Francis Bacon was born on January 22nd, 1561, at York House, Strand, London. By the standards of the time Bacon had a privileged upbringing. His father was Sir Nicolas Bacon, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. Between 1573 and 1576, Bacon studied at Trinity College, Cambridge. Between 1576 and 1579, he went to France to study under Sir Amias Paulet. In 1579 his father suddenly died and Bacon returned to London and started a career in law. He was called to the Bar in 1582. He was a ferocious worker who had a very sound legal mind. However, his ability and arrogance made him enemies and Bacon found that he did not get the promotion that he thought he merited.
In 1584 Bacon became MP for Melcombe Regis, Dorset. He placed faith in the belief that a position within the Commons would do his chances of advancement no harm at all. Though his legal ability had been recognised, he came up against a major stumbling block – Lord Burghley who saw his son, Robert Cecil, as his natural successor and Bacon was seen as a rival. Bacon, therefore, joined the Essex faction. He left Essex after warning him about plotting against Elizabeth. After the failure of this plot, Bacon was involved in the prosecution against Essex in February 1601.
Bacon did much better in terms of professional advance when James I came to the throne in 1603. Bacon was convinced of the importance of a strong monarchy and the use of the royal prerogative. This fitted in well with the beliefs of James. Bacon also developed a friendship with George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. It was Buckingham who saw Bacon as a useful counter-weight to Sir Edward Coke who believed that Common Law was superior to the royal prerogative.
With Buckingham’s support, Bacon became England’s leading law officer and he played a prominent part in the proceedings that led to the execution of Sir Walter Raleigh in 1618 and the prosecution for embezzlement of the Lord Treasurer, the Earl of Suffolk (a Howard) in the same year.
For Bacon, any association with Buckingham had the potential for danger as Buckingham had made many enemies. Many people simply assumed that Bacon had become a Privy Councillor in 1616 and Lord Chancellor in 1618 because of the patronage of Buckingham. Therefore, in one sense, an enemy of Buckingham was an enemy of Bacon.
In 1621, the Commons found evidence that Bacon had taken bribes and he was impeached to stand trial before the House of Lords. The Lords was far from loyal to James at this time and its main spokesman was the Earl of Southampton. The Commons had already crossed swords with the king as a result of its clash over Common Law versus the royal prerogative. The Lords had viewed with dismay the king’s greater reliance on favourites and believed that their functions were being diluted as a result of this. Once impeached, Bacon, seen as one of the king’s men, stood little chance in front of the Lords.
Twenty three charges were read out to him on May 3rd, 1621. Bacon made a full confession but stated that his legal judgments as Lord Chancellor had never been affected by bribery. Found guilty, he was sent to the Tower of London for one night and fined £40,000. James I overturned the fine but Bacon’s political career was in ruins as he had admitted his guilt. Even a full pardon in 1624 could not resurrect his career.
Bacon retired to his estate near St. Albans and did what he could to restore his reputation. He applied to be Provost of Eton but was rejected. After this, Bacon concentrated on his writing. Regardless of his fall from grace, Bacon gained a reputation as a writer. In 1625, he produced fifty eight essays for a book titled ‘Essays’. In 1627, ‘New Atlantis’ was posthumously published which called for a major growth in scientific research that would aid mankind. Bacon spent a great deal of his post-politics career either writing or experimenting.
Richard Bacon died on April 9th, 1626.