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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

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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.

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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

Bacon's Essays: Of Followers and Friends

Francis Bacon’s essay “Of Followers and Friends” was first published in 1597. It was somewhat amended for the 1625 edition (the year before his death.) In 1597, things were getting tenser and tenser between his patron, the Earl of Essex, and Queen Elizabeth. In between writing advice letters, Bacon published a bit of philosophy (The Colours of Good and Evil) and this first edition of his immortal Essays. He also laid out the gardens at Gray’s Inn Walks. (They’ve changed in the past 400 years.)

Segmenting your followers

(Italics & bolding here are mine.)

Costly followers are not to be liked; lest while a man maketh his train longer, he make his wings king-trainshorter. I reckon to be costly, not them alone which charge the purse, but which are wearisome, and importune in suits.”

This is timely advice. I’ve been cleaning up my newsletter this month. Subscribers who never open anything (vain followers?) cost me money, which thus clips my wings by limiting some other thing I might do. And heaven knows we don’t want followers (think Twitter or Facebook) who are argumentative (wearisome) or constantly asking you for favors, advice, or anything.

Funny how things come around, huh? In the 80’s, none of us ordinary Susies had followers. Now, pretty much everybody has at least a few.

Ordinary followers ought to challenge no higher conditions, than countenance, recommendation, and protection from wrongs.” These are the ones you want. They just want you to acknowledge them (countenance) and recommend them from time to time. The Earl of Essex could get people out of jail if he wanted to. We can defend our social media followers from trolls, perhaps, or from being grossly misunderstood by another poster.

Factious followers are worse to be liked, which follow not upon affection to him, with whom they range themselves, but upon discontentment conceived against some other; whereupon commonly ensueth that ill intelligence, that we many times see between great personages.”

Party politics creates this situtation a lot. You don’t like the candidate you’re voting for much, but you really hate the one you’re voting against. So the one you vote for can’t count on you for anything. You’re acting purely oppositionally.

Russian_Fanfare_Trumpets
Trumpets of commendation

“Likewise glorious followers, who make themselves as trumpets of the commendation of those they follow, are full of inconvenience; for they taint business through want of secrecy; and they export honor from a man, and make him a return in envy.”

Bacon’s not a fan of publicity. He thinks most ‘business,” by which he means negotiation more than transaction, should be handled out of the public eye — in ‘secret.’ And it is true that having every word that falls from some politician’s lips repeated ad infinitum in the press can make that person seem foolish, or wishy-washy. Maybe that’s a valid portrait, but it doesn’t aid good governance.

“There is a kind of followers likewise, which are dangerous, being indeed espials; which inquire the secrets of the house, and bear tales of them, to others. Yet such men, many times, are in great favor; for they are officious, and commonly exchange tales.”

Some politicians love flattery and negative gossip about their opponents so much, they don’t realize they’re harboring a spy for the opposite side.

Descent into opacity

From about the midpoint, I find it very hard to figure what Bacon is talking about. He liked to be opaque; his mother scolded him about it. And these essays would have been read by educated men like his brethren in the Inns of Court or Lord Essex’s retainers. They would read them and discuss them with great enjoyment after supper.Shakespeare_and_His_Contemporaries

You and I, alas, must slog through as best we can. Whately is some help.

He starts by allowing that followers of men who are meant to be followed, as soldiers follow officers, are perfectly fine, provided that they don’t get carried away with “pomp or popularity.” (‘Popular’ was not a praise word for Francis Bacon; on the contrary.)

“But the most honorable kind of following, is to be followed as one, that apprehendeth to advance virtue, and desert, in all sorts of persons.”

Take out most of the commas and this makes more sense. It is honorable to follow someone who knows how to advance virtue and to deserve being followed. Yes, indeed.

“And yet, where there is no eminent odds in sufficiency, it is better to take with the more passable, than with the more able.” Well, color me stumped! ‘Sufficiency’ probably means ‘adequate competency,’ or something similar. ‘Passable’ could also mean ‘adequate’ — it means that today. Or it could mean ‘authorized, legal.’

I think this means, All things being equal, the more authorized option is better than the more exciting one. But I could be wrong.

“And besides, to speak truth, in base times, active men are of more use than virtuous.” This is pretty obvious once you understand that ‘base times’ means ‘times of trouble.’ You want that multi-talented mercernary when things go sour more than you want that virtuous philosopher.

Making use of your followers

“It is true that in government, it is good to use men of one rank equally: for to countenance some extraordinarily, is to make them insolent, and the rest discontent; because they may claim a due.”

Don’t play favorites, especially not among those of equal rank. Always good advice.

“But contrariwise, in favor, to use men with much difference and election is good; for it maketh the persons preferred more thankful, and the rest more officious: because all is of favor.

The older meaning of ‘officious’ is just ‘dutiful.’ He’s saying, reward the ones who work hard and use their talents toward your ends, because the rest will see that that’s the way to win your favor.

henri3
Henri III and the Duke of Guise. Lots of ill-advised favoritism going around at the French court in those days.

“It is good discretion, not to make too much of any man at the first; because one cannot hold out that proportion.” You can’t keep it up, he’s saying, but generally, respect has to be earned. And favors should be earned too, or they lose their value.

“To be governed (as we call it) by one is not safe; for it shows softness, and gives a freedom, to scandal and disreputation; for those, that would not censure or speak ill of a man immediately, will talk more boldly of those that are so great with them, and thereby wound their honor. Yet to be distracted with many is worse; for it makes men to be of the last impression, and full of change.”

Favoritism is a real problem in Bacon’s day. Probably in ours too, although it doesn’t come up much for the self-employed novelist :-). Also, our business and non-profit orgs have tons of rules about it. They don’t stop it from happening. The Favorite gets away with murder (scandal and disreputation). The Favorite might also talk boldly about the boss, claiming that private knowledge, which will ultimately end up making the Boss look like a Fool.

But being surrounded by an entourage is worse. It makes you more likely to have your head turned by whatever was said last, so you’re always changing your mind.

A (very) few words about friends

“To take advice of some few friends, is ever honorable; for lookers-on many times see more than gamesters; and the vale best discovereth the hill.”

Outsiders see more of what’s going on than insiders. You can’t really the hill while you’re standing on it, but from the valley, you can see the whole thing.

“There is little friendship in the world, and least of all between equals, which was wont to be magnified. That that is, is between superior and inferior, whose fortunes may comprehend the one the other.”

This is kind of sad, but then these are some of the worst years in Bacon’s life. He’s getting nowhere, career-wise, in spite of the Earl of Essex’s best efforts. The earl is blocked at every turn by the wily Sir Robert Cecil, Bacon’s cousin and chief obstructor. Bacon was arrested in the street for debt the year after these essays were published. (You didn’t make much money from publication in those days either.) Bacon’s best friend was his brother Anthony, whose health was declining. His next best friend was the Earl of Essex, probably, but you can’t pal around with an earl, unless you’re one yourself.

Bacon had kinder things to say Of Friendship in an earlier essay.

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The Earl of Essex, attributed to Nicolas Hilliard

 

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