Anthony Bacon

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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.

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St. Olave’s Hart Street

Lady Anne Bacon

AnneCookeBacon
Lady Anne Bacon

Francis Bacon’s mother, Anne (c. 1528 – 27 August 1610), was one of the five daughters of Sir Anthony Cooke. The Cooke sisters were renowned for their learning and intelligence, an unusual source of fame for women in any age. Sir Anthony, like Sir Thomas More, was a humanist scholar inspired by the renaissance of classical learning that swept across Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. (Humanist, because humans were the focus, not God or mysticism.)

Sir Anthony was a tutor to Edward VI and thus close to power in the turbulent years preceding Elizabeth’s accession. Unlike Sir Thomas More, Sir Anthony was a Protestant, well-aligned with Elizabeth’s views on religion; not surprisingly, since he helped to form them. Sir Anthony believed that girls should be educated as well as boys and taught his daughters to read and write fluently in both Latin and Greek. He undoubtedly gave them a solid foundation in classical literature as well. He served on religious commissions and held important public offices, but is now chiefly remembered for having taught Francis Bacon’s mother her Greek. Funny how the wheel turns.

Bacon’s redoubtable aunts

Anne’s sisters were Mildred (b. 1526), Margaret (c. 1536), Elizabeth (b. 1540), and Catherine (c. 154?.) Mildred married William Cecil, 1st Lord Burghley, Elizabeth’s Lord Treasurer and the most powerful man in the kingdom. Her son, Robert, born two years after Francis, in 1563, blocked Francis’s path all his life. Only after Robert’s death in 1612 did Francis begin to achieve the positions of real influence and prestige. One of Francis’s earliest preserved letters is to his Aunt Mildred, begging her to forgive his awkwardness (“I am not yet greatly perfect in ceremonies of court”) and to mention with favor his current suit to his Lord uncle. What he was pursuing at that time isn’t mentioned. Mildred must have received near daily letters from her sister Anne requesting attention and favor for Francis and his brother Anthony.

Elizabeth_Hoby
Lady Elizabeth Hoby

Aunt Catherine married Sir Henry Killigrew, a diplomat and ambassador to Scotland and the Netherlands. She died in 1583, leaving four daughters.

Aunt Margaret married Sir Ralph Rowlett, an MP and sometime Sheriff of Essex and Hertfordshire. She died in 1558. They had no children. Neither Catherine nor Margaret figures in my stories.

Aunt Elizabeth, on the other hand, is one of my favorite Elizabethans. She was an extraordinary woman. In our day, she’d be running for president. I introduce her in book 3, The Widows Guild, as the founder of the influential Andromache Society. She will continue to play an important role in my books, as she must have done in Francis’s life.

The portrait shown here and on the cover of my book shows Lady Elizabeth in her widow’s cowl, after the death of her first husband, Sir Thomas Hoby. Her second husband was John, Lord Russell, who had the ill grace to die before his father, thus preventing Elizabeth from becoming a countess, to her lasting disgruntlement.

The mother of a genius

Lady Bacon was a gifted linguist, fluent in Italian, Latin, and Greek, and even possessed of some Hebrew. Her translation from Latin to English of Bishop John Jewel’s An Apology or answer in defense of the Church of England was highly regarded throughout Protestant Europe. It was published without her name on it, of course; she was a lady and ladies did not write books. Nevertheless, she was a respected participant in the campaign to develop and propagate Protestant doctrine. She was a devout Calvinist who supported and protected nonconformist preachers at her home in Gorhambury throughout her long life. (She lived to the exceptional age of 82.) Her beliefs were considerably more radical than those of her husband, her sons, or the established church. She did not hesitate to make her views known to the authorities of church and government when she deemed it necessary. Judging from the tone of her letters, she was not one to be easily persuaded from her chosen course.

Here’s an excerpt from a letter she wrote Lord Burghley after a conference between bishops and nonconformist preachers at which Lady Bacon felt the preachers had not been given a fair hearing*:

“I know well, mine especiall good Lord, it becometh me not to be troublesome unto your Honour at any other time, but now chiefly at this season of your greatest affairs and small or no leisure; but yet because yesterday’s mornings speech, — as, in that I was extraordinarily admitted, it was your Lordship’s favour, — so, fearing to stay too long, I could not so plainly speak, nor so well perceive your answer as thereto as I would truly and gladly in that matter, — I am bold by this writing to enlarge the same more plainly and to what end I did mean.”

In other words, her brother-in-law got her into an important conference at which she was unable to express her opinions, so now she’s going to bend his ear at length, no matter how busy the poor guy is. I like that “enlarge the same more plainly.” I can just see Lord Burghley taking off his spectacles to rub his forehead. And yet he read every letter and responded.

Lady Bacon was in charge of her two gifted sons’ early education (Anthony and Francis). No notes about her curriculum or materials survive, but we can imagine a program centered on religious doctrine in many languages. Her standards were high. She and her sons were close all their lives. Her letters are an endearing mix of scolding them for insufficient piety, worrying about their health (chronically delicate), and anxiety about scoundrels and false friends scheming to take advantage of their innocence and inexperience. You can imagine how much the 26-year-old Francis appreciated that advice.

Letters from home

Here are some illuminating examples. These are all letters to Anthony. (I’m copying in more than I meant to, but they’re irresistible.)

“I trust you, with your servants, use prayer twice in a day… Your brother [Francis] is too negligent herein.”

“Let not Lawson [Anthony’s friend], that fox, be acquainted with my letters. I disdain both it and him…. Send it back, to be sure, by Mr. Fant sealed; but he will pry and prattle.”

“Procure rest in convenient time. It helpeth much to digestion. I verily think your brother’s weak stomach to digest hath been much caused and confirmed by untimely going to bed, then musing nescio quid [I don’t know what] when he should sleep, and then in consequent by late rising and long lying in bed: whereby his men are made slothful and himself continueth sickly. … Let not your men see my letter. I write to you and not to them.” [Sounds like Francis kept writer’s hours.]

“I am glad and thank God of your amendment [improved health]. But my man said he heard you rose at three of the clock…. I like not your lending your coach yet to any Lord or Lady. If you once begin, you shall hardly end.” [She had a spy in Anthony’s house! Amazing that he tolerated it, but those were different times.]

“If you deal with Elsdon, be very well advised… These days are full of fraud. My man said you wished to have strawberries to gift. I have sent I think all there be, and this day gathered… I send them by the boy of my kitchen, a shrewd-witted boy and prettily catechized, but yet an untoward crafty boy. … It is here very hot indeed. Let not your men drink wine in this hot weather; nor your brother’s neither; tell him.” [That pretty, crafty boy sounds ideal for the Bacon brothers. And I love the way she jumps from fraud to strawberries.]

“Be not too bold with κυριω θησαυραριω [lord’s treasure, I think]. Lose not his φιλιαν [love, friendship]. You know what I mean… Be not overcredulous nor too open. Sub omni lapide latet anguis [under every stone lurks a snake].”

Anthony has recently returned from several years of intelligence work in France, where he was befriended by kings and courtiers, walked a fine line between Catholics and Huguenots, and maintained a vital, encrypted correspondence with Lord Burghley, Sir Francis Walsingham, and the Earl of Leicester, with Francis managing the correspondence. Over-credulous? Methinks not so much.

Can’t you just imagine the two brilliant, sophisticated Bacon brothers getting letters like this from their mother every single day? They loved her, but there must have been a lot of eye-rolling. Whilst enjoying the freshly picked strawberries.

* The letters are taken from Spedding, James, ed. 1890. The Letters and the Life of Francis Bacon. Vol. I. London: Longmans, Green, and Co.

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