Gorhambury, the Bacon Family and the Eight Shakespeare Quartos

by Lawrence Gerald June, 1997

Mediocria Firma means the middle way, the way of harmony peace and brotherhood. This was the Bacon family motto with the boar as the family emblem.

Gorhambury Manor or Park is a beautiful country area with gently rolling hills situated two miles right outside of St. Albans and by today's standards of travel about a half-hour train ride north of London. It was here that Francis Bacon spent his early days with his brother Anthony and where he returned in later years after retiring form public life to finish his literary projects such as the History of Henry the VII, translations of The Advancement of Learning into Latin, and preparations with Ben Jonson for the 1623 Shakespeare Folio.

Sir Nicholas Bacon, built a new mansion in the 1560's that took five years to complete and was one of the earliest examples of Tudor architecture. There exists a water color from the 18th century that depicts the south front of the home.

Sir Nicholas was immensely stout and suffered from gout. On at least two occasions he entertained the visiting Queen Elizabeth who although liking Sir Nicholas and appreciating his considerable knowledge of law was inclined to ridicule him by saying that, "his soul lodged well." During the first visit, the Queen exclaimed,

"My lord, what a little house you have gotten."

Sir Nicholas cleverly replied,

"Madam, my house is well, but you have made me too great for my house."

Sir Nicholas took the Queen's hint and began to build extensions on the property so he could properly entertain her in the future. It is known that after Elizabeth's visit Sir Nicholas "caused the door by which she had entered to be nailed up, so that nobody might again pass over the same threshold." But these visits by the Queen were deliberate opportunities for her to visit Francis and watch his development. There is a well-known banter of conversation that once took place at Gorhambury between her and an eight or nine year old Francis:

"And how old is my little Lord Keeper? asked the Queen.

"Two years younger than your Majesty's happy reign,"

replied the boy in a voice so clear and musical that all the great lords and ladies broke into delighted laugher.

"So young," said the Queen, turning to Earl of Leicester and tapping him playfully on the shoulder with her fan, "and a courtier already. God's death! I dare swear even you had not so ready a wit at his age, my Lord!"

Looking down approvingly on Francis, who now stood beside her, his brown eyes twinkling merrily, she asked: "And you learn your Latin and your Greek? Good. Tell us, little scholar, what study is most necessary for man's estate?"

"Madam, the boy answered, " to unlearn what he has been taught."

"Oh, naughty!" cried the Queen, giving him a playful flick and glancing at his tutor (Mr. Cottwin) whose round face looked warm as the setting sun, "your tutor will have something to say for that!"

Another noteworthy event occurred when Queen Elizabeth I opened the Middle Temple Hall in the Temple in 1572 where Twelfth Night was first performed in 1601. Years later after Francis inherited Gorhambury House and he became the Lord Chancellor like his father before, there were employed at times, hundreds of servants to attend to the invited ambassadors or special guests and that there could be seen as many as fifty coaches arriving with gentlemen to meet with him and discuss state affairs. A contemporary named Aubrey, recorded that,

"When his Lordship was at his country house at Gorhambury, St. Albans seemed as if the Court had been there. So nobly did he live."

In about 1617, Francis built his own home about a mile from Gorhambury naming it Verulam House because of his interest in the Roman City of Verulamium which once bordered on the same land. The story goes that Sir Nicholas' home had been served with a pipe of water to every room, a remarkable achievement for those times. But there was once a very dry summer and the water supply ran short, so Francis built Verulam House saying that, "since he could not carry the water to his house, he would carry his house to the water."

Aubrey describes the house as
"the most ingeniously contrived little pile that ever I saw . . . His Lordship was the chiefest Architect, but for his assistance a favorite of his, a St. Albans man, Mr. Dobson, a very ingenious person." In 1665 Verulam House was no longer in existence due to neglect suffered during the English Civil War.

In 1777 a new house was built on a site about 400 yards east of the old Bacon family ruins and it's today the country home of the sixth Earl of Verulam, John Grimston.

The estate is open to the public on Thursday afternoons for a small fee. Photographing or videotaping is not permitted without permission in advance. When you first arrive you enter the front doors and come to the reception room where you meet the tour guides who will take you into the magnificent rooms that occupy this Georgian home designed by Sir Robert Taylor. I was with my English friend and colleague, Francis Carr.

There are huge portraits of many Elizabethans including the
Van Somer portraits of Francis Bacon, that were transferred from the old estate. There are several adjoining rooms with paintings that contain hundreds if not thousands of beautifully bound books, some in leather that once belonged to Francis Bacon's personal library. The majestic and very rare presence of numerous copies of over-sized first editions of the 1611 King James Bible are a standout sight to behold, so are the 1623 Shakespeare Folio editions along with richly designed first editions of Sir Walter Raleigh's History of the World which Bacon greatly assisted in by delivering research materials during Raleigh's long incarceration.

The wisdom of time's great books proceeding before and including the abundant Classical Greek and Roman periods to various epochs of wherever cultural and individual advancements flourished can be expected to be found with a literary genius who said he wished' "to have all knowledge to be his province." One can see the scholarship of Shakespeare in Bacon's library with authors such as Plutarch, Plato, Aristotle, Pliny,Euclid, Aristophanes, Cicero, Homer, Virgil, Horace, Catallus, Ovid, Sophocles, Tacitus, Aesychylus, Seneca, Erasmus, Apuleius, Thucydides, Sir Thomas Moore, St. Augustine, Martin Luther, Machiavelli and other authors are present in this collection. The books are seemingly in good condition but they do look as if they were read and that they were studied with the use of human hands and not books placed for display. The volumes that are there are all arranged on the many shelves by the same efficient cataloging system once proposed by Bacon himself. As astounding as this library is in mere numbers, titles, and the quality of the book binding, it is equally astounding when considering that this library does not even contain all the volumes that were once part of his vast but intimate library as many of his books were divided to either other private collections including friends and various libraries or just lost and destroyed in the shuffles of time.

Here is
a closeup of the coat of arms on Nicholas Bacon's Gorhambury home.

It is possible from one of the rooms to catch a glimpse through one of the windows and see the Old Gorhambury ruins standing still yet whispering the great secret that your now in the former presence of the man who was Shakespeare and that makes inductive sense immediately. This was his "laboratory" where ideas germinated from the wisdom stories of antiquity found in these books. Famous dialogues were first written down and tested here, before they found their eventual voices through
his famous characters. The lines of the Tempest came to mind as I gazed out that window....

"The cloud cupt Towers
The Gorgeous Palaces
The Solemn Temples,
Yea all which it Inherit,
Shall Dissolve
And like the baseless fabric of a Union
Leave not a wreck behind...."

This is where the English language found it's most noble hour . . . the English Renaissance . . . this is not another ordinary mediocre, "signifying nothing" moment. This is . . . and then suddenly one of the tour guides is bringing you back to the present and coaxing you to keep up with the tour. "You don't want to fall behind." Or do you? You wonder to yourself what could be better to beholden than this? What could possibly be an encore? Although the books are off limits to touch it is their numinosity that is in itself inviting enough to feel like your turning the pages, the very same pages that were once turned page by page by Sir Francis. This feeling does not occur to anyone while visiting Stratford on Avon because there was never any library to be found there! When the tour ends it takes you back to the reception room where there is a table of postcards, books about the history of Gorhambury for sale. It was getting very close to 5 pm and it was time for all to leave when....

I noticed along with Mr. Carr on another table in the middle of the reception room that there were eight Quartos of the Shakespeare plays: Titus Andronicus, Richard the Third, Richard the Second, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and Henry the IV. They were facsimiles. Inquiry with one of the tour ladies revealed that the originals were actually discovered in Bacon's library inside the Verulam home in 1909.

The Quartos were found wrapped up in brown paper and stashed behind some bookshelves. They had been placed there and forgotten, when the belongings from the old Gorhambury house (where Bacon had lived to the end of his life) were transferred to the new Gorhambury house in 1754. They had lain dormant in the new house for 155 years!"

The originals were kept there until 1923 when the Bodleian Library stepped in to look after them and slow down the deterioration. Examining the facsimiles one could see the double AA on the headpiece of Richard the Third and a winged head image on the front page of Titus Andronicus. Two of the plays had no name associated on it. The implications of these quartos on Bacon's property are enormous. There is no record of them being purchased. If a discovery like this was found in Stratford it would have made international headlines even in 1909, the same year Mark Twain published his book on the authorship issue. Little has been written on the discovery. Jean Overton Fuller in her bio on Francis Bacon wrote on the last page, "The Gorhambury Quartos" and has associated the dates with the Shakespeare Quartos:

Romeo and Juliet 1599
Richard III 1602
Hamlet 1605
King Lear 1608
Titus Andronicus 1611
King John 1611
King Henry IV 1613
Richard II 1615

Fuller states,

"It is not known how they came to be there, The present family of Verulams think they must have formed part of Bacon's library, simply because they cannot think of anybody else who lived in that house who would have been likely to bring in Shakespeare Quartos. The binding could have been done by a more recent occupant, who thought good to secure together things of similar character."

"The likelihood of Shakespeare Quartos being acquired casually recedes with distance from the time in which they were produced. There are so few of them altogether, it is rather odd that seven should have as their provenance that house."
Fuller adds a footnote by saying,

"as the dates of the Hamlet Quarto are generally given as 1602, the "bad Quarto," and 1604, the "good Quarto," the 1605 puzzled me and I wrote about it to the Bodleian; the Keeper of Printed Books, Dr. R.T. Roberts, replied to me, "There are seven known copies of the second or "good" quarto of Hamlet. Of these, three bear the date 1604 and four the date of 1605. The Verulam copy is one of the latter. The texts are otherwise identical and the reason for the change of date is unknown. There is, I suppose, a possibility that the title-pages were printed about the turn of the year."


A Poem By Jean Overton Fuller 


Two mikes of the white umbrils of cow-parsley
Say and say not Bacon wrote Shakespeare,
Was the Queen's son.
The farmed fields are new.
Even the crumble of red brick does not talk to me.

Here I step in the tangle of his land, nettles,
Mint, brambles, briony, coltsfoot, xampion, a man-sized
Thistle, arms outstreched to seize,
And head as high as my eye.
These weeds' ancestors were perhaps his companions.

Scarlet angles on black, red admiral settles
On the purple. Novum Organum, he thought
The sun was of the nature of fire, because
When he brought butterflies stupid from cold indoors,
They revived before his fire as if in the sun.



Sources cited:

"The Bacon Family: It's links with Gorhambury, St. Michael's and St. Albans," a booklet published in 1961, by James Brabazon, 5th Earl of Verulam.

Golden Lads by Daphne du Maurier, 1975.

"An Elizabethan Statesman's Home", an article by Bryan Bevan, originally appearing in Country Life Magazine.

Francis Bacon: A guide to his Homes and Haunts by W.G. C. Gundry.

The Gorhambury Theatre of Masks








 - Sir Francis Bacon's New Advancement of Learning