Open main menu

BACON, Sir Nicholas, lord keeper of the great seal in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, was born at Chislehurst in Kent in 1510, and educated at the university of Cambridge, after which he travelled in France, and made some stay at Paris. On his return he settled in Gray s Inn, and applied himself with such assiduity to the study of the law, that he quickly distinguished himself ; and, on the dissolution of the monastery of St Edmund s Bury in Suffolk, he obtained a grant of several manors from King Henry VIII., then in the thirty-sixth year of his reign. Two years later he was promoted to the office of attorney in the court of wards, which was a place of both honour and profit. la this office he was continued by King Edward VI. ; and in 1552 he was elected treasurer of Gray s Inn. His great moderation and prudence preserved him through the dangerous reign of Queen Mary. Very early in the reign of Elizabeth he was knighted; and in 1558 he succeeded Nicholas Heath, archbishop of York, as keeper of the great seal of England ; he was at the same time made one of the queen s privy council. As a statesman, he was remarkable for the clearness of his views and the wisdom of his counsels, and he had a considerable share in the settling of ecclesiastical questions. That he was not unduly elated by his preferments, appears from the answer he gave to Queen Elizabeth when she told him his house at Redgrave was too little for him, " Not so, madam," returned he, "but your majesty has made me too great for my house." On only one occasion did he partially lose the queen's favour. He was suspected of having assisted Hales, the clerk of the hanaper, in his book on the succession, written at the time of Lady Catherine Grey s unjust imprisonment. Bacon was deprived of his seat at the council, and it was even contemplated to deprive him of the seal also. He seems, however, to have quickly regained his position, and to have stood as high in the royal favour as before. He died on the 26th of February 1579, having held the great seal more than twenty years, and was buried in St Paul's, London, where a monument, destroyed by the great fire of London in 1666, was erected to his memory. Granger observes that he was the first lord keeper who ranked as lord chancellor ; and that he had much of that penetrating genius, solidity, judgment, persuasive eloquence, and comprehensive knowledge of law and equity, whichafter- wards shone forth with such splendour in his illustrious son.