Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bacon, Anthony
BACON, ANTHONY (1558–1601), diplomatist, and friend of the Earl of Essex, was born in 1558, probably at Gorhambury, Hertfordshire. He was the elder of the two sons of Sir Nicholas Bacon, lord keeper, by his second wife, Ann, daughter of Sir Anthony Cooke. The younger son was the great Francis Bacon. From infancy Anthony was in very delicate health. In a letter dated 17 June 1560 his father writes of his recovery from a dangerous fever. At fourteen his sight was in danger. Throughout his life he was lame. On 5 April 1573 he and his brother Francis went into residence at Trinity College, Cambridge, as fellow-commoners. They matriculated on 10 June, and shared the same rooms. Their tutor was John Whitgift, master of the college and afterwards archbishop of Canterbury. They remained at Cambridge till Christmas 1575, but between August 1574 and the following March the plague kept them from the university. They were both diligent students, but Whitgift's accounts of the money spent 'for Anthonie beeing syck' between 1573 and 1575 prove his studies to have been repeatedly interrupted by serious illness. In June 1576 the two brothers were admitted 'ancients' (being the sons of a judge) of Gray's Inn. In February 1578-9 their father died, and Anthony succeeded to much of his landed property in Hertfordshire and Middlesex. The estate of Gorhambury in the former county was bequeathed to his mother for her life, with remainder to himself. His half-brother, Nathaniel Bacon, Sir Nicholas's second son by his first marriage, disputed these bequests; but the quarrel, on being referred to Lord Treasurer Burghley, the husband of Lady Bacon's sister, Mildred, and thus Anthony's uncle by marriage, was settled in Anthony's favour.
Late in 1579 Bacon set out, at Lord Burghley's suggestion, on a long continental tour in search of political intelligence. He stayed for some time at Paris, and there, to the alarm of his relatives—all sturdy protestants—he made, for diplomatic purposes, the acquaintance of William Parry, LL.D., an English catholic refugee, who was executed for treasonable conspiracy in London in 1585. Bacon began, very soon after his arrival on the continent, to correspond regularly with Walsingham, and in 1580 he entertained at Paris one of Walsingham's secretaries, Nicholas Faust, who became his most intimate friend and correspondent. In August 1580 Anthony removed to Bourges, whence he wrote two very affectionate letters to his uncle Burghley (14 Jan. and 13 Feb. 1580-1; Cal. State Papers, 1581-90, pp. 2, 5), but the corrupt life led by the inhabitants of the city induced him to hurry thence to Geneva. There he lodged in the house of Theodore Beza, who esteemed him so highly as to dedicate, 'out of respect to him,' his 'Meditations' to his mother, Lady Bacon, and to send to Lord Burghley for presentation to the university of Cambridge an ancient copy of the Pentateuch in six languages (Strype's Annals, III. i. 110, ii. 197). Early in 1582 he was staying at Lyon, whence he journeyed to Montpellier at Toulouse. In May of that year he received permission through Faunt to remain abroad for three years longer. He afterwards proceeded to Marseilles and to Bordeaux, where he was living at the close of 1583. Thence he forwarded letters addressed by the Duke de Montmorenci to Elizabeth, and she expressed to him, through the Earl of Leicester, her satisfaction in having 'so good a man as you to have and receive letters by' (7 Oct. 1583). Bacon used his influence at Bordeaux to improve the position of the protestants there, an undertaking in which, as he wrote to his old tutor, Whitgift, then archbishop of Canterbury, he ran the risk of personal danger, and he made the acquaintance of Montaigne, the essayist. After some fifteen months sojourn at Bordeaux, he removed to Bearn, where he visited Henry of Navarre; and met Lamhert Daneau, an eminent protestant theologian, better known as Danæus. Daneau dedicated to Anthony his commentary on the minor prophets, which was published at Geneva in 1586; and in the 'Epistola Dedicatoria' speaks with affectionate admiration not only of Anthony himself, but of his father, Sir Nicholas, and of his half-brother, Edward. Early in 1585 Bacon settled at Montauban, and for the five following years lived on close terms of intimacy with Navarre's counsellors, the leaders of protestant France. In 1590 he was driven from Montauban by the persecution of Madame du Plessis, who desired him to marry her daughter, and he retired for a second time to Bordeaux. He subsequently made friends with Anthony Standen, an English catholic—well known as a spy of Walsingham—who was at the time in prison at Bordeaux on suspicion of holding treasonable correspondence with Spain. Bacon's influence with the English government procured his release in 1591, and Standen was afterwards one of Bacon's many regular correspondents. At the end of 1591 Bacon returned to England, where he arrived in very poor health in February 1591-2. During his continental tour Bacon had corresponded regularly with Walsingham's secretary, Faunt, with his brother, and with the English agents in various parts of Europe. Very many of these letters are extant in manuscript, and prove him to have utilised every opportunity of obtaining information on foreign politics.
But his mother and brother had by no means approved of his long absence, and Lady Bacon had exerted all her influence with the English ministers to induce them to recall him earlier. She had feared the effects on his religious opinions of his intimacy with foreign papists, and had found his vast expenditure a severe strain upon her own resources, and his health a continual source of anxiety. As early as 1583 she, with Francis Bacon and Walsingham, had entreated him to leave Bordeaux for England on account of 'the troubled state of France' and 'the sickly state of his body.' In 1586 Walsingham sent Anthony a message of recall from the queen, but this was disregarded. In 1589 Lady Bacon contrived to have Anthony's servant, Lawson, who brought despatches to Burghley, arrested on suspicion of being a papist, and Bacon had to send a friend. Captain Allen, to England to reassure her on this point. His subsequent relations with Anthony Standen confirmed in his mother's eyes her worst suspicion of his religious instability. In his pecuniary difficulties there was more substantial ground for Lady Bacon's dissatisfaction, Anthony was clearly living beyond his means. In 1584 Francis drafted in his behalf a power of attorney enabling persons in England to raise money on his landed property. While at Montauban he was constantly borrowing money of the King of Navarre and of his counsellors, and his mother declared at the time that 'she had spent her jewels to supply him, and had borrowed the last money she had sent him of seven different persons.'
But Lady Bacon's anger cooled as soon as she heard of her son's arrival in England, and she desired Faunt, an undoubted protestant, to conduct him to his brother's lodgings at Gray's Inn. Soon afterwards she addressed to him a series of letters which prove how sincere was her interest in his physical and spiritual welfare. In August 1592 he stayed with her at Gorhambury, but gout prostrated him there, and he was unable to pay his respects to Queen Elizabeth—a duty that he never found an opportunity of performing later, and thus fatally injured his chances of preferment. When Bacon sought the favour of his uncle. Lord Burghley, in the hope of securing a post at court, he was disgusted to receive nothing but fair words—such words, according to his own account, as 'make fools fain, and yet even in these no offer or hopeful assurance of real kindness, which I thought I might justly expect at the lord treasurer's hands, who had inned my ten years' harvest into his own barn without any halfpenny charge.' In February 1592-3 he was returned to parliament as M.P. for Wallingford, and did not increase his influence with his powerful relative by opposing a government bill imposing new penalties on recusants.
Early in 1593 he took the decisive step of entering the service of the rival of the Cecils, the Earl of Essex [see Devereux, Robert, second Earl of Essex, 1567-1601], to whom, he says, he found (1592) his brother 'bound and in deep arrearages,' and in whom he recognised 'rare virtues and perfections.' Francis, in his 'Apologie … concerning the late Earle of Essex,' claimed to have been the author of this arrangement (Spedding's Life, iii. 143). Anthony—'being' (in his brother's words) 'a gentleman whose ability the world taketh knowledge of for matters of state, especially foreign'—undertook in Essex's behalf to obtain earlier foreign intelligence than the queen's advisers were in the habit of receiving, and the earl hoped to secure the royal favour permanently by communicating Bacon's information to Elizabeth. To Essex Anthony remained faithful till death, and worked industriously for seven years as his private 'under-secretary of state for foreign aftairs.' So long as this relationship lasted, Essex's confidence in Anthony increased year by year, and they corresponded with each other on terms of closer and closer intimacy. And Anthony never ceased to urge his brother to remain firm in his adherence to their common patron. But Burghley still continued to hold out shadowy hopes of preferment to both the brothers, and wrote to their mother (29 Aug. 1593) that they were 'so qualified in learning and virtue, as if they had a supply of more health they wanted nothing.'
Anthony at once entered into elaborate correspondence with agents in Scotland, where Essex was anxious to advance James VI's claims to the English throne. He was soon fully trusted by King James, and received in 1594 the king's thanks for the zeal he was displaying in his behalf. "With the French king, Henry IV, Bacon similarly endeavoured to keep on the friendliest terms. On 14 April 1590 Henry sent Bacon an autograph letter, in which he expressed his high esteem of his 'prudence in the conduct of public affairs,' and in May of the same year Anthony was visited by the Duke de Bouillon, Henry IV's envoy to England. His regular correspondents from 1596 onwards included Sir Thomas Bodley, the English ambassador at the Hague; Sir Anthony Sherley, the far-famed traveller; John Napier, the Scotch inventor of logarithms, who sent him mathematical papers: Dr. Hawkins, the ambassador at Venice; and Sir Thomas Challoner, an accomplished scholar, whom Anthony had introduced into Essex's service.
Bacon lived until 1594 chiefly with his brother Francis, either at Gray's Inn or at Twickenham Park, by the Thames. At intervals he visited his mother at Gorhambury, or went to reside at Kingston and Redbourne in Hertfordshire, where he had inherited property from his father. In 1594 he hired a house in Bishopsgate, London, but its contiguity to the Bull Inn — a play- house — was so bitterly disapproved of by his mother, that in the following year he removed to Chelsea. In October 1595 Essex invited him to take up his residence in Essex House by the Strand, and, in spite of Lady Bacon's protest that such a step would expose him to the taunt that he was no longer Essex's 'worthy friend,' but 'his follower' — 'a rare kind of good wit and speech' — the invitation was gratefully accepted. The gout and stone still oppressed him, and money troubles did not cease. Before the close of
1593 he sold his estate of Baily, and he was constantly borrowing of his friends in the following years, but these loans were often contracted to supply Francis's needs rather than his own. Early in 1595 he made a fruitless application to his uncle. Sir Henry Killigrew, for a loan of 200/. In 1597 Essex in vain appealed to Nicholas Bacon, Anthony's half-brother, to assist him. The only one of his half-brothers who showed Anthony any kindness was Edward Bacon, and Anthony endeavoured in 1597 to obtain a small post at court for him from Sir Robert Cecil, who 'had of late professed very seriously an absolute amnesty of all misconceits passed.' In 1600 Bacon seems to have contemplated the alienation of Gorhambury, which his brother Francis, then no longer poor, was anxious to secure for himself.
In Francis's advancement at court and in health Anthony meanwhile showed an assiduous anxiety. Constantly in his correspondence with Essex in 1596 he implores his patron to secure for Francis the mastership of the rolls. Francis, who had the highest opinion of Anthony's political abilities, partially reciprocated these kindnesses, but the fraternal sentiment was certainly better developed in Anthony than in his brother. At one time Francis was endeavouring, through his friend Sir John Fortescue, to bring Anthony's diplomatic services to the notice of the queen, but the scheme met with no success. Francis also dedicated the first edition of his essays (published in 1597) to Anthony, and he wrote there: 'I sometimes wish your infirmities translated upon myself, that her majesty might have the service of so active and able a mind and I might be with excuse confined to those contemplations and studies for which I am fittest.' Anthony, in his cherished hope that Francis would still adhere to Essex, was anxious that the dedication should be transferred to the earl, and at once forwarded a copy to him begging for leave to transfer any interest unto your lordship, then humbly to crave your honourable acceptance and trustworthy protection [for the book].'
In the early months of 1596 the court- factions of Essex and the Cecils (Sir Robert Cecil was then secretary of state) were in hot dispute as to the advantages to be derived from the Cadiz expedition, upon which Essex was resolved, and Anthony did his best to support his friend's policy. In the autumn of the same year his aunt, Lady Russell, made a strong endeavour to detach him from Essex. The attempt was doubtless prompted by Lady Bacon, who preferred the serious demeanour of her brother-in-law Burghley to the impulsiveness and gaiety of Anthony's patron. Lady Russell told Bacon that he was too well beloved in Scotland to be a true Englishman, and that he had not only abandoned the kind old nobleman (Burghley), but did him ill offices, not only with the earl here but in France and Scotland. She proceeded to reproach him (in his mother's vein) with all his past life, and he defended himself in a detailed speech which is very useful to his biographer. An account of the lengthy interview was sent by Bacon to Essex, and there Anthony stated that there was a mortal enmity between himself and his cousin. Sir Robert Cecil (which seems in the next year to have somewhat abated), and he reiterated 'the entire devotion of his heart' to the earl. On the return of Essex from Cadiz, where he had been hampered by the home government in all his movements, he forwarded to Anthony from Plymouth a 'True Relation of the Action' for publication; but the council forbade this step, and Bacom had a number of manuscript copies and translations distributed in Scotland, the Low Countries, and France (cf. Cal. State Papers, 1598-1601, p. 203). In 1597 Bacon was returned to parliament a second time as M.P. for Oxford, and in the same year Essex parted from him to take the command of another expedition by sea against Spain; but its failure to gain any decisive victory brought Essex into disfavour with the queen, and he retired for a time from public life, only to re-enter it to involve himself in more serious complications. Bacon had twice in the early part of the year warned Essex against allowing acts prompted by personal pique to give colour to the malicious reports of his enemies, and Essex in 1598 addressed to Bacon, as his 'true friend,' a paper for publication to refute the report that he was 'the only hinderer of the peace and quiet of his country.' A manuscript copy of this tract is in the Public Record Office; it was published for the first time in 1603.
With the close of 1597 Bacon's correspondence with Essex comes to an end, and it has been reasonably inferred that the later letters were burnt by Anthony to prevent their exposure and misapplication when Essex was in disgrace in 1599 and 1600. After Essex's return to England from Ireland and his imprisonment in the former year. Bacon was ordered by the queen to quit Essex House (10 March 1599-l6OO), so that the earl might be kept in confinement there. Both Francis and Anthony seemed to be then working together in the earl's behalf. (3n 5 June 1600 Essex was sentenced, after an informal trial at York House, to virtual
suspension from all his offices of state. Francis, although he acted with the government on this occasion, took no prominent part in the proceedings, and immediately afterwards, at Anthony's suggestion, he drew up a pretended correspondence between Anthony and the earl, in which the attempt was made to 'picture forth unto her Majesty my Lord's mind to be such as . . . her Majesty would fainest know it.' Here Francis, in his brother's name, begged Essex not to despair, but humbly to wait for a change of fortune, while, as the spokesman of Essex, he represented Anthony to be the most devoted of the earl's friends. The letters, 'by the advice of Mr. Anthony Bacon and with the privity of the said earl, were to be showed to Queen Elizabeth' (cf. Addit. MS. 4130 f. 50).
Nearly three months later Essex was released from confinement (26 Aug. 1600). Soon afterwards he entered into further clearly treasonable practices, and was arrested again (8 Feb. 1600-1). An important part in the prosecution was then entrusted to Francis Bacon, and Essex suffered on the scaffold (25 Feb. 1600-1). At the final trial Essex referred to the correspondence between himself and Anthony, drawn up by Francis in the preceding June, as proof of the latter's sudden change of front. Although we have no direct information as to Anthony's relations with the earl or with his brother during the last six months of Essex's life, it is clear that Anthony anticipated as little as the earl the role played by Francis in its closing scenes. From a long letter addressed (30 May 1601) to Anthony by an anonymous writer, which was never seen by him, for he died some days before it was written (Camden, Annales, ed. Hearne, 957-61), we learn that Anthony was interesting himself to the last to prove his patron innocent of the worst accusations brought against him. The story related by Sir Henry Wotton — at one time a secretary of Essex and the companion of Anthony Bacon — to the effect that Anthony — 'a gentleman' (in Wotton's words) 'of impotent feet but nimble head' — was faithless to the earl, and extorted money from him on several occasions by threatening either to reveal diplomatic secrets to the Cecils, or to abandon Essex's service, may justly be rejected as false (cf. Reliquæ Wottoniane p. 13; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. iii. 121, 190, 252). We know that Anthony received little or no money from Essex. He had lodgings in Essex House, but maintained himself out of his private resources. Soon after his removal thither his mother, who treated him as a wayward child to the last. complained of his extravagant expenditure in coals (Birch's Memoirs, ii. 371). So far from growing rich in Essex's household, it is clear that he grew poorer and poorer. Essex appears to have promised, and to have made some effort, to repay him for his self-denying services, but the schemes did not take effect. 'The Queen hears,' wrote Chamberlain to Carleton (28 June 1599), 'that he [Essex] has given Essex House to Antony Bacon, which displeases her; I believe it is but instead of 2,000l. he meant to give him with a clause of redemption for that sum' (Cal. State Papers, 1598-1601, p. 222).
Anthony died just before 27 May 1601, three months after his patron's execution, aged 43. Doubtless the shock which the last events of Essex's life caused him hastened his death. 'Anthony Bacon,' writes Chamberlain to Carleton 'under date 27 May 1601, 'died not long since, but so far in debt that I think his brother [to whom his property reverted] is little the better by him.'
After James I's arrival in England in May 1603, Francis sought the favour of the king mainly on the ground of 'the infinite devotion and incessant endeavours (beyond the strength of his body and nature of the times) which appeared in my good brother towards your majesty's service ... all which endeavours and duties for the most part were common to myself with him, though by design (as between brethren) dissembled' (Spedding's Life, iii. 62-3). On 25 Aug. 1604 Francis received the grant of a pension of 60l. a year, in consideration (in the words of the patent) of his brother's 'good, faithful, and acceptable service' (Rymer's Fœdera, xvi. 597). There seems every reason to accept Dr. Birch's inference that this grant formed the king's reply to Francis's petition of the previous year (Historical View, p. xx).
Bacon's voluminous correspondence, in sixteen volumes, is mainly preserved in Lambeth Palace Library, to which it was presentedby Archbishop Tenison. There are sixteen volumes of transcripts from the Lambeth papers at the British Museum (Addit. MSS. 4109-24). Some additional letters are also at the museum, and others are in the Public Record Office. These letters and papers are the only source of Anthony Bacon's biography, but they cover far more ground than his personal history. Besides the letters from and to his mother, his steward, his creditors, his brother, his friends, doctors, and money-lenders, there are notes of political intelligence from spies and ambassadors stationed in all parts of Europe. His papers present, in fact, as full a picture of European history of the period as any extant collection of documents. Mr. Spedding, who made an examination of the manuscripts, described Bacon as a grave, assiduous, energetic, religious man, remarkable for his power of attaching men to him, generous beyond his means, a little too apt to suspect and resent an injury, driven at times into injustice by pecuniary embarrassments, but generally fair and tolerant. We should add that in his religious opinions he showed a liberality far in advance of his age. He did not permit his strong personal sympathy with the principles of the Reformation to debar him from numbering men of other religious professions among his friends. His epistolary style, although occasionally cumbersome in expression, is full of quaint humour, and the writer's unswerving honesty of purpose gives a very pathetic interest to the whole of his correspondence with Essex.
[Dr. Thomas Birch printed in 1754, in two volumes, a large number of extracts from the Anthony Bacon MSS. at Lambeth, under the title of 'Memoirs of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth,' but he injured the literary effect of the letters by transferring them, in almost all cases, from the first to the third person. Dr. Birch also made use of a few of these papers in his Historical View of the Negotiations between France and England, 1592-1617, published in 1749, and has given an account of Bacon in the introduction, pp. xix-xxii, which proves of very little value. Mr. Spedding, in the first three volumes of his life of Bacon, makes many references to Anthony Bacon. See also Dr. Abbott's Bacon and Essex (1877); Devereux's Lives and Letters of the Earls of Essex; Cooper's Athenæ Cantab. ii. 314-16; Todd's Cat. Lambeth MSS.]