BACON, Nicholas (c.1540-1624), of Redgrave and Culford, Suff.
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Family and Education
b. c.1540, 1st s. of (Sir) Nicholas Bacon† by his 1st w.; bro. of Nathaniel and Edward and half-bro. of Anthony and Francis. educ. Trinity Coll. Camb. fellow-comm. 1561; G. Inn Dec. 1562. m. 1562, Anne (d.1616), da. and h. of Edmund Butts of Thornage, Norf., 7s. inc. Edmund 3da. Kntd. 1578; suc. fa. 1579; cr. Bt. 1611.1
Bailiff, Bury St. Edmunds 1571; j.p. Isle of Ely by 1574, Suff. by 1574; commr. musters, Suff. by 1576, sheriff 1581-2, dep. lt. by 1595; j.p. Norf. from 1579, sheriff 1597-8; ancient, G. Inn 1576; constable, Wisbech castle by 1597.2
Bacon concerned himself less with national problems than with local affairs and county politics, and is hardly mentioned in the correspondence of his half-brother Francis. At Gray’s Inn he shared a chamber with his brothers Nathaniel and Edward, and his half-brother Anthony, but in the year of his admission he made a fortunate marriage to a grand-daughter of Henry VIII’s physician, and there is no evidence that he was called to the bar. Considerable compensation had to be paid to two of the bride’s uncles in the course of the financial arrangements for the marriage, but Bacon received sizeable estates immediately, and, in conjunction with his father, a grant in survivorship of extensive lands and manors in Essex and Suffolk, together with Suffolk stewardships including that of the honour of Clare. He sat twice in Parliament without once being mentioned in the records. His first seat, at Beverley, was obtained for him by Sir Robert Dudley, and in 1572, backed by his father, he obtained the senior county seat. In view of his standing in Norfolk and Suffolk, it can only be concluded that thereafter he no longer wished to be returned.3
From his father, Bacon inherited a considerable estate in Suffolk and Norfolk, which he succeeded in augmenting by grants from the Crown. He owned the manors of Culford (which he had bought in 1586), Blackbourne, Shipmeadow and East Hall in Culford, other manors and lands and the mansion houses of Redgrave, Ingham and Barnham. He completed the mansion house at Culford in 1591 and ran a large sheep farm there, but Redgrave remained his chief residence. In 1609 he and his wife inherited the whole of his mother-in-law’s Foxearth Hall and Westons estate in Essex, together with other lands.4
Bacon was tireless in local administration, particularly in Suffolk, serving on a multitude of commissions, including those for piracy and musters; he was constantly called upon by the Privy Council to conduct inquiries, and took upon himself a variety of ad hoc duties. During the Armada crisis he led 500 men to the camp at Tilbury. In 1596, together with Sir Robert Jermyn, he was accused of disregarding, and encouraging opposition to the assessment of ship money on inland towns, but his prestige remained undiminished, and he continued in his local work until ill-health compelled him to withdraw.5
Like his brother Nathaniel in Norfolk, Bacon was a leader of puritanism in Suffolk. He exercised the right of presentation to Redgrave, Haughton, Cavenham and several other places. The strength of the puritan ministry in those parts clearly owed much to his powerful patronage. His chaplain Robert Allen, in a dedicatory epistle to the Treasury of Catechism, testified to the willingness of his patron and Lady Bacon to further ‘God’s holy religion and worship by every good and Christian means in the sight of men’ Allen later dedicated his Doctrine of the Gospel to Sir Nicholas and other members of the family.6
Bacon also took part in the Norfolk faction struggles, in the group opposed to the Heveninghams and Heydons. He associated with the rising Gawdy family, whose alliance was cemented in 1595 by the marriage of Bassingbourne Gawdy II to Bacon’s daughter. Bacons and Gawdys stood in opposition to the old-established family of Lovell. In 1586 Bacon accused Thomas Lovell of interfering with witnesses.7 Lovell, addressing himself to a ‘lying knight’, challenged Bacon to a duel: ‘I tell thee thou liest, thou liest, and liest in thy throat’ wrote Lovell, offering to run three courses, either at Flushing or Middleburg, with the sharp lance. ‘If I chance to fall into your hands, then cut my throat without mercy. If you shall be recreant, I will pardon your life if you will serve me as a page in three sundry services’ He offered to fight with rapier and dagger or, if Bacon rejected this through ‘filthy fear’, then on horseback or on foot. ‘If you refuse, I will secretly report and openly blaze you as a dunghill-spirited man’ Whether or not moved by ‘filthy fear’, Bacon complained to the Privy Council who sent Lovell to the Marshalsea and reprimanded Bacon. A commission was appointed to settle the quarrel, and the attempt to discredit Lovell temporarily misfired. However, by 1593 Bacon and the bishop of Norwich produced sufficient evidence of popery to have Lovell put off the commission of the peace. Another of Bacon’s disputes, that in which he was engaged against Philip Woodhouse, centred on the problem of maintaining roads in Norfolk and Suffolk.8
Created premier baronet by James I, Bacon refused a peerage according to Dudley Carleton, but John Chamberlain reports that he offered £10,000 for one. In 1614 the King visited him, hawking at Culford and later seeing Bacon’s ‘beautiful grand-child’, the daughter of Bassingbourne Gawdy. Shortly before his death, which occurred at Redgrave on 22 Nov. 1624, it was discovered that Bacon had been embezzling sums he had collected in Suffolk and failed to pay in to the Exchequer. His half-brother Francis, who was himself in dire straits, intervened on his behalf with the royal favourite Buckingham. Bacon had already conveyed the bulk of his estates in trust to the use of his eldest son and heir Edmund. In his will, made 12 July and proved 2 Dec. 1624, Bacon shared his plate and household stuff among three other sons and a daughter-in-law. Generous provision was made for relatives, grandchildren and a great number of servants. He left £100 to the poor people living on his manors, and directed the creation of a trust towards the repair of the Hepworth and Wattisfield causeway. The executors, his two eldest sons, were charged with the repayment of his debts, including £1,000 due to his old colleague in county administration, Sir Robert Jermyn. The will concluded: ‘Christ, none but Christ only! Go out my soul, go out! The angels are ready to guard thee into the presence of my God. And therefore be not dismayed, but go out oh my soul, go out. I pray God to bless my children and deliver the kingdom from popery’.9
Ref Volumes: 1558-1603
- 1. DNB; GEC Baronetage, i. 1-2; Lansd. 152, ff. 6, 16.
- 2. A. H. Smith thesis, 390; Lansd. 56, f. 168 seq.; CSP Dom. 1595-7, pp. 371-2; APC, xxvii. 335; HMC 14th Rep. VIII, 139.
- 3. J. Gage, Suff. (Thingoe Hundred), 26; Copinger, Suff. Recs. and Mss. i. 76; Somerville, Duchy, i. 601-2; CPR, 1560-3, p. 256; 1566-9, p. 427; HMC 13th Rep. IV, 405, 408, 431.
- 4. Morant, Essex, ii. 327; Copinger, Suff. Manors, vii. 292; Suckling, Hist. Suff. i. 77, 115, 168, 179; ii. 170-1; Blomefield, Norf. viii. 9-12; PCC 107 Byrde; CSP Dom. 1591-4, pp. 532, 561; CSP Dom. Add. 1580-1625, p. 461.
- 5. HMC Var. ii. 243; Suckling, i. p. xxvi; CSP Dom. 1595-7, pp 371-2; 1603-10, pp. 387, 498; Lansd. 56, f. 168 seq.; 146, f. 18.
- 6. Collinson thesis, 657, 750 n, 868, 873, 909 n.
- 7. Mis-dated 1600 in CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 448.
- 8. A. H. Smith thesis, 1200 seq., 135-6, 153-5, 241.
- 9. Nichols, Progresses Jas. I, ii. 755; iii. 525; Chamberlain Letters ed. McClure, i. 296; HMC Hatfield, xvi. 186; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 513; 1619-23, p. 9; 1623-5, p. 195; Spedding, Life and Letters, vii. 451, 535; HMC 14th Rep. VIII, 143; APC, xiv. 185; PCC 107 Byrde.