Francis BaconFor other people named Francis Bacon, see Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon, 1st Viscount St Alban, KC (22 January 1561 – 9
April 1626) was an English philosopher, statesman and essayist. He was
knighted in 1603, created Baron Verulam in 1618, and created Viscount
St Alban in 1621; both peerage titles became extinct upon his death.
He began his professional
life as a lawyer, but he has become best known as a philosophical advocate
and defender of the scientific revolution. His works establish and popularize
an inductive methodology for scientific inquiry, often called the Baconian
method. Induction implies drawing knowledge from the natural world through
experimentation, observation, and testing of hypotheses. In the context
of his time, such methods were connected with the occult trends of hermeticism
Bacon was born at York House Strand, London. He was the youngest of
five sons of Sir Nicholas Bacon, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal under
Elizabeth I. His mother, Ann Cooke Bacon was the second wife of Sir
Nicholas, a member of the Reformed or Puritan Church, and a daughter
of Sir Anthony Cooke, whose sister married William Cecil, Lord Burghley,
the great minister of Queen Elizabeth.
that Bacon received an education at home in his early years, and that
his health during that time, as later, was delicate. He entered Trinity
College, Cambridge, in 1573 at the age of twelve, living for three years
there with his older brother Anthony.
At Cambridge he
first met the Queen, who was impressed by his precocious intellect,
and was accustomed to call him "the young Lord Keeper."
Here also his studies
of science brought him to the conclusion that the methods (and thus
the results) were erroneous. His reverence for Aristotle conflicted
with his dislike of Aristotelian philosophy, which seemed barren, disputatious,
and wrong in its objectives.
On June 27, 1576,
he and Anthony were entered de societate magistrorum at Gray's Inn,
and a few months later they went abroad with Sir Amias Paulet, the English
ambassador at Paris. The disturbed state of government and society in
France under Henry III afforded him valuable political instruction.
The sudden death
of his father in February 1579 necessitated Bacon's return to England,
and seriously influenced his fortunes. Sir Nicholas had laid up a considerable
sum of money to purchase an estate for his youngest son, but he died
before doing so, and Francis was left with only a fifth of that money.
Having started with insufficient means, he borrowed money and became
habitually in debt. To support himself, he took up his residence in
law at Gray's Inn in 1579.
In the fragment De Interpretatione Naturae Prooemium (written probably
about 1603) Bacon analyses his own mental character and establishes
his goals, which were threefold: discovery of truth, service to his
country, and service to the church. Knowing that a prestigious post
would aid him toward these ends, in 1580 he applied, through his uncle,
Lord Burghley, for a post at court which might enable him to devote
himself to a life of learning. His application failed, and for the next
two years he worked quietly at Gray's Inn giving himself seriously to
the study of law, until admitted as an outer barrister in 1582. In 1584
he took his seat in parliament for Melcombe in Dorset, and subsequently
for Taunton (1586). He wrote on the condition of parties in the church,
and he wrote down his thoughts on philosophical reform in the lost tract,
Temporis Partus Maximus, but he failed to obtain a position of the kind
he thought necessary for success..
In the Parliament
of 1586 he took a prominent part in urging the execution of Mary Queen
of Scots. About this time he seems again to have approached his powerful
uncle, the result of which may possibly be traced in his rapid progress
at the bar, and in his receiving, in 1589, the reversion to the Clerkship
of the Star Chamber, a valuable appointment, the enjoyment of which,
however, he did not enter into until 1608.
During this period
Bacon became acquainted with Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex (1567-1601),
Queen Elizabeth's favourite. By 1591 he was acting as the earl's confidential
adviser. Bacon took his seat for Middlesex when in February 1593 Elizabeth
called a Parliament to investigate a Catholic plot against her. His
opposition to a bill that would levy triple subsidies in half the usual
time (he objected to the time span) offended many people; he was accused
of seeking popularity, and was for a time excluded from the court. When
the Attorney-Generalship fell vacant in 1594 and Bacon became a candidate
for the office, Lord Essex's influence could not secure him the position;
in fashion, Bacon failed to become solicitor in 1595. To console him
for these disappointments Essex presented him with a property at Twickenham,
which he subsequently sold for £1800, equivalent to a much larger
Memorial to Francis
Bacon, in the chapel of Trinity College, CambridgeIn 1596 he was made
a Queen's Counsel, but missed the appointment of Master of the Rolls.
During the next few years, his financial situation remained bad. His
friends could find no public office for him, a scheme for retrieving
his position by a marriage with the wealthy widow Lady Elizabeth Hatton
failed, and in 1598 he was arrested for debt. His standing in the queen's
eyes, however, was beginning to improve. He gradually acquired the standing
of one of the learned counsel, though he had no commission or warrant
and received no salary. His relationship with the queen also improved
when he severed ties with Essex, a fortunate move considering that the
latter would be executed for treason in 1601; and Bacon was one of those
appointed to investigate the charges against him, and examine witnesses,
in connection with which he showed an ungrateful and indecent eagerness
in pressing the case against his former friend and benefactor. This
act Bacon endeavoured to justify in A Declaration of the Practices and
Treasons, etc., of ... the Earl of Essex, etc. He received a gift of
a fine of £1200 on one of Essex's accomplices.
The accession of
James I brought Bacon into greater favour; he was knighted in 1603,
and endeavoured to set himself right with the new powers by writing
his Apologie (defence) of his proceedings in the case of Essex, who
had favoured the succession of James. In the course of the uneventful
first parliament session Bacon married Alice Barnham, the daughter of
a well-connected London alderman. Little or nothing is known of their
married life. In his last will he disinherited her.
evidence suggests that Bacon's emotional interests lay elsewhere. John
Aubrey in his Brief Lives states that Bacon was "a pederast".
Bacon's fellow parliamentary member Sir Simonds D'Ewes in his Autobiography
and Correspondence writes of Bacon: "yet would he not relinquish
the practice of his most horrible & secret sinne of sodomie, keeping
still one Godrick, a verie effeminate faced youth, to bee his catamite
and bedfellow". Bacon's mother Lady Ann Bacon expressed clear exasperation
with what she believed was her son's behaviour. In a letter to her other
son Anthony, she complains of another of Francis's companions "that
bloody Percy" whom, she writes, he kept "yea as a coach companion
and a bed companion" ("coach companion" in Bacon's day
carried louche connotations, as the interior of a traveling coach was
one of the few places affording privacy). Bacon exhibited a strong penchant
for young Welsh serving-men. One such person, Francis Edney, received
the enormous sum of two hundred pounds in Bacon's will. 
Meanwhile (in 1608),
he had entered upon the Clerkship of the Star Chamber, and was in the
enjoyment of a large income; but old debts and present extravagance
kept him embarrassed, and he endeavoured to obtain further promotion
and wealth by supporting the king in his arbitrary policy.
services were rewarded in June 1607 with the office of Solicitor. In
1610 the famous fourth parliament of James met. Despite Bacon's advice
to him, James and the Commons found themselves frequently at odds over
royal prerogatives and the king's embarrassing extravagance, and the
House was dissolved in February 1611. Through this Bacon managed in
frequent debate to uphold the prerogative, while retaining the confidence
of the Commons. In 1613, Bacon was finally able to become attorney general,
by dint of advising the king to shuffle judicial appointments; and in
this capacity he would prosecute Somerset in 1616. The parliament of
April 1614 objected to Bacon's presence in the seat for Cambridge—he
was allowed to stay, but a law was passed that forbade the attorney-general
to sit in parliament—and to the various royal plans which Bacon
had supported. His obvious influence over the king inspired resentment
or apprehension in many of his peers.
to receive the King's favor, and in 1618 was appointed by James to the
position of Lord Chancellor. In his great office Bacon showed a failure
of character in striking contrast with the majesty of his intellect.
He was corrupt alike politically and judicially, and now the hour of
retribution arrived. His public career ended in disgrace in 1621 when,
after having fallen into debt, a Parliamentary Committee on the administration
of the law charged him with corruption under twenty-three counts; and
so clear was the evidence that he made no attempt at defence. To the
lords, who sent a committee to inquire whether the confession was really
his, he replied, "My lords, it is my act, my hand, and my heart;
I beseech your lordships to be merciful to a broken reed." He was
sentenced to a fine of £40,000, remitted by the king, to be committed
to the Tower during the king's pleasure (his imprisonment in fact lasted
only a few days). More seriously, Lord St Alban was declared incapable
of holding future office or sitting in parliament. He narrowly escaped
being deprived of his titles. Thenceforth the disgraced viscount devoted
himself to study and writing.
Nieves Mathews in
her book, Francis Bacon: The History of a Character Assassination (1996,
Yale University Press) alleges that Bacon was completely innocent of
the bribery charges and that writers from later times were themselves
guilty of slandering Bacon's reputation. Bacon, commenting on his impeachment
as Chancellor in which he claims to have been forced to plead guilty
to bribery charges in order to save King James from a political scandal
I was the justest
judge, that was in England these last fifty years. When the book of
all hearts is opened, I trust I shall not be found to have the troubled
fountain of a corrupt heart. I know I have clean hands and a clean heart.
I am as innocent of bribes as any born on St. Innocents Day.
Monument to Bacon
at his burial place, St Michael's church in St AlbansIn March, 1626,
Lord St Alban came to London. Continuing his scientific research, he
was inspired by the possibility of using snow to preserve meat. He purchased
a chicken (fowl) to carry out this experiment. While stuffing the chicken
with snow, he contracted a fatal case of pneumonia. He died at Highgate
on 9 April 1626, leaving assets of about £7,000 and debts to the
amount of £22,000.
Works and philosophy
Bacon's works include his Essays, as well as the Colours of Good and
Evil and the Meditationes Sacrae, all published in 1597. His famous
aphorism, "knowledge is power", is found in the Meditations.
Bacon also wrote In felicem memoriam Elizabethae, a eulogy for the queen
written in 1609; and various philosophical works which constitute the
fragmentary and incomplete Instauratio magna, the most important part
of which is the Novum Organum (published 1620). Bacon also wrote the
Astrologia Sana and expressed his belief that stars had physical effects
on the planet.
Bacon did not propose
an actual philosophy, but rather a method of developing philosophy;
he wrote that, whilst philosophy at the time used the deductive syllogism
to interpret nature, the philosopher should instead proceed through
inductive reasoning from fact to axiom to law. Before beginning this
induction, the inquirer is to free his mind from certain false notions
or tendencies which distort the truth. These are called "Idols"
(idola), and are of four kinds: "Idols of the Tribe" (idola
tribus), which are common to the race; "Idols of the Den"
(idola specus), which are peculiar to the individual; "Idols of
the Marketplace" (idola fori), coming from the misuse of language;
and "Idols of the Theater" (idola theatri), which result from
an abuse of authority. The end of induction is the discovery of forms,
the ways in which natural phenomena occur, the causes from which they
proceed. Bacon's developments of the inductive philosophy would revolutionize
the future thought humanity.
fragmentary ethical system, derived through use of his methods, is explicated
in the seventh and eighth books of his De augmentis scientiarum (1623).
He distinguishes between duty to the community, an ethical matter, and
duty to God, a purely religious matter. Any moral action is the action
of the human will, which is governed by reason and spurred on by the
passions; habit is what aids men in directing their will toward the
good. No universal rules can be made, as both situations and men's characters
separated religion and philosophy, though the two can coexist. Where
philosophy is based on reason, faith is based on revelation, and therefore
irrational—in De augmentis he writes that "[t]he more discordant,
therefore, and incredible, the divine mystery is, the more honor is
shown to God in believing it, and the nobler is the victory of faith."
Bacon's ideas about the improvement of the human lot were influential
in the 1640s and 1650s among a number of Parliamentarian scholars. During
the Restoration Bacon was commonly invoked as a guiding spirit of the
new-founded Royal Society. In the nineteenth century his emphasis on
induction was revived and developed by William Whewell, among others.
Bacon and Shakespeare
There is a persistent discussion (, ,, ) amongst historians,
researchers, and many scholars who have and continue to engage in an
ongoing debate as to whether Bacon was in fact the real Shakespeare.
Since the nineteenth and twentieth centuries a number of writers extended
Bacon's acknowledged body of work by claiming that Bacon was the author
of the plays of William Shakespeare. There is disputed evidence for
this via Bacon's Shakespeare notebook, The Promus and The Northumberland
In The Life Of Francis Bacon
1561 Born, 22 January, at York House in the Strand, the son of Sir Nicholas
Bacon, Lord Keeper of the Seal, and Anne Cooke (his second wife). Bacon
was the youngest of eight children, six of whom were by Sir Nicholas's
1573 April. Goes up to Trinity College, Cambridge, with his elder brother,
1576 June. Admitted to Gray's Inn (again with Anthony). September. Goes
to Paris with Sir Amias Paulet, ambassador to France.
1579 February. His father dies, and (in June) he returns to England.
Left with only a small inheritance, he is forced to seek a career in
Anthony Bacon sets out on a long tour of the continent.
1582 June. Admitted Utter Barrister at Gray's Inn.
1584 November. First appearance in Parliament, representing Melcombe
Regis in Dorset. (He remains in the Commons, representing various constituencies,
until 1618, when he is made a peer. )
1585 c. Writes Advice to Queen Elizabeth, concerned chiefly with the
recusants, and The Greatest Birth of Time.
1586 Becomes a Bencher of Gray's Inn.
1592 Writes four speeches for an entertainment, A Conference of Pleasure,
celebrating Queen Elizabeth's accession day. Anthony Bacon returns from
abroad and notes that his brother is 'bound and in deep arrearages'
to Robert, Earl of Essex.
1593 In Parliament, speaks against a government proposal for subsidies,
and as a consequence is forbidden to come into the Queen's presence.
With support from Essex, he begins his (unsuccessful) petition for the
offices of Attorney-, and then Solicitor-,General.
1594 Writes six speeches for the Gray's Inn Christmas masque Gesta Grayorum.
Begins to compile Formularies and Elegancies, a notebook of quotations
and ideas; and writes legal and state pieces.
1595 Essex gives Bacon an estate (Twickenham) to console him on his
failure to gain office.
Writes part of the device presented by Essex to celebrate the Queen's
accession day (Of Love and Self-Love).
1596 Advises Fulke Greville on his studies and the Earl of Rutland on
1597 Publishes the Essays, with Colours of Good and Evil and Meditationes
Sacrae. Writes Maxims of the Law.
Proposes marriage to Lady Hatton, who refuses and then marries his rival
and enemy, Sir Edward Coke.
1598 Arrested for debt, but soon released.
Writes a pamphlet about a Jesuit conspiracy against the Queen.
1600 June. Takes part in proceedings against Essex after the Irish debacle
(in which the Earl, close to defeat by the Irish, abandoned his command
and returned to England without the Queen's permission).
July. Offers his services to Essex, a fortnight after the Earl has been
released but not restored to the Queen's favour.
1601 February. Essex is arraigned after his rebellion and executed as
a traitor. Bacon assists the prosecution in his trial, and publishes
a Declaration of the Earl's crimes.
May. Anthony Bacon dies. Mortgages Twickenham Park.
1603 After Elizabeth's death, tries (unsuccessfully) to obtain King
July. Knighted at Windsor, along with three hundred others.
Deeply in debt, he is assisted by Sir Robert Cecil (later Lord Salisbury).
Writes Valerius Terminus of the Interpretation of Nature, Temporis Partus
Masculus (The Masculine Birth of Time), and De Interpretatione Naturae
Proaemium (Preface to 'Of the Interpretation of Nature'). Begins work
on a series of writings about the union of England and Scotland.
1604 Publishes Apology in certain imputations concerning the late Earl
August. Appointed King's Counsel.
1605 Publishes The Advancement of Learning.
1606 May. Marries Alice Barnham, the daughter of a rich London alderman.
There are no children of this marriage.
1607 Writes Cogita et Visa (Thoughts and Conclusions).
June. Appointed Solicitor-General.
1608 Writes Redargutio Philosophiarum (The Refutation of Philosophies)
and short historical pieces.
1609 Publishes De Sapientia Veterum (Of the Wisdom of the Ancients).
1610 His mother dies, several years after losing her wits.
Devises plans for a history of Great Britain, and in Parliament speaks
for the King's right to impose taxes.
1612 Publishes second edition of the Essays, enlarged and revised.
Writes Descriptio Globi Intellectualis and Thema Coeli (Description
of the Intellectual Globe and Theory of the Heaven).
1613 October. Appointed Attorney-General.
Provides an expensive masque for the wedding of the King's favourite,
Robert, Earl of Somerset. Writes against duels.
1616 Helps to prosecute Somerset for the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury.
Writes a letter of advice to the new favourite, George Villiers (later
Duke of Buckingham).
June. Made a Privy Councillor.
1617 March. Appointed Lord Keeper.
In and out of favour with the King and Buckingham for opposing them.
1618 January. Appointed Lord Chancellor.
July. Created Baron Verulam.
1620 Publishes Novum Organum (The New Organon) as the first part of
the (uncompleted) Instauratio Magna (The Great Instauration).
1621 January. Created Viscount St Albans.
May. Sentenced by the House of Lords for taking bribes. Dismissed from
the office of Chancellor. Fined and imprisoned briefly, he receives
a limited pardon, and retains his title. Retires to his family home
1622 Publishes History of Henry VII, and (in monthly instalments) part
of his proposed Natural History. Writes an Advertisement touching an
1623 Publishes De Augmentis Scientiarum, a much enlarged Latin version
of The Advancement of Learning.
Tries (in vain) to be made Provost of Eton.
1624 Writes New Atlantis, and publishes Apophthegms and a translation
of some of the Psalms. Desperately short of money.
1625 Publishes the third edition of the Essays, again enlarged and revised.
1626 Dies, 9 April, at Highgate, over £20,000 in debt.
Less than three weeks later his widow marries one of his servants.