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Anthony Bacon

Anthony Bacon (1558-1601) was Francis Bacon’s full brother and one of the few people we know spymasters-brotherhe truly loved. They were close friends throughout Anthony’s life. That’s his only known portrait on the cover of my new book, The Spymaster’s Brother.

The ideal biographer

Francis Bacon is the subject of at least half a dozen biographies. There are so many books about him and his works they have a collective noun, Baconiana. Anthony is only famous because of Francis, but he was lucky in his biographer, Dame Daphne Du Maurier. Yes, the woman who wrote Rebecca and the Jamaica Inn. She was a passionate history buff who became interested in Anthony’s years in France when researching her own Huguenot ancestors.

golden-ladsThe Golden Lads is chiefly about Anthony, while The Winding Stair picks up Francis’s life after Anthony’s death in 1601. Du Maurier 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 long-buried details 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 Du Maurier filling in the emotional history with her writerly imagination? Since I haven’t read Anthony’s letters and 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. (They are quite enjoyable books. Recommended!)

Early history

Anthony’s father was Sir Nicholas Bacon, the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal for Queen Elizabeth I. He was among those most trusted Protestant gentleman who formed her early government. The queen would probably have elevated Sir Nicholas to the peerage for his service, but he died too soon. Still, he was widely respected. His name opened many doors for his sons.

The Bacon brothers’ mother was Lady Anne Bacon. She was one of the five daughters of Sir AnneCookeBaconAnthony Cooke, renowned for their intelligence, education, and devotion to the Protestant cause. Lady Bacon was particularly admired among Calvinists at home and abroad for her astute translations of religious tracts. She also fostered radical Puritan preachers in her home, men who might have been hanged if they’d had a lesser protectress.

Lady Bacon and her two brilliant boys were very 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? Her letters are peppered with such questions, along with dietary advice. They usually end with a note about the fresh strawberries or pigeons being delivered along with the letter.  

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 best friends 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. They lived with the headmaster, John Whitgift, who later became the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Bacon boys were densely connected to the powerful men and women in England.

A Protestant gentleman abroad

cathedral-bourges
Cathedral in Bourges

Sir Nicholas Bacon died in February, 1579, leaving Gorhambury and some other properties to Anthony. 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.

He stopped in Paris and visited Bourges, a university town with a magnificent cathedral. He was shocked by the licentiousness and corruption he found there. It was nothing like Cambridge! He moved on to the godly community in Geneva, where he 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.

He was denied permission to visit Italy. 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.

He 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 any musical instrument, nor did he have much tolerance for the 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.

Trouble in the south of France

Anthony became great friends with Henri of Navarre, who was crowned King Henry IV of France in 1589. Henri was a Protestant and an important ally of England. Anthony 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 his troublesome health, he had friends in high places, and a congenial household. He ignored repeated requests from his mother and 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.

duplessis-mornay
Philippe Du Plessis Mornay

This is the secret Du Maurier unearthed from the archives in Montaubon. Not a whisper of this calamity reached England, though Francis had hints. Anthony had rubbed some important people the wrong way; chiefly Philippe du Mornay Plessis-Mornay and his haughty wife. This provoked Du Plessis to poke his long French nose into Anthony’s domestic arrangements.

His household included a number of young pages, like any well-staff manor 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 child abhorrent. That was true then too, but the age of acceptable engagement was lower. We don’t know how old those pages were, but it is safe to assume they were under 18. My sense of that period is that 15 or 16-year-olds would be considered fair enough, provided the acts were consensual. Sexual relations occurred on a continuum with fewer well-defined and labeled points than we have today, in our rather sex-obsessed culture. People shared beds as a matter of course. Pages in the attic, perhaps; grooms above the stable.

I’m with Du Maurier. I can easily imagine Anthony dandling pretty boys on his knee, teasing them with sweets, and rewarding them with trinkets. I can’t imagine him hurting or threatening anyone of any age. He and Francis were both known for being indulgent, undemanding masters whose servants tended to take advantage of them. But I can believe that he created an atmosphere in which someone felt licensed to abuse a young boy.

The charge was very serious, and must have been terrifying. Sodomy was a crime punishable by death in France (and England) in those days. In England, you would hang; in France, you’d be burned at the stake. 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 hard for him, although the cause of his absence could not have been generally known. The Du Plessis’ were there. He wrote to his family in England blaming illness for his long stay in Montaubon. He lingered there until 1590, when he moved to Bordeaux.

The death and birth of a spymaster

Sir Francis Walsingham, the Secretary of State, died in April, 1590, leaving Anthony without a spymaster. Anthony continued to do his work, which consisted largely of writing letters. He helped to free English spy Anthony Standen from prison. He reported on events in France from his own observations. He also had correspondents picking up tidbits and sending to him, to be sifted, analyzed, and crafted into reports.

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. Du Maurier believes he was afraid Du Plessis would tell people, especially the queen, about that old sodomy charge and his stint in jail.

He arrived in England on February 4, 1592. He had been gone for twelve years. He lived with Francis for a few years in Bacon House at Gray’s Inn, where they entertained their friends with frequent suppers, passing out beaver hats as party favors. I wish I could’ve been at one of those suppers, but of course, women were not allowed.

essex2
Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex

Anthony had become disaffected from his uncle, Lord Burghley, the queen’s Lord Treasurer. Burghley expected work from his useful nephews, like sharing of foreign intelligence, cryptography, translations, position papers, etc. But he never paid them in any way: not money, and not in sustainable government positions.

Anthony decided soon after his return from France to throw in his lot with the ambitious Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex. By 1595, he was the earl’s Secretary of State, living in Essex House, and managing all of his lordship’s foreign affairs. Francis retained a bit of distance, never leaving Gray’s Inn. But Essex became his major patron as well during these years.

Essex committed treason against the queen in 1601, leading an armed band through the streets to make an attempt on Whitehall. The ever-pragmatic Bacon brothers would certainly have advised him against such madness. Francis was forced by her Majesty to participate in the prosecution of his patron. Anthony must have been very ill. He died soon after in the home of Essex’s widow, Frances Walsingham, the daughter of his old mentor.

He was buried in the yard at St. Olave’s Church on Hart Street. That’s around the corner from the Tower Hill tube station. There’s no marker; I looked high and low, inside and out. Francis must have been walking a very straight line at that time, trying to stay out of jail himself. And he was probably deeply in debt, as usual. Otherwise, he would surely have provided his most beloved brother with some sort of monument. Luckily, Dame Daphne Du Maurier had a deep streak of curiosity, so Anthony lives forever in her excellent book. And now I’ve contributed in my small way to his legacy.

st-olav
St. Olave’s Hart Street

Launch: The Spymaster's Brother

The sixth book in the Francis Bacon mystery series is out today. Yay! It should be available nearly spymasters-brothereverywhere ebooks are sold. Print catalogs will take a few weeks to propagate.

Anthony Bacon is home with a wealth of foreign secrets — and a few of his own.

Though seldom strong enough to leave his rooms in brother Francis’s house, Anthony’s gouty legs never hinder his agile mind. He’s built the most valuable intelligence service in Europe. Now the Bacon brothers are ready to offer it to the patron with the deepest pockets.

Before they can open the bidding, Francis finds a body lying in the weeds near Gray’s Inn. The abandoned coach beside it belongs to Anthony. The clues point to his personal secretary. Worse, the murdered man was heard spreading rumors that could destroy Anthony’s reputation — and his market value.

Francis thinks his brother ordered the deed done. His assistant Thomas Clarady thinks the secretary did it, with or without such orders. As Tom investigates, he hears one story after another about what happened that night. Which version is the truth? The closer he gets to finding out, the more danger gathers around Anthony. Will Tom and Trumpet, his very pregnant confidante, sort through the lies before disaster strikes?


Here’s a blog post I wrote about Anthony a while back.

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