Bacon's step-brothers: Edward

Edward was the third son of Sir Nicholas Bacon and Jane Ferneley. He was born in 1548 and died in 1618. Tittler thought Edward was something of a black sheep, because he seems to have arranged his own marriage, to Helen Little, daughter of Sir Thomas Little. I can’t find anything about this gentleman. Perhaps Edward just wanted a woman whose name wasn’t Ann? Hm. I do find a Sir Robert Litton of Shrubland Hall, Suffolk (the estate brought to Edward by his marriage) in the mid-seventeenth century. Tittler must have transcribed the name wrong; it happens. (I double-checked through Google books, thus discovering a new use for that handy resource.)

Edward seems to have been less of a stick than his older brothers. He was supposed to go to France with little brother Francis as part of ambassador Sir Amias Paulet’s household. Their father’s intention was that his sons should learn French, diplomacy, and civil law during this time, under the supervision of the impeccably Protestant Sir Amias. Edward managed to slip the leash, however, and escape to the Continent on his own, somehow managing to snag the passport his father had obtained from the queen. He went with one manservant to tend the horses and one French travelling companion, whose name has not survived the years.


Theodore Beza, a wild and crazy guy

We do not imagine any son of Sir Nicholas Bacon cutting loose and running wild. And indeed, Edward headed straight for Geneva, fountain of Calvinism, where he spent time with prominent Protestants like Theodore Beza. He was lauded as ‘a good and pious young man’ (Jardine & Stewart: 62). Not so much with the wenching and the gambling, then. He did daringly travel on to Italy, a country regarded as extremely dangerous for a moral young man. Italian society was renowned for sophistication, subtlety, a complete lack of religion, lechery, murder, intrigue, and adultery. No wonder every young man wanted to go and see for himself! Sir Nicholas would never have given Edward permission to go; perhaps that’s why there’s no record of his asking. He went to Venice and Padua, then back to Geneva via Zurich. His entrée everywhere was his name, both on account of his father’s high position in the government of Queen Elizabeth and on account of his mother’s quieter fame as a gifted translator of key Protestant works.

Returning home, Edward slipped directly into obscurity. He married his Helen, when exactly is not recorded. They had two sons: Nathaniel (b. ??) and Francis (b. 1600), who undoubtedly took their places in Suffolk society. Edward was knighted in 1603, probably at the mass knighting of 100 men that James performed to celebrate his accession to the English crown. Francis was knighted in the same ceremony. Did the brothers stand together? I imagine they did.


London Wetland Centre

They must have been on fairly decent terms. Edward held the lease of the estate at Twickenham Park where Francis spent many happy days and nights. Her Majesty gifted him with the lease in 1574, to run through 1595, no doubt as a favor to her Lord Keeper. Francis had the reversion of that lease. 87 acres of parklands, meadows, orchards, woodlands, with a house built originally as a hunting-lodge for Edward III. I imagine a simple two-story rectangle with the diamond-paned windows added recently, perhaps by Edward Bacon, but Bowen suggests a central portico with wings of red brick. Not just a hunting box, then. Its windows looked across the river to Richmond Palace. He must have seen wherries bringing persons of importance, courtiers in their private barks, coming and going when the court was there.

Francis retreated to ‘Twitnam’ in times of stress or plague or just to get away from the bustle of Gray’s Inn to read and write and putter in his gardens. I took this photograph at the London Wetland Centre (aka the International House of Exotic Ducks) , a wonderful place well worth a muddy tramp down the Thames path. It might give you a sense of what the fringes of the Thames looked like back in the sixteenth century, when the river managed itself and its banks weren’t contained in concrete. This is the sort of view Francis Bacon would have contemplated as he strolled along the river, glancing across at the slender brick towers of the palace, perhaps wondering what, if anything, was being said about him.

Edward’s principal seat was at Shrubland Hall, Suffolk. The existing hall was built in the seventeenth century and is now a residential facility for the British Institute of Technology and E-commerce. I think Francis would like that better than the viscounts and marquesses planted by his oldest step-brothers.

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