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.

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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