Happy birthday, Lord Verulam!

Nicolas Hilliard. Portrait of Francis Bacon, 1578. London, National Portrait Gallery

Francis Bacon was born on January 22, 1561, 453 years ago. His mother, Lady Anne Bacon, was renowned for her education and her fervent Calvinism. I’ll write about her next week. His father, Nicholas Bacon, was the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. I’ll write about him in 2 weeks. In subsequent weeks, I’ll post about his ancestors and his gentility; his siblings; and the places in which he spent his youth.

These posts will highlight the features of interest to me, as a curious cat and a novelist. I draw information from many sources, including Wikipedia (great for dates). I’ll give you those links for your research pleasure. Over the course of this blog, I will also write reviews of my favorite biographies and other reference works. For example, I’ve read four biographies of Francis Bacon, each of which has its strengths and weaknesses. They’re as interesting taken together as they are individually, but that’s a topic for a future post. The ones on my desk as I type are Catherine Drinker Bowen, The Temper of a Man (1963); Brian Vickers, Francis Bacon (1978); and Lisa Jardine & Alan Stewart, Hostage to Fortune (1998.) I have the indispensable James Spedding, ed., The Letters and the Life of Francis Bacon (1890) in pdf format, handy at all times.

Spedding describes Francis at about the age when this portrait was painted as ” a hopeful, sensitive, bashful, amiable boy, wise and well-informed for his age, and glowing with noble aspirations.” Painter Nicholas Hilliard captioned the portrait, “If one could but paint his mind.” I would add arrogant, pretty, and possessed of an unimpeachable ruff.

Three things I love about the Elizabethan period

1. A woman sat on the English throne as absolute monarch. A single, childfree woman, one might note. Elizabeth was the best educated prince in Europe, a woman of wit and wisdom who genuinely wished to see her people prosper. elizabeth I


2. This was a time of change, which is something I look for in a story setting. The long peace of Elizabeth allowed the English to expand in every direction: art, music, literature, obviously; but also mathematics, mining, map-making, and many things that did not begin with M. Society took a giant step toward the secular, in spite of — or more probably, because of — the constant tug-of-war between religious factions. The middling sort — yeomen, craftsmen, merchants and lawyers — prospered, educated themselves, and began to think of themselves as persons of consequence. These were golden years for many people, but there was also plenty of conflict to keep a novelist happy. Enclosures threw poor farmers off their land and into vagabondage; religious controversy set neighbor against neighbor and kept the government in a state of perpetual crisis. The growing population stressed nascent social services. Recurrent plague turned over the population of London once or twice a decade.

 3. Best of all, men wore outfits like this:earl_of_cumberland


What: you thought this was post was going to go all pointy-headed and philosophical?

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