Lady Anne Bacon


Lady Anne Bacon

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.

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.

Bacon's coach companions

Three clues survive regarding Bacon’s sex life: a letter from his mother to his brother Anthony, a letter from a Spanish envoy to Anthony, and a bit of vicious gossip from Simonds D’Ewes.

D’Ewes hated Bacon for political and spiteful reasons. When Parliament, led by the odious Sir Edward Coke, ousted Bacon from his seat as Lord Chancellor in 1621, D’Ewes wrote in his diary, “His most abominable and darling sin I should rather bury in silence than mention it… his most horrible and secret sin of sodomy, keeping still one Goderick a very effeminate faced youth to be his catamite.” (Quoted in Jardine & Stewart, p.464.)

Remember that sodomy, like incest, atheism, and having six toes on one foot, was a charge trotted out against anyone you wanted to destroy. Verification was never required.

Lady Bacon and Anthony exchanged several letters in 1593 about the sale of one of Anthony’s estates to help get Francis out of debt. Here’s the one everyone quotes: “I have been too ready for you both till nothing is left. And surely though I pity your brother, yet so long as he pitieth not himself but keepeth that bloody Percy [Henry Percy, not the earl], as I told him then, yea as a coach companion and bed companion, — a proud profane costly fellow, whose being about him I verily fear the Lord God doth mislike and doth less bless your brother in credit and otherwise in his health,– surely I am utterly discouraged and make a conscience further to undo myself to maintain such wretches as he is. That Jones never loved your brother indeed, but for his own credit, living upon your brother, and thankless though bragging. But your brother will be blind to his own hurt…. The Lord in his mercy remove them from him and evil from you both, and give you a sound judgement and understanding to order yourselves in all things to please God in true knowledge and in his true fear unfeigned, and to hearken to his word which only maketh wise indeed. Besides, your brother told me before you twice then that he intended not to part with Markes [the estate], and the rather because Mr. Mylls would lend him nine hundred pounds; and as I remember I asked him how he would come out of debt. His answer was that means would be made without that… It is most certain till first Enney a filthy wasteful knave, and his Welshmen one after another– for take [one] and they will still swarm ill-favouredly — did so lead him as in a train, he [Francis] was a towardly young gentleman and a son of much good hope in godliness. But seeing he hath nourished most sinful proud villains wilfully, I know not what other answer to make. God bless you both with his grace and good health to serve him with truth of heart.

                        Gorhāb. 17 Apr.                                                          A. Bacon.”

The term ‘bed-companion’ was about as sexy then as ‘roommate’ is today. People lumped in together as a matter of routine. Coach-companion, on the other hand, did carry the odour of hanky-panky.

Lady Bacon continued on another leaf: “If your brother desire a release [of the deed] to Mr. Harvey, let him so require it himself, and but upon this condition by his own hand and bond I will not; that is, that he make and give me a true note of all his debts, and leave to me the whole order and receipt of all his money for his land, to Harvey, and the just payment of all his debts thereby. And by the mercy and grace of God it shall be performed by me to his quiet discharge without cumbering him and to his credit. For I will not have his cormorant seducers and instruments of Satan to him committing foul sin by his countenance, to the displeasing of God and his godly true fear. Otherwise I will not pro certo. A.B.”

I wish I had a cormorant seducer. It sounds like fun, especially if those instruments of Satan include a marimba.

Spedding is utterly silent on the question of what specific foul sins are being performed (Vol. I, p. 244ff.) He focuses instead on the respective financial abilities of Francis and Lady Bacon. Neither was any good at all with money: he was too trusting; she too suspicious. Spedding notes that it would have looked rather bad for Francis to be obliged to turn his finances over to his mother while he was being considered for Attorney General.

True enough, but what about that coach companion? Not a word, and the omission is noticeable because Spedding micro-analyzes many other letters. He averts his gaze here and draws the veil in true Victorian style.

Daphne Du Maurier breezes right past this letter (Golden Lads, p 81.) She offers a heavily edited excerpt in a passage about Francis’s lack of thrift with nary a word about the other implications. This book is chiefly about Anthony, but still, given her own flexible sexuality, you’d think she’d have offered us a little insight. There are cormorants in Cornwall, after all. (OED, cormorant: (1) a large and voracious sea-bird… lustrous black colour. (2) An insatiably greedy or rapacious person.)

Lisa Jardine and Alan Stewart uncovered another datum (Hostage to Fortune, p. 163), a letter from Antonio Pérez to Anthony Bacon about a dinner invitation from Francis. Pérez was Henri IV’s envoy to England. He became part of the Earl of Essex’s circle, which included the Bacon brothers. He and Francis apparently spent a great deal of time together during those years (1593-95.) I can’t wait to write about this guy; he was a rogue and a spy, a scholar and a mocker. Très elizabethan.

Antonio Pérez Ponz

“Your brother invited me to dinner. He has wounded me in writing — his pen being the most rabid and biting of teeth. As if he himself were above blame — some kind of chaste vestal virgin. You can tell immediately what this imagined modesty of his is all about. For I am just the same. Those who claim to love modesty are in fact the most bold of men, and submit to force, and enjoy the excuse of being taken by force, like the Roman matron in Tacitus who consented to be raped by her lover. But alas, if you do not read these letters before dinner, the provocation behind his viciousness towards me will not be clear to you.”

 The biographers comment, “Pérez was notoriously colorful in describing his personal relations with men of importance.” Indeed. We needn’t take that letter literally; on the other hand, they obviously hadn’t been playing chess.

 Where’s that veil again? I won’t write anything that graphic, ever, but it does suggest a certain taste for role-playing in our sober-minded philosopher that I might find a place for one of these books. Should the wily Antonio Pérez be a red herring or a villain?

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