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In very broad terms there are three basic schools of intelligence gathering from which others have either developed or cross pollinated. The British is the eldest, prompted by Francis Walsingham; followed by the French, founded by Fouché; and latterly the USA created largely by well meaning committee members. The British and French systems are much more people based than the USA which relies heavily on indirect information gathering and third party mercenary operatives. Francis Walsingham’s philosophy on espionage was believed to be heavily influenced by the writings of Niccolo Machiavelli which Walsingham is understood to have studied during his Italian period. Conversely USA intelligence benefits from an indirect regurgitation of Sun Tzu’s ‘the Art of War’, though arguably detracting from that work (the Art of War) both in terms of the quality of intelligence ingathered along with the application thereon. Below is a series of articles upon the founding father of British intelligence along with a brief account of two of his pupils, Christopher Marlowe and Francis Bacon.
Britain has a murky record of official secrecy which stretches back to the Elizabethan era. Elizabeth I was obsessed that Spanish-backed Catholic plotters, loyal to her half-sister Mary, were attempting to overthrow her. The Virgin Queen's spymaster, Francis Walsingham, famously trapped Mary into making a move against Elizabeth through a series of faked letters from her supporters. Many secret documents were disguised as business transactions. A letter to Sir Robert Cecil in 1591 about a cargo of wines was actually a coded description of the Spanish fleet.
An account here follows below of the "secret services" operated by the great men of Elizabethan England, whose clandestine efforts sprang from the collective Protestant fear provoked by the exiled presence in England of Mary, Queen of Scots. After the rising of the Northern Earls in her favour in 1569 - an event that shocked the government - any claimant to the English throne was viewed with hostile suspicion as a potential focus for religious malcontents and foreign meddlers. By stealthy efforts at home and abroad the Elizabethan spy clusters became forces to be feared. Kidnapping, surveillance, conspiracy, counter-espionage, theft and lying were just a few of the methods employed to defeat the ever-present threat of regicide.
Because of the continuing influence of Walsingham’s spying techniques in the world I give below three brief summaries of his life. The first two I have largely hacked out of old encyclopaedias the third has a larger input of my own. Personally, I believe Francis Walsingham’s spying modus operandi was the flowering of the early English techniques successfully developed during the 14th & 15th centuries which culminated in the practice of the High Victorian ‘Great Game’ with Russia. Thereafter follow two articles concerning his pupils Christopher Marlowe and Francis Bacon.
Summary oneFrancis Walsingham (1530-1590)
Sir Francis Walsingham, son of James Walsingham and Joyce Denny, and nephew of Sir Edmund Walsingham who was Henry VIII's Lieutenant of the Tower, was probably born about 1530. He was entered at King's College, Cambridge; he seems never to have taken a degree though he was a member of Gray's Inn in the last year of King Edward VI.
During Queen Mary's reign, he took refuge abroad, as did many other zealous Protestants and, during his exile; he became an accomplished linguist and student of human nature. From the accession of Elizabeth I, when he returned to England, he became a zealous member of the House of Commons and was able, through his foreign correspondents, to keep Cecil informed of many important events on the Continent. He was employed upon several diplomatic missions by Elizabeth. In particular, he negotiated the Treaty of Blois with France, in 1572, and was in Paris as ambassador at the date of the massacre of St. Bartholomew. But none of his missions were crowned with special success because his outspoken Protestant zeal led him to undervalue the results obtained by the Queen's policy of vacillation. He never ceased to remonstrate with her on this subject and one is surprised when one reads the remonstrance’s which she tolerated from his pen.
In 1573, he became Secretary of State in succession to Cecil, now Lord Burghley, and it is no exaggeration to say that, on his skill in unravelling plots and on that alone, the life of the Queen, and with that life the future of an independent Protestant England, really depended. In particular, it was his pertinacity in tracking out the Babington Conspiracy of 1585 that brought Mary, Queen of Scots, to the block. His methods were neither more nor less subtle or cruel than those of his contemporaries abroad. He had spies in every Court and in half the mercantile communities of Europe; and on occasions he did not spare the rack in order to extract evidence.
Walsingham died in 1590, a poor man who had spent his private fortune in the service of the State and received almost no reward for doing so; but, in spite of his poverty, he was a benefactor to both Universities and an eager patron both of literature and exploration. His only daughter became successively the wife of Sir Philip Sidney and of the Earl of Essex.
Summary TwoSir Francis Walsingham (c. 1530 - 1590) is remembered by history as the "spymaster" of Queen Elizabeth I of England.
Walsingham was born in Kent in about 1530. After studying at Cambridge, he went abroad, returning in 1552 to enrol at Gray's Inn. The death of Edward VI saw him once again travelling abroad, this time as a law student at Padua. Only at the accession of Elizabeth I did he return, and was elected MP for Banbury in 1559 and then Lyme Regis in 1563. In the years that followed, he became active in soliciting support for the Huguenots in France among the English clergy, and began to organise the network of spies for which he later became famous. Amongst his spies was Christopher Marlowe, the playwright and intellectual.
In 1570 he was chosen to succeed Sir Henry Norris as ambassador to France by William Cecil, the queen's chief advisor. He made such a success of it that he was entrusted with a more prestigious role, becoming a secretary of state and receiving a knighthood for his efforts. He spent the years between 1578 and 1583 engaged in further diplomatic missions, meanwhile establishing a network of spies throughout Europe. It was Walsingham who was behind the discovery of the Babington plot, which would be the catalyst that brought about the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots in 1587. He was an active participant in her trial.
Although a devout Protestant and an advisor on whom Elizabeth came to depend during the middle part of her reign, Walsingham received little in the way of material reward from the queen. He died in 1590, leaving considerable financial debt.
His mother was probably a confirmed Protestant as he was sent to Cambridge in 1548 just as Henry VIII was about to break with Rome and, at Cambridge, Francis was exposed to hard line radical Puritanism like his contemporaries there. He seems to have been a serious student as, after a brief time on the continent after graduation, he turned to law at Gray's Inn in apparent anticipation of a public career.
He hadn't counted on Mary's accession to the throne or the involvement of some relatives in both the attempt to have young Edward succeeded by the Protestant, Lady Jane Grey, and an abortive rebellion against Mary by Sir Thomas Wyatt. His own Protestant leanings would also count directly against him as Mary showed signs that she couldn't tolerate any thought disloyal to her or Rome.
He decided prudence was the proper course of action and combined leaving England for his own safety with an extension of his education in Roman law at the University of Padua in Italy. In the land of Machiavelli, he was able to study under masters of intrigue, both Venetian and Jesuit, improved his language skills, got the Roman law that a courtier needed and developed the habits of thought that were to last him a lifetime.
When he returned to England on Mary's death, his connections were well enough established for him to enter Parliament in 1562 from a seat at Lyme Regis in Dorset where, by local custom, one member from the two seats was at the nomination of the queen or, more specifically, her chief advisor, William Cecil, Lord Burghley.
Francis' performance in Parliament does not seem to have been exceptional but he was soon engaged in tasks for Lord Burghley that involved the use of languages, tact and subterfuge, a control for spies if you want it made plainer. England was in a precarious position. The country had two direct enemies in France and Spain, geographic weaknesses in the exploitability of Scotland and Ireland and a third column in Catholics who hadn't given up on a return to Rome.
Elizabeth knew that she stood little chance if France and Spain attacked her directly so her best policy lay in keeping them busy with other things such as France's strong Protestant minority (the Huguenots) and Spain's quagmire in the Protestant Netherlands. Even better was the possibility of splitting France from Spain through alliances so that they were more concerned with each other than with England.
France seemed to be the greatest danger at first as they had the ability to place troops in Scotland for a land attack across England's border but a policy supporting Spain came at a cost. While Spain was willing to allow English ships to trade in continental ports, Spain wanted complete control of trade with their American colonies. Hope of an alliance despite this, though, foundered when Elizabeth discovered that both Spain and France were involved in a plot to assassinate her.
Spain would have to be weakened by attacks from privateers, like John Hawkins, on Spanish ships and financial support to Dutch rebels before Spain would be sufficiently chastened to agree to an alliance. In the meantime, Elizabeth would fish in troubled waters to weaken France, the more traditional enemy.
Francis was a useful addition to Lord Burghley's team and one of the first public tasks was for Francis to interrogate a Roberto Ridolfi, a Florentine banker living in England, who seemed to be implicated in some way with an attempt by Mary, Queen of Scots, who had fled problems in Scotland to intrigue with northern English Catholics and dissident Protestant nobles in the hope of putting herself on the English throne.
Francis found that Ridolfi's banking was just a cover, that Ridolfi was actually a secret nuncio from the Pope, with money from both France and Spain to finance the hoped for rebellion. The dissident nobles, including the Duke of Norfolk, had joined because Burghley's centralizing policies threatened to weaken the independent powers of the north.
Elizabeth's advisors were split. The Earl of Leicester was a militant Protestant looking for a confrontation. Lord Burghley was a nationalist Protestant who put the good of his country above religion. Eventually they decided to let both Ridolfi and Norfolk go in the hope that, once exposed, they would no longer be a threat.
With the Pope going public with the excommunication of Elizabeth, Francis was appointed ambassador to France to see if France, being less ideologically Catholic than Spain, could be removed from the Catholic alliance. The power behind the French throne was seen to be Catherine di Medici, the king's mother, who had dynastic rather than religious concerns and negotiations of Elizabeth's marriage into Catherine's family could prove a useful diversion. With luck, something might even come of it.
Catherine was having an uncomfortable time with pressure from the ultra Catholic Guise family who wanted her to support Mary, Queen of Scots; the similarly powerful Bourbon family which had Huguenot connections; and the more neutral but still ambitious Montmorency clan, all engaged in what amounted to a civil war. Catherine was likely to welcome a dynastic marriage which would improve her hand.
Francis reported the expected opposition to a marriage from the Guise family as well as considerable concern from both the Pope and Philip of Spain. The Guises even went so far as to suggest to the potential groom, the Duke of Anjou, that the direct conquest of England would be easier than negotiating with hated Protestants. The Guises were already assisting rebels in Ireland and were rumoured to be plotting again with Mary.
Francis was not simply a spokesman in all this. He had his own intrigues going in France. Elizabeth needed to keep up her contacts with the Huguenots to balance the Guise plots but one little scheme that comes to note was one involving the Irish Archbishop of Cashel who had lived in Spain and was in France on some strange business of which we are not told.
When the archbishop approached Francis, thinking him a naive man to be cultivated, Francis retaliated quickly by getting a secret agent, another Irishman, to offer his services to the archbishop with stories of connections at the French Court. When the archbishop attempted meeting with the French Cardinal of Lorraine, the agent was able to make the introduction but convince the cardinal that the archbishop was ineffective and not worth bothering with.
In the meantime, Mary was engaged in yet another plot with Ridolfi and Norfolk for a Spanish invasion. The plot's discovery by Burghley weakened French interest in Mary's cause. They had no intention of investing time or money to Spain's benefit. Although the marriage negotiations with Anjou foundered on questions of religion, Catherine was quite willing to offer up another son as alliance with England could also offer commercial benefit.
Francis took advantage of the situation with a suggestion for a Protestant League as even mere tolerance by France for the Huguenots would qualify them for an alliance with England against Spain. Negotiations were difficult and only reached the stage where the two countries agreed not to help the enemies of the other when the advantages of the commercial side vanished with Spain seeing what was happening and dropping an embargo against English goods landing in the Netherlands.
On the whole, Elizabeth probably preferred the result. Where Francis believed that Spain was such an implacable enemy that England should strike rather than waiting for Spain to find an opportunity first, Elizabeth had no illusions about France being a long term ally. Too many years of war between them meant she had no wool over her eyes.
Elizabeth and Burghley also didn't want to push France too far. France in the Netherlands would prove just as dangerous to England's interests as having Spain there. They anticipated that with adequate support the Dutch might just achieve independence for themselves.
The political calculations changed dramatically in 1572. The Guises assassinated Admiral Coligny, the leading French advocate for the alliance, and then Catholic mobs descended on Paris Huguenots at a wedding on St. Bartholomew's Day in a slaughter which turned into a bloody civil war. Catherine had decided that the admiral was too powerful, allied herself with the ultra Catholic faction and unleashed terror to get back control.
Elizabeth was caught out with private English ships supplying the Huguenot stronghold of La Rochelle at the same time as she recalled Francis for another position. Catherine thought it a prelude to war but it was merely Elizabeth returning to her old policy of divide and conquer. Francis was to be a principal secretary and member of the Privy Council as England resumed the historic policy.
As it was, France was to be bogged down with the Huguenots for some time. Spain had similar problems in the Netherlands. Ireland was relatively quiet and Scotland was under a friendly government. Elizabeth had achieved her goals and, despite his new positions, Francis was to continue in the espionage game with his greatest coup being in the 1580s.
Somehow, Francis recruited a Dominican friar in the French embassy in London who, in turn, suborned the French ambassador's secretary who had full charge of all negotiations with Mary, Queen of Scots, the English Catholics and the plans of France and Spain.
The puritans did not comprehend Elizabeth's deeper game in funding the enemies of France and Spain and encouraging privateers to cut the Spanish empire down to size rather than engaging in outright confrontation though the puritans should have taken a hint from the knighting of Francis Drake in 1581 on his return from a trip around the world in which he plundered Spanish ships and settlements along the way.
Elizabeth put great stock in war by proxy, supporting both the Dutch Sea Beggars with access to English ports and her own Sea Dogs like John Hawkins, Francis Drake and Martin Frobisher together with adventurous courtiers like Walter Raleigh who attempted to plant a colony in Virginia. She had rather more success with the Sea Dogs than with Raleigh who Elizabeth saw could not be trusted with anything important. He was more a cloak and puddle man than an aid in the cloak and dagger business.
The puritans, too, should have seen that Elizabeth was faced with an underground war at home. New Catholic agents, the Jesuits, were arriving secretly in England after receiving training on the continent to restore England to Rome. Many manor houses, particularly in the north of England, had priest holes to conceal these men who held surreptitious masses and encouraged plots to kill the queen.
In England, the Spanish ambassador was expelled in 1584 when it was discovered that he was implicated in another plot to overthrow the queen and put Mary Stuart on the throne. It was a coordinated plot, too, as the French Duke of Guise was prepared to lead an invasion of England's south coast with money provided by the king of Spain and the Pope.
The competition from Spain cut into revenues and Elizabeth had to retaliate by more support for Protestant rebels in the Netherlands. In the hope of intimidating his opposition, Philip replied by seizing English shipping in Atlantic ports in 1585 and he took an interest in England's flanks in Ireland as he now had a free hand in the Atlantic with the capture of Portugal and internal troubles in France.
Lord Burghley and Francis Walsingham responded with a bill before Parliament which proposed a Bond of Association which people could sign to pledge themselves to prevent anyone who overthrew the queen from taking power and to pursue all plotters to their deaths. The bill was backed up with harsh measures against Catholic priests, particularly Jesuits and men who had joined the priesthood after Bloody Mary's death, who were ordered to leave the country or be charged with treason.
Then Francis Walsingham's spies uncovered yet another plot by Mary Stuart involving the murder of Elizabeth, the rescue of Mary and an invasion by a foreign force. This finally forced Elizabeth's hand. Although she was reluctant to sign the death warrant as executing a fellow monarch would set a bad precedent, Elizabeth knew that without Mary's death, the plots would keep coming until one of them succeeded.
The execution took place in the great hall of the Northamptonshire Castle of Fotheringhay in February 1587 after a long harangue from the Dean of Peterborough demanding Mary forswear her Catholic religion to which Mary refused. Elizabeth put on a great show of grief on Mary's death but it was unconvincing. Mary's son, James VI of Scotland, probably put it better when he merely commented that ‘I am now sole king’.
Elizabeth then had to concern herself with a gathering Spanish fleet, the Great Armada. She struck first when Drake swept down on Cadiz and destroyed many of the ships Philip was assembling and then Drake struck again, off St. Vincent, when he intercepted valuable supplies. This singeing of the King of Spain's beard postponed the showdown until 1588 giving Elizabeth valuable time. The Spanish were but beaten back when then Elizabeth was confronted with yet another rebellion in Ireland. This time, it was started by Hugh Maguire, the lord of Fermanagh, and quickly joined by the then earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnell who sought additional support from Spain.
Walsingham died in 1590, in debt for the amount of his own money he had to put into the queen's service. John Hawkins had died in 1595, Francis Drake in 1596, and Lord Burghley in 1598 though at the last in a rare gesture, the queen, herself, fed the latter from a spoon on his sickbed.
Next follows a short article concerning Christopher Marlowe, long regarded as one of
Francis Walsingham’s spies if not double agent.
Interpreting the Coroner's Inquisition on the Death of Marlowe
The Inquisition was signed by William Danby, coroner to the royal household, because the murder had been committed "within the verge" – that is, within twelve miles of the Queen's presence – and she was then in residence at her favourite palace of Nonsuch in Surrey, about ten miles from Deptford so this meant that the royal coroner took precedence over the local coroner.
With his death now officially recorded, the body of Christopher Marlowe was hurriedly buried in an unmarked grave in St. Nicholas churchyard, Deptford. Frizer went to prison to await the Queen's pardon, which arrived in the extraordinarily brief space of twenty eight days — probably the shortest on record! On his release, a free man, Frizer immediately returned to the service of his master, Thomas Walsingham, whose dear friend and "admired poet" he had just murdered! He remained in the service of Walsingham for the rest of his life.
AN ACCIDENTAL KILLING OVER "le recknyge"?
The details and circumstances of Marlowe's death remained undiscovered until 1925, though lurid and far-fetched accounts did start to appear in the late 1590's. The details of the Inquisition clearly passed from the Queen's Coroner to the Queen herself and her Privy Council, so these details will have become known to a select circle within a few days. How much became known to Marlowe's friends and associates in the world of the theatre and espionage, and in the so-called School of Night, is much more uncertain, though the fact of Marlowe's death was certainly known, for instance, to the dramatist George Peele, before the end of June 1593.
If we assume Frizier's story to be true we are, therefore, following the lead of such Elizabethan contemporaries who knew the details, and the twentieth century readers and admirers of Leslie Hotson. But the story takes some swallowing.
Frizier had a known record as liar, and here he had every motive to lie, for he was on trial for his life. Moreover a true and trusty servant would have been expected to guard his master's guest's life with his own. Moreover the record of Skeres and Poley as spies and dissimulators indicates that their evidence, in a modern court of law, would be regarded with grave suspicion.
The whole day's business makes little sense to modern eyes, and the details of the fight are totally inane.
The suggestion of an "accidental" killing presupposes a drunken brawl, and the question of paying the bill seems of total insignificance beside the issues of impending imprisonment, trial, torture and horrific death, which were awaiting Marlowe on the morrow.
Marlowe was involved as a secret service agent in the dark Elizabethan world of spying, double-dealing, disguise, plotting and political assassination. His death, viewed in this light, would apparently make more sense. However, to accept this motive for his murder we have to make a plausible attempt at identifying both the real murderers or authors of the plot and the reasons why they wanted Marlowe out of the way. It is, of course, absolutely certain that there was secret service involvement in the plot, and this accounts for the group of extraordinary personalities that gathered together that day in Deptford. Only Frizier is not known to have had any specific secret service connections, but, of course, his master, Thomas Walsingham was a master spy in his own right, and Frizier would be there to do his master's bidding.
The next question that has to be asked is whether the secret service involvement was professional or private. In other words were the events at Deptford the result of government orders to the secret service (or at least the orders of one political faction) or were individuals using their own initiative, adopting secret service methods?
It is difficult to imagine what the Privy Council or those members of it most actively involved with the secret service such as Lord Burghley, his son Robert Cecil, and the Earl of Essex, could have gained by their involvement in an assassination plot. Marlowe was already a doomed man, and could easily carry his secrets to the grave. Perhaps there may have been a fear that certain shady transactions might have been revealed under torture but these too could have been hushed up. Moreover such a ham-fisted method of disposing of him would have provoked more sensation and notice than a quiet dagger in the back in the street on a dark night, which was a more usual secret service mode of operating.
Thomas Walsingham almost certainly had links with the circle of freethinkers that grouped themselves around Sir Walter Raleigh, the "Wizard" Earl of Northumberland, and Ferdinando, Lord Strange, and which we know now as The School of Night. Rumours of atheism, heresy, and black magic that gathered around them indicate how the ignorant came to regard their insatiable quest for knowledge and debate. Marlowe, as a member would have known their secrets, and had they had they had something to hide might have revealed it under torture. However, the idea of murdering Marlowe to protect themselves seems totally out of character, and would surely have never been accepted by this brave band of free-thinking pioneers. Nevertheless the idea cannot be totally dismissed.
Finally we have briefly to examine the idea of a secret service punitive killing, directed against a betrayer or double-dealer. For this to be a possibility Walsingham himself has to become an arch double-dealer, inveigling his friend into a false sense of security and then killing him. However, the secret murder in the street on a dark night or even a typical Renaissance poisoning would have been far more appropriate and easy to hush up.
Clearly a secret service assassination required skill and guile, born of long experience; this plot exhibited neither.
A FAKED MURDER?
This idea has been gaining in popularity in recent years. It stems directly from the same circumstances that give rise to the idea of the assassination plot, namely secret service involvement, probably acting under orders from a higher authority. Once again there may have been persons of rank who had much to lose by revelations that Marlowe might make under torture, but with this theory they may have resolved to save him rather than kill him.
Once again the secret service were accustomed to operations of this nature; substitute heads such as Ragozine's for Claudio's in Measure for Measure speedily come to mind. It is even possible that Marlowe was a valued spy with particular experience that was badly needed in 1593. Sadly it is much more unlikely that anyone would have gone to such trouble to save England's leading dramatist.
As stated above Walsingham had all the necessary skills and contacts to make such a plot successful, and Poley, in particular, the expertise to carry it out. But again it has to be asked whether they would have done it in a manner so likely to bring trouble on themselves. If they had not had the backing of some of the leading figures of the land.
Only two such figures seem likely to have had the authority both to give such orders and to brazen it out afterwards. These are Queen Elizabeth herself and Lord Burghley. Either or both could have had direct access to the Secret Service, probably through Walsingham. To rescue Marlowe at the eleventh hour from the grip of the Court of Star Chamber would look highly suspicious; under whatever guise the rescue was affected. The ecclesiastic group on the Privy Council headed by Archbishop Whitgift were no doubt anxious to make Marlowe an example, as an atheist, heretic and dissolute playwright. They would not be easily shaken off the scent. Whether Elizabeth and/or Burghley were prepared to risk such divisions and accusations among members of the Privy Council may be seriously open to question. Almost certainly this is precisely what happened when news was brought to the Privy Council of the highly convenient death of Marlowe in Dame Eleanor's house on 30th May 1593.
Next follows a short article concerning Francis Bacon; note the intimate family connections,
a pattern which for long remained a hallmark of English espionage.
Because of his father’s high office and his other family connections (his uncle, Sir William Cecil, later Lord Burghley, was the Queen’s Secretary of State until 1573 when he was made the Queen’s Lord Treasurer), Francis was almost certainly present at various Court entertainments, such as the regular Christmas festivities and the two great entertainments of 1575. These latter entertainments, which were pivotal events in the Queen’s reign, were the Arcadian Woodstock Tournament presented by Sir Henry Lee, the Queen’s Champion, and the sumptuous Kenilworth Entertainment laid on for the Queen at Kenilworth Castle by her favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. The Woodstock Tournament was the forerunner of the annual Accession Day Tournaments, whilst the Kenilworth Entertainment was designed by Leicester to persuade the Queen to marry him, which offer she turned down. Twenty years later Francis was to incorporate some of what he witnessed at the Kenilworth Entertainment in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which he wrote specially for the wedding of his niece, Elizabeth Cecil, when she married William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby, in January 1595.
In April 1573, at the age of twelve, with the ‘new star’ blazing away in the heavens, Francis entered Trinity College, Cambridge University, accompanied by his brother Anthony. They were already learned in the Classics and could read, write and speak Latin, Greek, French, Italian and Spanish fluently. They also knew Hebrew. They were placed under the direct charge and tuition of the Master of Trinity, Dr John Whitgift, and lodged in rooms under his roof. (Whitgift afterwards became Archbishop of Canterbury, and was the authority who granted the licence to publish Venus and Adonis in 1593.) Their contemporaries and friends at Cambridge included John Lyly, William Clerke, Edmund Spenser, Philemon Holland and Gabriel Harvey—the latter being their tutor in rhetoric and poetry as well as being a member of Sir Philip Sydney’s group of philosopher-poets, the English ‘Areopagus’.
Whilst a student at Cambridge, Francis became thoroughly disillusioned with the Aristotelian system of thought and teaching. As a reaction to this, and inspired with prophetic vision as to what to do to improve matters, his Grand Idea was born—an illumination matching the brilliance of the supernova shining overhead. For him it was like a spiritual birth or awakening, revealing to him his mission in life. Less than three years later, at Christmas 1575, with nothing more left that the university could teach him, he and Anthony left Cambridge, carrying with them the embryo of a plan by means of which Francis’ Grand Idea might be set in motion and gradually achieved. In this Anthony was a dedicated partner, even though for the next fifteen years their respective paths would separate them physically for most of the time.
On 27 June 1576 Francis, aged fifteen, and Anthony, aged seventeen, were entered as law students at Gray’s Inn, one of the four Inns of Court in London, to follow in their father’s footsteps. Other members of that learned Society included the Earl of Southampton (to whom Venus and Adonis and Lucrece were dedicated), Francis and Anthony’s uncle, Lord Burghley (upon whom the Shakespeare character of Polonius is modelled), Lord Strange (in whose company of players the actor Shakspere played), William Herbert (later Earl of Pembroke to whom the First Folio of the Shakespeare Plays was dedicated), Sir Francis Walsingham (founder of the Elizabethan secret service, and a patron and employer of poets and dramatists), Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford (a patron of writers and actors as well as a poet in his own right), and Sir Philip Sydney (a renowned poet and leader of the Areopagus of English lawyer-poets until his premature death on the battlefield in 1586). Five months later Francis and Anthony were admitted, as sons of a judge, to the Grand Company of Ancients by Order of Pension dated 21 November 1576, which gave them certain privileges. However, by that time Francis was abroad on the continent.
Francis did not immediately take up residence at Gray’s Inn but, instead, went ‘from the Queen’s hand’ to France with Sir Amyas Paulet, the newly-designated English Ambassador, landing in Calais on 25 September 1576 and remaining in France with the French Court for nearly three years. This was just at the time when, on one hand, the functions of the State were in disorder because of corrupt and feeble administration, and, on the other hand, the French Renaissance was still at its height, with its poets, writers and artists encouraged and patronised by the French monarchy. During this time Francis was entrusted by Paulet with an important commission to the Queen, and he returned briefly to England in June 1578 for this purpose. Sir Amyas Paulet was recalled in October 1579, but Francis continued on at the French Court. During his three years there he travelled with the French Court to Fountainbleau, Blois, Tours, Poitiers and Chenonceaux, as well as living in Paris where the French Court was normally based. He made some kind of dangerous journey during August-September 1577, and in the following year he appears to have travelled with Catherine de Medici and Marguerite de Navarre’s entourage to the south of France, where he took part in the Court of Love festivities at Nérac.
It was in Paris, after his return from Nérac, that on 17 February 1579 Francis dreamt his father’s country house was plastered all over with black mortar. Since Gorhambury was actually plastered white and known as the ‘White House’ or ‘White Temple’, this was an ominous dream. In fact, three days later Sir Nicholas Bacon died of a chill caught at his official home in London, York House. As soon as news of the death arrived in Paris, Francis immediately set about organising his return home, arriving in England on 20 March 1579, unfortunately just a few days after Sir Nicholas’ funeral. Carrying out the wishes of his deceased father and his uncle Lord Burghley, who now acted in loco parentis towards him and Anthony until their respective coming of age, Francis entered Gray’s Inn to study law. He took up residence in May 1580, with benefit of ‘special admittance’ on account of his health, which meant that he was freed from the obligation of keeping Commons. According to Francis’ mother, Lady Ann, the explanation of Francis’ special admittance was that he suffered from indigestion caused by untimely going to bed, then musing about goodness knows what when he should sleep, and then in consequence of this rising late from bed. The ‘special admittance’ meant that Francis could choose his diet and take meals in the chambers which he shared with Mr. Fulwood in Fulwood House.
However, law was not Francis’ great interest. It was not what he wanted to do, and about it he writes later that ‘the Bar will be my bier’. In later years he informed Dr William Rawley, his chaplain, secretary and biographer, that law was to him but an accessory, not his principal study, even though in law, according to Rawley, ‘he obtained to great excellency’ and ‘in the science of the grounds and mysteries of law he was exceeded by none’. Francis’ passion in life was literary and educational, and devoted to the realisation of his Grand Idea. He had been both shocked and inspired by what he saw and experienced in France. The French Court was dissolute and its government was corrupt, but its culture otherwise was refined and glorious, whereas English culture at that time was uncouth and the English language still a sorry patchwork of almost incomprehensible dialects. Francis’ mission, therefore, was to create, with the help of others suited to the task, a magnificent English language and culture just as the French poets and philosophers had created theirs, but one that would promote virtue, not corruptness, and would be a vehicle for the new avenues of thought and discovery that he wished to encourage. He desired to do this as a service to both his country and his Queen, to make Elizabeth’s reign even more glorious and memorable than it might otherwise have been, and to leave a heritage for future ages to build upon. His design was, literally, a renovation of all arts and sciences based upon the proper foundations, and one which, by means of a special method that he was to test out and then teach, could spread to other countries for the benefit of the whole world. It was a truly grand concept.
To help him in his educational and cultural endeavours he applied to his uncle Lord Burghley to exert influence with the Queen on his behalf, in recognition of his special abilities and circumstances, so that he might have not only royal approval but also a position whereby he could have sufficient influence and income, without having to practice law, to give him ‘commandment of more wits’ than his own to assist him in his proposed task, since his own inherited resources were far too limited. The Queen, who was interested in the French Academies, did voice her approval and support, and gave Francis to believe that such a place would be found for him; but, other than moral and verbal encouragement, in this ‘rare and unaccustomed suit’ he was to meet with little success.
For fifteen years Francis was to be kept on a string concerning his suit. Nevertheless, devoting himself whole-heartedly to his great project and continually being buoyed up by promises of support from both Burghley and the Queen, Francis immersed himself in his writings and his study of human nature and the nature of all things, as well as studying law. From this time on he began to ring the bell that ‘called the wits together’—and there were many. Philip Sydney’s scholarly circle of philosopher-poets (the English Areopagitae or ‘Areopagus’) was already in existence (from c.1574) and in the throes of developing English poetry. The Renaissance magus, Dr John Dee, was at the height of his influence and making available his magnificent library at Mortlake—the largest in England—to the philosopher-poets and mathematicians. The Earl of Leicester, still dear to the Queen, provided an enthusiastic patronage of the poets and artists, making his London house available to them as well as patronising his own company of actors. Then, from 1579 and onwards through the 1580’s, the ‘University Wits’ began to appear, who raised the level of English drama and helped lay the foundations for the Shakespeare plays. The Areopagitae included Sir Philip Sydney, Gabriel Harvey, Edward Dyer, Daniel Rogers, Thomas Drant and, finally, ‘Immerito’ (supposedly Edmund Spenser), whilst the University Wits were, in order of appearance, John Lyly, Thomas Lodge, George Peele, Robert Greene, Thomas Nashe and Christopher Marlowe.
Francis Bacon was called to the Bar as Utter Barrister on 27 June 1582, but seems to have remained a briefless barrister for a further twelve years, until forced by circumstances in 1594 to take up some Court briefs and plead at the King’s Bench in the Courts of Westminster. However, during this time, and in fact right up to her death in 1603, the Queen many times asked for Francis’ advice and used his talents to draw up various reports and papers for her on difficult matters—religious, political and legal. Francis also assisted in the gathering of political intelligence, helped by his brother Anthony who first started going abroad in 1578 on missions as a spy, culminating with travelling Europe from 1579 to 1592 as the Queen’s Intelligencer at Burghley’s request. The head of Intelligence was the Queen’s Secretary of State, Sir Francis Walsingham, who had set up one of the most efficient intelligence networks then in existence, with a training school in London. (Walsingham had succeeded Lord Burghley as Secretary of State in 1573 when Burghley became the Queen’s Lord Treasurer.)
In 1580 the Queen commissioned Francis, via Sir Thomas Bodley, to make report and compile notes of observations respecting the ‘laws, religion, military strength and whatsoever concerneth pleasure or profit’ in the countries of Europe. This was a specially-prepared 12-month tour of Italy, Spain, Germany and Denmark, to observe life and gather information, both for the Queen and for his own purposes. For the planning of the journey Francis was aided by his brother Anthony, who was able to advise, arrange contacts and prepare a route. Anthony returned briefly from France to England in November-December 1580 for this purpose, and then was sent back again to the continent, remaining abroad for the next eleven years (except for one visit to England in 1588) gathering political intelligence.
Francis left England sometime in the spring 1581 and was back home at Gray’s Inn by the beginning of April 1582. On his return to England he wrote up a report of his travels and findings for Lord Burghley and the Queen. This report, including additional information from his brother Anthony and Nicholas Faunt, was presented to the Queen as a State Paper entitled Notes on the Present State of Christendom. The countries covered included not just France, Italy and Spain, but also Austria, Germany, Portugal, Poland, Denmark and Sweden. Florence, Venice, Mantua, Genoa and Savoy are dealt with in most detail. Some of this information was used in the Shakespeare plays. (These Notes were not made available to the public until 1734.)
Cryptography was one of Francis’ interests, and he assisted Burghley and Walsingham with decoding various correspondence. He also invented some new ciphers, one of his earliest creations being the Biliteral cipher which he invented in his youth whilst at Paris, which later became the basis of the Morse code and the binary code of all computer technology today.
In 1581 Francis began his thirty-six years of Parliamentary service as a Member of Parliament. Other than this he seems to have led the life partly of a courtier and partly of a recluse, and we hear little of him until 1587, except that in March 1584 he visited Scotland, and on 10 February 1586 he became a Bencher of Gray’s Inn.
Nearly two years later, on 23 November 1587 Francis was appointed a Reader of Gray’s Inn. As a Reader he was allowed his own private chambers. In fact, just two days previous to this, confirming a grant made nine years earlier, several buildings were leased to Anthony and Francis Bacon for a term of fifty years, with leave to add additional rooms (which Francis eventually did). These buildings contained the original chambers of Sir Nicholas Bacon, which had been kept for Edward and Anthony Bacon’s use. By then Edward, Francis’ and Anthony’s half-brother, had ceased studying law and had acquired the lease of Twickenham Park from the Queen, as well as having estates elsewhere. Since Anthony was still abroad, this meant that Francis had the unimpeded use of all the chambers, both to live in and to pursue his great project. Conveniently, the Great Library of Gray’s Inn was adjacent to and on the same level as Francis' chambers.
From that time onwards we learn that Francis was regularly associated with other gentlemen of Gray’s Inn in devising and presenting masques and entertainments at Gray’s Inn and the royal Court at Greenwich, and writing speeches and devices to be used in the Queen’s Accession Day Tilts.
Francis’ movements tended to oscillate between Gray’s Inn, the royal Court when he was in attendance on the Queen, and Twickenham Lodge. The latter was situated in Twickenham Park, the Crown property leased by Edward Bacon, with land leading down to the River Thames immediately opposite the Queen’s palace of Richmond. The lodge with its park was a tranquil and beautiful place where Francis could write in peace, together with his friends and ‘good pens’. It was almost certainly here and at Gray’s Inn that Bacon began writing, in 1588, the extraordinary series of plays that were later (from 1598 onwards) published under the pseudonymous mask of ‘William Shakespeare’. Edward seems to have allowed Francis the use of Twickenham Lodge whenever he wanted, and in November 1595 Francis took over the lease himself. Gorhambury, the fine country house and estate at St Albans, although owned by Anthony Bacon, was, under the terms of Sir Nicholas Bacon’s will, Lady Anne Bacon’s home and residence until she should die. It was, in any case, rather far from London, whereas Twickenham Park was close to the city and linked to it by river. All the main royal palaces and noblemen’s houses in or just outside London, from Greenwich to Hampton Court Palace, fronted onto this one great Thames thoroughfare. Twickenham Lodge was thus an ideal place. Francis had the use of it and part of its park until 1607, when the lease was surrendered to Lucy, Countess of Bedford, the new owner.
1588 saw the Spanish Armada approach the coast of England in July and suffer defeat, and the Earl of Leicester’s fever and death in September. Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex, took on the mantle of his step-father, becoming Elizabeth’s principal favourite, and Leicester House became Essex House.
In 1591 Francis appears to have almost given up his fruitless suit with Burghley and the Queen, threatening that if his Lordship would not carry him on he would sell the small inheritance he had in order to purchase some means of quick revenue, and thereby give up all care of service (i.e. to Burghley and the Queen) in order to become some ‘sorry bookmaker or a true pioneer in that mine of truth which (Anaxagoras) said lay so deep’. Suspecting Burghley’s motives, Francis tried to make it absolutely clear to his uncle that just as he had vast contemplative ends so he had moderate civil ends, and that he did not ‘seek or affect any place whereunto any that is nearer unto your Lordship shall be concurrent’. In this Francis was particularly referring to his hunchback cousin, Robert Cecil, Burghley’s son by his second wife, Mildred, the sister of Lady Ann Bacon. Besides being Lord Treasurer and Master of the Court of Wards, the most lucrative office in the land, Burghley was doing his best to advance Robert as high and as quickly as possible to a similar status, although unlike Francis (and Burghley himself) Robert had no official legal training. Not without cause it was the astute but wily Robert Cecil who, seen from the point of view of Francis Bacon, provided the character study for the hunchback King Richard in the Shakespeare play of Richard III.
Richard III was written in 1591 and first performed in 1592. One of Francis’ main endeavours in his work was not only to study human nature and raise the level of people’s consciousness, but to improve people’s moral behaviour and purge corruption from wherever it might lurk—including corruption in high places. His ideal was to discover truth and practice philanthropy; and, like the Ancients, to teach wisdom through entertainment. One of the main points about the Shakespeare plays is that they hold a mirror up to human nature, so that both good and bad might be seen for what they are and what they do. Each character in the plays embodies qualities and characteristics drawn from real life, and sometimes the analogies go close to the bone. Increasingly, from 1591 onwards, the Shakespeare plays subtly attacked or satirised the abuses and weaknesses of the Cecil combo and others, even the Queen, as well as of society in general.
However, Francis did carry on serving the Queen with his legal and political advice, and with the use of his pen, and about this time (perhaps in response to his letter to Burghley threatening to retire) she made him Queen’s Counsel Extraordinary—an honorary, unpaid position with duties that were not clearly defined, except that examining prisoners suspected of treason or other grave offences, protecting the Queen’s interests and drawing up official reports were some of the services Francis was called upon to perform. Moreover, it was about this time that the Queen asked Francis to assist Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex, as an advisor.
Francis had in fact already struck up a good friendship with Essex. The Earl at that time was the foremost favourite of the Queen and, with his sparkling charisma and gallantry, popular with the people. Francis set out to assist Essex in every way possible, believing him to be ‘the fittest instrument to do good to the state’. Essex in turn promised to help Francis, such as with his suit to the Queen and in obtaining other patronage. Ultimately this turned out to be a perilous mistake for Francis. Essex’s temperament was so hot-headed and imperious that rather than helping Francis he repeatedly made matters worse, with the Queen and he clashing like gladiators. Burghley and Robert Cecil came to loathe him, resulting in their admitted policy of doing their utmost to block the advancement of any of his friends, including the Bacon brothers. It was Essex’s character that was used as the model for the fiery, gallant Hotspur in Henry IV, about which Essex complained to the Queen, saying that Francis and Anthony Bacon ‘print me and make me speak to the world, and shortly they will play me in what form they list upon the stage’. However, most importantly, it was with the group of writers that were associated with or were to become associated with Essex and his friends that Francis had already launched his literary endeavours.
The Essex group, which had been linked with Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, Sir Francis Walsingham and Sir Philip Sydney until their deaths in the 1580’s, and with the Areopagitae of English poets that used to meet at Leicester House (later Essex House), included the Earl of Oxford, the Earl of Southampton, Lord Mountjoy, Lady Frances Essex, Penelope Rich, Elizabeth Vernon and Mary Sydney, the Countess of Pembroke, all of whom periodically resided at Essex House. Associated with them were the circle of poets, writers and dramatists patronised by Essex, Southampton and the Pembrokes, who included Samuel Daniel, Ben Jonson, John Florio, George Wither, Edmund Spenser, Thomas Nashe and John Lyly. The other ‘University Wits’—Thomas Lodge, George Peele, Robert Greene and Christopher Marlowe were also connected with this group—the wits who acknowledged Shakespeare (but not the actor Shakspere) as their head.
Southampton—a scholar, poet, gentleman and soldier, and a patron of poets, scholars and playwrights, and of libraries and places of learning—considered himself to be, like Essex, the successor to Philip Sydney. To Southampton was dedicated, in 1593, the ‘first heir’ of Shakespeare’s ‘invention’—the erotic narrative poem Venus and Adonis. His wife, Elizabeth Vernon, was Essex’s cousin. Essex’s wife, Frances, was the daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham and widow of Sir Philip Sydney. Penelope Rich was Essex’s golden haired, black-eyed, beautiful sister, who had previously been considered as a bride for Sir Philip Sydney; but sadly her father died before the match could be arranged and her guardian (Huntingdon) married her in 1581 to ‘the rich Lord Rich’. Sydney remained passionately in love with Penelope all his life and addressed her as ‘Stella’ in his sonnets. After his death in 1586 Penelope became the mistress of Sir Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy.
Mary Sydney, Countess of Pembroke, was Sir Philip Sydney’s sister and the mother of ‘the Two Noble Brethren’ to whom the Shakespeare First Folio was dedicated. Her husband, Henry Herbert, the 2nd Earl of Pembroke, whose country estate at Wilton bordered on the Wiltshire River Avon, was the patron of his own professional acting company, the Lord Pembroke’s Men, who owned and performed the early Shakespeare plays. Mary was a devoted patroness of the arts and learning, and of poets, who saw to it that her brother’s epic poem Arcadia was completed and published after his death. The poet Samuel Daniel was a tutor to Mary’s eldest son, William Herbert.
John Florio, a poet and scholar, was a friend of Giordano Bruno who came to England in 1585. Florio, who was previously in the service of the Earl of Leicester, entered Southampton’s household in the early 1590’s. He tutored Essex in Italian whilst working on his own Italian-English dictionary and the English translation of the essays of Anthony Bacon’s friend, Michel de Montaigne. Influences from these essays are to be found in The Tempest, Hamlet and King Lear, whilst Florio himself is thought to be caricatured as Holofernes in Love’s Labour’s Lost. Florio’s wife was a sister of the poet Samuel Daniel.
Oxford, the hereditary Lord Great Chamberlain who was brought up as a ward of Burghley, was, as we have already seen (Chapter 8), noted as a poet and writer of comedies as well as being a patron of poets and dramatists, and of his own acting companies, Oxford’s Boys and Oxford’s Men. His harsh treatment of his wife, Anne Cecil, Burghley’s daughter, became a matter of great concern to the group of family and friends, as well as to the Queen, who between them contrived an eventual reunion of the couple. Much of All’s Well That Ends Well, written in 1598, ten years after Anne’s death in 1588 and seven years after Oxford’s second marriage to Elizabeth Trentham in 1591, is largely based upon Oxford’s marriage to Anne. The play’s title was first recorded in Francis Bacon’s private notebook in 1594.
The novelist and dramatist John Lyly, who had been at Cambridge University at the same time as the Bacon brothers, entered the service of the Earl of Oxford as Oxford’s secretary from 1580 onwards, writing plays for Oxford’s Boys from 1583 to 1590. The style of Love’s Labour’s Lost was derived from Lyly’s romance, Eupheus, the Anatomy of Wit, published in 1578. Lyly eventually became one of Anthony Bacon’s ‘good pens’ at Essex House. Later, however, he was suspected of being a spy at Essex House, acting for Burghley.
In February 1592 Anthony Bacon returned home from the continent. Anthony, whom Francis called his ‘dearest brother’ and ‘comfort’, shared Francis’ aspirations. His main love was literary and, like his brother, he was a secret poet, known only as such to his friends, as revealed in their letters to him. But his wit and his talents as a multi-linguist were much in demand, and he put them at the service of the Queen and Burghley, who sent him on his twelve-year mission. All the time he was abroad he kept in constant correspondence with his brother Francis as well as with his uncle and Sir Francis Walsingham.
Anthony Bacon’s foreign contacts were wide-spread and he enjoyed friendship in many high places, ‘being a gentleman whose ability the world taketh knowledge of for matters of state, specially foreign’. His contacts and friendship with Henri of Navarre, later Henri IV of France, were later incorporated into the Shakespeare play, Love’s Labour’s Lost, as also was the result of his association with the King of Spain’s Secretary of State, Antonio Perez, who defected to England and upon whom the character of Don Adriana de Armado is based.
When Anthony returned to England he joined his brother at Gray’s Inn, and started to pour all his energy and financial resources into his brother’s project whilst at the same time continuing his intelligence work. Together the brothers formed a scrivenery of secretaries and writers to assist them, dealing with political intelligence, cryptography, translations of correspondence and books in foreign languages and the classics, invention of new words, and literature generally. The Shakespeare plays took off in earnest.
With Anthony back in England with his brother, it soon became clear to them that their uncle Burghley, far from helping them as much as he had repeatedly promised, in return for their services, had in fact been holding back on his help, blocking Francis’ advancement and taking most of the credit for Anthony’s intelligence work to himself. He was full of promises and pleasant words to the brothers, but time proved that he did not exert himself much on their behalf or give much in return, and in fact was suspicious and at times antagonistic towards them. He and the Queen took all but gave little. He was the Queen’s chief counsellor and friend, and in charge of the Queen’s treasury and the lucrative Court of Wards. She held Francis in special regard and affection, and used him ‘in her greatest causes’. Francis’ official and financial situation could and should have been different, as also Anthony’s: they had both served the Queen and Burghley faithfully and unceasingly. As it was, it was hard, with Lady Fortune (the ‘Dark Lady’ of the Shakespeare Sonnets) acting many times cruelly.
In 1593, just as ‘Shakespeare’ as a name was launched onto the public scene for the first time with the scholarly poem Venus and Adonis, Francis (as an MP representing Middlesex)) dared to stand up in Parliament against an attempt by the Queen and Burghley to take away Parliament’s vitally important prerogative of raising taxes. Thanks to Francis’ oratory and arguments, the proposals of the Queen’s Government were rejected on this constitutional issue. Elizabeth was furious and Francis was made to feel her displeasure, being denied access to her presence, which hitherto he had enjoyed with an unusual freedom. She told him ‘that he must nevermore look to her for favour or promotion’.
Such a royal excommunication precipitated a major crisis for Francis, who supported himself and his literary work mainly by loans and credit; and, although helped by his mother and Anthony, who sold two estates to assist Francis (and eventually beggared himself on his brother’s behalf), Francis was driven by necessity to practice law seriously. So it was that on 25 January 1594 Francis pleaded his first case in the King’s Bench, with others to follow. His first pleading was so successful that Burghley, content with Francis as a lawyer and pressured by his own family who had taken pity on Francis’ predicament, undertook to make a report ‘where it might do him the most good’.
The Queen played a game of punishment or reward with Francis, trying to make him her creature in all ways, including the Parliamentary one. In 1594 the position of Attorney-General fell vacant and was kept vacant for a whole year, and several times it was intimated to Francis that the Queen might appoint him to this position and that it was only his conduct in Parliament that stood in the way. Essex, eager to help Francis, urged the Queen to appoint him to this position. But Francis would not recant, and there were other factors afoot. Robert Cecil suggested to Essex that if Sir Edward Coke, the Solicitor-General, were to be appointed as Attorney-General, which he felt the Queen would prefer, then perhaps Francis might be content with the lesser position of Solicitor-General instead. But Essex would not have it. Only the higher office would do for the friend of Essex! As Essex saw it, his own reputation was at stake. The result was that the Attorney-Generalship went instead to Coke, and Francis was also by-passed for the office of Solicitor-General.
Essex was mortified by this result, feeling it as a matter of pride, and bestowed on Francis a gift of land in Twickenham in recompense for what he felt was his failure to help his friend. Francis was able to raise money on the land to ease his situation (later he sold it).
But, despite the fact that (or perhaps because) Francis thought of retiring to Cambridge with a couple of men to spend his life in studies and contemplation, matters between him and the Queen did improve that year. In the summer the Queen appointed him one of her Counsel learned in the Law and conferred on him some woodland in Somerset at a nominal rent. Then for her Accession Day celebration on 17 November 1594 he wrote The Device of the Indian Prince, filled with flattering and adulatory references to the Queen, which helped to reconcile her to Essex (who had, thanks to a book published abroad, been under a shadow of suspicion concerning his influence with the Queen upon the matter of succession). The Device was sponsored by Essex and took place at York House. It was so successful that her Majesty was extremely pleased. She was reconciled to Francis and on that very day the reversion of the lease of certain lands in Twickenham Park was made over to him—a concession on the basis of which he could raise some more money to satisfy his creditors for awhile.
Creditors were a continual problem, as Francis’s project was costly and he never ever had enough money. His brother Anthony was the main source of his help on this matter. The friendship between the two brothers, and the difficulties they endured through being forced year after year to raise loans from usurers, and the eventual bankruptcy of Anthony on his brother’s behalf, was strongly reflected in the Shakespeare play, The Merchant of Venice. In the play Antonio is a good caricature of Anthony, who did trade abroad (but in intelligence rather than merchandise) and who hazarded all for his brother’s sake; and Bassanio of Francis, whose ‘Portia’ he sought after was, in a philosophical sense, Wisdom on her Mountain of Beauty (‘Belmont’), and in a personal sense, his rich cousin, Lady Hatton (see below). Many times either one or the other brother had to attend court and pay the forfeits demanded for late repayment of the loans. Being a lawyer and ‘learned in the law’, Francis often pleaded his own case. He was even arrested for debt at one time (September 1598), unjustly as it happened, because of the maliciousness of a particular debtor, and had to be rescued from the awful possibility of incarceration in the Fleet.
In 1595 Francis ‘knit’ Anthony’s service to the Earl of Essex. As a result, in August 1595 Anthony moved into Essex House to act as the Earl’s ‘Secretary of State’, partly in the hope of counter-balancing the increased power base of the Cecil faction. 1595 was the year in which the Lord Treasurer Burghley completed his personal coup d’état by seeing his son Robert, who was knighted in 1591 and made a member of the Privy Council, and who had been unofficially filling the vacant office of Secretary of State for several years, achieve the politically powerful position of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. This climb to power culminated the following year when Robert was officially made the Principal Secretary of State, cementing the father-son combo which together held the reins of power in the Queen’s Government. (When Burghley died in 1598, Robert continued as Secretary of State, maintaining his position of power.)
Only two years later, in 1597, a hazardous situation arose, in which the Shakespeare play of Richard II was involved. Again, this had to do with the royal succession, but this time it was a question of the deposing and ‘voluntary’ abdication of a king. Clearly, when first performed the historical deposition scene was included; but the Queen was both horrified and incensed by it, seeing herself regarded by certain of her courtiers as ‘Richard’ and Essex as ‘Bolingbroke’. Subsequently the play was performed with the offending deposition scene omitted, and both it and other plays which followed were published with the name of ‘William Shakespeare’ appearing on their title pages for the first time. The actor Will Shakspere suddenly acquired a lot of money, reportedly from the Earl of Southampton, and set himself up in Stratford-upon-Avon with a fine house and trading business, and Essex continued in the Queen’s high favour. It was also in that year that Francis had a book published under his own name of ‘Francis Bacon’ for the first time, this being the first version of his Essays, which he dedicated with affection to his ‘Loving and beloved Brother’, Anthony, referring to Anthony as ‘you that are next myself’.
Anthony was not the only person Francis loved deeply, howbeit as a brother, friend and partner in his grand scheme. Francis was also enamoured of his cousin, Elizabeth Cecil, one of Burghley’s grand-daughters, with whom he had flirted when younger. He continued his friendship with Elizabeth after she was married to Sir William Hatton in 1594, which deepened over the years. When Elizabeth was widowed in 1597 Francis courted her seriously, requesting her hand in marriage. But another disappointment was in store, and once again Sir Edward Coke, now Attorney-General and wealthy, won the day.
In 1599 trouble between the Queen and Essex flared up dangerously, Essex consistently acting against the advice of both Francis and Anthony, who urged Essex not to seek a military position and not to go to Ireland at the head of the English army—both of which he did. Just before Essex set out for Ireland in March 1599, a potentially volatile situation arose for both Francis and Essex in which the Shakespeare play of Richard II was again involved. This time a book based on the play had been published by a young doctor of civil law, John Hayward, a friend of both Essex and Bacon, which in its preface likened Essex to Bolingbroke and seemed to exhort Essex to rise up against the Queen and usurp the throne. Hayward was arrested and Francis was immediately called before the Queen to explain and sort matters out, the Queen seemingly knowing of Francis’ authorship of the Shakespeare play. Fifteen months later Francis was again involved on the same subject, when Essex was arraigned before the Queen’s Council on a charge of disobeying Her Majesty’s orders in Ireland. Francis, as one of the Queen’s Counsel, was given the specific role of charging Essex concerning the use of Hayward’s book, a role to which he objected, remarking that ‘it would be said that I gave in evidence mine own tales’.
When all this culminated in February 1601 with Essex’s abortive attempt to raise an armed insurrection against the Queen and her government, which led to his trial for treason and subsequent execution (25 February 1601), the Bacon brothers were devastated. Both of them had been misled for several years by Essex, who had been secretly plotting and preparing his insurrection, and they only learnt the full truth during and after the trial. Both brothers had worked hard to try to prove the supposed innocence of Essex, and Francis did all he could to mediate with the Queen on Essex’s behalf, right up to the end, at the expense of his own relationship with her. Francis was ordered by the Queen to take part in the trial as her Counsel Learned, to assist the State Prosecutor. As if these tragic events were not enough, a few months after Essex’s execution Anthony, who had not been well, was reported to have died (27 May 1601).
Queen Elizabeth was to go to her grave just two years later (24 March 1603), and in July 1603 King James IV of Scotland was crowned King James I of England. Anthony Bacon had over the years done some good service for the Scottish king, and Francis, who pleaded his case as a ‘concealed poet’ who was for the most part one with his brother in ‘endeavour and duties’, was helped by King James as a result. In Queen Elizabeth’s reign Francis had been continually by-passed in terms of being given a position where he could command both a sufficient income and influence for the needs of his great project, and his service under the Tudor queen had gone largely unpaid, except for the promise of the reversion of the position of Clerk to the Star Chamber when it became vacant, the granting under favourable terms of the lease of Twickenham Park, which became Francis’ favourite retreat and home for his scrivenery, the lease of the Rectory of Cheltenham, and the payment of a fee of £1200 for his services at Essex’s trial. With James, after a cautious start, it was to be different.
The Stuart king soon came to rely on Francis’ exceptional talents and to recognise them officially; but, as with Elizabeth, it was primarily in the highways and byways of law that he drew Francis’ services to him, although Francis eventually became the principal adviser to the King on all matters. (Not that James always took notice of the advice: if he had done so more often, many unfortunate situations might have been avoided, including the mismanagement and rape of Ireland.)
Francis’ philanthropic literary work in the reign of Elizabeth, and the largely unpaid legal work for his sovereign, had left him in dire straights financially. Anthony had died with debts that had to be paid, whilst Francis had his own debts, to cover which his Twickenham Park lease was mortgaged. The literary work was still continuing and had to be supported, and meaningful and sufficient patronage was still not forthcoming. Therefore, even though he inherited the manors and estates of Gorhambury from his brother, which brought a modicum of financial security, Francis still needed to earn a reasonable income, even if it meant practising law more fully and trying to obtain an official position in the King’s service.
First Francis was knighted on 23 July 1603, along with three hundred others at Whitehall, two days before the coronation of King James and his Queen, Anne of Denmark, in Westminster Abbey. Then, a year later, in August 1604, he was confirmed by letters patent as a member of the King’s Counsel Learned with a pension of £40 per annum. It was at this time that he started writing the tracts that were the forerunners of his Great Instauration, and his first version of The Advancement of Learning, to be published in October 1605. He also met in 1603 Alice Barnham, a wealthy alderman’s daughter, ‘an handsome maiden,’ to whom he took a liking with a view to marriage when she was old enough (she was only eleven years old when they first met). A little over two years later, on 10 May 1606, when she was fourteen and he forty-five, they married. She brought with her a dowry of £6000 plus an annual income of £220, which Francis allowed her to keep for herself, whilst he settled on her a further income for life of £500 per annum. Francis treated his wife with much conjugal love and respect, and for all the years of their marriage (i.e. until his death) they appear to have lived together happily, in peace and contentment, and with style.
On 25 June 1607, the year after his marriage to Alice, Francis was appointed Solicitor-General with a pension of £1000 per annum. This was not a particularly onerous position but one which Francis hoped would allow him to enlarge his private practice. In 1609 the reversion of Clerk of the Star Chamber fell to him at last, which boosted his financial resources even further. Then in 1611 he was appointed President of the Court of the Verge and Chief Advisor to the Crown. On 26 October 1613 he became the Attorney-General, and on 9 June 1616 a Privy Councillor. With the Attorney-Generalship Francis became far more fully immersed in the King’s business, with little time for writing any more. What little time he had for literary matters he mainly devoted to perfecting the writing and presentation of his New Method, the first two books of which he wrote in Latin and published in 1620 as the Novum Organum. Henry VIII thus became the last Shakespeare play to be written (c.1612-13), and even that was with the collaboration of John Fletcher.
Finally, to cap his political and legal service to the Crown, on 7 March 1617 the King appointed Sir Francis Bacon as his Lord Keeper of the Great Seal (the ‘keeper of the King’s conscience’), and immediately left him to act as his virtual regent in England whilst he departed for Scotland for a six-month visit—the first of his reign as King of Great Britain. Even with the King absent, Francis took his place in Chancery with magnificent ceremony. In his procession to Westminster Hall he was escorted by 200 knights and gentlemen mounted on horse, together with lords of his Majesty’s Council, the nobility, courtiers and followers of the Queen and Prince of Wales, plus the judges and fellows of the Inns of Court. He himself was dressed in purple satin, as he was on his wedding day—normally a royal privilege.
Having taken up his new position, Francis worked flat out to make up for the delays in Chancery caused by the illness of his predecessor, his old friend Lord Ellesmere, and by the workings of Chancery generally. He doubled the amount of time that he personally, together with his staff, were traditionally expected to spend on Chancery matters, in order to expedite and clear the causes of the court, although he made sure to reserve the depth of the vacations ‘for studies, arts, and sciences’, to which, he said in his inaugural speech, he was in his nature most inclined.
Ten months of hard work later, on 4 January 1618 King James bestowed the honour of Lord Chancellorship upon Francis. By this time Francis had moved into York House, the home of his father as Lord Keeper and of all subsequent Lord Keepers, and where his father had died and he had been born and bred. This was a home which meant a great deal to him and he set about making it into a beautiful mansion, repairing and furnishing it lovingly and lavishly, connecting it by pipe to the City’s main water supply, building an aviary in its gardens, and installing in it a huge household of servants and retainers, dressed in his livery.
Francis also at this time had the lease of Canonbury Manor, a fine mansion on Islington’s hill with panoramic views over London and fine panelled rooms decorated with Masonic and Rosicrucian symbolism. He took on a forty-year lease of this house and its park in 1616, the year when the ‘Invisible College’ (which eventually gave rise to the Royal Society and other societies, academies and orders, based on Francis’ proposals and inspiration) was reputedly founded. Francis referred to this College in his New Atlantis as ‘the College of the Six Days’ Work’—Bacon’s whole project or ‘Great Instauration’ being based on his understanding of the biblical Six Days of Creation. The following year (1617) this College made a brief official appearance, when Bacon’s friend, Edmund Bolton, presented James I with a proposal to found a Society or College for the advancement of learning along Baconian lines, to be called ‘King James’ Academy or College of Honour’, the members of whom were to ‘love, honour and serve each other according to the spirit of St John’.
Fittingly, on 12 July 1618 his Majesty raised Francis to the peerage, creating him Baron Verulam. Two and a half years later, on 3rd February 1621, in celebration of his 60th birthday and of over three years of faithful unstinting service as Lord Keeper and Chancellor, Francis was created Viscount St Alban by the King. Almost immediately upon receiving the last title, at the height of his public glory, a plot which had been hatched against Lord St Alban by those who envied him and his position came to fruition. It fell upon Francis like a bombshell, even though friends such as Tobie Matthew had tried to warn him that something dangerous was afoot. The result of the plot led to Francis’ impeachment in Parliament (during March-April 1621) on concocted charges of corruption, to which the King, in order to move attention away from the extravagant behaviour of his favourite Buckingham and his own weakness, ordered his Lord Chancellor to offer no defence and to plead guilty. Sentence was given on 3 May 1621. Francis was stripped of his office and banned from holding any further office, place or employment in the State or Commonwealth, or from sitting in Parliament. He was banished from the verge of Court, fined the enormous sum of £40,000 (the equivalent of about £20 million today) and imprisoned in the Tower of London.
Francis’ imprisonment at the end of May was, however, brief, and after a few days he was released, although banished from London and commanded to retire to Gorhambury until the King’s pleasure should be further known. Gorhambury was a beautiful and relaxing place for vacations, but to live there month after month meant that he and his wife were cut off from society, from their friends, and he from his books and papers and helpers, and the stimulating company of other good minds. Francis longed to return to the metropolis and get moving with his writings, and he grieved greatly that his wife had to suffer on his behalf. He pleaded with the King to be allowed to return to London. He begged also for financial help in being able to at least live, having sold his plate and jewels and other commodities to pay his creditors and servants what he owed them, so that they should suffer as little as possible.
On 16 September 1621 King James issued a licence permitting Francis to return to London (but to lodge at Sir John Vaughan’s house, not York House, and only for six weeks), and on 20 September 1621 he assigned the fine of £40,000 to four trustees of Francis’ own choosing, which meant in effect that Francis was freed of its burden. Moreover, on 12 October 1621 King James signed a warrant for Francis’ pardon. From the historical evidence and the tone of Francis’ letters to Buckingham and the King, this pardoning of Francis would seem to have been because of an understanding Francis had with the King, as part of the agreement whereby he would plead guilty to the charges made against him: but nevertheless the damage was done and Francis’ good name was and remains to this day tarnished in the eyes of the world as a result.
Francis’ bitter experience was not yet over. Although the King had granted his pardon, the new Lord Keeper, Bishop Williams, delayed putting his seal on it. Until this was done Francis was still legally not a completely free man and, more to the point, was shut out of London (his six weeks at Sir John Vaughan’s house having elapsed) and could not return to his beloved York House. Eventually it was made known to Francis that the delay was caused by Buckingham, who desired York House for his own purposes. Until Francis surrendered it, he would not be given either his full pardon or his freedom. Francis tried every way he could not to lose his beautiful and convenient London home, with its strong sentimental value and into which he had poured so much of himself and his finances, but eventually he had to give way. In mid-March 1622 he surrendered York House to Buckingham, the Marquis contracting to buy the lease for £1,300. Immediately Francis’ pardon and freedom arrived, signed, sealed and delivered, and by November his pension and a grant from the petty writs, both of which had been illegally stopped, had been restored to him—but not without him having to borrow money from friends and write to the King as a supplicant in great extremity.
To begin with, sometime at the end of March 1622 Francis moved with his wife and household to a house in Chiswick, but this was only temporary; for by June that year they had taken up residence in Bedford House on the Strand. This now became their London home, Gorhambury still being their country abode and family estate, in Francis’ ownership (unlike Bedford House, which was leased).
During his time of banishment from Court and forced retirement at Gorhambury (June 1621–March 1622) Francis would have been able to spend time on the final planning and organisation of the presentation of his Great Instauration to the world at large, gathering further material for his Natural History, the third part of his Great Instauration, and writing his revised and greatly enlarged final version of the Advancement of Learning. This latter work was to represent the first part of the Great Instauration, a portion of the second part (the Novum Organum) having already been published in 1620. Moreover, it was probably during the six weeks in London (September-October 1621) that he issued instructions for the collecting together of the Shakespeare plays and the purchasing of the publishing rights for them, so that they could be published collectively as his example of the fourth part of the Great Instauration—his working model or ‘machine’ as he called it, by which the data collected concerning natural, human and divine nature might be ‘set as it were before the eyes’. For this he had Ben Jonson to help him, one of his ‘good pens who forsake me not’. His other remaining ‘good pens’ included George Herbert, Thomas Hobbes, Peter Böener, Dr. William Rawley and Sir Thomas Meautys.
Once back in London the composition and translation into Latin of the Advancement of Learning went full steam ahead, although it was not until the autumn of 1623 that it was finally published (as the De Augmentis Scientiarum). The timing of this went hand in hand with the publication of the Shakespeare plays, the printing of which was set in motion early in 1622, probably under the supervision of Ben Jonson, and the publication of which occurred during the last two months of 1623 (as the Folio of William Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories and Tragedies). Francis also busied himself at this time with researching and writing a history of the reign of King Henry VII, as part of his intended collection of histories of the later sovereigns of England, and with making a start on a collection of studies that would comprise his example of a Natural History. Both The History of the Reign of King Henry VII and the first of six essays on natural history (Historia Ventorum, ‘The History of Winds’) were published in 1622.
Always Francis did his best to maintain his wife in a state befitting a viscountess, and had settled on her a suitable income, in addition to her own private one, which she had always enjoyed throughout their marriage. This meant that by February 1623 Francis was again in financial difficulties. He tried to sell Gorhambury to Buckingham, but the Marquis was at that time about to embark for Spain with Charles, the Prince of Wales, to pursue the proposal for the marriage of the King of Spain’s daughter to the Prince. Failing to sell Gorhambury, Bedford House had to be given up, as being too expensive to run. This left Gorhambury as their only stately home, so that when in London Lady Bacon had to rely on staying with family or friends, whilst Francis retired to his ‘cell’, his chambers at Gray’s Inn, where he could carry on with his writings.
When the provostship of Eton fell vacant in April 1623, Francis applied to the King for the position, as it would have fulfilled his original desire to have a suitable position with a small but sufficient income to sustain him wherein he could ‘command wits and pens’ and oversee the education of bright young minds. But even in this he failed, the position having already been promised to another and King James being unable to believe that his ex-Lord Keeper and Lord Chancellor, who in title was a Viscount, would want to take up such a relatively humble position. The truth of the matter was, though, that beyond granting the pardon (which was never given in full, as Francis was denied being able to sit in parliament for the rest of his life), neither the King nor Buckingham did anything whatsoever to help Francis, other than to say friendly and encouraging things in answer to his letters and pleas.
So Francis remained at Gray’s Inn, writing copiously and urgently, and living at Gorhambury with his wife from time to time. Each year, usually in the summer months, he was subject to bouts of sickness, but always seemed to recover. He never lost his profound hope, his extraordinary mental faculties or his zest for completing his great work. Yet within three years he was to die, outliving by one year the King whom he had served so well, who died on 27 March 1625 and who was succeeded by his son Charles I.
Even though Francis never completed his work to his own satisfaction, yet by the time he died he had produced remarkable examples of the first four parts or stages of the Great Instauration (and maybe of the fifth and sixth, if we could but find or identify them), constructed a ‘treasure hunt’ to teach and train others, and set in motion a work that others could take up—a work that Francis knew would grow and evolve, and take many ages to complete.
In the early years of King James’ reign Francis had been able to continue writing the Shakespeare plays and other works. In addition, as his experiments began to bear fruit, he began to develop and publish his philosophical works under his own name of Bacon; but this he did carefully, a little at a time, not revealing the critical role of drama until his final 1623 version of the Advancement of Learning—the De Augmentis Scientiarum. Like the Novum Organum that he had published in 1620, this work was written in Latin, with the help of George Herbert, Ben Jonson and others—the reason being, as he said, so that other nations might have the benefit of reading it as well as his own countrymen, Latin being (at that time) the universal language of the learned.
During the early Jacobean period Francis had become directly involved with the Virginia Company and its schemes to colonise North America, sitting on its council together with the Earls of Pembroke and Montgomery, and the Earl of Southampton. Moreover, Francis was largely responsible for drawing up, in 1609 and 1612, the two charters of government for the Virginia Colony. These charters were the beginnings of constitutionalism in North America and the germ of the later Constitution of the United States of America. The confidential report sent to the Virginia Company council members by William Strachey in 1609, concerning the shipwreck of the Company’s flagship, the Sea Adventurer, on the Bermudas, gave Francis some good material on which to base his account of the island and shipwreck in The Tempest, the so-called ‘last’ Shakespeare play.
The very last Shakespeare play, however, appears to have been All is True, thought to have been written sometime between the end of 1612 and June 1613, when the Globe Theatre accidentally burnt down during a performance of the play. This play, or a later version of it, was first published in the 1623 Shakespeare Folio as The Life of King Henry the Eight, with certain additions which Francis wrote after his impeachment. These additions include the prologue and Cardinal Wolsey’s farewell speech, and details of Wolsey’s fall as Lord Chancellor and Keeper of the Great Seal, which are purposely mixed with details of Bacon’s own personal experience when he had the Great Seal taken from him, thus making a kind of signature.
Francis’ impeachment in 1621, although a severe blow to his good name, was to him a release from the burden of legal and State service, enabling him to devote himself entirely to his greatest love and real mission in life. During the last five years of his life he worked like a superman, collecting together, revising, polishing and finishing works already commenced, completing or at least making a start on other projects already planned, and seeing his greatest works through publication, including the Shakespeare Folio of comedies, histories and tragedies. For all this he was helped by those ‘good pens’ of his who, after his fall, forsook him not—men whose names should be remembered with gratitude.
Ever a master of drama and symbolism, it was on Easter Day, 9th April 1626, that Sir Francis Bacon, Baron Verulam, Viscount St Alban, died. He left copious manuscripts and letters, a library of books and a generous will—although he died so much in debt due to his misfortune that the benefits of his will could not be fully realised. Some of his letters and manuscripts were given into the care of his principal secretary and friend, Sir Thomas Meautys, others to his chaplain Dr William Rawley, and some to be looked after by his brother-in-law Sir John Constable and his literary friend Sir William Boswell, the English Ambassador at the Hague. Francis left them instructions to publish some and reserve others to a ‘private succession’ of literary ‘sons’. His extensive library he bequeathed to Constable, but it seems that the books had to be sold because of the insolvency of his estate when he died. Upon his death tributes poured forth from many men of letters praising him not only as the greatest philosopher who had lived in many ages, but also as the Star of Poets, the Apollo who led not only the other writers and poets but the Muses themselves. From then on, as Ben Jonson remarked, ‘wits daily grow downward’. The unique half-century of brilliant English Renaissance culture was over. The ‘light’ had vanished, but not the inheritance which it has left behind for us to enjoy.
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