BACON, Sir Francis (1561-1626), of Gray's Inn, London and Gorhambury, nr. St. Albans, Herts.; later of York House, The Strand, Westminster

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press

Family and Education

b. 22 Jan. 1561, 5th s. of Sir Nicholas Bacon† (d.1579) of Redgrave, Suff., ld. kpr. 1558-79, being 2nd s. with his 2nd w. Anne, da. of Sir Anthony Cooke† of Gidea Hall, Romford, Essex;1 bro. of Anthony† and half-bro. of Edward†, Nathaniel* and Nicholas†. educ. Trin. Camb. 1573-6, MA 1594; G. Inn 1576, called 1583; embassy, Paris 1576-9.2 m. 10 May 1606, Alice (d. 29 June 1650), da. and coh. of Benedict Barnham†, alderman and Draper of St. Clement’s Lane, London, s.p.3 suc. bro. Anthony in Gorhambury estate 1601;4 kntd. 23 July 1603;5 cr. Bar. Verulam 12 July 1618, Visct. St. Alban 27 Jan. 1621.6 d. 9 Apr. 1626.7 sig. Fr[ancis] Bacon.

Offices Held

Bencher, G. Inn 1586-1617, reader 1588, 1600, dean of the chapel 1589-90, ?dep. treas. 1594-5, treas. 1608-17;8 dep. chief steward, duchy of Lancaster (south pts.) 1594-at least 1608;9 KC 1604;10 member, High Commission, Canterbury prov. 1601-21;11 sol. gen. 1607-13;12 clerk, Star Chamber 1608-17;13 judge, Ct. of the Verge 1608-17;14 steward, King’s Langley, Herts. 1611-?17;15 standing counsel, St. Albans, Herts. 1612, Camb. Univ. by 1614;16 recorder, St. Albans 1614;17 att. gen. 1613-17;18 high steward, St. Albans 1616-d., Cambridge, Cambs. 1617-d.19

J.p. Essex and Mdx. 1593-1621, St. Albans liberty, Herts. by 1603-d.;20 freeman, Ipswich, Suff. 1597;21 commr. oyer and terminer, London and Mdx. by 1601-21, the Verge 1606-21, sewers, London 1606-21, Herts. 1607-?21 New River 1611, Essex 1613-?21, subsidy, London 1608, aid 1609, annoyances, Surr. 1611, Mdx. 1613, piracy, London 1614-15, Devon 1615.22

Commr. Union 1604.23

Cttee. Virg. Co. 1609;24 member, Newfoundland Co. 1610, N.W. Passage Co. 1612;25 E. I. Co. 1618.26

Commr. enfranchisement of copyholds 1612, augmentation of revenue 1612;27 commr. cloth exports 1614;28 PC 1616-25;29 chan., Prince Charles’s Household 1616-17;30 ld. kpr. 1617-18, ld. chan. 1618-21;31 commr. gold and silver thread patent 1618.


One of the great minds of his age, Bacon is chiefly known to posterity for his philosophical and scientific works, particularly the Novum Organum, which proposed a new system of logic for classifying knowledge. However, he was also a common lawyer who - unlike most of his colleagues - was well versed in the Civil Law, a facility which served him well in disputes over the prerogative and the Union. Moreover, he was an ambitious career politician who, after many frustrations, scaled the heights of his profession as lord chancellor, surpassing his father’s achievement as lord keeper. Yet in his single-minded pursuit of preferment, he made powerful enemies and took bribes at a spectacular rate, thereby contributing to his ultimate downfall.

Contemporaries widely commended Bacon for his elegant prose and speaking style, although the readiness with which he placed his formidable rhetorical skills at the Crown’s disposal during parliamentary debate meant that his arguments did not always carry the day. Though often found on the losing side in debate, Bacon was too able a speaker to be neglected by the Commons, which sometimes required him, in meetings with the Lords, to advocate a cause that he himself had earlier opposed. Beyond Westminster, the political advices he penned for monarchs, ministers and courtiers offer insights into the problems of the age equalled by few rivals save Sir Walter Ralegh†. The only area in which his style seems forced was in pursuit of his own preferment. Here eloquence shaded into obsequiousness, perhaps largely because, until his marriage in 1606, he lacked the means to purchase high office.

I. Early Years

The Bacon family’s rise was rapid, even by the competitive standards of the Tudor age. His grandfather was a Suffolk sheep-farmer, but his father, a lawyer, served Elizabeth as lord keeper for the first 20 years of her reign, amassing a substantial estate in East Anglia. He made generous settlements upon four of his sons, but died before he could provide an endowment for Francis, who acquired the Gorhambury estate, just outside St. Albans, Hertfordshire, after the death of his brother Anthony in 1601. This inheritance comprised only 2,000 acres, and the mansion at its core - the ruins of which still survive - was not large by Elizabethan standards. Thus throughout his career Bacon depended upon the profits of office and bribery to sustain his consistently extravagant lifestyle.32

Bacon’s mother, a daughter of Edward VI’s tutor Sir Anthony Cooke†, was every inch her husband’s intellectual equal, having received a classical education, and it was through her that Bacon’s cousins included secretary of state Sir Robert Cecil† and the courtier Sir Edward Hoby*. Bacon studied at Trinity, Cambridge under John Whitgift, the future archbishop of Canterbury, and then enrolled at Gray’s Inn. Shortly thereafter he was sent to Paris as part of the household of ambassador (Sir) Amias Paulet†, where he carried dispatches, studied the Civil Law, and enjoyed the tuition of Jean Hotman, son of the author of the Huguenot resistance tract Francogallia. Returning home after his father’s death, he was called to the bar after a remarkably brief period of study; the patronage of lord treasurer Burghley (William Cecil†) played a part in this, but his mastery of the law was never questioned. Both of Bacon’s parents were patrons of puritan ministers - Beza dedicated one of his works to Lady Bacon - and while at Gray’s Inn Bacon and his mother attended the Temple Church to hear the celebrated series of lectures in which Walter Travers justified the Presbyterian form of church government.33

Conscious of his own intellectual brilliance, Bacon despised those whom he regarded as plodding lawyers, like Sir Edward Coke*, and despite his youth, he quickly developed aspirations to legal office. However, his opposition to supply in the 1593 Parliament cost him the queen’s favour: when Coke was promoted to the post of attorney-general, Bacon observed, Elizabeth announced that she would ‘seek all England for a solicitor [general] rather than take me’. Bacon’s professional rivalry with Coke was compounded by personal jealousy in 1598, when the latter married the wealthy widow who was heiress to the vast estates of the late lord chancellor, Sir Christopher Hatton†, having beaten off competition from many suitors, including Bacon.34

For much of the 1590s Bacon hitched his star to the 2nd earl of Essex, whom his brother Anthony served as a secretary. During that time he gave the earl advice, which was often ignored, and acquired patronage. More alive to his patron’s flaws than his brother, Bacon began to distance himself from the earl’s cause after Essex returned from Ireland in the autumn of 1599 in defiance of the queen’s wishes. In the aftermath of Essex’s abortive coup of February 1601, Bacon assisted Coke in the prosecution of the conspirators. He later claimed this was necessary to save his brother from prosecution, but his ingratitude to his munificent patron was never forgotten.35

II. James’s Accession and the Parliamentary Session of 1604

The accession in March 1603 of a king widely known for his scholarly interests offered some hope for Bacon’s career, but unfortunately James, having maintained a lengthy correspondence with Essex, was inclined to look upon the late earl’s enemies as his own. In March 1603 Bacon sent his protégé Tobie Matthew* to Scotland with congratulations to James on his accession and an apology for his treachery, but ‘neither the messenger nor the message were greatly welcome’. By this time, Bacon was under threat of debtors’ prison, and since James would not accept his service he appealed for assistance to Secretary Cecil, to whom he disclaimed all political ambitions and announced his intention of marrying ‘an alderman’s daughter’ who could be won only by a titled suitor. Cecil duly helped Bacon to compound with his creditors, procured him a knighthood at the Coronation, and even introduced him to the alderman’s widow, a ‘little violent lady’ now married to Sir John Pakington†. Bacon’s own marriage had to be deferred, however, as the object of his choice was a child of 11.36

Bacon’s renunciation of politics was short-lived, as his pen was the only means by which he was able to offer his services to the king. In the summer of 1603 he wrote a tract in favour of James’s favourite project, the Union with Scotland, and another promoting godly reform of the church, which, at that stage, it could be reasonably supposed the king would welcome. The latter clearly circulated in manuscript, as it was published in the following year, apparently without Bacon’s permission. By then it was capable of being construed as an attack on ecclesiastical policy, and was confiscated by official order while still at the press.37

At the general election of 1604 Bacon stood for Ipswich on the nomination of lord treasurer Dorset (Thomas Sackville†) and for St. Albans on the interest he had acquired upon inheriting the Gorhambury estate. The Ipswich corporation was reluctant to deprive Sir Michael Stanhope* by re-electing Bacon; but he was duly returned, relinquishing the St. Albans seat to Tobie Matthew.38 On the first day of the session, his name was one of several ‘muttered’ for the Speakership, but this position was intended for Sir Edward Phelips.39 The lack of privy councillors in the Commons nevertheless allowed Bacon to play a prominent role on the floor of the House, particularly in 1604. His speeches were not always favourably received nor his recommendations followed, but his lucid analytical skills made him indispensable as a reporter of the conferences through which Cecil, now a peer, strove to steer the Commons’ debates; Bacon reported over half the conferences which took place between the Commons and Lords during the 1604 session.40

With his extensive parliamentary experience, Bacon was an obvious choice to chair the committee to discuss proposals raised by Sir Robert Wroth I, who seems to have been acting as Cecil’s spokesman (23 March). These proposals included the abolition of wardship. Three days later Bacon reported that the chief justification for wardship had ceased with the Union of the crowns, and recommended that the king be offered a composition for wardship. One of the delegation sent to ask the Lords to join in a petition to this effect, he subsequently reported the peers’ concurrence, but took no part in the composition negotiations which occurred later in the session.41 Another item raised by Wroth was the Prayer Book, the text of which he recommended be revised. Bacon was the first Member named to the committee charged with looking into this matter on 26 March.42 Purveyance was also on Wroth’s list, and while Bacon played no recorded part in the drafting of a purveyance bill - which was suspended once the king’s disapproval became known - he was later named to the committee ordered to petition the king for permission to enforce the medieval statutes against purveyors rigorously (27 April). In his address to James, Bacon stressed that there was ‘no grievance in your kingdom so general, so continual, so sensible and so bitter unto the common subject’ as purveyance, and claimed that ‘there is no pound profit which redoundeth to Your Majesty in this course, but induceth and begetteth three pounds damage upon your subjects, besides the discontentment’. On 30 Apr. he reported the king’s favourable response, and chaired the committee preparing for a conference. In a debate of 23 May some expressed their preference for the bill, but Bacon urged Members to satisfy the king by accepting a composition; in the event, no agreement was reached before the session ended.43

In his report of 26 Mar. on Wroth’s agenda, Bacon mentioned an inquiry from the Lords about the Buckinghamshire election dispute, in which the Commons had chosen to side with Sir Francis Goodwin* - whose return had been disallowed by Chancery and Sir Edward Coke on the grounds that he stood outlawed - against the privy councillor Sir John Fortescue*. Unwilling to allow the Lords to intervene in an election dispute, the Commons declined to answer, but when James asked similar questions he could hardly be ignored, as Bacon observed on 30 Mar.:

Let us deal plainly and freely with the lords and let them know all the reasons. They are jealous of the honour of a privy councillor, we of the freedom of election. It is fit great men maintain their prerogative, so it is fit that we maintain our privileges. ... No precedent that any man was put out of the House for outlawry; therefore it had been fit we should have desired to inform the king that he was misinformed.

Bacon was one of the committee appointed to draft the address defending the right of the Commons to control its own elections (30 Mar.), which he later delivered to the Privy Council (3 April). After the king had presided over a conference between the Lower House and the judges, Bacon confessed himself unable to do justice to the Solomonic wisdom of the compromise proposed: ‘it was the voice of God in man; ... the eloquence of a king was inimitable’ (11 April). He exceeded his commission in endorsing James’s conclusion that the rival candidates should stand down, but the Commons agreed nevertheless.44

A separate privilege dispute which unfolded at the same time as the Buckinghamshire election dispute was the case of Sir Thomas Shirley I*, who had sought election to escape arrest by his creditors, but had been incarcerated in the Fleet prison by the time the session opened. On 27 Mar. Serjeant Sir Henry Hobart* claimed that Shirley’s release would deprive his creditors of legal redress, but Bacon insisted that immunity would only continue while Parliament sat. Hobart’s argument won the day, as Bacon was later named to the committee for a bill to ensure that debtors would still be liable for their debts, even if released under parliamentary privilege (21 April). The release of Shirley proved more difficult to secure; Bacon suggested sending a royal messenger with the Commons’ serjeant, but the House resolved to send the serjeant to the Fleet alone, with a fresh writ of habeas corpus as his warrant.45

With the resolution of the Buckinghamshire election dispute, the king urged the Commons to turn to his pet project, the Union with Scotland. In 1603 Bacon had warned that James ‘hasteneth to a mixture of both kingdoms and nations, faster perhaps than policy will conveniently bear’, but a year later he was one of the most enthusiastic advocates of Union in a sceptical Commons, probably because this approach held out the promise of royal patronage. Bacon attended the conference with the Lords at which lord chancellor Ellesmere (Sir Thomas Egerton†) outlined the king’s intention to change his title to king of Great Britain (14 Apr.), and, unlike many of his fellow Members, he was prepared to discuss the matter at the next conference on 20 April.46 On this occasion, the king dictated a ‘frame or model of the Union’ to Bacon, but when the latter reported the proceedings of this second conference on 23 Apr. he advised that there had been ‘more silence than was meant, for want of warrant’. Enumeration of the legal objections to the change of name encouraged caution - ‘the more we wade, the more we doubt’, Bacon observed on 25 Apr., as Members concluded that a change of name would undermine the Common Law. He was appointed to open the conference with the Lords about these objections (27 Apr.), and reported the judges’ endorsement of the Commons’ position, which forced James to abandon his plan.47

The one aspect of the Union project which came to fruition was the appointment of an Anglo-Scottish commission to draft an agenda for closer Union, which Bacon handled in the Commons, and to which body he was appointed on 12 May.48 No sooner had the commission been sent to the Lords than John Tey* complained about a tract by Bishop Thornborough of Bristol criticizing the Commons for its hostility to the Union. The bishop eventually apologized to his fellow peers for his behaviour, and his tract was apparently suppressed, information which Bacon relayed to the Commons on 11 June.49 Meanwhile, the Lords queried the wording of the Union commission, which Bacon reported to the Commons on 21 May. Having covered some grammatical issues, he concluded that ‘what is adjudged next session, shall not relate to this session’. Sir Herbert Croft leapt upon this point, protesting that no House could bind its successor, and insisted that while this had been debated at the conference, no conclusion had been reached. Three days later, Bacon modified his report to accommodate Croft’s point, but this confrontation may explain why he was used less often as a reporter in subsequent sessions.50

Bacon was involved with a good deal of other Commons’ business in 1604. It had originally been decided not to ask for supply at a time when the 1601 subsidies were still being collected, but on 19 June Bacon joined a concerted attempt by the Crown’s spokesmen to secure a vote. The peaceful settlement of the succession which James’s accession represented deserved some reward, he declared, before adding that he hoped that the session would ‘not end like a Dutch feast in salt meats, but like an English feast, with sweetmeats’. However, the demand for supply encountered strong objections, and was subsequently dropped on James’s instructions.51 On 16 May Bacon defended a bill for the restitution of the Catholic Lord William Howard, citing the latter’s parliamentary patronage as an indication of his loyalty:

The eye of the law doth not take notice of matter of religion: it is but the eye of fame. The names of divers burgesses [MPs] where he [Howard] has interest by the earl of Arundel read in the House as testimony of his choice of such men as were religious, and a testimony of his good mind in the choice.52

Seven other bills were delivered to Bacon on 21 May, four of them for the naturalization of Scottish courtiers. He steered them through committee in a single afternoon, and reported them on the following day, when all were passed except the bill to grant denizen status to the English-born children of immigrants. He reported a conference with the Lords on the Tunnage and Poundage bill (22 June), and was a member of the committee that produced the Form of Apology and Satisfaction of the Commons, advising that it should not be presented to the king (20 June).53

III. The Quest for Preferment, 1604-6

Shortly after the prorogation Bacon was granted a life pension of £60, over and above his fee of £40 as king’s counsel; but when Sir Thomas Fleming I* was elevated to the judiciary, he was again passed over as solicitor general in favour of the undistinguished John Doddridge*, whose removal he swiftly began plotting.54 In anticipation of the Union commission he penned a longer tract in favour of the Union. He also drafted a Proclamation to enable James to implement the change of name, but this had to be amended to take into account the judges’ advice that no legal document dated under the new title would be valid. Bacon acted as joint secretary to the commissioners, and drafted a preamble to their report. He also found time to complete his most substantial work to date, The Advancement of Learning, published in 1605.55

Bacon played no recorded part in the trial of the Gunpowder plotters, beyond interrogating a Catholic who had condoned the plotters’ aims. Nevertheless, Catholicism naturally became a major concern once the parliamentary session resumed in January 1606, when Bacon was named to the committee to consider fresh recusancy legislation (21 Jan.), and another for the bill to make 5 Nov. a public holiday (23 January). As the recommendations of the former committee were reported on 4 Feb., Bacon asked that the managers of a forthcoming conference with the Lords might be authorized to propose fresh initiatives as well as to listen; Speaker Phelips approved, reminding the House that this would allow debate over changes to the existing recusancy laws.56 Three days later, Bacon apparently deemed Solicitor Doddridge’s report of this conference to be inadequate, offering his own detailed account of the legislation the Lords had proposed. He also summarized the king’s intentions, as revealed in a memorandum that Cecil, now earl of Salisbury, had read out at the meeting, which included the imposition of an Oath of Allegiance on all Catholics. There was clearly general agreement over Doddridge’s shortcomings, as Bacon was ordered to join with him in preparing for another conference (17 February).57

The other major business at the start of the session was purveyance, which a new bill drafted by John Hare proposed to abolish without compensation. Salisbury spurned this radical plan and attacked Hare’s demagoguery at a conference on 19 Feb., but the latter insisted he spoke for the whole Commons. Bacon tried to pour oil on troubled waters (24 Feb.), urging that it should be made clear to the Lords that the Commons’ vindication of Hare was intended to resolve the quarrel, not to provoke further confrontation.58 At a fresh conference on 27 Feb. Members stuck to their demand for abolition: Bacon reported the proceedings to the House on 1 Mar., but then made a ‘long and well-framed speech’ in favour of composition on 7 March. He assured Members that

it is not desired it [composition] should be perpetual, nor other than a probation for a time, so as Doomsday (herein he glanced at Mr. [John] Hoskins*, who two days before had used that word) is not to be expected before the inconvenience hereof be found, except the next Parliament be said to be the day of doom ... if it were perpetual, I must put you in mind that yourselves have heretofore offered to compound in perpetuity with a continual charge for wards.

To those who feared the king could not legally alienate a prerogative right, he insisted this could not apply to a voluntary agreement, and observed that ‘36 [earlier] laws against purveyors have not bound, ergo one more, though we compound, will not help’.59 James indicated that a lump sum might suffice if a composition could not be agreed, and on 14 Mar. the third reading of the purveyance bill was followed by a vote of one subsidy and two fifteenths, in addition to the two subsidies and four fifteenths voted some weeks earlier. Six days later, Bacon was ordered to carry the bill up to the Lords, ‘and to use some commendations of it’, but the Lords laid it aside on 12 April. Meanwhile, in his report on the subsidy bill (25 Mar.), Bacon departed from precedent by expressing his disapproval of a vote insufficient to cover the Crown’s outstanding debts.60

On 2 Apr. the question of impositions thrust itself upon the political agenda, when the London merchant John Bate was arrested for resisting the seizure of a cargo of currants. Nine days later, his lawyers appeared before the Commons, but before they were admitted Bacon, claiming precedence as king’s counsel, supported the seizure. He observed that advice had been sought from merchants before increasing the currant duty, and argued that the Crown’s undoubted right to forbid the importation of goods could be commuted to a cash levy. Sir John Fortescue, chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster and now a Member of the House, followed with an explanation once again of the origins of the currant imposition as part of the Levant Company’s quest for a new charter. Sir John Savile* claimed that these arguments had almost changed his opinion, until he recollected that Mercury, the god of eloquence, was also the patron of thieves; the currant imposition was voted a grievance.61

Bacon made a number of other speeches in the latter part of the session. The best reported was during the usury debate of 6 May. Breeding money from money, he said, was not just contrary to Common Law and morality, but also detrimental to the economy.

Great merchants will not venture at sea, wind, etc., neither will the wit of man labour upon draining of marshes, nor in any other good or ingenious device, but employ their money to more certain profit at use [i.e. interest]; and so this sluggish trade of usury taketh away all invention and trade. ... Lastly it maketh land cheap; for, if money were not thus employed to an excessive gain, rich men would give good prices for land.

He was one of the ‘four apostles of the Lower House’ who handled the issue of the deprivation of puritan clergymen ‘very curiously and learnedly’ at a conference on 29 Apr., reporting the archbishop of Canterbury’s unyielding reply. He headed the committee list for the bill to enable Salisbury to enlarge his mansion in the Strand and, at the report stage, delivered ‘a speech of favour and respect’ about his cousin.62

On 10 May, ‘clad from top to toe in purple’, Bacon finally married ‘his young wench’, having already purchased ‘such store of fine raiments of cloth of silver and gold that it draws deep into her portion’. It is not clear that the marriage was ever consummated, and the honeymoon was necessarily brief.63 He was back in the House on 13 May, when the Speaker entrusted him with the grievances to present to the king. The diarist Robert Bowyer* commended the ‘eloquent speech’ Bacon made to James on this occasion, in which Bacon insisted that the grievances were ‘not any aspersions or imputations meant any way to be laid on His Majesty’s government, but the diseases of time ... and whereof we nothing doubted of His Majesty’s princely regard’.64 Bacon’s talents were also employed in the Exchequer Court after the prorogation, where he argued in favour of impositions. Enlarging on the case he had made before the Commons, he claimed that Common Law property rights did not apply to goods before they were landed within the realm, and showed that while some customs duties originated in statutory grants, others were prescriptive in origin.65

In June 1606 Coke’s elevation to the judicial bench created a vacancy for the attorneyship, but the appointment of Sir Henry Hobart dashed Bacon’s hopes that Doddridge might be promoted and so leave the solicitor’s office free for him. He continued to press his claims for the solicitorship upon Salisbury, on lord chancellor Ellesmere, and on the king himself:

For both in the commission of Union (the labour whereof, for men of my profession, rested most upon my hand) and this last Parliament, in the bill of the subsidy (both body and preamble); in the bill of attainder, both Tresham and the rest; in the matter of purveyance; in the ecclesiastical petition; in the grievances, and the like; ... Your Majesty was pleased to accept kindly of my services, and to say to me such conflicts were the wars of peace and such victories were the victories of peace.

However, he had not received any further preferment when Parliament reconvened in November 1606.66

IV. The Union Debates, 1606-7

As an advocate of the Union, Bacon played a substantial role in the parliamentary session of 1606-7, when few others were prepared to back the king’s cherished project. In his opening speech, James made it clear that disputes over religion and purveyance should be laid aside in order to consider the Union, but the Commons procrastinated until prodded into action by the Lords at a conference on 25 November. When this conference was reported the following morning, Richard Martin recommended that the Commons should leave the controversial question of naturalization to the Lords, but Bacon argued that the Houses should proceed jointly in all matters via conference: ‘because it is a matter of state, a matter of future providence, and not of present feeling. ... And besides, if the Lords proceed alone by a bill, they will rest more inflexible from their first resolutions’. The Commons preferred Martin’s approach, but the Lords insisted upon conferences.67 One of the first points to be discussed was escuage, a military tenure common along the border shires. When Nicholas Fuller mischievously suggested that the 1604 Proclamation on the change of name had abolished escuage and all other forms of wardship he was opposed by Bacon. Despite these protests, Bacon was one of the four MPs ordered to present the Commons’ case to the Lords, where the debate was quashed by a ruling from the judges.68

On 13 Feb. 1607 the Lords chided the Commons for its obstructive attitude, whereupon (Sir) Christopher Pigott* made an intemperate attack upon the Scots, outraging the king. Bacon subsequently went out of his way to commend the Scots (17 Feb.):

We know in their capacity and understanding they are a people ingenious, in labour industrious, in courage valiant, in body hard, active and comely. ... they are of one piece and continent with us; and truth is, we are participant both of their virtues and vices.69

When the offender came before the House, Bacon was one of those who argued that his words, being spoken in debate, did not need to be verified; Pigott was promptly expelled from the House and sent to the Tower.

This outburst raised tensions at the start of the naturalization debate, in which Fuller called for limits on the number of public offices Scots would be able to hold in England. Bacon urged Members to rise above their particular interests, and insisted that since James’s accession, the number of Scottish immigrants had been ‘extremely small’. Addressing objections that the two legal systems were incompatible, he observed that ‘naturalization doth but take out the marks of a foreigner, but Union of laws makes them entirely as ourselves’, and claimed that ‘our laws and customs must in small time gather and win upon theirs’. He insisted that the post-nati - Scots born since James’s accession - were automatically naturalized in England: ‘whosoever is born under the king’s obedience, never could ... be an enemy (a rebel he might be, but no enemy)’. Eloquent as this speech was, it failed to sway the debate.70 Nevertheless, he opened the conference of 25 Feb. at which MPs rejected naturalization, and later reported its proceedings; these were disastrous for the Commons, as the judges vindicated Bacon’s opinion that the post-nati were already naturalized. Unable to circumvent this decision, on 7 Mar. Sir Edwin Sandys* argued that the ‘imperfect’ Union proposed in the Instrument of Union should be replaced by a ‘perfect’ Union, including laws and parliaments, an unfeasibly ambitious plan.71 Several weeks of ill-tempered debates followed, during which (28 Mar.) Bacon, while acknowledging the desirability of a ‘perfect’ Union, ‘because it will be an infallible assurance that there will never be any relapse in succeeding ages to a separation’, insisted that ‘the Union of the laws will ask a great time to be perfected’. He also touched upon the lawyers’ deepest fear when he described Sandys’ project ‘not, as I conceive it, to draw them wholly to a subjection to our laws, but to draw both nations to one uniformity of law’.72

On 29 Apr., after the Easter recess, Bacon contributed to a final concerted effort to revive the naturalization question. Having commended Sandys’s willingness to pass a bill repealing hostile laws, he deplored the plan for fresh talks about a ‘perfect’ Union and the lack of a settlement over commerce. He ended with a plea to ‘leave this digression, and fall to our business by bills or otherwise, and beat the wind no more’. Unsurprisingly, this had no effect, and the king angrily abandoned the scheme on 2 May.73 Ministers attempted to salvage something from the wreck of the session by tabling a bill for repeal of hostile laws two days later, but when Doddridge and Bacon were recommended to chair the committee of the whole House appointed to scrutinise this measure (8 May), they were called back by those who suspected they had drafted the bill. After some confusion Bacon took the chair, but he struggled even to get the preamble passed. On 28 May he reported that the bill was ‘almost finished’, but asked the advice of the House about the remanding of Englishmen to Scottish courts for trial over border offences; the committee was asked to devise a less controversial procedure.74 James took a personal interest in the remanding issue, and on 4 June Bacon delivered a royal message deploring a proviso allowing witnesses for the defence to be heard in extradition cases liable to the death penalty, which had no effect. The bill was swiftly dispatched to the Lords, who raised numerous exceptions at a conference on 11 June, which Bacon reported to the Commons.75 A second conference was required to achieve a consensus (15 June), which also debated an unrelated issue, a petition from English merchants about their maltreatment in Spain, which Bacon reported at length, even though he had not been ordered to do so.76

The passage of the (somewhat attenuated) bill for the abolition of hostile laws offered James some small consolation for his efforts, for which Bacon was duly rewarded: shortly before the prorogation: Doddridge was appointed king’s serjeant, which allowed Bacon to secure the position of solicitor general he had coveted for so long.77

V. Solicitor General, 1607-13

Now more in the public eye, Bacon was affected by a series of scandals involving his family, servants and friends. Following the break-up of Lady Pakington’s second marriage he bestowed his wife’s younger sister, then aged 12, on ‘a towardly young gentleman’, John Constable of Gray’s Inn, for whom he procured a knighthood. Lady Pakington complained to the Privy Council that her daughter had been ‘cast away’, and in response to an inquiry about jointure provision, Bacon had returned ‘an insolent letter of contempt, penned after his proud manner of writing’, which tactlessly alluded to her own matrimonial troubles. Her forebodings were confirmed when Constable alienated his estate, and if Bacon had wished to maintain a reputation for disinterestedness he should not have accepted an unsecured loan of £600 from the groom.78 In July 1607 it was reported that ‘Sir Francis Bacon hath lost two of his choice men, that dispatched one another in the field’; while at the same time Tobie Matthew returned from Italy an avowed Catholic. ‘That which I take in compassion’, Bacon warned him, ‘others may take in severity’. He secured the apostate’s release from the Fleet by promising to attempt his reconversion, although he proved ‘a poor kind of creature’ in theological controversy, and Matthew returned to exile.79

As solicitor, Bacon was required to argue legal test cases for the Crown, most notably Calvin’s case (1608), which confirmed the naturalization of the post-nati. Employing Civil Law arguments about the indivisibility of sovereignty, Bacon argued that allegiance was sworn to the person of King James VI and I, not the laws of the separate nations; thus those born within the allegiance of either nation was automatically a subject within the other. This case satisfied ten of the 12 judges - although Coke, characteristically, managed to find for the Crown on technical grounds.80

In 1608 Bacon finally acquired the clerkship of Star Chamber he had been granted in reversion in 1589, which raised his annual income from the Crown (offices, pension and recusants’ leases) to £3,200, plus another £1,200 from his practice, £335 from Gorhambury and £140 from his wife’s share in the Barnham estate. His debts he computed at £4,740, a manageable sum provided he restrained his ambitious building projects. With his cousin Salisbury newly promoted to the treasurership, he resolved, if called to advise the Privy Council, ‘chiefly to make good my lord of Salisbury’s motions and speeches’. He also aimed to undermine Hobart’s position as attorney-general by exposing his lack of zeal for the king’s service, and ‘to think of matters against next Parliament [i.e. session] for satisfaction of king and people in my particular’ by replenishing the Exchequer.81

The 1610 parliamentary sessions were dominated by Salisbury’s ambitious project for financial reform, which came to be known as the Great Contract. The chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Julius Caesar, handled many of the technical questions, but Bacon also played an active part in its promotion. One of the reporters of Salisbury’s initial presentation of 15 Feb. 1610, Bacon recited the Crown’s debts and obligations in considerable detail. When Members considered how to approach the daunting task of reform on 19 Feb., it was Bacon who moved to discuss both supply and support - a substantial annual revenue to be granted in return for appropriate concessions - in a committee of the whole House, a suggestion which was duly adopted.82 Salisbury laid out the details of his plan on 24 Feb., but when the Commons considered these four days later, differences of opinion quickly arose. Bacon reminded Members that they had overlooked the question of contribution (supply), and offered reassurances that any agreement over composition for tenures (wardship) or any other form of support would not infringe property rights. The House resolved to seek further details of the support and the price the subject would be expected to pay, but declined to consider a vote of supply at this early stage of the negotiations. Salisbury was reluctant to allow the abolition of wardship as part of the Contract, but the Commons was adamant, and Bacon was one of four lawyers appointed to draft a message to this effect, which he delivered to the Lords on 8 March.83

Salisbury’s agreement to the abolition of wardship persuaded the Commons to offer £100,000 per annum composition, but on 26 Apr. James insisted that this sum be accompanied by a further £200,000 annual support to augment his revenues, plus £600,000 supply to pay off his existing debts. Members were staggered by the scale of these demands, and Bacon’s plea of 1 May for a ‘decent, modest, respective message’ in response was hardly likely to be heeded.84 Salisbury hinted that these sums might be reduced, but in the absence of any solid offer the Commons diverted attention by raising the question of impositions. Concerns had already been expressed over the scope of the prerogative at the start of the session, when a law dictionary by Dr. John Cowell, professor of Civil Law at Cambridge university, had been found to contain partisan definitions which favoured the prerogative. Bacon conceded that ‘the licence of the pen [is] the disease of the times’, and condemned Cowell’s ‘extreme indiscretion’; the volume was quickly suppressed by Proclamation.85

Impositions, having been extended from currants to over 1,000 other commodities in 1608, were a far more serious issue than Cowell’s book. The Crown wished to suppress this debate, and as early as 30 Apr., when Sir Roger Owen moved to search for precedents in official records, Bacon responded with a terse, ‘not without warrant’; despite this, a search was approved. The king prohibited further debate on 18 May, a development which threatened to bring business to a halt. Bacon protested that the Crown’s law officers were not ‘ such loud chanters of the king’s prerogative as to say ‘tis infinite’; and attempted to forestall a cessation by suggesting that the House debate the inconvenience of impositions rather than their (alleged) illegality. Overnight, James was persuaded to moderate his earlier command, suspending the debate on impositions only until he received a response to the terms he had demanded for the Contract on 26 April. Bacon reinforced this initiative with an emollient speech about the nature of the prerogative:

The king’s sovereignty and the liberty of Parliament are as the two elements and principles of this state; which, although the one be more active, the other more passive, yet they do not cross or destroy the one the other, but they strengthen and maintain the one the other.

Even Nicholas Fuller conceded that this speech had ‘some good substance in it’, and a breach was averted.86 James then addressed both Houses in person on 21 May, adopting Bacon’s solution of sanctioning a debate about the convenience of impositions rather than their legality. After some debate, the House declined to accept any limitation on their freedom of speech, despite Bacon’s eloquent attempt to lay out precedents to the contrary (22 May).87

Sparring over impositions and the terms of the Contract continued sporadically, but on 11 June Salisbury changed tactics, asking for a vote of supply, and offering in return a reduction of impositions duties by £20,000 p.a. Bacon, who led the Commons’ delegation present at this speech, began with a caveat that MPs would not debate any offer without first reporting it to their House, and also expressed annoyance at the large number of royal messages delivered via intermediaries. His report of Salisbury’s speech led to a supply debate on 13-14 June, which disappointed official expectations by declining to make even a minimum offer of one subsidy and two fifteenths. Bacon, speaking towards the end of the debate, clearly saw little point in trying to change Members’ minds, merely observing, ‘I will not blast the affections of this House with elaborate speech. Great hope in the heart. Upon that to proceed’.88 The Commons’ price for a deal over the Contract was a full debate on the legality of impositions, which opened on 23 June. Bacon laid out the Crown’s case three days later, conceding at the outset that ‘the king cannot impose upon his subjects within the land’, but only on goods landed from foreign parts. The question at issue, he insisted, was ‘not whether in matter of imposing the king may alter the law by his prerogative, but whether the king have not such a prerogative by law’. In support of this proposition, he claimed that no imposition had been struck down by the law courts, whereas there was ample evidence of merchants paying such duties, some of which had survived previous attacks in Parliament.89

The balance of opinion in the Commons came down against impositions, but despite the fact that Bacon had been one of the most eloquent advocates of the opposing case, he was included on the committee appointed to draft a petition explaining the House’s objections to the king (3 July). He also presented the Commons’ grievance petition to the king (7 July); James gave a favourable answer on 10 July, although he delegated Salisbury to rebut the Commons’ case against impositions. Bacon subsequently assisted in preparations for the two conferences at which a deal was struck over the Contract (16 and 20 July), while on the final day of the session, he reported a conference with the Lords over the general pardon.90

MPs went home over the summer with instructions to discuss the Contract with the taxpayers who would have to bear its burdens, while in London Sir Julius Caesar* made his own calculations about the costs and benefits of the scheme. The shortcomings of this complex project quickly became apparent to both sides, and when Parliament reconvened, Members could hardly be brought to debate the subject, for fear that a refusal would offend the king. Salisbury pressed the House for a decision on 25 Oct., a speech Bacon reported two days later, while James added his own appeal at the end of the month. Bacon attempted to bring focus to an inconclusive debate on 2 Nov. by appealing for ‘an answer not ceremonial, but actual’. The draft reply tabled the following morning was quickly dismissed as being ‘too ceremonious’, which prompted Bacon to observe that any doubts should be fully aired at this stage. It was he who reported the draft of the message informing the king of the Commons’ decision to reject the Contract (9 November).91 In an attempt to salvage something from the session, Salisbury called for a vote of supply, a plea reported to the Commons by Bacon on 15 November. Some MPs were prepared to negotiate, but no consensus could be reached. On 23 Nov., as the session neared collapse, Bacon made one final plea for further supply: ‘he will not laboriously persuade, but ... he would not wish that there should be sung too loud a counter-tenor of the wants of the country, for he hopes the country is in better case’.92

Immediately after the end of the session, Bacon asked the king for ‘your assurance to succeed (if I live) into the attorney’s place, whensoever it shall be void’, a request he tactlessly renewed on hearing that Hobart had fallen seriously ill. Following Salisbury’s death in May 1612 Bacon petitioned for the secretaryship, an appeal which was, unsurprisingly, ignored. Thereafter, in an enlarged edition of his Essays, he included one ‘On Deformity’, a vicious attack on his late cousin’s memory. He was one of the commissioners appointed to improve Crown revenues, although wags quipped that he and his colleagues were chiefly ‘noted for not husbanding and well governing their estates’. His quest for preferment extended to any ministerial office, and he petitioned twice for the mastership of the Wards. He eventually secured the attorneyship in 1613, when Hobart was made chief justice of Common Pleas, although his enthusiastic advocacy of the prerogative raised fears that he would ‘prove a dangerous instrument’.93

VI. Attorney-General, 1613-17

Bacon celebrated his promotion by spending over £2,000 on a masque for the marriage of the Scottish favourite, Robert Carr, earl of Somerset to Frances Howard, which perhaps helped to allay James’s indignation at the killing of a Scot by ‘a proper young fellow that served Sir Francis Bacon’. The newsletter-writer John Chamberlain sceptically observed ‘he carries a great port, as well in his train as in his apparel and other ways, and lives at a great charge; and yet he pretends he will take no fees, nor intermeddle in mercenary causes, but wholly apply himself to the king’s affairs’. He also recorded (unfounded) rumours that Bacon had assigned the Gorhambury estate to either Somerset or lord chamberlain Suffolk (Thomas Howard†) as the price of his promotion.94

Bacon’s obligation to the Howards did not mean that he shared their aversion to parliaments. Writing to the king immediately after Salisbury’s death he advocated a fresh meeting as the only solution to the Crown’s financial problems. When a summons was debated by the Privy Council in September 1612, Bacon advised James that some medicines, which ‘in over-great quantity were little better than poisons, ... mixed and broken and in just quantity are full of virtue’. Late in 1613, he drafted a memorandum observing that the death of Dunbar and Salisbury on the one hand, and the hopes for preferment held by certain MPs on the other, augured well for a new session. He also suggested that ‘the people may have somewhat else to talk of, and not wholly of the king’s estate’, presumably an allusion to the ‘undertaking’ Sir Henry Neville I* - husband of one of Bacon’s cousins - had been promoting as a means of parliamentary management. By the New Year Bacon was more sceptical about the undertakers, warning James that they aimed to serve their own interests, but as he subsequently drafted his own list of prospective legislation, he may simply have wished to take a greater share of the credit for this plan.95

The attorney-general conventionally served in the Upper House as a legal assistant, but Bacon defied precedent by standing for election to the Commons. This was probably because the government was short of leadership in the Lower House: secretary of state Sir Ralph Winwood, upon whom much of the burden of management fell, had only recently taken office, and was a novice in the Commons; Sir Thomas Lake I, who had aspired to the secretaryship himself, was disinclined to assist his rival; while Sir Julius Caesar may have been distracted by his wife’s terminal illness. To ensure his own return, Bacon procured seats in no less than three boroughs. St. Albans paired him with another Gray’s Inn lawyer, Henry Finch, and he was also elected at Ipswich, albeit with some reluctance. At Cambridge University the college heads wished to secure the return of fellows, but the feast Bacon had hosted at Christmas 1613 raised his profile, while he had some status as standing counsel to the university; he was duly returned at a hotly contested election.96

On 8 Apr., before Bacon had uttered a syllable, his presence in the House was called into question by Edward Duncombe, who observed that the only attorney-general to sit in the Commons had been Hobart, who had not held the office when originally elected. A search for further precedents revealed nothing pertinent, whereupon Sir Dudley Digges and Henry Finch suggested that Bacon be admitted but subsequent attorneys barred, a compromise which was adopted on 11 April.97 Bacon was not the only minister whose election came under question; Sir Thomas Parry, chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, was cited for undue influence at the Stockbridge election. Bacon’s pre-session memoranda had advocated full use of the Crown’s electoral patronage, not - so he claimed - to pack the House, but ‘to have a Parliament truly free and not packed against him [the king]’. This rather fine distinction became blurred in his speech of 10 May, when he warned the House that ‘we live not now in Plato his Commonwealth, but in times wherein abuses have got the upper hand’. This was hardly a ringing endorsement of Parry’s interference, and he admitted ‘it was of long an abuse that the chancellors of the duchy looked to have the nomination of one of the burgesses in all the duchy land’, as he was doubtless aware, having been returned on duchy patronage at Liverpool in 1589. On the following day, with the king’s permission, Parry was expelled from the House.98

The other dispute which affected the start of the session was the question of undertaking. Neville’s scheme had become common knowledge, to the extent that James had been obliged to deny such rumours in his opening speech. On 12 Apr. Winwood and Caesar attempted to broach the subject of supply, but at this early stage few expressed interest in such a debate. Bacon, speaking for the first time in the session, portrayed the European stage in dark colours: England was ‘environed with envious foreigners on the one part, and encroachments on matter of trade on the other side; and religion so much questioned. Our peace may flatter us, not secure us’. He concluded by moving for ‘the king’s business and the commonwealth[‘s] to go together’. This eloquent plea was immediately sidetracked by Sir Richard Weston, who feared that undertakers would erode the Commons’ privilege of freedom of speech, an issue which dominated the rest of the day’s debate.99 Bacon was named to the committee ordered to draft a message to the king clearing the Commons of the imputation of undertaking (13 Apr.), but having not been involved in Neville’s plan, he remained silent until Sir Roger Owen reported its deliberations on 2 May. Amid a storm of self-exculpatory protests from those who feared they might be implicated, he expressed his astonishment

that private men should undertake for the Commons of England! Why, a man might as well undertake for the four elements. It is a thing so giddy, and so vast, as cannot enter into the brain of a sober man; and specially in a new Parliament. ... There are some undertakers for the project of dyed and dressed cloths; ... must we be all dyed and dressed, and no pure whites among us?

He opposed any further investigation of this issue, lest it undermine those (such as himself) who had given the king ‘an opinion touching the minds of the Parliament in general’ or offered ‘propositions that the king do comfort the hearts of his people and testify his own love to them by filing off the harshness of the prerogative, retaining the substance and strength’.100

These controversies almost submerged the Crown’s legislative agenda. One of the few items of royal legislation which survived was the bill to confirm the place of Princess Elizabeth’s offspring in the succession to the English throne, which Bacon reported to the Commons (13 Apr.); he was subsequently named to attend a conference with the Lords on this measure (14 April). On 2 May, immediately after the Easter recess, he introduced four of the ‘Grace bills’ James offered as inducements for a vote of supply: to make the estates of attainted felons liable for their debts; to codify the penal laws; to prohibit secret inquisitions; and to enable subjects to plead the general issue and retain possession of lands when their title was disputed by the Crown. With the report from the undertakers’ committee imminent, he urged that ‘no buzzes or [?of] undertaking etc. should not make them taste worse’, nor should the fact that these measures had all been proposed in 1610 as part of the Great Contract.101 Two days later, when the bill to prevent the assignment of private debts to the Crown was attacked for offering little of substance, Bacon admitted ‘that this assignment abuses the king’s prerogative’, but urged that ‘His Majesty should have remedy for so much as [is] truly owing him’; the bill was recommitted. Various objections were raised to the bill for pleading the general issue on 6 May, when Bacon chided James Whitelocke for exaggerating the extent of the prerogative in questions of land tenure, but he agreed to consider amendments in committee.102

As attorney-general, Bacon defended the patent of the French Company when it was investigated by the Commons on 3 May. He admitted that the French trade had been incorporated at the Crown’s behest, and insisted that it was ‘not in the House’s power to punish the patentees or cancel the patent’, but he conveyed the king’s offer to cancel the charter if a better means of regulation could be devised.103 His voice was notably absent from the debates over impositions, a question the Crown considered to have been settled in 1610, and it was left to two Common lawyers, Thomas Hitchcock and Leonard Bawtree, to argue the case for these increased customs duties. However, Bacon did agree to deliver the notes and records of the 1610 debates which remained in his custody. Despite his views, he was chosen to introduce the Commons’ case at a proposed conference with the Lords, which he acknowledged ‘showed that we had more trust to his person than to his place’.104

The king was determined that this conference should not take place, to which end Bishop Neile attacked those who opposed impositions as disloyal in a speech in the Lords, thereby provoking a privilege dispute which ultimately wrecked the session. Bacon was one of those ordered to redraft a message to the Lords asking for an explanation of Neile’s words (27 May). Later the same day, when the king inquired why the Commons had suspended their debates pending a resolution of this dispute, he advised Members against going to James privately about this, and suggested the House portray this tactfully as ‘rather a preferring of this business’ than a cessation of the wider agenda. Bacon must have learned of James’s intention to dissolve the Parliament at this point, as he did not speak in the angry debates during the final ten days of the session, although on 4 June he was included on a committee ordered to consider further proceedings over Neile’s case.105

The failure of the Addled Parliament, in which he had encouraged the king to put his trust, might have damaged Bacon’s prospects, but the recriminations proved mercifully brief. Northampton’s death, shortly after the dissolution, led to the appointment of Suffolk as lord treasurer, who dominated the Court in alliance with his son-in-law, Somerset. Bacon proffered advice about the efficient collection of the Benevolence instigated in lieu of a parliamentary subsidy but, unlike the Howards, he regarded Parliament as an integral part of the English polity. When a fresh summons was debated in September 1615, he drafted a memorandum insisting ‘that a Parliament is the ancient and royal way of aid and provision for the king with treasure’. Advising against ‘any acting, or minting, or packing, or canvassing’ of a future session, he blamed the Commons’ reluctance to offer supply on the Great Contract, which had raised assumptions that ‘the king should never after need his people more, nor the people the king’. He attacked the undertakers of 1614, who, having lost the confidence of the House, attempted to regain it by ‘running violent courses in causes of popularity, as in the matter of impositions and other pretended grievances’. During a future session, he argued, the king should not press for supply, nor raise money by land sales or loans, nor make grants to courtiers, ‘for these things do but savour of weakness’; if MPs failed to vote supply, James could legitimately pursue other courses to increase his revenues. Perhaps most importantly, he urged the king to ‘extinguish, or at least compose for a time the divisions in his own house’.106

Somerset’s dominance at Court was undermined by the Overbury scandal and the rise of a new favourite, George Villiers, presently created earl of Buckingham, to whom Bacon quickly attached himself. Buckingham was, in many ways, Bacon’s ideal patron: a man as energetic and charismatic as Essex had been, but who was, unlike Elizabeth’s favourite, prepared to take his advice. In 1616 he helped Buckingham to obtain the best possible deal over a grant of Crown lands, while the latter returned the favour by sponsoring his appointment as a privy councillor.107

VII. High Office and Disgrace, 1617-26

With Ellesmere’s health declining, a vacancy loomed at the head of the legal profession; but Bacon warned the king against appointing Coke, as this would thrust ‘an over-ruling nature into an over-ruling place’. There was a suppler candidate at hand, he pointed out, and proceeded to enumerate his qualifications for the post. ‘I have always been gracious in the Lower House’, he claimed, ‘and shall be able to do some effect in rectifying that body of Parliament’. James launched investigations of Coke’s personal misconduct and his professional differences with Ellesmere, which led to his removal as chief justice.108 This left Bacon as the only credible successor to Ellesmere, and in March 1617 he became lord keeper, even though some reckoned him to have ‘too tender a constitution both of mind and body’ for the woolsack. In the following year he was raised to the peerage as Baron Verulam and appointed lord chancellor. As such, he was an efficient administrator, but became notorious for taking bribes from suitors, with which he maintained a household of 150 servants. Some of these, such as his 24 gentlemen waiters, were purely ornamental; Bacon is probably the only keeper of the king’s conscience to be publicly denounced for his catamites from the pulpit of St. Paul’s.109

Shortly before the 1621 Parliament was summoned, Bacon published his most important philosophical work, Novum Organum, but his demand for a fresh peerage at this sensitive time was regarded as excessive even by Buckingham; yet he got his wish, becoming Viscount St. Alban [sic] on 27 Jan. 1621. At the general election he secured a seat at St. Albans for the Speaker-designate, Thomas Richardson, and another at Cambridge for his own principal secretary, Thomas Meautys. Charged to provide advice on the handling of the session, he suggested revoking controversial monopolies and restraining Court corruption.110 Nothing was done before the session met, but the Commons, prompted by Coke, launched an investigation of the courts of justice which produced ample proof of Bacon’s corruption. The first minister to be impeached in over 150 years, Bacon initially protested his innocence, but he secured less than wholehearted support from courtiers keen to see him made a scapegoat, and in the end he was persuaded to make an abject submission which freed him from all penalties except loss of influence and office.111

Bacon’s fall left him free to pursue his scientific interests, and it was an untimely experiment in refrigeration that brought about his death from bronchitis on 9 Apr. 1626. In his will of 19 Dec. 1625 he left his reputation ‘to men’s charitable speeches, and to foreign nations and the next ages’, aided by bequests of his works to the libraries of various public institutions. Deeming his register books of letters and speeches ‘not fit to be put into the hands but of some Councillors’, he appointed lord keeper Williams and the chancellor of the duchy Sir Humphrey May* as custodians. He confirmed his earlier settlements upon his wife - from whom he had formally separated at the time of his impeachment - and pronounced himself satisfied of her ability ‘to maintain the estate of a viscountess’. Finally, he endowed lectureships at Oxford and Cambridge in ‘natural philosophy and the sciences’. He was buried at St. Michael’s, ‘the only Christian church within the walls of old Verulam’.112 His widow married one of his servants, John Underhill, with indecent haste, and conducted a protracted lawsuit with Meautys for control of the estate. The latter emerged victorious in 1632, inheriting Gorhambury as the husband of Bacon’s great-niece. The estate ultimately passed to his wife’s second husband, Sir Harbottle Grimston, 1st bt.*.113

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: John. P. Ferris / Simon Healy


  • 1. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon ed. J. Spedding, i. 1; Vis. Suff. (Harl. Soc. n.s., ii), 157-60.
  • 2. Al. Cant.; GI Admiss.; PBG Inn, i. 55; L. Jardine and A. Stewart, Hostage to Fortune, 59-64.
  • 3. Carleton to Chamberlain ed. M. Lee, 84; Jardine and Stewart, 517.
  • 4. Jardine and Stewart, 253.
  • 5. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 114.
  • 6. CP.
  • 7. C142/515/75.
  • 8. PBG Inn, i. 72, 77, 88-9, 101, 145, 184, 500.
  • 9. R. Somerville, Hist. Duchy of Lancaster, 433.
  • 10. Law Officers and King’s Counsel ed. J. Sainty (Selden Soc. suppl. ser. vii), 85.
  • 11. R.G. Usher, Rise and Fall of High Commission, 346.
  • 12. C66/1734.
  • 13. Egerton Pprs. ed. J.P. Collier (Cam. Soc. xii), 427-8.
  • 14. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, iv. 44n.
  • 15. Duchy of Lancaster Office-Holders ed. R. Somerville, 213.
  • 16. A.E. Gibbs, Corp. Recs. of St. Albans, 60; Procs. Camb. Antiq. Soc. xvii. 209.
  • 17. Gibbs, 62.
  • 18. C66/1982.
  • 19. T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Chas. I, i. 431; Gibbs, 63; C.H. Cooper, Annals of Cambridge, 115.
  • 20. Hatfield House, ms 278; C181/1, f. 59; 181/3, f. 174v.
  • 21. N. Bacon, Annalls of Ipswich, 391.
  • 22. C181/1, ff. 11, 13v; 181/2, ff. 13v, 20, 50, 142, 149v, 185v, 199, 214, 220v, 242, 308, 317; 181/3, ff. 1, 20v, 21v, 26v, 175; SP14/31/1; 14/43/107.
  • 23. CJ, i. 208a.
  • 24. Recs. Virg. Co. ed. S.M. Kingsbury, iv. 369.
  • 25. T.K. Rabb, Enterprise and Empire, 238.
  • 26. CSP Col. E.I. 1617-20, p. 229.
  • 27. C181/2, f. 172; Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 377.
  • 28. HMC Downshire, iv. 338.
  • 29. APC, 1615-16, p. 579; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 609.
  • 30. G. Haslam, ‘Jacobean Phoenix’, in Estates of Eng. Crown, 1558-1640 ed. R.W. Hoyle, 276.
  • 31. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, vi. 151-2, 287.
  • 32. Jardine and Stewart, 29-30; C142/191/90; 142/515/75.
  • 33. R. Tittler, Nicholas Bacon, 50-2, 61-3; Jardine and Stewart, 31-66, 79.
  • 34. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, i. 348; D. Dean, Law-making and Soc. in Late Elizabethan Eng. 43-7; Jardine and Stewart, 146-51.
  • 35. Jardine and Stewart, 11-17, 184-91, 219-53.
  • 36. Autobiog. of Sir Simonds D’Ewes ed. J.O. Halliwell, i. 21, 192; Aubrey’s Brief Lives, i. 70-1; Chamberlain Letters, i. 192; ii. 243; HMC Hatfield, xix. 346; Baconiana, (ser. 3), xxi. 252; Jardine and Stewart, 265-70; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, iii. 79-82.
  • 37. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, iii. 90-9, 103-27; Jardine and Stewart, 272-4; R. Serjeantson and T. Woolford, ‘Scribal Publication of a Printed Book’, The Library, (ser. 7, x), 119-56.
  • 38. HMC 9th Rep. pt. 1, p. 253; IPSWICH.
  • 39. CJ, i. 141b.
  • 40. SURVEY (Chapter 12).
  • 41. CJ, i. 151a, 154-6; CD 1604-7, pp. 26-7, 45, 57-8; P. Croft, ‘Wardship in Parl. of 1604’, PH, ii. 40.
  • 42. CJ, i. 153b.
  • 43. Ibid. 153b, 188a, 192-3, 978a; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, ii. 181-7; P. Croft, ‘Parl., Purveyance and the City of London’, PH, iv. 14-19.
  • 44. CJ, i. 156a, 159a, 162b, 165-6, 168, 939; CD 1604-7, pp. 29-37, 45, 47-51, 58-9, 65; R.C. Munden, ‘King, Commons and Reform, 1603-1604’, in Faction and Parl. ed. K. Sharpe, 54-5.
  • 45. CD 1604-7, p. 47; CJ, i. 155, 181a, 971-2.
  • 46. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, iii. 77; CJ, i. 172a, 177b, 947-8, 950b.
  • 47. CJ, i. 180a, 182b, 184b, 187-9, 193-4, 953, 955a, 957a; CD 1604-7, pp. 96-100; Munden, 62-5; B. Galloway, Union of Eng. and Scotland, 20-2.
  • 48. CJ, i. 194b, 196-7, 208a, 967a.
  • 49. Ibid. 236b; CD 1604-7, p. 82; C.C.G. Tite, Impeachment and Parl. Judicature, 57-9.
  • 50. CJ, i. 211b, 218a, 224b, 976b, 979a; SURVEY (chapter 12).
  • 51. CJ, i. 242a, 994-5; SP14/8/69.
  • 52. CJ, i. 973a.
  • 53. Ibid. 244b, 977b, 995b.
  • 54. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, iii. 217, 247. 257.
  • 55. Ibid. 218-41; Stuart Royal Procs. ed. J.F. Larkin and P.L. Hughes, i. 94-8; Galloway, 60-1; Jardine and Stewart, 284-5.
  • 56. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, iii. 257-8; CJ, i. 257b, 258b, 263b; Bowyer Diary, 24.
  • 57. CJ, i. 265a, 269b; Bowyer Diary, 27n.
  • 58. Croft, ‘Purveyance’, 25-8; E.N. Lindquist, ‘The King, the People and the House of Commons: the Problem of Early Jacobean Purveyance’, HJ, xxxi. 263-5; Bowyer Diary, 52-3.
  • 59. CJ, i. 276b, 279b; Bowyer Diary, 57, 65-6.
  • 60. CJ, i. 287b, 289a; LJ, ii. 412b; Croft, ‘Purveyance’, 29-31; Lindquist, 566-7.
  • 61. P. Croft, ‘Fresh Light on Bate’s Case’, HJ, xxx. 534-5; Bowyer Diary, 117-20; CJ, i. 297a.
  • 62. Bowyer Diary, 151; CJ, i. 302b, 305.
  • 63. T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Jas. I, i. 46; Stowe 168, f. 320v; Carleton to Chamberlain, 76, 84; London Inquisitions (Index Lib. xxxvi), 263.
  • 64. CJ, i. 308b; Bowyer Diary, 165-7.
  • 65. Harg. 34, f. 56; CUL, Ee.iii.45, ff. 13-14.
  • 66. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, iii. 288-9, 293-7.
  • 67. CJ, i. 324b; Bowyer Diary, 193; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, iii. 303-4.
  • 68. CJ, i. 330b; Bowyer Diary, 201n, 202n; Stuart Royal Procs. i. 95; Galloway, 96-8.
  • 69. CJ, i. 1014b; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, iii. 315; Galloway, 104-5.
  • 70. CJ, i. 336-7, 1015; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, iii. 307-25; Galloway, 105-8.
  • 71. CJ, i. 340a, 345; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, ii. 327-32; Galloway, 108-13.
  • 72. CJ, i. 1034a; Bowyer Diary, 247-8; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, iii. 335-41; Galloway, 114-17.
  • 73. CJ, i. 1037; Bowyer Diary, 267-9; Galloway, 117-19.
  • 74. CJ, i. 376b, 1046-7; Bowyer Diary, 300-4; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, iii. 343-5; Galloway, 122-6.
  • 75. CJ, i. 379a, 381-2, 1048-9, 1051-2; Bowyer Diary, 310-13, 323-7.
  • 76. CJ, i. 383-4, 1052-3; Bowyer Diary, 333-9.
  • 77. Bowyer Diary, 352; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, iii. 362; C66/1734.
  • 78. HMC Hatfield, xix. 346; Vis. Yorks. ed. Foster, 196; VCH N. Riding, ii. 256; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, iv. 1, 14.
  • 79. Chamberlain Letters, i. 246; SP14/48/109; Conversion of Sir Tobie Matthew ed. A.H. Mathew, 111-12; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, iv. 8-10.
  • 80. State Trials ed. T.B. Howell, ii. 567; Galloway, 148-57; J. Sommerville, Pols. and Ideology, 105-6; J.S. Hart, Rule of Law, 87-9.
  • 81. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, iv. 21, 34-5, 81-8.
  • 82. CJ, i. 393b, 395-6.
  • 83. Ibid. 402-3, 406a, 408a.
  • 84. CJ, i. 423a; E.N. Lindquist, ‘Failure of the Great Contract’, JMH, lvii. 629-30.
  • 85. CJ, i. 399-400.
  • 86. Procs. 1610 ed. E.R. Foster, ii. 94-8; CJ, i. 433b; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, iv. 177-9.
  • 87. Procs. 1610 ed. Foster, ii. 102, 110-11; Parl. Debates, 1610 ed. S.R. Gardiner, 38-9.
  • 88. Procs. 1610 ed. Foster, 104; ‘Paulet 1610’, f. 15v; CJ, i. 437-9.
  • 89. Parl. Debates 1610 ed. Gardiner, 66-72; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, iv. 191-9.
  • 90. CJ, i. 445, 447a, 449b, 452a, 454a.
  • 91. Procs. 1610 ed. Foster, ii. 302-4, 312, 321-3, 395, 397.
  • 92. Ibid. 331-2, 344; Parl. Debates, 1610 ed. Gardiner, 131-3, 143; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, iv. 234-5.
  • 93. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, iv. 241-3, 282-8, 342; Chamberlain Letters, i. 377, 482.
  • 94. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, iv. 392-4; Chamberlain Letters, i. 488, 493; Jardine and Stewart, 342-4.
  • 95. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, iv. 280, 311-14, 368-73; v. 1-2, 16-18; C. Roberts, Schemes and Undertakings, 22-6.
  • 96. Suff. RO (Ipswich), Ipswich corp. assembly bk. 4, f. 123v; M.B. Rex, Univ. Representation in Eng. 63-5; Chamberlain Letters, i. 493; CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY.
  • 97. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 30-3, 54-8; Chamberlain Letters, i. 525.
  • 98. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 189, 196, 202-3; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, iv. 367-8.
  • 99. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 17, 61-9; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, v. 36-8.
  • 100. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 76, 120-3; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, v. 42-8.
  • 101. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 77, 81-2, 119.
  • 102. Ibid. 133-4, 136, 161-2, 166.
  • 103. Ibid. 128-31.
  • 104. Ibid. 219, 222, 225, 260-6.
  • 105. Ibid. 365, 375, 404; C. Russell, Addled Parl. of 1614, pp. 22-3.
  • 106. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, v. 81-3, 176-94.
  • 107. R. Lockyer, Buckingham, 26-32; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, vi. 27-56.
  • 108. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, vi. 85-97; SIR EDWARD COKE; SIR CHRISTOPHER HATTON.
  • 109. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, vi. 336-7; Autobiog. of Sir Simonds D’Ewes, i. 169; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 76, 243.
  • 110. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, vii. 119-22, 129-31, 142-52; Fortescue Pprs. ed. S.R. Gardiner (Cam. Soc. n.s. i), 149-50.
  • 111. Tite, 86-97, 100-4, 110-17; R. Zaller, Parl. of 1621, pp. 50-4, 74-90; C. Russell, PEP, 109-13.
  • 112. Jardine and Stewart, 502-5; PROB 11/152, ff. 151-2; C2/Jas.I/S39/12.
  • 113. Jardine and Stewart, 512-18; C142/515/75.