Lady Anne Bacon

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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_Perez_Ponz_wikicom
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?

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.

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