Skeptical and Natural Philosophy
Francis Bacon and the Scientific Revolution
Was Bacon’s life as direct and clear as his ideas?
No. Francis Bacon (1561–1626) lived a complex life with active political involvement in the affairs of his time, great ambition, and the appearance of deviousness. He was born in London and raised as a gentleman. His father, Nicholas, served Queen Elizabeth I as Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. Francis entered Trinity College, Cambridge, at age 12 and soon met the queen. At the age of 15, he is said to have learned that he was Queen Elizabeth’s illegitimate son from her secret marriage to Robert Dudley, at which Nicholas Bacon had been a witness.
When his father died suddenly in 1579, it disturbed Francis’ prospects for a substantial inheritance. This initiated a lifetime of debt. He began to study law and took a seat in Parliament in 1584 and again in 1586. He urged the execution of Mary Queen of Scots, a Catholic rival to Elizabeth’s throne. Then he met Queen Elizabeth’s favorite, Robert Devereux, Second Earl of Essex, who was to prove useful as his patron for a while.
Bacon applied for a succession of high offices that eluded him, although Essex helped him financially. He did get the post of Queen’s Counsel in 1596, but it paid no salary. In 1586 he was briefly arrested for debt. He took an active role in investigating treason charges against his friend and patron, Essex, who was executed in 1601. At the age of 45, he married Alice Barnham, who was the 14-year-old daughter of a well-connected alderman.
After James I became king, Bacon was knighted. He served the king well and was rewarded with the office of solicitor, then attorney general, and finally lord chancellor in 1618. He again fell into debt, however. During this time he was accused and convicted of bribery. His sentence was a fine and disgrace. He continued his studies while in retirement and was honored at age 60 with a banquet held by his Rosicrucian and Masonic friends. The famous poet Ben Jonson attended and said of him, “I love the man and do honor his memory above all others.