assignments. He engaged in a short pamphlet war  with a Catholic missionary, John Floyd. Floyd started it in 1612, publishing “The Overthrow of the Protestant Pulpit Babels”. Edward leapt to his quill and wrote “A Counter-Snarl for Ishmael Rabshakeh a Cycropedian Lycaonite, being an answer to a Roman Catholic who writes himself J. R.” Take that, thou scurrilous varlet! Father Floyd riposted (2 years later) with “Purgatorie’s Triumph over Hell, maugre the barking of Cerberus in Syr Edward Hobyes Counter Snarle”. Hoby got the last word in 1615 with “A Curry-comb for a Cox-combe”.

Edward was quite the handsome fellow, as we can see. Check out that gorgeous lace collar! I’ll bet he picked it up in Belgium on one of his confidential missions. Du Maurier describes him as “light-weight but intelligent, amusing, and interested in the arts” (Golden Lads, p.22). Fair enough for a knight in those days.

His brother Thomas Posthumous Hoby (1566 – 30 December 1640),was another life-long friend of both Francis and Anthony Bacon. He earned his middle name by being born after his father’s death. There’s no surviving portrait of him. He was known for his short stature. Du Maurier describes him as “undersized, with one shoulder higher than the other.” That must have been a hardship in those days, when most people believed that the outer form was a reflection of the inner essence. It astonishes me to learn that he also sailed to Cadiz with the great expedition.

In spite of his physical detriments, he married well: the twice-widowed Margaret Sidney, daughter and heiress of Arthur Dakins, a landed gentleman of Linton. Thomas and Margaret were fervent Puritans. Her diary survives and supplies us with many details about daily life. I haven’t read it yet, but one of these fine days… The private life of an Elizabethan lady : the diary of Lady Margaret Hoby, 1599-1605, edited by Joanna Moody. 1998.

Francis Bacon’s most important relation was his uncle, William Cecil, Lord Burghley. He and his son Robert deserve their own post. Lord B’s son by his first marriage, Thomas, can be mentioned here. Thomas was born in 42, thus 21 years Francis’s senior. He seems to have been on cordial terms with both Francis and Anthony. He wrote a letter to his father supporting Francis’s unsuccessful bid for Attorney General (1594), for example. I scan all my biographies for further evidence of friendship and find none. Hm. Du Maurier tells us Thomas’s son Richard was a frequent visitor at Twickenham Park, but this is all we know about him.

Portrait of dress with a lady inside

Portrait of dress with a lady inside

Sir Thomas’s daughter Elizabeth, on the other hand, was a more constant part of Francis’s life. Born in 1578, she was 17 years younger than Francis. I don’t have a picture of her, so I’ll give you this one of Margaret Gerard, Lady Legh, about whom I know nothing other than that she lived at Lyme Park, Cheshire and was probably close to Elizabeth’s age. It’s the costume that matters; Elizabeth also wore dresses like this to court.

Du Maurier builds a dramatic narrative from the slender evidence of Francis’s friendship with his young cousin, starting with supposed flirtations at court. I can imagine Francis, who described himself as bashful, taking a break from fraught conversations with the powerful to engage in a little light banter with a bright and unthreatening girl. She was witty and charming, even as a teenager.

Elizabeth had an impressive lineage. She was the great-granddaughter of the 13th Earl of Oxford and the granddaughter of Lord Burghley. She married well too, at least the first time, to Sir William Newport alias Hatton, heir of childfree Lord Chancellor Christopher Hatton, one of Queen Elizabeth’s. The couple lived in Hatton House in Holborn (which sounds like the start of tongue-twister designed to teach Cockneys to speak English.) Hatton House was a short stroll from Gray’s Inn and was renowned for its gardens, “with fountains, fishponds, arbours, lawns and alleys, terraces and trees” (Golden Lads, p159.) Francis loved gardens, so it’s safe to assume he visited at least once a season.

Sir William died in 1592, leaving Elizabeth a very wealthy widow. Suitors thronged to her doorstep, including Fulke Greville, Sir Edward Coke, and our very own Francis Bacon. She was only a second cousin, so fair enough. Never mind that he was penniless, untitled, and homosexual. He was 36, he desperately needed her money, and they were friends. He pressed his suit with some vigor, going so far as to persuade the Earl of Essex to write a letter on his behalf to both of Elizabeth’s parents. “What his virtues and excellent parts are, you are not ignorant. What advantages you may give yourself and to your house by having a son-in-law so qualified, and so likely to rise in his profession, you may easily judge.” (Golden Lads, p160.)

Elizabeth’s parents spurned the impoverished genius in favor of the wealthy (yet odious) Sir Edward Coke, about whom I will write more later. He was one of Francis’s enemies and therefore a villain in my storyworld. The marriage was publicly, famously, contentious. She would have been happier with Francis, assuming a handsome footman with a gift for discretion, although Francis would have run through her fortune in pretty short order.

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