Francis Bacon

Meg Sleath

18th century engraving of Francis Bacon, 1st Viscount St Alban, Baron Verulam by Chambers
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies. CV/P/8
1806 Monochrome print of Francis Bacon Engraved by George Cooke for The Beauties of England and Wales from a drawing by G Shepherd.
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies. CV/STM/13

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) was a politician and philosopher, who also acted as Viscount of St Albans from 1621 until his death. His political and legal career was fraught, with him falling from grace not long after he reached the peak of his power. He worked at Gray’s Inn, sat as MP for Ipswich during the reign of Elizabeth I, and was involved in debates around key issues such as monopolies and the royal prerogative. Bacon sought to further his career upon the accession of King James, supporting the union of England and Scotland, continuing to sit for Ipswich and legally defending the King as attorney general before becoming Lord Chancellor in 1618. Only three years later, in 1621, he was impeached on charges of bribery. He was also a notable philosopher of science and an author, with some of his famous works including ‘New Atlantis’, ‘Novum Organum’, and ‘The Wisdom of the Ancients’. In 1626, he passed away with no heirs.

Bacon was closely linked with Hertfordshire, both in his personal and professional life. Most obvious is his role as Viscount of St Albans. A memorial to Bacon can still be seen in St Michael’s Church in St Albans, and he is also buried there. During his career he was also returned as MP for St Albans, though he chose to sit for Ipswich instead. As for his personal connection, Bacon grew up near St Albans, in Gorhambury, in a house designed and built by his father. He later built Verulam House nearby, and St Albans was one of Bacon’s primary places of residence throughout his life. In 1618, he was granted the title of Baron Verulam of Verulam, and after that he referred to himself as Lord Verulam. Following his impeachment and public disgrace, Bacon retreated to St Albans, and it was here that he carried out lots of his notable literary and scientific work. The remains of Gorhambury House can still be visited today.

Despite his marriage to Alice Barnham, many historians now believe that Bacon was gay. This speculation comes primarily from the works of other contemporaries, and the ways they referred to him. One example of this is John Aubrey, a philosopher and writer who, in his book ‘Brief Lives’, referred to Bacon as a “pederast”, with “ganimeds and favourites”.

Similarly, Sir Simonds D’Ewes, who sat as an MP at the same time as Bacon, refers to Bacon’s

most horrible and secret sinne of sodomie

and John Chamberlain, in a letter to Sir Dudley Carleton, spoke of Bacon’s “catamites”.

These contemporary accounts are bolstered by records of men employed by Bacon who were bequeathed items and gifts upon his death, most notably a man named Percy, who Bacon’s mother referred to as his “bed companion”, was left £100 in Bacon’s will.

Whilst Bacon’s sexuality will never be certain, this evidence is enough for many historians to argue that Bacon was gay. It is also worth remembering that getting any more definite evidence would be unlikely, due to attitudes to homosexuality at the time. Furthermore, both Bacon’s brother and brother-in-law were charged with homosexuality, and whilst his brother was pardoned, his brother-in-law was executed, likely making Bacon even more aware of what could happen if his sexuality was definitively proven, further supporting the evidence we do have and the conclusion that Francis Bacon was gay.

 


Bibliography

Brief Lives – John Aubrey. https://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/47787/pg47787-images.html

Letters of John Chamberlain. https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=syIJAQAAIAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

Autobiography and Correspondence – Simonds D’Ewes https://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/book/lookupname?key=D%27Ewes%2C%20Simonds%2C%20Sir%2C%201602%2D1650

Bacon, Francis (1561-1626), of Gray’s Inn and Gorhambury, Herts – ed P.W. Hasler. https://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1558-1603/member/bacon-francis-1561-1626

Hostage to Fortune: The Troubled Life of Francis Bacon – Lisa Jardine and Alan Stewart.

Gorhambury, the Bacon Family and the Eight Shakespeare Quartos – Lawrence Gerald June. https://sirbacon.org/links/gorhambury.html​​

Bacon, Francis, Viscount St Alban (1561-1626) – Markku Peltonen. https://www.oxforddnb.com/display/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-990#odnb-9780198614128-e-990-div1-d1121159e7197

Sir Francis Bacon – Rictor Norton. https://rictornorton.co.uk/baconfra.htm

Bacon, Sir Francis – Rictor Norton (In Who’s Who in Gay and Lesbian History, edited by Robert Aldrich and Garry Witherspoon). https://transreads.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/2021-12-30_61cde54f92d22_WhosWhoinGayandLesbianHistoryFromAntiquitytotheMid-TwentiethCenturybyRobertAldrichGarryWotherspoonz-lib.org_.pdf

 

This page was added on 17/01/2024.

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