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Bacon, Francis

1. Dates
Born: London, 22 Jan.1561
Died: near London, 9 April 1626
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 65
2. Father
Occupation: Government Official
Sir Nicholas Bacon was Lord Keeper of the Seal under Elizabeth. Francis was the second son by his second wife; by his first wife Sir Nicholas had had six children, three of them sons.
3. Nationality
Birth: England
Career: England
Death: England
4. Education
Schooling: Cambridge
Trinity College, Cambridge University , 1573-1575. Bacon left Cambridge without a degree.
After three years in the residence of the English ambassador in Paris, he entered Gray's Inn.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Anglican.
Bacon's mother was a thorough Calvinist. He adhered to the middle road of the Church of England, however, neither authoritarian nor sectarian. His religion was more formal than fervent.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Natural Philosophy
Already at Cambridge, when he was not yet fifteen years old, Bacon fell out of love with Aristotelianism, which he saw as a philosophy that produced only disputes.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Government
Personal Means, Law, Patronage
He married well at a crucial stage of his career (1607).

He lived with the English ambassador in Paris, 1576-9.

Enrolled at Gray's Inn, 1579. Barrister, 1584. Bencher, 1586. Although Bacon was never primarily a lawyer (except perhaps for the crown), he did practice some; around 1610 he was earning about L1200 per annum from his practice.

Returned to Parliament in 1584, he served in Commons until his elevation to the peerage.

Clerk of Star Chamber, 1589- . This was a governmental position with a salary of L1600 per annum. However, what Bacon received in 1589 was the reversion of the position when the current incumbent died. He had to wait nineteen years. Finally in 1608 he entered upon the income.

Under Elizabeth Bacon functioned as a Queen's Counsel, but without an official appointment. He never got the appointment he desired and pursued under Elizabeth.

From 1592 to 1601 Bacon was in Essex's service. Except for one well documented gift, Bacon's financial reward (as opposed to Essex's influence to promote his career) is unclear, or better wholly undocumented. Given Bacon's lack of income commensurate with his aspirations, I find it difficult to believe that he did not receive other rewards, in keeping with the universal practices of patronage, for the constant advice, formally composed, that he tendered to Essex, for the masques he composed, etc.

With the accession of James things began to look up. He was appointed to the commission to consider union with Scotland, and became a King's Counsel with a pension of L60.

Solicitor General, 1607, with salary of L1000.

Appointed Attorney General, 1613.

Appointed member of Privy Council, 1616. Appointed Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, 1617. Appointed Lord Chancellor, 1618-21. Created Lord Verulam in 1618 and Viscount St. Alban in 1621.

Impeached for bribery in 1621.

8. Patronage
Type: Court Official, Aristrocrat, Government Official
Bowen (p.19) has a nice statement about the expectations that Bacon derived from his birth. They appear to have followed him all of his life and to have shaped his constant pursuit of royal patronage, which alone could fulfill his aspirations. See in connection with this the scene of splendor that followed his induction as Lord Keeper (Bowen, p. 152. See also pp. 160-2.) See also the comments on the splendor of his wedding.

As a boy he was a favorite of Elizabeth, who delighted in his knowledge.

His original appointments undoubtedly derived from the position and influence of his father, who died when he was eighteen. It is worth noting that the Queen admitted Bacon to the rank of Barrister early, in 1584.

He dedicated his Maxims of the Law, one of his early compositions, which was not published at the time but did circulate in manuscript form, to Queen Elizabeth.

Cecil, who was his uncle, aided his rise modestly; probably he obtained Bacon's appointment as clerk of Star Chamber. However, Cecil had his own son, Robert, to look out for, and it appears that the two Cecils viewed Bacon as competition. In fact Bacon did not thrive until the accession of James, and more after the death of Robert Cecil, Lord Salisbury.

At age 31 (1592, just before he entered Essex's service) Bacon wrote to Burghley seeking a position. The letter is one of the more eloquent statements of the needs driving patronage (as it related here also to Bacon's intellectual goals) that I have seen. See the poem by his brother Anthony about what was necessary to thrive at court.

Bacon enjoyed the patronage of Essex, who headed a court faction opposed to the Cecils, 1592-1601. His brother Anthony was also in Essex's service. For Essex Bacon organized masques intended to influence the Queen (the arts used for propaganda). See especially his masque, Praise of Knowledge, as a statement of the importance of the intellectual. See also the entertainment at Gray's Inn, Christmas 1594, that Bacon composed in which the advantages of philosophy are extolled. And the masque he composed in 1595. (Along these lines see also the letters Bacon wrote to all the important people offering his services when Fames came to the throne.) Essex presented Bacon with a valuable property (worth about L1800) when he failed a second time (1595) to get him a position. Bacon's role in the trial of Essex is well known and has been the subject of much comment. See Bacon's own statement about it (1604) for evidence in regard to the obligations that the position of client entailed.

After the succession of James, James aided his career and knighted him. Bacon dedicated The Advancement of Learning (1605) to James in an effort to gain patronage. He was a client of James' favorites, the Earl of Somerset and later Buckingham, and they aided his ascent of the ladder of state. See Bacon's composition Commentarius solutus, 1608, in which he set down, inter alia, the means by which to rise in the court.

He dedicated the Instauratio magna (1620) to James, with a call to James to assume the role of patron of natural philosophy. James' letter in response said that Bacon could not have sent him a more acceptable gift. After Bacon's fall, James remitted his fine and continued his pension of L1200. See Bacon's letter to James when he was made Viscount St. Alban. It details the steps of James' patronage to him.

As Lord Chancellor Bacon himself exercised broad powers of patronage in regard to appointments (Bowen, p. 154.)

See the prayer that Bacon composed for himself after his condemnation in 1621--on his waste of the talents entrusted to him as he pursued false ends (partly quoted in Bowen, pp. 194- 5). See also some of his Essays.

Bacon continued to court the royal family and favorites after his fall. He dedicated the History of Henry VII to Prince Charles (one source says James) and the third edition of his Essays to Buckingham.

9. Technological Involvement
Types: None
10. Scientific Societies
Membership: None
Friends: Bishop Andrewes, Thomas Harriot, Sir W. Raleigh, L. Poe, J. Hammond.
  1. F.H. Anderson, Francis Bacon, His Career and His Thought, (Los Angeles, 1962). B1198 A48 J.G.
  2. Crowther, Francis Bacon, the First Statesman of Science, (London, 1960).
  3. Benjamin Farrington, Francis Bacon, Philosopher of Industrial Science, (New Yor, 1949).
  4. Catherine Drinker Bowen, Francis Bacon: The Temper of a Man, (Boston, 1963).
  5. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-1950), 1, 800-32.

Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

Note: the creators of the Galileo Project and this catalogue cannot answer email on geneological questions.

1995 Al Van Helden
Last updated
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