The Keeper and the Queen
By Ian Fisher
Within the records at Hertfordshire archives is a small thin volume that, on the face of it, merits no particular attention. Outwardly it is about as dull as can be: a simple thin grey cover enclosing several dog eared pages. However looks can be deceptive as inside is preserved a snapshot of Parliamentary life during the reign of Elizabeth I. The contents are several speeches made to the House of Lords and they cover such subjects as the state of the low-countries following the death of the Prince of Orange, the removal of the French from Scotland and the advisability of the Queen to marry. The speeches were all delivered by Sir Nicholas Bacon.
Nicholas Bacon was born in 1509 at Chislehurst, Kent but seems to have started his education at the Abbey School, Bury St Edmunds. In 1523 he went on to study at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, where he met William Cecil with whom he formed a life-long friendship. Following a short break abroad he went on to study law at Gray’s Inn and was called to the bar in1533 just ten years after starting to study at Cambridge. This was rapid progress taking some 2 to 4 years less than a course of the study of law would normally have taken and fits in with Thomas Cromwell’s opinion of him ‘that he was a young man of good judgement and well versed in the law.’
By 1537 he had been appointed as solicitor to the Court of Augmentations, which had been set up to oversee the distribution of monastic property forfeited at the dissolution. Bacon wished to use some of the money raised to set up a school to help those of the middle class study law, but the scheme came to nothing. However in 1543/4 the King granted Nicholas lands in Norfolk, Wiltshire and Hampshire as well as monastic lands at St Albans
His continued rise was marked some 13 years later by becoming a bencher or senior member of Gray’s Inn, becoming treasurer just two years later. In the same year, 1550, he was awarded a pension by the King and went on to purchase Gorehambury at St Albans.
His talents and experience were further rewarded when on Queens Elizabeth accession to the throne in 1558 he was admitted to the Queen’s inner circle becoming Sir Nicholas shortly afterwards. He was also appointed Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. Just year later he was to preside over the opening of Elizabeth’s first parliament. Indeed as Lord Speaker it was his duty speak on behalf of the house on many matters including those concerning the safety of the kingdom and the succession of the crown.
The latter could be a very touchy subject and inevitably Bacon had to address the Queen at Westminster on the subject of wishing her to marry. We don’t know what Elizabeth’s reaction was at the time, but when the same subject was brought up sometime later she promptly dissolved parliament.
Meanwhile, during a spell of relative inactivity, Nicholas started to build his new house at Gorehambury. It was finished in 1568 and was visited by the Queen there in 1572, 1573 and 1577. He died at his London Home, York House in February 1579 after a lifetime of service to crown and country.
The volume reference is HALS X11 B2
For a very full account of the life of Sir Nicholas please see The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography