All Is Not Gold That Glisters

 


By "Jon Benson"

from Baconiana December 1978

 

During the last 80 years , many Baconians have believed that Francis Bacon was the son of Queen Elizabeth of England by Robert Dudley, later to become the Earl of Leicester, whom she may have married secretly soon after the deplorable death, on the 8th of September, 1560, of Amy Robsart, Dudley's young wife. Francis Bacon was born four months later in January 1560, and it is important to remember that at that time the year ended on the 24th of March.

The subject of Bacon's parentage has been a source of heated discussion and division, not only in the literary world generally, but also in the ranks of the Baconians: therefore it seemed essential to research the English Queen's movements in the period immediately preceding Francis Bacon's birth. It is obvious that if this secret marriage did take place, all documentary evidence would have been safely concealed or, far more likely destroyed; so we must rely on any contemporary evidence we can unearth in the way of recorded statements made by ambassadors or agents from foreign or other sources. Much of this evidence has been quoted in the past but it is believed that some of it will be new to readers. Many Baconians today may not have had the opportunity to read this evidence and thereby draw their own conclusions, and it was therefore thought sensible to restate the case.

The appalling barbarities of punishment in Elizabeth's reign make it obvious that the voicing of any rumours by her own countrymen of her Majesty's pregnancy out of wedlock, would have been unwise, to say the least. This of course, would not rule out foreign rumours. It is a curious fact about England, that anything remotely critical of Royalty is invariably reported first abroad and considerably later in England. The French and American Press today still bear witness to this fact. Research into the evidence of foreign rumours concerning Queen Elizabeth and Dudley at this time is most revealing and these rumours first began to take shape in 1559 when, on the 18th of April of that year, Phillip II of Spain received a dispatch from his Ambassador to the English Court (Court Feria) containing this sentence:

Lord Robert Dudley has come much in favour that he does whatever he pleases with affairs and it is even said that her Majesty visits him in his chamber day and night.

Only rumour, of course! but there is a convenient cliche which says "no smoke without the fire." Again the Venetian Ambassador also reported

" My Lord Dudley is in very great favour and very intimate with her Majesty," and later, " She will eventually take him as her husband or none at all."

Several weeks later, another dispatch was sent to Spain recording increasing remarks concerning the Queen and Dudley. Some rumours went so far as to suggest that the latter was contemplating poisoning his wife Amy and, moreover, they accused Elizabeth of fobbing off public opinion by keeping Lord Robert's enemies and the Country engaged with words until the wicked deed of killing his wife is consummated.

There were still rumours but they were contained in official reports on which the Spaniards would base their political judgements.

In 1560 gossip was rife all over the Continent and English Ambassadors abroad were desperate and at their wits' end to know how to counter it. From these various rumours one in particular persisted, that the Queen and Dudley were lovers. The Spanish Ambassador described the Queen as, "A true daughter of a wicked Mother," and went on to suggest that Robert Dudley was "intending divorce" from his wife. On the 8th of September Amy Robsart died, having conveniently fallen "from a paire of staires and so to breake her necke," and, unbelievably, "without hurting of her hood that stood upon her head." It is interesting to note that the only two men who were with her at the time, died soon after the accident, one of these being "privily made away with in prison because he offered to publish the manner of the said murder." At the inquest, the jury are "believed" to have brought in a verdict of accidental death. The reason for the word "believed" is because all records of the inquest are missing from the Register; thus, this verdict is pure assumption. It is further a significant fact that all the records before and after this inquest are intact in this Register----a singular set of circumstances. Another curious thing connected with this event, was that Dudley had been issuing a fictitious string of bulletins concerning his wife's health, announcing that she was ill and finally, after a period of weeks, that she had died. Dudley was not present at her burial and does not appear to have shown much concern at the tragedy except for his own reputation with the public. The curious poem, Leicester's Ghost , published anonymously in 1641, described these events as follows :

This dismall hap unto my wife betide;
Whether yee call it chance or destiny,
Too true it is, she did untimely dye.
O had I now a showre of teares to shed
Lockd in the empty circles of my eyes,
All could I shed in mourning for the dead,
That lost a spouse so young, so faire, so wise,
So faire a corps so foul a coarse now lies,
My hope t'have married with a famous Queen
Drave pity back, and kept my teares unseene.

 

The unpleasant suggestions which circulated after Amy's death seemed to have had no effect on Elizabeth's attitude to Dudley, because she continued their intimate association more intensely than ever, so much so that "our man in Paris", Throckmorton, was driven near to desperation by the ever increasing gossip in Court circles and, in a dispatch to the Queen to acquaint her with these scandalous rumours, he described the things that were being said in the following terms:

--"which every hair of my head starteth at and my ears glow to hear.His secretary, one Jones, conveyed this message to the Queen and reported back that "she looked ill and harassed."

Rumours became worse and worse in England, culminating in the Spanish Ambassador's sending a report to his King openly stating that : "The Queen is expecting a childe by Dudley." By November 1560, it was rumoured that Elizabeth and Dudley had been married in the Chapel at Wilton Place, the Earl of Pembroke's residence. In January the Spanish dispatch repeated this rumour of a secret marriage, adding that it was performed "before witnesses at the house of Lord Pembroke." Poor old Throckmorton in Paris by this time was so desperate that he tried to intervene. In a dispatch to Cecil, Lord Burleigh, he said :

If her majestie do so foully forget herself in this marriage, as bruit runneth here, never thinke to bringe anything to pass either here or elsewhere.

 

He was promptly told by Cecil "not to meddle.... because what her Majestie will determine to do only God I thinke knoweth."

Another interesting fact, from the psychological angle, was that Elizabeth's moods at this time had become entirely unpredictable and very much in keeping with a woman in pregnancy. Another extraordinary thing was that the Queen took no interest in the Christmas revels for this year (1560) and, unlike all the previous years of her reign, failed to make her appearance. In fact, for months she never showed herself at Court, spending all her time with Robert Dudley.

But the crisis suddenly passed. In March 1561 the Earl of Bedford was able to appease the fears of the near demented Throckmorton in a dispatch which included the words, "the great matters wherof the worlde was wont to talke are now asleep." Francis Bacon had been born some weeks earlier on January 22. Rumours, however, continued to be voiced even in this country. For instance, Lady Willoughby claimed that " the Queen looked very pale like one lately come of Childbed."

Ann Dowe of Brentford was sent to prison for asserting in the previous August that the Queen was with child by Dudley. Several others were tactless enough to express their thoughts and lived to regret it, especially one Burley of Totnes, who said in public, "the Lord Robert did swive the Queene."

It can, of course be argued that dispatches and statements by ambassadors and others were merely based on rumours and were therefore exaggerated, but the weight of so many of these significant rumours cannot be overlooked. It is therefore interesting to record what uncommitted people stated, bearing in mind the appaling risks they took if their statements were too open. One author named Warner wrote a long glowing history in verse , entitled Albion's England. This first appeared in 1589 and then again twenty-three years later, in 1612, the second edition being much enlarged by another chapter at the end, also in verse. In this he discusses the heirs to the throne and their connection with the princedom of Wales:

Hence England's heires-apparent have of Wales bin Princes till
Our Queene deceast concealed her heire, I wot not for what skill.

Warner would certainly not have dared to be so outspoken when Elizabeth was still alive which is the obvious reason why this last chapter was reserved till nine years after her death in 1603, when he thought he would be reasonably safe. One of the most famous writers of the day was the learned William Camden who, as an historian, was naturally a great user of pseudonyms for safety's sake. He refers to certain laws of succession, and attempts to tamper with them by (Who else?), Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. Under one of his pseudonyms, he wrote The Life and Death of Mary Stuart and , on page 101 he mentioned that Leicester surreptitiously tried to insert a clause to the effect that a bastard son of his as the natural issue of the Queen, should qualify as heir to the throne. This devious act was also reported at some length in a passage in a book published in Antwerp in 1584 (Leicesters Commonwealth) , which included a clause of personal safety. The passage, which of course concerned the abominable Dudley, is as follows,

so let him with shame and dishonour remember now also ye spectacle he secrettlie made for the persuading of a subject and Counsellor of great honour in the same cause, to the end that if her Majestie should by anie waie have miscarried, then he might have entilted anie of his owne broode (whereof he hath stoore in manie places, as is knowne) to ye lawful succession of ye Crowne vnder couler of ye privie and secreatt marriadge, pretending the same to be by her Matie: wherein he will want no witness to despose what hee will.

In other words , Dudley could produce witnesses to this secret marriage even as late as 1584. In view of the above, is it any wonder that this book was not then printed in England?

Another rather strange statement appears in one of Francis Bacon's writings on the subject of Queen Elizabeth. Naturally, he could not openly impugn her political virginity but, in eulogy to her, he likened her to Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar because, like her, they left no issue behind them. Now this statement is not true. Amittedly they did not leave recognised heirs but they did not die childless. Alexander had a son, and Caesar also had one by Cleopatra called Caesarion; the lady wanted to be sure that the world should know who the father was. Bacon was, as everyone knows, a very learned man, particularly where history was concerned, and in his numerous writings he made frequent references to both these great rulers, so that it is inconceivable that he was ignorant of their parenthood.

Study of Francis Bacon's background poses many unanswered questions. William Rawley, his Chaplain, a man who knew more about him than most, wrote a short history of his master's life, the first English life ever written, and he starts the first paragraph with an enigma by expressing doubt about his Lordship's birthplace, stating that he was born "either at Yorke House or Yorke Place." The former was, at the time of Bacon's birth, the home of Sir Nicholas Bacon and Lady Bacon, while the latter was the old name of the Queen's Palace. Lady Anne Bacon , at the time, was Lady-in-Waiting to the Monarch and it seems strange that such a meticulous man as William Rawley did not trouble to discover exactly where he was born before writing his life. When Bacon was three days old he was christened at St. Martin- in-the-Fields: the entry in the Register is equally strange:

1560 25 Januarij Baptizatus fuit Mr. Franciscus Bacon.

The prefix Mr was most unusual in the baptism of a three day old baby and contrary to the custom of this church. No other child of Sir Nicholas Bacon was honoured by such a title at his christening. The mystery deepens even more when the register is examined closely because, at a later date and in a different hand and a different ink, the parents' names were added. This might seem consistent with a baby of unknown parents receiving foster-parents somewhat later, the register being altered to adjust matters. On examining Sir Nicholas' family genealogy, things become even more mysterious because no mention of Francis Bacon can be found!

Another very odd statement by a contemporary, Thomas Fuller, divine, historian and wit (1608-1661) describes Sir Nicholas Bacon as " a Father of his country and of Sir Francis Bacon." The curious use of "a" strongly suggests that Sir Nicholas was not Bacon's true father but a father to him. Then again Lady Anne, in a letter to her son Anthony, complained about Francis' "enigmatic folded writing" and further wrote "the scope of my so- called by him circumstance which I am sure he must understand, was not to use him as a ward"---a strange word for a mother to use in a letter about her son. As a matter of interest, the word "folded" was used by Francis Bacon in the 1605 "Tvvoo Bookes" to describe cipher practices.

The Queen was a very frequent visitor to the Bacon household where she delighted in proving young Francis with questions. So brilliant was the child that she dubbed him "my young Lord Keeper." At the age of twelve, the following was said of him,

--his great and methodical memory, his solid judgement, his quicke fancy, his ready expression gave assurance of the profound and universal comprehension of things which then rendered him the observation of great and wise men, and afterwards the wonder of all

 

and this at the age of twelve! Is it any wonder that he was sent to Cambridge University, but oddly enough, not to Sir Nicholas Bacon's college, "Bennetts"? He was placed in the personal care of the Queen's private chaplain, Whitgift, at Trinity College, founded by the Queen's father, Henry VIII, and patronised by Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. On leaving Cambridge the University wrote to Lord Burleigh "they had nothing left to teach him." He was later sent to France, Bacon himself recording this as being "from her Majestie's own Royal hand."On his return in 1578, the Queen ordered her private portrait painter, Nicholas Hilliard, to paint a miniature of him and, at the same time, one of herself. The likeness between the two portraits is quite startling. In 1580 he started to press a mysterious and undisclosed suit which he continued unsuccessfully for twelve years
Eventually, in 1592 , he gave up the struggle and, in a letter to the aged Burleigh, made the cryptic statement that he was prepared to settle for the Kingdom of the Minde--and to Fulke Greville, "My matter is an endless question .....I dare not go further."

After Bacon's death in 1626 Pierre Amboise, a French historian wrote a preface to the Histoire Naturalle de Monsieur Francois Bacon in which he intimated that Bacon "was born to the purple and saw himself as destin'd one day to hold in his hand the helm of the Kingdom." A propos of this last statement , there is an amazing parallel in the form of a portrait published 81 years later in de Larrey's Histoire d'Angleterre d'Ecosse et d'Irlande. This book was published in Rottedam and it's portraits, which are engimatic, are descirbed as giving "pleasant relief and, at the same time, a just idea of the person." The portrait of Queen Elizabeth, there reproduced, shows her looking over the heads of two young boys,one of whom is holding a rudder of ancient design surmounted with its helm, symbolic of the"helm of the state." There is a third child in the dark background who is dowsing the vestal flame, the symbol of virginity. This astonishing revelation seems to bear out a remark made years previously in 1568 by one Francis Edderman of Chester that "the Earl had two children by the Queen." Earlier, in 1564, Gonzales on 11th of April reported to Phillip of Spain that the Queen was going to Warwick (Dudley's Castle) "in order to rid herself of the result of an indescretion." Another man, Edward Frances of Melton Osmonde, said that "the Queene had had three bastard sons by noblemen at Court, two sons and a daughter, and was herself base born." And yet, the Queen had the effrontery to present an early edition of the Works of Chaucer to her favourite maid of honour, Margaret Radcliff, with the following inscription on the front fly-leaf, "Donu honoratissmae Virginis Regineae Margaretae Ratcliff 1597"( given by the Virgin Queen to Margaret Ratcliff)

To close this saga of intrigue, the story of the learned Roger Ascham's famous book The Schoolmaster and the controversial suppression of it's preface, must be told. This book was written in 1566 under direct instructions from the Queen herself, for the purpose of educating the near illiterate young noblemen of the Court. The preface was a remarkably brave document which could easily be construed as a very pointed admonition to the Queen. In view of the suspicious circumstances of Amy Robsart's death referred to earlier, it is not suprising that this preface was suppressed by the monarch because, in effect, it draws a thinly veiled parallel between her and the worst side of the Biblical King David. The preface reads as follows :

Divae Elizabethae October 30, 1566
Most noble Princesse and my best Ladie and Mistres, I ofte thinking of this race of Davide's life; of his former miseries,of his later felicities, of God's dealing with him in all pointes, to bring happinesse to his present tyme, and safety to his posterity have had, for many like cause, manie like thoughts, even of the like life and state of your Majestie. For when God hath showed him greatest favour and given him the hiest benefits that man in earth could receive, yet God suffered him to fall into the deepest pitte of wickednesse; to committe the cruellest murder and shamefullest adultrie, that ever did man upon earthe. However, even then, God had not taken from Davide His graces.

This is where Ascham points out the moral of David to the Queen, almost openly comparing her to him.

therefor was I verie willinge to offer this booke to your Majestie, wherein, as in a faire glasse, your Majestie shall see and ACKNOWLEDGE, by God's dealing with Davide, even verie many like goode dealings of God with your Majestie.

Needless to say the "Queen's acknowledgement" was not forthcoming and the preface promptly disappeared from the book. However it is interpreted, the preface inherently suggests that the English Queen was guilty of the sin of David, and naturally she could not risk open publication of its contents, because the story of the death of Bathsheba's husband Uriah and the birth of her son would have been well known to all and sundry. Imagination would not be too far stretched for them to substitute Amy Robsart for the name Uriah.

Roger Ascham died very soon after completing his book which, despite the strong pressure put upon him to write it, was held back until 1570, three years after his death and published, wonder of wonders, without the preface. Had this been included it would have destroyed what little was left of the Queen's reputation. One hundred and ninety-one years later, the book was republished, with the controversial preface; in 1761.

One further source records the following statement alleged to have been made by Mary Stuart, then Queen of France, and later Scotland:

The Queen of England was about to marry her Horse-Keeper who had killed his wife to make a place for her.

The use of the word "was" is interesting because it does suggest that the marriage may not have taken place. One wonders if Elizabeth remembered this remark at 11 o'clock on 8th of February 1586 when she had Mary Queen of Scots executed, showing her neither mercy nor forgiveness. Ironically, the last act in the English Queen's life was to nominate Mary's son, James VI of Scotland, as her successor to the throne of England.

SIC TRANSIT GLORIANA

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see Spenser's The Fairie Queen and the symbolic title page with implications of Elizabeth , Robert Dudley and Francis Bacon