Bacon, Sir Nicholas

, lord keeper of the great seal in the reign of queen Elizabeth, descended from an ancient and honourable family in Suffolk. His rather was Robert Bacon of Drinkstxm in that county, esq. and his mother was Isabel, the daughter of John Gage of Pakenhain in the said county, esq. Nicholas, their second son, | was born in 1510, at Chislehurst in Kent. After having received the first rudiments of learning, probably at home, or in the neighbourhood, he was sent when very young to Corpus Christi college in Cambridge, where having improved in all branches of useful knowledge, he went to France, in order to give the last polish to his education. On his return he settled in Gray VInn, and applied himself with such assiduity to the study of the law, that on the dissolution of the monastery of St. Edmund’s-Bury in Suffolk, he had a grant from king Henry VIII. in the thirty-­sixth year of his reign, of the manors of Redgrave, Botesdale, and Gillingham, with the park of Redgrave, and six acres of land in Worthanf, as also the tithes of Redgrave to hold in capite by knight’s service, a proof of the estimation in which he was held by his majesty. In the thirtyeighth of the same king, he was promoted to the office of attorney in the court of wards, a place both of honour and profit, and his patent was renewed in the first year of Edward VI. and in 1552, which was the last year of his reign, Mr. Bacon was elected treasurer of Gray’s-Inn. His great moderation and consummate prudence, preserved him through the dangerous reign of queen Mary. In the very dawn of that of Elizabeth he was knighted, and the great seal of England being taken from Nicholas Heath, archbishop of York, was delivered to sir Nicholas Bacon, on the 22d of December 1558, with the title of lord keeper. He was also of the privy council to her majesty, who had much regard to his advice. The parliament met Jan. 23, but was prorogued on account of the queen’s indisposition to the 25th, when the lord keeper opened the session with a most eloquent and solid speech. Some of the queen’s counsellors thought it necessary that the attainder of the queen’s mother should be taken off; but the lord keeper thought the crown purged all defects, and in compliance with his advice, two laws were made, one for recognizing the queen’s title, the other for restoring her in blood as heir to her mother. The principal business of this session was the settlement of religion, in which no man had a greater share than the keeper, and he acted with such prudence as never to incur the hatred of any party. On this account he was, together with the archbishop of York, appointed moderator in a dispute between eight Protestant divines, and eight Popish bishops and the latter behaving very unfairly in the opinion of both | the moderators, and desiring, to avoid a fair disputation, to go away, the lord keeper put that question to each of them, and when all except one insisted on going, his lordship dismissed them with this memorandum, “For that ye would not that we should hear you, perhaps you may shortly hear of us” and accordingly for this contempt, the bishops of Winchester and Lincoln were committed to the tower, and the rest were bound to appear before the council, and not to quit the cities of London and Westminster without leave. The whole business of the session, than which there was none of greater importance during that reign, was chiefly managed by his lordship, according to his wise maxim, “Let us stay a little, that we may have done the sooner.” From this time he stood as high in the favour of the queen as any of her ministers, and maintained a cordial interest with other great men, particularly with those eminent persons, who had married into the same family with himself, viz. Cecil, Hobby, Rowlet, and Killigrew. By their assistance he preserved his credit at court, though he sometimes differed in opinion from the mighty favourite Leicester, who yet once bad fair his ruin, when certain intrigues were carried on respecting the succession. Some statesmen, and particularly the earl of Leicester, pretended to favour the title of the queen of Scots, but others were more inclined to the house of Suffolk. The queen sometimes affected a neutrality, and sometimes shewed a tenderness for the title of the Scottish queen. In 1564, when these disputes were at the height, Mr. John Hales, clerk of the Hanaper, published a treatise which seems to have been written a considerable time before, in favour of the Suffolk line, and against the title of the queen of Scots. This book was complained of by the bishop of Ross, ambassador from the queen of Scots, and Ross being warmly supported by the earl of Leicester, Hales was committed to prison, and so strict an inquiry made after all who had expressed any favour for this piece, that at last the lord-keeper came to be suspected, which drew upon him the queen’s displeasure, and he was forbidden the court, removed from his seat at council, and prohibited from meddling with any affairs but those of the chancery nay, Camden says he was confined .*


The lord-keeper could not have incurred the queen’s displeasure, from his dislike to the title of the queen of Scots, because it clearly appears from "A Discourse upon certain points touching the Inheritance of the Crown,


conceived by sir Anthony Brown, and answered by sir Nicholas Bacon," that the latter was decidedly for the title of the queen of Scots. This discourse was published in 1723, by Nth. Booth*, esq. of Gray’s Inn.

At last, | however, Cecil, who is suspected to have had some share in the above treatise, with much difficulty restored him to the queen’s good opinion, as appears by her setting him at the head of that commission, granted in the year 1568, for hearing the difference between the queen of Scots, and her rebellious subjects; and in 1571, we find him again acting in the like capacity, though very little was done before the commissioners at either time, which was what queen Elizabeth chiefly desired, and the covering her inclination with a decent appearance of justice, was perhaps not a little owing to the address of the lord-keeper. Afterwards he continued at the head of her majesty’s councils, and had a great hand in preventing, by his moderation, some violent measures afterwards proposed. The share, however, that he had in the business of the duke of Norfolk, and his great care for promoting the Protestant religion, created him many bitter enemies among the Papists both at home and abroad, who though they were able to do him no great hurt, yet published some libels, particularly “A Detection of certain practices, &c.” printed in Scotland, about 1570, and “A treatise of Treason,” both which gave him considerable uneasiness, although the queen expressed her opinion, by a proclamation, ordering them to be burnt. As a statesman, he was remarkable for a clear head, and acute understanding; and while it was thought of some other great men that they seemed wiser than they were, yet the common voice of the nation pronounced, that sir Nicholas Bacon was wiser than he seemed. His great skill lay in balancing factions, and it is thought he taught the queen that secret, the more necessary to her because the last of her family, and consequently without many of the usual supports of princes. In the chancery he distinguished himself by a very moderate use of power, and the respect he shewed to the common law. At his own request, an act of parliament was made, to settle and establish the power of a lord -keeper, though he might probably have taken away all need of this, by procuring the title of lord chancellor: but according to his motto, which was Mediocra firma, he he was content to be safe, and did not desire | to be great*. In that court, and in the star-chamber, he made use, on proper occasions, of set speeches, in which he was peculiarly happy, and gained the reputation of a witty and a weighty speaker. His great parts and great preferment were far from raising him in his own opinion, as appears from the modest answer he gave* 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.” Yet to shew his respect for her majesty’s judgment, he afterwards added wings to this house. His modesty in this respect was so much the greater, since he had a great passion for building, and a very fine taste, as appeared by his house and gardens at Gorhambury near St. Alban’s, now the seat of lord viscount Grimston. Towards the latter end of his life, he became very corpulent, which made queen Elizabeth say merrily, that “sir Nicholas’s soul lodged well. To himself, however, his bulk was very inconvenient after walking from Westminster-hall to the star-chamber, which was but a very little way, he was usually so much out of breath, that the lawyers forbore speaking at the bar till he recocovered himself, and gave them notice by knocking” with his staff. After having held the great seal more than twenty years, this able statesman and faithful counsellor was suddenly removed from this life, as Mallett informs us, by the following accident “He was under the hands of his barber, and the weather being sultry, had ordered a window before him to be thrown open. As he was become very corpulent, he presently fell asleep, in the cur­* After he had been some monthsact of parliament, which declares, in office, as keeper of the great seal,” That the common law always was, he began to doubt to what degree his that the keeper of the great seal always authority extended, which seems to had, as of right belonging to his office, have been owing to the general terms the same authority, jurisdiction, excused upon the delivery of the great cution of laws, and all other customs, Heal, of which we have various in- as the lord chancellor of England lawstances in Rymer’s Foedera. Upon fully used.“What the true reason this, he first applied himself to the was that made his lordship so uneasy, queen, from whom he procured a pa- is not perhaps known to posterity. tent, bearing date at Westminster, the But sir Henry Spelman has observed, 14th of April, in the first year of her that for the benefit of that wise counreign, whereby she declares him te seller sir Nicholas Bacon, the authobare as full powers as if he were rity of the keeper of the great seal hancellor of England, and ratifies all was by this law declared to be in all that he had already done. This, how- respects the same with that of th ever, did not fully satisfy him but chancellor, four years afterwards he procured an | rent of fresh air that was blowing in upon him, and awaked after some time distempered all over. c Why,‘ said he to the servant, < did you suffer me to sleep thus exposed’ The fellow replied, ‘ That he durst not presume to disturb him.’ * Then,‘ said the lord keeper, * by your civility I lose my life,’ and so removed into his bed-chamber, where he died a few days after.” But this story seems doubtful, for all writers agree, that sir Nicholas Bacon died Feb. 20, 1579, when the weather could not be very sultry. On the 9th of March following he was buried with great solemnity, under a sumptuous monument erected by himself in St. Paul’s church, with an inscription written by the celebrated Buchanan. Camden’s character of him is just and plain “Vir praepinguis, ingenio acerrimo, singulari prudentia, summa eloquentia, tenaci memoria, et sacris conciliis alterum columen” i. e. A man of a gross body, but most quick wit, singular prudence, supreme eloquence, happy memory, and for judgment the other pillar of the state. His son’s pharacter of him is more striking. He was “a plain man, direct and constant, without all finesse and doubleness and one that was of a mind that a man, in his private proceedings and estate, and in the proceedings of state, should rest upon the soundness and strength of his own courses, and not upon practice to circumvent others, according to the sentence of Solomon, * Vir prudens advertit ad gressus suos stultus autem divertit ad dolos’ insomuch that the bishop of Ross, a subtle and observing man, said of him, that he could fasten no words upon him, and that it was impossible to come within him, because he offered no play; and the queen mother of France, a very politic princess, said of him, that he should have been of the council of Spain, because he despised the occurrents, and rested upon the first plot.” Nor is Puttenham’s short account to be overlooked “I have come to the lord keeper, and found him sitting in his gallery alone, with the works of Quintilian before him. Indeed he was a most eloquent man, of rare wisdom and learning, as ever I knew England to breed, and one that joyed as much in learned men and 0‘.;d wits, from whose lippes Ihave seen to proceed more i;rave and natural eloquence than from all the orators of Oxford and Cambridge.

He was not happier in his fortune than in his family. His first wife was Jane, daughter of William Fernley, of Meting in the county of Suffolk, esrj. by whom he | had issue three sons and three daughters. The sons were, 1. Sir Nicholas. 2. Nathaniel Bacon, of whom we have just given some account. 3. Edward Bacon, of Shrubland-hall in Suffolk, esq. in right of his wife Helen, daughter and heir of Thomas Littel of the same place, esq. and of Bray, in the county of Berks, by Elizabeth his wife, daughter and coheir to sir Robert Litton, of Knebworth in the county of Hertford, knt. from whom is lineally descended Nicholas Bacon of Shrubland-hall, esq. and from younger sons of the said Edward are the Bacons of Ipswich in Suffolk, and Earlham in Norfolk, descended. The daughters were, 1. Anne, already noticed. 2. Jane, married first to sir Francis Windham, knt. one of the justices of the common pleas;‘ second, to sir Robert Mansfield, knt. And 3. Elizabeth, married first to sir Robert d’Oyly of Chislehampton in Oxfordshire, knt. secondly, to sir Henry Nevil, knt and thirdly, to sir William Periam, knt. lord chief baron of the exchequer. After her decease he married Anne, daughter of sir Anthony Cooke, of Giddy-hall in the county of Essex, knt. by whom he had two sons, Anthony and Francis, the illustrious lord Bacon. Of Anthony there is a long, but imperfect and not very interesting account, in the “Biographia Britannica.

Sir Nicholas ranks among the liberal benefactors to the university of Cambridge, and particularly to Corpus college, in which he was educated. He presented to the public library one hundred and three Greek and Latin books, and on the college he bestowed two hundred pounds towards erecting a new chapel, and engaged other friends to contribute to the same purpose. He settled, likewise, upon the college, an annuity of twenty pounds, for the maintenance of six scholars, who are to be chosen out of the grammar school at Redgrave, near Botesdale in Suffolk. This school was founded by himself, and he allotted thirty pounds per annum for the support of it; he founded also Cursitor’s or Bacon’s Inn in Chancery-lane and for the furtherance of religion, he appointed two annual sermons in St. Paul’s cathedral-, allotting four marks per annum for the payment of the preachers. Nor must we omit some notice of his intention, in Henry VIII.’s time, to found a seminary of ministers of state out of the revenues of the dissolved monasteries.His majesty had intended to found a house for the study of the civil law, and the purity of the Latin and French tongues. He ordered, therefore, sir | Nicholas Bacon, and two others, Thomas Denton, and Robert Gary, to draw out the plan and statutes of such a house, which they accordingly brought to the king in writing. The intention of it was, that there should be frequent pleadings and other exercises in the Latin and French languages, and that when the students had attained to some degree of ripeness, they should be sent out with our ambassadors, and trained up in the knowledge of foreign affairs, by which means the institution would become a nursery for public ministers. Others of the students were to be employed in writing the history of the national transactions both at home and abroad, including, particularly, embassies, treaties, arraign rnents, and state trials. But before they were to be permitted to write on these subjects, they were to take an oath before the lord chancellor, that they would do it truly, without respect of persons, and without any corrupt views. This design, however, miscarried, probably owing to Henry’s extravagant dissipation of the revenues of the dissolved monasteries.

Bishop Tanner has enrolled sir Nicholas Bacon among the writers of this country, on account of the following pieces, preserved in different manuscript collections. “An oration to the queen, exhorting her to Marriage;” “a speech to the lord mayor of London” “a speech to the serjeant called to a judge” “an oration touching the queen’s Marriage and Succession to the Crown” “his speech to the queen, when she made him lord keeper” “his speech in the star-chamber, 1568” “his speech to sir Thomas Gargrave, elected speaker for the commons house of parliament;” “his speech at the council table, concerning aid required by the Scots to expel the French out of Scotland” “his speech concerning an Interview between queen Elizabeth and the Scottish queen, 1572;” “his speech to the lords and commons in parliament, in the beginning” “his speech to Mr. Bell when he was called to be judge.” All these are in the Norwich manuscripts of More, 228 and are, we suppose, at present, in the public library of Cambridge. “Several speeches of lord keeper sir Nicholas Bacon, from 1558 to 1571 inclusive,” in Mr. Ralph Thoresby’s collection “a discourse upon certain points touching the Inheritance of the Crown, conceived by sir Anthony Brown, and answered by sir Nicholas Bacon,” published in 1723. “Three letters to Dr. Parker,” in Corpus Christi college, Cambridge | mentioned by Strype, in his life of the archbishop. One of these, entitled “a letter of Mr. Nicholas Bacon, counsellor at law, to Parker, dean of Stoke college, in answer to certain cases put to him relating to the said college,” Mr. Strype has published at length. Holinshed, at the end of his second volume, p. 1589, ranks sir Nicholas Bacon in the catalogue of those who have written something concerning the history of England. Mr. Masters refers to a comment of sir Nicholas’s on the twelve minor prophets, dedicated to his son Anthony. And Mr. Strype has printed an excellent letter of advice, which was written by the lord keeper, a little before his death, to the queen, on the situation of her affairs. Many of his apophthegms are among those of lord Verulam, and many of his speeches are in the Parliamentary History. 1


Biog. Brig-. Lloyd’s and Winstanley’s Worthies. Fuller’s Worthies. —Strype’s Life of Parker, p. 22, 259. —Strype’s Annals, see Index. Peck’s Desiderata, vol. I. Tanner’s Bibliotheca. Master’s Hist, of C. C. C. C. &c.