LIFE OF ALICE BARNHAM
SIR FRANCIS BACON
BARON VERULAM, VISCOUNT ST. ALBAN
Mostly gathered from Unpublished Documents by
A. CHAMBERS BUNTEN
Authoress of "LIFE OF SIR THOMAS MEAUTYS,"
Secretary to Sir Francis Bacon.
London : 21, Paternoster Square, E.C. 4
The following sketch of the life of Alice Barnham, wife of Sir Francis Bacon, has been carefully compiled, and every endeavour has been made that dates should be correct.
The entire story in Part II. has been brought to light by the discovery of the various documents found in the London Record Office, and elsewhere. So, piece by piece, it was compiled from the old vellum rolls, and we trust in its present form it will not be found too musty and dry.
That Alice Barnham entered the matrimonial state at the early age of fourteen came as a surprise, and to this escape from the schoolroom may be attributed many of the faults shown in her later years, for just when her mind and character should have been undergoing serious training, she was thrust into the London world, free from home trammels.
Thanks are due to kind friends for help, among others to Mr. Richard Savage, of Stratford-on-Avon; Mr. Harold Hardy, of Gray's Inn; Mr. Harry Paintin, of Oxford; and several clergymen of various dioceses.
ALICE CHAMBERS BUNTEN.
59, THE DRIVE, HOVE.
Wife of Sir Francis Bacon (formerly erroneously engraved as Anne Cooke,
mother of Sir Francis Bacon).
LIFE OF ALICE BARNHAM
Wife of SIR FRANCIS BACON
BARON VERULAM. VISCOUNT ST. ALBAN
Gathered mostly from Unpublished Documents by
A. CHAMBERS BUNTEN
STUDENTS of Elizabethan history have long ago come to the conclusion that the great philosopher, Sir Francis Bacon, Baron Verulam, Viscount St. Alban, has a most elusive personality, and this is the case also with some of his nearest relations and friends. Their names are known, but on search being made for their career they immediately seem to fade away from sight, like clouds on a windy sky, and the dates of marriages and births can only be guessed at with a little calculation.
Of course, there is much mystery hanging over the young barrister Bacon, and his early work in Gray's Inn, London, but even when he was well known, and held high titles, his death and burial remain almost unnoticed among the letter writers of the day, and less important things are mentioned.
His wife is passed over in silence in all biographies of the great philosopher, as of no account. But the wife of a celebrated man who has had a varied career, is always of interest. She may have influenced him to live in an extravagant manner, or for her sake he may have sought high positions which he would not have endeavoured to attain had he been unmarried. Perhaps his affection caused him to consider his wife the brightest gem in his cabinet, and he was only too pleased she should shine and do him honour.
We gather that Bacon was proud of his choice, and that he was anxious the high position he had placed her in should be adequately kept up. This we see by his early " will."
And Lady St. Alban; what do we gather of her character? Firstly, that she had a proud nature and also a high temper, as she came of a quarrelsome family.
Secondly, that she loved power and dress, and was open to flattery and admiration from the opposite sex. So much so, that she accepted the attentions of an unimportant man and thereby caused her husband to alter his " will " with the words, "Whatsoever I have given I do now, for just and great causes, utterly revoke, and make void."
The philosopher in this hour of trial must have needed all his philosophy, and for the last few years of his life he lived alone, apparently, and when his end came he died alone.
Probably this domestic trouble is the reason we hear so little of Bacon's last years.
Did happiness reward the Viscountess St. Alban for the change she made in her life?
The reader must judge for himself.
But, before going further, it may be well to mention here that this "Life of Lady Bacon" was first started with a view to seeing whether the man with whom the Viscountess St. Alban threw in her fortunes was a near relative of the family in Stratford-on-Avon from whom "William Shakespeare," the actor, bought the house called "New Place,"* in 1597, the name Underhill being the same. And we find that he was a relation.
*The house had formerly been called the "Great House," as being one of the largest in the small town.
Of course Bacon knew the actor. It is now almost certain that he knew his family history, as will be seen later on, but we must continue to relate the life of this Grand Lady.
After Bacon lost his position for accepting bribes, or allowing his servants to accept bribes, while holding the high position of Lord Chancellor of England (1621), he was ordered into retirement, which was more or less of "a restraint of the person," by the King and Parliament, and deprived of his Chancellorship. A fall as great as Wolsey's. From the highest to the lowest.
How did his proud wife adapt herself to the altered circumstances, from being one of the most exalted dames in the land, to sinking into obscurity, away from Court Circles, which she and her relatives had made every effort to shine in?
At the time this unfortunate change came in her life, she was the honoured lady and mistress of one of the finest houses in London, "York House," which lay close to Whitehall, where the King had his residence, and which is mentioned in the play of Henry VIII.
Let us try and find out a few facts of the early years of Alice Barnham, and admire the handsome, haughty face which looks out from her portrait; a face with more determination in it than charm.
She came of a London family, for her mother was a daughter of a well-known merchant who was purveyor of silks and velvets to her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, as his father had been before him. A very important post when one remembers the thousands of royal dresses and robes left in that Queen's wardrobes at her death, and Humphrey Smith, of Cheapside, must have ransacked the looms of France and Italy to please his Imperial Mistress.
Was he, perchance, the lucky purveyor of that emblematic and marvellously figured stuff, with eyes and ears peeping out from its folds, which Queen Elizabeth wears so regally in one of her finest portraits, and in which she cleverly exhibits the design to the best advantage, so that the spectator may see a good deal of the unique tracery - even the chair, on the back of which the royal hand is resting, has been erased for the purpose.
Or was that roll of stuff the New Year gift of a kindly admirer? We hope he was well rewarded!
The silk merchant's daughter, Dorothy, kept up her position by marrying in her own circle, an Alderman of the City and Member of Parliament for Yarmouth, as her first choice, about the year 1589, Benedict Barnham, by name, who died on the 4th April, 1598. His widow was well provided for as regards money, but with a family of four little girls to bring up. The Alderman's elaborate and pious "will" which he made is still to be read in Somerset House. He left his money, plate and jewels to his wife and four daughters, Elizabeth, Alice, Dorothy and Bridget, so they had no lack of this world's goods.
After we had read a good part of his lengthy will we travelled a little further, and examined his "Inquisition, postmortem," in the Record Office.*
*(Inquisition, Post Mortem. Chancery Series II. Vol. 253. No. 78.)
This tells us the ages of his five children at the time of his death in 1598.
Elizabeth, aged 6 years 9 months 21 days.
Benedista .."...0.."....0..."....16..".died young)
So with a little calculation we understand that Alice, the future Viscountess, was born in May 1592.
Paragraphs in the will run as follows :
Item : I give to my daughter, Alice Barneham, my lease of certain lands at Moulsham and Chelmsford in the County of Essex. And if it happen that the same Alice doe die and unmarried then I give the same lease to Elizabeth my eldest daughter, etc.
The young widow was handsome and full of life and spirits, with considerable sums of money at her command, so she was not long left lamenting.
Her second choice fell on a gallant sporting gentleman, Sir John Pakington, of Worcestershire (born about 1547), well-known in Court circles and his County as "Lusty Pakington," who excelled in all the manly exercises of his day, which required a strong arm and a quick eye; a big stalwart fellow, hasty tempered, but withal, good natured and lovable. A Sheriff for his County.
This athlete fell in love with Widow Barnham's bright eyes, and there seems to have been no delay about the marriage, for it is mentioned in a letter from John Chamberlain to Dudley Carlton as having taken place on November 22nd, 1598.
Their son, John Pakington, Jr., was born in 1600. We find his name entered at Gray's Inn for February, 1618, and he is generally described as of "Ailsbury," an estate settled upon him by his father, who was so immensely proud of his son that he contrived the young man should be made a baronet at the age of twenty, the Patent for which cost the father £1,095 - a large sum of money.
Unfortunately the Baronet died when another four years had passed, leaving a young widow with one son and a daughter, who later on married Col. Washington.
It was at this estate at Ailsbury that Sir John Pakington and his wife, Dorothy, entertained King James I. on his way from Scotland to take possession of his English Kingdom in 1603, and gave such a noble welcome that their Royal guest declared that he had never been better
entertained, and this was the entrance of Lady Dorothy and her children to the Royal circle.
"Lusty Pakington" took the Barnham family to his heart, and, encouraged by his wife, he started building a family mansion at Hampton Lovat, not far from Droitwich, where he could indulge his tastes for swimming and hunting, in a charming part of England.
Here at Westwood Park he would roam the wilds with his four romping stepdaughters dancing before him, among them Alice, the future Lady Bacon, all delighted to be in the fresh air of the woods and hills after the London smoky atmosphere.
And so Elizabeth and Alice Barnham, with their two younger sisters, Dorothy and Bridget, must have made an attractive quartette, and they had an ambitious mother to push them on through life.
Their stepfather, Sir John Pakington, became still better known throughout Worcester by his litigious nature, which brought him both into quarrels with his neighbours - and into - law suits. In his anxiety to form a large lake in which he could fish and swim, he sank a farm under water, which had a right of way across the fields, and the neighbourhood rose in arms against his annexation of their rights. The hot blood of the Knight seemed to boil over at their presumption, and failing to gain his case at law, he broke down his dams and barriers, and allowed the countryside to be almost drowned in the water from his lake, which rushed towards the Severn, while the delighted peasantry picked up his gasping fish for a mile or two over the country side.
The County laughed and crowed at their success, and the story spread to London, and the Court there. The ballad mongers of the day were not slow to make a "broad sheet" of the matter, which was wedded to a merry tune, still to be found and danced to and called "Pakington's Pond, or Pakington's Pound."
This musical satire must have greatly annoyed the Squire and his family when they heard it at their gates,
This tune is found in Queen Elizabeth's Virginal Book, also in a New Book of Tablature, 1596, and in many other collections. Ben Jonson called it "Paggington's Pound" in his Comedy of "Bartholomew Fair." Many poets wrote words for the air.
This then was the lively circle in which the early years of Alice Barnham's life passed, with an occasional coaching tour to London, when the family took up their favourite quarters in "The Strand," up against the Savoy Church.
And it was here that Sir Francis Bacon must have met and fallen in love with the handsome young Alice even before she was getting to marriageable age. He was her senior by more than thirty years. A rising lawyer, a member of Parliament, a student of nature's secrets, and essay writer and playwright. And many a sonnet must he have written "to his mistress' eyebrow."
The first hint we get of Bacon's attachment to Alice Barnham is in a letter he wrote to his kinsman, Robert Lord Cecil, on 3rd July, 1603, asking his kind indulgence in several matters, mostly in regard to the debts contracted by his brother Anthony, lately deceased, and himself, and mentioning that for the honouring of his future wife, he is willing to seek a Knighthood, which will also raise his position at Gray's Inn. We give an extract from it :
"They say late thanks are ever best. Lastly for this divulged and almost prostitute title of Knighthood I could, without charge, be content to have it because I have three new Knights in my Mess at Gray's Inn Commons, and because I have found out an Alderman's daughter, an handsome maiden to my liking. If so your Honour will find time I will come to the Court from Gorhambury upon any warning."
Youth has great charm, and Bacon evidently appreciated it when he chose a girl of eleven as his future wife, for we understand this letter alludes to Alice Barnham, the Alderman's daughter. She was the first of the sisters to marry. A mere schoolgirl entering the responsible realms of matrimony with an elderly philosopher, but a man who had charm of manner, a generous nature, and a kind heart. What did the future hold for them both?
How little did the young lady realize that she was being courted by a great philosopher, whose fame and name would spread through the world for centuries, and whom many men would consider to be the author of the Shakespeare plays. And what a pleasure for the versatile lawyer of Gray's Inn to find himself intimate with a family of young people, all life and movement; all talking at once; all ready to go anywhere, and do anything, with Sir John in the middle, a mighty athlete, eager to wrestle, to swim, to fight, to drink or to ride against any man.
Sir Francis did not care much for athletic exercises, devoting himself more to books and libraries, but his figure was erect and strong, and he had good features and clear dark penetrating eyes. Quite a good-looking man, would be the verdict nowadays. Lady Pakington, with a shrewd eye to climbing the social scale, was quite willing her daughter should marry a man who had for a cousin the great Earl of Salisbury, Secretary of State and leader of the House of Peers.
Sir Francis worked hard at his profession of the Law during the three years of his engagement, so that he could give his young bride a good position in the social world. The prize which then seemed almost within his grasp, that of Solicitor General (worth some thousands a year, which would have set up his housekeeping comfortably) did not fall to him till a little later, but he postponed the marriage no longer, and pressed his fiancée to "name the day." It was fixed for the height of Springtime, May 10th, 1606. Perhaps this was her 14th birthday, or near it.
What would we give to catch sight of the love letters Francis Bacon wrote to his lady love, and her replies. They would tell us much! Were they couched in Shakespearean language, such as Benedict and Beatrice played with, or Henry V. and his bride bandied between them? Alice was not old enough for that, she was a mere child in years.
The marriage day was fixed, and most likely his beautiful home, "Gorhambury Mansion," near St. Albans, was furbished up for the reception of Alice, till a London house could be secured.
His old mother, who had once been the learned Anne Cooke, was still alive, but with her former brilliant intellect sadly deranged.
And music! Surely any woman who was beloved by Bacon must have loved music, for the great philosopher studied the art and wrote a great deal upon the subject both in his own acknowledged writings, and also in the Shakespeare plays. Several books have been published upon "the music in the Shakespeare plays," so there is no necessity to dilate upon it here, we merely remark that Bacon must have studied and experimented with the vibration of strings, which cause different sounds, that he also knew the technical names for the different parts of Lutes and Virginals, and that he described singing and musical sounds as never had they been described before, in poetic language. So we hope Alice Barnham was fond of music, and sang a few of the songs introduced into the plays, some of which are to be found in Dowland's publications of that period.
We can imagine the excitement Lady Pakington was in over the bride's trousseau. It was of far more importance in her eyes that her daughter should have the finest dress in London, than that her son-in-law should publish a book of "Essays " and another called "The Advancement of Learning."
The wedding breakfast must have taken a good deal of arrangement also.
Alice had £220 a year of her own from her father's estate, with more to come after the death of her mother, and Sir Francis Bacon settled £500 upon her (which represented a good sum in those days) and poured jewels into her lap, some of which she mentions in her last will.
That the bride had very extravagant tastes, like her mother, was the opinion of her contemporaries, but we must remember she had been brought up among Royal silks and satins, so, spending her portion recklessly, she arrayed herself most sumptuously in shining wedding gown of "cloth of silver, with ornaments of gold," and evidently Sir Francis felt it incumbent on him to dress in a noble manner for the occasion, his wedding garment consisting of a purple robe of Genoese velvet, with shoes to match, adorned with rosettes and a cap of the same material, which costume was quite in keeping with the Barnham traditions, and pleased the bridegroom himself, as he had a lordly taste for fine clothing with effective colours. This we gather from his writings, such as " The New Atlantis," etc. The letter writers of the day tell us that the ceremony took place at St. Marylebone's Chapel, a suburb to the North of London, which was about two miles from where the wedding breakfast awaited the guests in the Strand.
A goodly company gathered there, but, unfortunately, the most important guest, the Earl of Salisbury, held aloof from the festive board, much to the disappointment of his cousin and new relatives. However, other titled friends, such as Sir Walter Cope, Sir Baptist Hicks and Sir Hugh Beeston, with their ladies, were present to congratulate the bride and bridegroom and receive smiles from Sir John and Lady Pakington, and some of Bacon's half-brothers and their children would no doubt be present. It must have been a merry festival, with the handsome Barnham girls, and their little brother and sister Pakingtons, to shout and laugh with the bridegroom's relations and some colleagues from Gray's Inn. They drank the bride's health in Sack and Canary.
The bridegroom's old mother would probably await them at Gorhambury. She had instructed her brilliant son in his first courses of Latin and Greek, and been his guardian in his youth. Now it was his turn to take care of her, enfeebled as she was in mind and body.
The 10th of May was one of the happiest days in all the life of our philosopher.
Shortly after the marriage Bacon was made Solicitor General (at the age of 46), while in his quiet hours some more wonderful essays and other literary works were being penned by him.
But his early married life was frequently disturbed by the family feuds which sprang up between Sir John Pakington and his arrogant spouse, Dorothy. Bacon was often appealed to by the lady to right her wrongs, which he could not do, as her imagined wrongs were not right, and he was frequently annoyed by his mother-in-law's dangerous interference in his home life.
At one time, on the occasion of a stormy scene between Lady Pakington and Sir John, the latter had ordered her out of his house, and in a mad rage the lady had packed her boxes and started off from Westwood Park, hoping that the powerful Sir Francis Bacon would protect his mother-in-law and her interests.
On the journey to London from Westwood her trunks were lost, and this enraged her still more, and she declared it was a trick of Sir John's to annoy her and that he had kept them back. She took very strong measures and even appealed to the Privy Council for a "General Warrant of Search," and made a disturbance all round over the stealing and straying of her boxes of frills and furbelows.
Finding that her son-in-law utterly refused to have anything to do with a woman whose husband had turned her out, she hinted that as he had treated his mother-in-law in this heartless manner, that perhaps someday he would also turn his wife out of doors, which strange prophecy came true to a certain extent. Bacon certainly failed then in "the taming of the shrew." His opinion of her can best be shown by a letter he wrote to her in reply.
You shall with right good will be made acquainted with anything that concerneth your daughter if you bear a mind of love and concord, otherwise you must be content to be a stranger to us; for I may not be so unwise as to suffer you to be an author or occasion of dissension between your daughters and their husbands, having seen so much misery of that in yourself.
And above all things I will turn back your kindness in which you say you will receive my wife if she be cast off; for it is much more likely we have occasion to receive you being cast off, if you remember what is passed.
But it is time to make an end of those follies, and you shall at this time pardon me this one fault of writing to you, for I mean to do it no more till you use me and respect me as you ought. So wishing you better than it seemeth you will draw upon yourself,
I rest yours,
Neither did Bacon agree to all his father-in-law's wild arguments and law suits, but he tried to keep the peace, with a wise man's foresight, while maintaining his own dignity among those relations and holding his own opinion.
But we must continue young Lady Bacon's history, at the side of her husband, who rose steadily in his profession, firm in the friendship of King James, and with many friends both abroad and at home, and with his Parliament work demanding attention.
Unfortunately, no children came to brighten the home with their chatter and take a share of the money Lady Bacon was spending lavishly in various ways.
In 1613 she must have rejoiced when Bacon mounted yet another step in the ladder, and became Attorney General, at the age of 52. She was 21 we calculate, and she loved excitement in every form.
For some time Bacon had been endeavouring to secure a lease of the house in which he was born and where his father, old Sir Nicholas, had lived in London, "York House, Whitehall," on the banks of the Thames above the King's Palace there,* in the most choice position among the noblemen's mansions. But he had to work a little longer first, and it was only when he rose still another step higher and "received the Seals " that he felt he could afford to live in the big house he had always loved, and on which his heart was set.
*(At that time the Thames encroached much more inland than at present, and houses were on its banks which are now a good distance from the water.)
His wife was ambitious to shine, and urged him on to further grandeur and display, and it was in the year 1617 that at last he managed to get a 21 years' lease of York House through his friendship with the Archbishop of York, whose son, Tobie Matthews, was his very close friend.
Into this vast London mansion he gradually established himself with his wife, and set about the furnishing of it, as it had never been furnished before. He seemed determined that his new position of "Lord Keeper of the Seals of England" should receive a fitting background, and that his relations should be impressed with his grandeur. Lady Alice held her head higher than ever, even among her sisters, who had all married well, and were to do even better en seconde noces, Elizabeth being the wife of the Earl of Castlehaven, the third sister married a good friend of Sir Francis Bacon and became Lady Constable; and the youngest, whom Alice loved best, was Lady Soames. So the match-making mother had "placed" all her daughters, and with her beautiful face was later on to attract a third and a fourth husband for her own comfort; the third being Lord Kilmorey, who only lived two years after the marriage; and for her last husband she chose the Earl of Kellie.
The family taste for rich material could now be indulged in at York House, and we read of rich velvet hangings and lordly tapestries, while friends sent many costly ornaments to add to the beautiful furniture of the London mansion. Bacon tells of his "reparations " there as costing him over 1,000 marks, which he insists was "more than hath been laid out by all the tenants that have been in it since my remembrance."
So her Ladyship would find her time much employed in the delightful occupation of furnishing, and her numerous relations would flock to her side not only with congratulations, but to gaze on the surroundings of their much envied friend.
Their staff, too, was large, as they entertained on a lavish scale, and they possessed several carriages and horses.
And now a new honour was to crown the happy couple in York House, for in the Spring of 1617 King James started on his Northern tour to settle his affairs in Scotland, and he handed over the management of his Southern Kingdom for six months to the capable hands of "our trusty and well beloved Counsellor Sir Francis Bacon, Lord Keeper of our Great Seal." Bacon was now Regent of England. No doubt his wife felt as if she was "Queen of England," and she certainly was an important lady at the head of everything in the Court Circles.
On thus giving over the reins of Government to a subject, the laws of Precedency must be considered, and Lady Bacon had to be raised to the place of first lady in the land by the side of her husband. The following Warrant was drawn up, but Mr. Spedding in his "Biography " seems doubtful if it, or a copy, was ever signed by the Kung. Our present opinion is that it was made law as the occasion demanded.
Warrant for conferring a Dignity upon Lady Bacon, wife to our trusty and well beloved Sir Francis Bacon, etc. James Rex.
Trusty and well beloved, we greet you well. These are to command you that you forthwith cause a book to be drawn fit for our signature declaring our will and royal pleasure to be that the Lady Bacon, wife of our truly and well beloved Counsellor, Sir Francis Bacon, Knt., Lord Keeper of our Great Seal, etc., shall be ranked in place and precedency in all places and at all Meetings, as well public as private, next to the ladies or wives of the Barons of this our realm.
Wherein we well command and express our royal pleasure to be, that all ladies of whatever estate or degree so ever, under the estate or degree of a Baroness, wife or widow to a Baron of this our Realm, shall hereafter at all times and in all places permit and suffer her, the said Lady Bacon to have, take, and enjoy the place and precedency before them and every of them.
And this shall be your Warrant. Given under our at our Palace of Westminster the . . . day of March, in the 14th year of our reign, of E. F. & I. and Scotland the 50th."
Spedding adds: "Whether this Warrant came directly from the King at his own or Buckingham's suggestion, as a mark of respect which Bacon would value, or was drawn up by Bacon himself under an impulse of conjugal affection, with the intention of asking the King to sign it, or whether Lady Bacon enjoyed the precedency of other ladies are questions I cannot answer, but Bacon was now principal officer of the Kingdom, except the King, and his wife would have a great deal of power."
This extract from Spedding's "Life of Bacon" helps us a good deal, but we think it necessary to add a paragraph from Kipps' "Biography Britannica," in which Bacon is rather scoffed at for assuming the Kingly state, but which, we think, his position quite justified him in keeping up.
"Now was Bacon invested in this office within 10 days of the King going to Scotland.
Bacon instantly begins to believe himself King; lies in the King's lodgings; gives audience in the great Banquetting House; makes all the Counsellors attend his motions with the same state as the King used to come out to give audience to Ambassadors, etc."
We can see a touch of jealousy in the foregoing contemporary writing, but feel sure Bacon ignored all such trifles, and went his own way. He gives us a good idea in his Essays, "Of Ceremonies," and he writes in the same book upon Sutors (Suitors), of whom he knew a great number.
Yes, Lady Bacon had power, and was a great lady now, and she carried herself according to her station. Many office-seekers would beg for her interest and help, and no doubt she was often pleaded with and asked to use her influence with her husband in a case of life and death. Little did it occur to her that one day in the near future she herself would be pleading for her husband's restoration to position and contentment, and pleading in vain.
Probably it was while Bacon was Regent that he ordered new jewels for his wife, and that she found occasion to wear a kind of white wheel bodkin, with what she calls in her "will" crown facett diamonds. She also had some fine "innamells " and a large emerald and other lovely jewels. All these and her handsome robes added lustre to York House and her husband's name. Then she must follow the fashion and have her portrait painted, which we see today, and cannot help being astonished that the painter could manipulate his oil brush so delicately as to bring out the elaborate pattern of the filmy lace work round her face - a face which represents a woman about 30, with handsome English features, though the expression is slightly hard, but perhaps the colours may have faded a little or it was rubbed in the course of cleaning. There was a doubt at one period as to whom this picture represented, and a good time ago its modern owner allowed it to be engraved under the name of Anne Cooke, Mother of Bacon. Then a portrait of Anne Cooke came to light, with date and age written upon the canvas, and on comparing it with a bust of Bacon's mother, it was found that the features were identical, and that the portrait which had been engraved was a younger woman and must really be the wife and not the mother. Such was the opinion of the best experts who were called in. These facts I get in a letter which Lady Sibyl Fraser, daughter of the Earl of Verulam, has kindly sent me, and as both portraits are now hanging in their picture gallery of "Gorhambury," in Hertfordshire, the family are the best authorities, and I quote from them.
The learned Regent of the Kingdom would not have much time, one would think, for writing philosophical works, besides one or two long plays every year, but like all great men, the more business they have in hand, the more can they accomplish, and so it was with Bacon.
Did his wife know that he was the author of many of the plays performed at Court, and did she encourage her husband in this work, and show eagerness to see them? Without doubt, women were just as fond of stage plays in James' day as they are now, and she would laugh over Falstaff, and weep with Desdemona. Were any plays acted at York House? Its large halls would hold a capital stage, and as no scenery was used then, the actors would merely require to "walk on" before a long curtain. It is strange to remember that the author of the so-called "Shakespeare" plays, with his ardent nature and marvellous facility in creating exquisite female characters, never saw these same female characters acted on the stage by women, but always by men, as in Elizabeth and James I, days, youths and boys took the women's parts. Surely, in private, some of Bacon's lady friends must have felt eager to act Juliet or Rosalind, and occasionally represented the parts even if they had to wear masks. The art of manufacturing masks reached a high level in those days, and these disguises were worn both outdoors and indoors, and always on the stage.* The hero in the play would certainly throw more enthusiasm into his "lines" if the heroine he was acting with was a woman, and not a boy in girl's clothing.
*Gloves as sweet as damask roses,
Masks for faces and for Noses.
-A Winter's Tale.
Since she did neglect her looking glass,
And threw her sun-expelling mask away.
-Two Gentlemen of Verona.
The Shakespeare plays were written for private performance by the "servants" (actors) of the Royal Court, and were never seen by the masses for many years after they had been printed.
Bacon had been brought up among brilliant women, and in his married life he was surrounded by ladies who had the various characteristics found in the Shakespeare plays, such as his mother-in-law and her daughters, also his aunts on his mother's side, and the numerous families of his older step-brothers and sisters. He was continually among Court ladies and knew all the etiquette of Courts, as he had been in Royal Circles all his life, both in France and England.
The Shakespeare plays are also full of Law terms and expressions, far more than appears to the lay mind, and must therefore have been written by a lawyer.
How can the partisans of "William Shakespeare" insist that an ignorant, uneducated boy from Stratford, whose surroundings were so poor, could have possibly known such women or created them in his mind, as are found in the plays? How could such a lad have entered Court circles, or known the etiquette ruling there? The Stratfordian had no library, no garden, no laboratory, no musical instruments, such as are described in the plays. How could he have known the effects of poisons? How could he have read the ancient history of France, or written the soldiers' talk in battles?
There was only one man who can be described as having all the accomplishments necessary to writing a Shakespeare play, and who was a lawyer, of course, at the same time.
There is no connecting the boy from Stratford with the authorship of the plays, but there is every connecting link with the plays and Francis Bacon, who dared not to reveal his authorship at the time, for strong reasons, such as the hatred his Mother had for "mumming," and the low opinion in which stage writers were held, while he was striving to rise to the top of his profession.
Unfortunately Bacon, with all his success in securing splendid mansions - he had at least three, viz., Gorhambury Manor, and Verulam House (which he had built himself on his Hertfordshire property), and York House in London - could not escape from being mixed up in the Pakington broils, which were for ever coming before him, and he must often have wished he had never seen Sir John and his wife. One of the most serious quarrels between the two was when Lady Pakington appealed to the Law and brought her husband before the Court of High Commission, and actually got him put in prison for spending her money, etc., and Bacon was the judge on this occasion and had to insist on the Lady yielding, and withdrawing the charge.
All these family broils must have been a great trial to the pride of the Keeper of the Seals, and to the high position which he had worked so hard to attain. His wife would also feel rather ashamed of her mother's conduct, but we have no letters from her expressing her feelings, and can only guess at this.
Shortly after these events in 1618, Bacon became Lord Chancellor of England, and in the Summer of that year, he was raised to the Peerage, with the title of Baron Verulam.
Alice Barnham had been mounting the social ladder step by step ever since she had married, and enjoyed the high position her husband gave her.
A Court lady, at the head of everything, and clothed in rich brocades, slashed and padded and trimmed with gold.
In the morning she would take an airing in the Park, seated in her "caroache," drawn by her own coach horses, after spending an hour or two over her toilet. On returning she might receive a few friends at dinner, which took place in the middle of the day; in the afternoon a coach drive would convey her to the country for an hour before supper; and in the evening she would most likely play cards, or she might attend a Court function, and hear the King's musicians, and applaud Dowland's marvellous lute playing.
On festival nights, such as Christmas Eve, or Twelfth night or the King's birthday, there would be plays acted by the "King's servants" at Court, to which she would be bidden, and where, of course, all the ladies wore their most resplendent jewels and robes. A gay round. Not much time for domestic life in the Court of James I, and many temptations. Courtiers and flatterers were only too ready to bend the knee to an influential lady who was fond of admiration and excitement, and who came of an exuberant family.
Had she ever time to read her husband's works, such as "Novum Organum," which came out when he was Lord Chancellor, and which was hailed by all the learned men, King James among them?
And he had other unfinished MSS. in his desk, which were to see the light later on.
Still another rise was to come to the great man in 1621, when he was made Viscount St. Alban, the highest title to which he attained, and his work as judge in the Court of Law was enormous, and took all his attention and power and thoughts, so much so that he had to leave the household domestic affairs of York House in the hands of his lower servants and house keepers, who had the ordering and paying of the daily requirements of the large establishment.
The Viscountess was too much engaged in social affairs evidently to trouble about "management," and so things went on till the crash came.
It was here that Bacon held his birthday party in 1620, and Ben Jonson being one of the guests, wrote the celebrated Ode which has caused so much discussion, beginning:
" Hail happy genius of this antient Pile,
How comes it all things so about thee smile,
The fire, the wine, the men, and in the midst
Thou standest, as if some mystery thou didst," etc.
We have no idea what sums of money had been put at the Regent Bacon's disposal for carrying on the business of the country during the absence of the King and Buckingham, but the expenses of York House must have run up to a high sum week by week, for here he was surrounded by an army of retainers, secretaries, ushers, grooms, gentlemen-in-waiting, etc., etc.; there is still in the British Museum the list of over 100 names to be seen, and so there must have been a good deal of ceremony observed both among the men and women her Ladyship had about her.
And it was in York House that a new character entered into the Bacon circle, who had much influence in after times, and any history of Lady Bacon, Viscountess St. Alban, must mention the name of this person.
In the list of "Gentlemen-in-Waiting" at York House is a Mr. Underhill, and we can only suppose this was the gentleman so greatly favoured by the Viscountess afterwards, and who may have caused the ruin of Bacon's happiness.
Here we must make a short divergence to try and trace out the family of this important gentleman, and it will be strange, indeed, if through him, we can show a connecting link between William Shakespeare, the actor, and Francis Bacon. Any link to show they were acquainted with each other would be interesting, but the chain is not quite complete as yet.
The name "Underhill" is not an uncommon one, and there was a considerable colony of the family in Warwickshire, where they occupied a good position with houses and land, and Dugdale devotes several pages to their various tombs and inscriptions in his "Antiquities of Warwickshire."
The family at one time became much talked of through the following strange incident.
The story runs that William Shakespeare, the actor, left London, in 1597, and retired to Stratford-on-Avon with money in his pocket. With a view to improving his position in the eyes of the world, he set about purchasing a house, and fixed on "New Place,"*(Formerly called the "Great House.") which had once been amongst the best in the town, but was now in a tumble-down condition and almost required rebuilding. The owner of "New Place" came of a family well known in the district, namely, Mr. William Underhill, who was then residing in a different part of the County, but before that gentleman could put his name to the deed conveying his Stratford house and garden to William Shakespeare, he suddenly died at his residence called Fillongley, near Coventry, and the legal documents were for the time incomplete.
William Underhill's eldest son, Fulke, who inherited the property, also died (while residing in Warwick a year later), and then the unpleasant fact came to light that he had caused the death of his father by poisoning him the previous year.
This news made a great stir in the County, and the estates of the felon were liable to be forfeited to the Crown, in which case Shakespeare might have lost New Place, but the felon was dead, and on considerable interest being brought to bear, the authorities allowed the "Underhill " estates to pass to the parricide's next brother, Hercules,* who was also a minor.
*(This Hercules Underhill married Bridget, a sister of Dudley Carlton, Viscount Dorchester. He was made Sir Hercules (Knight) at Compton, 6th Sept., 1617.)
It was not till Hercules came of age in 1602 that his signature could be affixed to the deed which finally handed over the property of "New Place" to William Shakespeare, who must have eagerly awaited the event.
Bacon, in his capacity of Lawyer to the Crown, may have had something to do in deciding if the property was to be forfeited to the Crown or not, but even if he was not engaged in that business, rumours of the transaction would be sure to reach him, and he probably knew the family, for among his "Gentlemen-in-Waiting " in York House, as before mentioned, was a "Mr. Underhill," who was a second cousin of the parricide's. Some years pass before the name "Underhill " occurs again in the Bacon history, and we must return to where we made the divergence.
On the return of the King to London from his six months' tour in Scotland, Bacon, of course, gave up the reins to the Monarch, and all seemed to go well till 1621.
It was in this year that Bacon was accused of taking bribes in the Court of justice from suitors, but he himself strongly declared he never had any idea of taking bribes; still, presents had been accepted from friendly suitors, and though he could have cleared himself of the chief charge, it is now thought somehow King James stepped between (To save Buckinghams character) and induced him not to defend himself, as he might have done, and Bacon's health giving way under the strain, he found himself degraded and cast down from his high office for ever. He was sentenced to be heavily fined, and all sources of income from the Law stopped, of course.
His enemies had triumphed!. His underlings had ruined him! It was even suggested he should be deprived of his titles, but this was not carried out.
An old writer has declared that certain people who have been too ambitious in this world may be likened to a traveller who took years to painfully climb a very high mountain, but just at the moment he gained the summit and was looking round with pride at his achievement, a sudden landslip beneath his feet hurled him down to the very foot of the mountain in a few minutes, so bruised and shaken that he could never ascend the slope again.
The fall of a man is terribly lowering to his pride, but to a woman a sudden descent is even more disastrous, for her sex can show petty spite and mean triumphs which are very galling.
How unfortunate it was that Bacon allowed himself to be in a situation where his enemies could find a flaw and pull him down. His health now seriously weakened, and the rest of his life is sad reading, for he was a semi-prisoner in his own house, Gorhambury, St. Albans, and could not leave it to come to London without the King's permission, and other misfortunes overtook him.
But one of his chief troubles now was that his creditors, and they were many, clamoured for payment of their dues, and he did not know where to turn for money. He evidently had no reserve in hand.
And the Viscountess St. Alban?
All her husband's troubles reflected back upon her, as she could not escape from them. How irritating it must have been to her to see grand friends look askance at her! Then all her amusements stopped. Trades people dunned her, and she was shut out from the King's Court. All this happened to the unfortunate woman who was no longer "a Grand Lady."
On recovering from his violent illness, Bacon's chief anxiety was to get his pardon from the King sealed and confirmed, and daily he waited in expectation of the hoped-for papers arriving. But delay, and still more delay, took place, till Bacon began to think the King did not intend to pardon him, and he grew more miserable at the thought.
At last it was arranged that Lady St. Alban, who still was living in York House apparently, should beg for an interview with Lady Buckingham and also with the Marquis of Buckingham, that she might pray for their kind intervention with the King for the restoration of some of Bacon's salary and pensions.
In a letter from Thomas Meautys, who was Bacon's secretary, we learn that the wife secured an interview with the all-powerful Marquis of Buckingham, and pleaded her husband's cause in person. A scene fit for a play. But this interview does not seem to have brought about much improvement, for the real fact was that Buckingham had taken a strong desire to get York House into his own hands, with the intention of living in it, and when Bacon showed no inclination to part with the mansion, Buckingham did not hasten on the pardoning of the stubborn owner, but thought fit to delay it.
Though Bacon had lost his position as Lord Chancellor and was a kind of semi-prisoner under the King's direction, being obliged to remain in the country or in London just as His Majesty felt inclined to order, his lease at York House had a good many years still to run, and he felt very disinclined to part with it. It was the house he loved best and was most proud of. He himself had been born there during the residence of his parents, Sir Nicholas and Lady Bacon.
But the fact was gradually borne in on him that the Duke of Buckingham had cast envious eyes on this splendid mansion, and was very anxious to secure it for his own benefit. Bacon had not been allowed to take up his abode there since his fall, though it seems likely that the Viscountess St. Alban was still residing in it.
We next hear of the philosopher trying to move the King and Parliament to grant him his "pardon," which would give him his liberty to live where he liked, and restore him in the eyes of the world.
But though promises were dangled before his eyes, months passed and no pardon arrived. The delay seemed strange, and Bacon in his weak state of health got more and more anxious to have it, and continually expected it.
Why had the important paper sealed by His Majesty, not arrived?
It was a long time before Bacon became aware that the King's favourite, the Duke of Buckingham, had been more than surprised that he had not been granted the lease of York House, which he desired, and that this was probably the cause of the "pardon" being delayed.
When this fact became apparent, Bacon must have found himself in a very trying position. He who was once so strong could no longer make his will felt, so York House had to be offered to Buckingham.
In the following letter from the favourite enclosing the King's "pardon" we see the allusion to York House, and that the Duke excuses himself, though he is still hankering after the mansion.
After all, Bacon really required the money to quiet his creditors, and had no means wherewith to keep up a vast establishment, for we are told that he left debts to the amount of £22,331 and his assets only represented about £7,000 in all.
The Duke of Buckingham to Viscount St. Alban sends a warrant for his pardon. Entirely in the Duke's hand.
"My Hon'ble Lord,
I have delivered your Lordship's letter of thanks to His Majesty, who accepted it gratiously, and will be glad to see your booke which you promised to send very shortly as soon as it cometh. I send Your Lordship His Majesty's Warrant for your pardon as you desire it, but am sorry that in the currant of my service to Your Lordship there should be the least stop of anything, yet having moved His Majesty upon your servant's intimation, for your stay in London till Xmas, I found His Majesty, who hath in all other occasions, even in that particular already to the dislike of many of your own friends, showed it with great forwardness his gratious favours towards you, Very unwilling to grant you any longer liberties to abide there, which being but a small advantage to you, would be a great and general distaste to the whole State.
I am the more sorry for this refusal of His Majesty falling in a tyme when I was a sutor to Your Lordship in a particular concerning myself, but if Your Lordship or your Ladie finde it inconvenient for you to part with the house (York House), I will rather provide myself otherwise than in any way incommodate you, but will never slack anything of my affection to doe your service.
Your Lors faithful
" To my very good Honbl Lord, the Lord Viscount St. Alban."
The greatness of the Viscountess St. Alban was slipping away from under her feet, and her passionate nature would much resent the humiliation of having to give up York House to another mistress. We can imagine her feelings in finding that her life was changing in this way.
In speaking of Viscountess St. Alban having to retire into private life after presiding as the wife of Lord Chancellor of England, the question that jokingly went the round was, "How my Lady Derby came to make so good a use of her time whilst her husband was Chancellor, and my Lady St. Alban made so little?" The answer was, "Because my Lady Derby's wit lay backward, and my Lady St. Albans lay forward, viz., in her tongue!"
The negotiations concerning York House were somewhat protracted and confused.
For Buckingham evidently arranged to take the mansion off Viscount St. Albans hands, and then he bought another house called "Wallingford," and refused to complete the transaction in regard to York House, the reason alleged being that he was given to understand that Bacon's ownership of the mansion was not quite secure at law.
In a letter from Chamberlain to Dudley Carleton, dated July 1st, 1622, he mentions that Viscount St. Alban has filed a bill in Chancery against the Duke of Buckingham on account of the non-performance of his contract for taking York House.
At last the Viscount had to finally part with the spot he loved so dearly, and York House passed away from him for ever, to a friend of Buckingham's, said to have been Sir Lionel Cranfield.
The resigning of the house and its contents must have been a sadly trying occurrence for both Viscount and Viscountess St. Alban, for the possession of it had been a sign of their greatness and high position.
He still owned the family estate in Hertfordshire, which was life rented in his wife for her marriage settlement.
The estate of Gorhambury is very pleasantly situated on the outskirts of St. Albans, and the old Roman Camp of Verulam.
The gates of the estate lie close to St Michael's Church, and there is a drive of a mile and a half to the Mansion, which is the residence of the Earl of Verulam and his family. Near the modern house still stands the ruins of the ancient building with its towers which was erected by Sir Nicholas Bacon, father of Sir Francis Bacon. It was a long building of two stories, with handsome entrance projection and front hall. As it was taxed for forty-one hearths it must have possessed that number of rooms.
It was here that Sir Nicholas Bacon twice received visits from Queen Elizabeth. In old engravings of the Manor we see the windows and position of the long gallery, which was adorned with pictures, and in which were housed the large folio volumes beloved by the old Lord Keeper.
The name of the estate descended from Geoffrey de Gorham, 16th Abbot of the Monastery of St. Albans, and was so called from the Castle of Gorham, in Normandy. He lived in the Monastery about 1161 and granted lands in the neighbourhood to one of his family, who settled there. The place obtained the appellation of "Gorhambury," i.e., the dwelling of Gorham.
At the dissolution of the Monastery, Henry VIII. granted the estates of Gorhambury to Rauff Rowlatt, merchant of the Staple at Calais, whose daughter married John Maynard, Esq. The latter gentleman sold the estate to Sir Nicholas Bacon, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal in the reign of Queen Elizabeth.
Aubrey, writing of Bacon during his Chancellorship, says:
"When his Lordship arrived, the town of St. Albans seemed as if the Court had been there, so nobly did he live. His servants had liveries with his crest. His watermen were more employed than were the King's. About half a mile from Gorhambury the Lord Chancellor built, at the expense of about £10,000, a most ingeniously constructed house in which to study and meditate, called Verulam House."
When Bacon was raised in the Peerage and became Viscount St. Alban he had made a new "will," and by it we see that he was arranging that, in the event of his death, his wife should have adequate means to keep up her high position. One of his testaments runs as follows:
"Device and legacies to my wife. I give grant and confirm to my loving wife by this my last, what so ever hath been assured to her, be it either my lands in Hertfordshire, or the `Farm of Seales,' or the gift of goods in accomplishment of my covenants of marriage; and I give her also the ordinary stuff at Gorhambury, a waincot table, stools, bedding and the like (always reserving and excepting the rich hangings with their covers, the table carpets, and the long cushions and all other stuff which was or is used in the long Gallery, and also a rich chair which was my niece Caesar's gilt, and also the armour, and also all tables of marble and towch).
I give also to my wife my four coach geldings, and my best caroache, and her own coach mares and caroache ; I give also and grant to my wife the one half of the rent which was reserved upon Read's lease for her life. I conceive by this advancement I have made her competent abilities to maintain the estate of a Viscountess, and give sufficient to her of my love and liberality towards her; for I do reckon that Gorhambury, and my lands in Hertfordshire, will be worth unto her seven hundred pounds per annum, beside woodfells, and the lease of the houses where-of five hundred pounds only I was tied unto by covenants upon marriage; so as the two hundred pounds and better was mere benevolence, the six hundred pounds per annum upon the farm of Writs was likewise mere benevolence. Her own inheritance also with what she purchased with part of her portion is two hundred pounds per annum, and better, besides the wealth she hath in jewels, plate, or otherwise."
The above extract shows how anxious Bacon was that his wife should be able to keep up her rank as befitted a Viscountess, and that he thinks she is well provided for by this "will."
But, unfortunately, she forfeited a great deal of this inheritance by her own conduct. We can only surmise that her infatuation for Mr. John Underhill was the cause of Bacon suddenly altering his will, and cutting her out of all the emoluments he possibly could.
Here is an extract from the Codicil, added in 1625:
" What so ever I have given, granted, conferred, or appointed to my wife in the former part of this my Will, I do now for just and great causes, utterly revoke, and make void, and leave her to her right only."
And that is all we learn, for Bacon evidently destroyed all other evidences and letters, etc., which implicated his wife, and from henceforth the husband and wife must have led entirely separate lives; he, with his bruised pride and broken heart, tried to employ his mind and thoughts with literary pursuits, but he must have gone through many miserable hours.
And the Viscountess - what of her?
Did the admiration of her lover satisfy her, or fill the social gap in her life? We have nothing to show how she was spending her time, and can only guess that most of it passed in the company of Mr. Underhill, who probably would have married her then, had her husband sued for divorce.
Did her mother's prophecy now come true: that one day Bacon would turn his wife out of doors? And did Lady Pakington take back her daughter, as she promised to do if Bacon turned her out? We have nothing to tell us.
Everything points to Bacon living alone from henceforth. And his health had been growing steadily worse for some time. It seems he was out driving on a bitter, snowy day, when an attack of something like bronchitis must have seized him, and so ill did he become that his startled servant drew up at the nearest country house, and got his master into the mansion, which happened to be the Earl of Arundel's home in Highgate, a suburb of London. The owner was at that time a prisoner in the Tower of London, having displeased the King by allowing his son to marry a connection of His Majesty's in secret. Bacon lingered on in this empty house for a short time, continuing to be very ill, and then breathed his last on Easter morning, April 9th, 1626.
In one of his wills he desires that his body may be buried obscurely, without ostentation; so his remains were quietly placed in the family vault in St. Michael's Church, St. Albans, besides his mother's, Lady Bacon, according to his expressed wish. We may well ask where was his wife at that time, and what was she doing?
Signatures to a deed concerning an exchange
of land in Hertfordshire, 1616.
(all rights reserved)
FRANCIS LORD BACON
Viscount St. Albans Lord High Chancellor.
Picture by Paul Van Somer in National Portrait Gallery, London.
The Underhill Pedigree