« PreviousContinue »
FRANCIS BACON was born January 22, 1561, at York House, in the Strand, London, the youngest of the eight children of Sir Nicholas Bacon, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. Sir Nicholas Bacon, a stanch Protestant and a good lawyer, was one of that remarkable group of able men the young Queen Elizabeth gathered around her upon her accession to the throne, in 1558. Of her Lord Keeper, William Camden says, "She relied on him as the very oracle of the law."
Sir Nicholas Bacon was twice married; first, to Jane Fernely, daughter of William Fernely, of West Creting, Suffolk, who died leaving three sons and three daughters, and second, to Anne Cooke, second daughter of Sir Anthony Cooke, of Gidea Hall, Essex. Lady Anne Cooke Bacon was the mother of Anthony and Francis Bacon. Coming into the world the son of a Lord Keeper, in York House, which he was himself to occupy as Lord Keeper in after years, Francis Bacon was as truly born to commanding position in life as is a king's
son. Many of his kinsmen held distinguished positions and filled them with credit to themselves and the nation. Lady Bacon was left a widow as a comparatively young woman, so that we naturally hear more of her family in the history of her famous son, than of his half-brothers and half-sisters, who were considerably older. But what has come down to us of his relations with these elder Bacons helps materially to reconstruct his environment.
The Elizabethans were great builders. The Wars of the Roses ended forever in England the necessity of building for protection from hostile neighbors, and the policy of internal peace fostered by the Tudors enabled Englishmen to accumulate wealth. Landholders under Queen Elizabeth could afford to build beautiful homes, and they liked to surround themselves with the new luxuries brought to their notice in England by the travellers, especially by the travellers in France and Italy. In domestic architecture, two of these luxuries were glass windows, which often fill up the side of a room in an Elizabethan house, and spacious gardens encircling the entire building and adorned with all sorts of devices, some original and some more or less crudely adapted from formal gardens abroad. Sir Nicholas Bacon, though not a rich man, built two houses. Redgrave, Guilford, Suffolk, where he had married his first wife, was without gardens, and so limited in size that Queen Elizabeth visiting her Lord Keeper there told him his house was too small. "No, Madam," replied Sir Nicholas, "my house is not too small for me, but your Majesty has made me
too great for my house." Gorhambury, near St. Albans, was a larger house. About Gorhambury, says Edmund Lodge, in his Portrait of Sir Nicholas Bacon, he added "gardens of great extent, in the contrivance and decoration of which every feature of the bad taste of his time was abundantly lavished.” Gorhambury was left to Lady Anne Bacon, and ultimately became the property and the country home of Francis Bacon.
The mansion of Redgrave was inherited by Sir Nicholas Bacon, 2d, who was doubtless hard pressed to support there his family of nine sons and three daughters. Nathaniel Bacon, second of the elder sons, is described as of Stiffkey, Norfolk. He was something of an artist. Playing upon the name and domestic habits of his stepmother, Anne Cooke Bacon, he made a portrait of her, now at Gorhambury, dressed as a cook and standing in a litter of dead game. The third elder brother, Edward Bacon, obtained from Queen Elizabeth, in 1574, a lease of Twickenham Park, on the Thames fronting the royal palace at Richmond. Francis Bacon's letters as a young man are often dated from Twickenham Park, showing that he lived from time to time. at his half-brother's country seat.
In 1597, when Bacon was elected to Parliament for Ipswich, the family county town, he had as colleagues no less than six kinsmen. His brother Anthony sat for Oxford; his half-brother, Nathaniel, for Lynn; his cousin, Sir Edward Hoby, for Rochester; his cousin, Sir Robert Cecil, for Herts; while Henry Neville, who represented Liskeard,
was his nephew, the son of his half-sister, Elizabeth Bacon, whose second husband was Sir Henry Neville. Another connection of Bacon's in the Parliament of 1597 and his colleague in the representation for Ipswich was Michael Stanhope, grand-nephew to his mother.
Lady Anne Cooke Bacon, a remarkable woman, was a member of a remarkable family. Her father, Sir Anthony Cooke, tutor to King Edward VI, had five daughters, who received the same careful, thorough education that he gave to his sons. They all became highly educated women and all five made brilliant and happy marriages. Mildred, the eldest, became the second wife of William Cecil, Lord Burghley, the great Lord Treasurer who guided Elizabeth's government so adroitly and so wisely. Elizabeth Cooke, the third daughter, married twice; first, Sir Thomas Hoby, ambassador to France and translator of Il Cortegiano (The Courtier), which Dr. Johnson described as "the best book that ever was written on good breeding," and, second, John, Lord Russell, son of Francis Russell, second Earl of Bedford; Catherine Cooke married Sir Henry Killigrew, of that family of Killigrews of Cornwall which in the time of the Restoration produced the two dramatists, father and son, Thomas Killigrew senior and junior; Margaret Cooke married Sir Ralph Rowlett.
Anne Cooke Bacon is said to have been able to read Latin, Greek, Italian, and French, "as her native tongue." There remain two translations by her, both showing her interest in the Protestant
cause. Before her marriage she translated Certayne Sermons of the ryghte famous and excellente clerk Master B. Ochine (1550?). This is a collection of sermons by the Italian Protestant preacher, Bernardino Ochino, who was a prebend of Canterbury under Archbishop Cranmer. Fourteen of the twenty translated sermons are the work of Anne Cooke. The most interesting literary work of Bacon's mother is a translation from the Latin of Bishop Jewel's Apologia Ecclesiae Anglicanae, 1562, entitled Apologie or aunswer in defence of the Church of England, 1562 and 1564. The second edition contains a prefatory address to Lady Bacon as the translator, by Archbishop Parker. It seems that she had submitted the MS. to him, accompanied by a letter written in Greek, and he returned it to her printed. An Elizabethan Protestant treatise says, "The apologie of this Church was written in Latin, & translated into English by A. B. (Anne Bacon) with the comendation of M. C. (Mildred Cecil), which twaine were sisters, & wives unto Cecil and Bacon, and gave their assistance and helping hands in the plot and fortification of this newe erected synagog." Queen Elizabeth thought so highly of the Apologie that she ordered a copy of it to be chained in every parish church in England. Many of Lady Bacon's letters to her sons Anthony and Francis are extant. They are written in vigorous English interspersed with quotations from Greek and Latin writers, and the picture of family relations they reveal is highly interesting.
These details show how exceptional were the cir