Francis Bacon, an English lawyer, statesman, essayist, historian, intellectual reformer, philosopher, and champion of modern science, was born on this date in London. His works established and popularized an inductive methodology for scientific inquiry, often called the Baconian method or simply, the scientific method. His demand for a planned procedure of investigating all things natural marked a new turn in the rhetorical and theoretical framework for science, much of which still surrounds conceptions of proper methodology today. Francis Bacon influenced all of science, once proclaiming, “I have taken all knowledge to be my province.”
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” (scientia potentia est), is found in the Meditations. He also wrote In felicem memoriam Elizabethae, a eulogy for the Queen written in 1609. The principal work of Francis Bacon is Instauratio magna scientiarum (The Great Restoration of Learning), which was intended to embrace the entire field of knowables, both theoretical and practical. But of this vast work he finished only the first and second parts: De degnitate et augmentis scientiarum (Of the Proficience and Advancement of Learning, published 1605), and Novum organum scientiarum (New Organ of Learning, published 1620). Bacon left only notes for what was to have been the other parts of his monumental work. Interestingly, in the Novum organum he cites three world-changing inventions:
Printing, gunpowder and the compass: These three have changed the whole face and state of things throughout the world; the first in literature, the second in warfare, the third in navigation; whence have followed innumerable changes, in so much that no empire, no sect, no star seems to have exerted greater power and influence in human affairs than these mechanical discoveries.
Bacon is also one of the few homosexual writers from periods as distant as the Renaissance for whom there is contemporary testimony about his sexuality. On 17 April 1593, Bacon’s mother wrote to his brother Anthony (also gay) castigating Bacon for keeping “that bloody Percy . . . as a coach companion and bed companion”, as well as others including Jones, Markes, Enney “and his Welchmen one after another.” “Bed companion” need not have implied eroticism since the nonsexual same-sex sharing of beds was common in the period, but “coach companion” would have been recognized as a sexual reference and thus defines “bed companion” here as one, too. Coaches were one of the few places in those times that provided privacy for a sexual liaison, and “coach” language was commonly used in the Renaissance to signify a sexual connection. In any case, Lady Ann’s major distress was not that her son was gay, but that it violated decorum for a nobleman to allow a servant to sleep in the master bedroom; she felt that a lower-ranking bedroom would have been more appropriate.
John Aubrey in his Brief Lives (composed 1665-1690) says quite bluntly that Bacon “was a pederast” and had “ganimeds and favourites” (“pederast” in Renaissance diction meant generally “homosexual” rather than specifically a lover of minors, as indicated by “E. K.”‘s use of it when discussing the Colin-Hobbinol peer-relationship in Spenser’s 1579 The Shepherd’s Calendar; “ganimed” of course derives from the mythical prince abducted by Zeus to be his cup-bearer and bed-warmer.) The Puritan moralist Sir Simonds D’Ewes (Bacon’s fellow Member of Parliament) in his Autobiography and Correspondence discusses Bacon’s love for his Welsh serving-men, in particular a “very effeminate-faced youth” whom he calls “his catamite and bed-fellow” (“catamite” is a corruption of “Ganymede”). The diary entry for 3 May 1621 — the date of Bacon’s censure by Parliament — reveals the full extent of Bacon’s homosexuality, and is worth quoting extensively if only because it has been suppressed in the only printed edition of the D’Ewes’s autobiography (not published until 1845), and has been studiously ignored by most of Bacon’s modern biographers:
. . . the favour he had with the beloved Marquis of Buckingham emboldened him, as I learned in discourse from a gentleman of his bedchamber, who told me he was sure his lord should never fall as long as the said Marquis continued in favour. His most abominable and darling sinne I should rather burie in silence, than mencion it, were it not a most admirable instance, how men are enslaved by wickedness, & held captive by the devill. For wheeras presentlie upon his censure at this time his ambition was moderated, his pride humbled, and the meanes of his former injustice and corruption removed; 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, although hee had discharged the most of his other household sevants: which was the moore to bee admired, because men generallie after his fall begann to discourse of that his unnaturall crime, which hee had practiced manie yeares, deserting the bedd of his Ladie, which hee accounted, as the Italians and the Turkes doe, a poore & meane pleasure in respect of the other; & it was thought by some, that hee should have been tried at the barre of justice for it, & have satisfied the law most severe against that horrible villanie with the price of his bloud; which caused some bold and forward man to write these verses following in a whole sheete of paper, & to cast it down in some part of Yorkehouse in the strand, wheere Viscount St. Alban yet lay:
Within this sty a *hogg doth ly,
That must be hang’d for Sodomy.
(*alluding both to his sirname of Bacon, & to that swinish abominable sinne.)
But hee never came to anye publicke triall for this crime; nor did ever, that I could heare, forbeare his old custome of making his servants his bedfellowes, soe to avoid the scandall was raised of him, though hee lived many yeares after his fall in his lodgings in Grayes Inne in Holbourne, in great want & penurie.
Sir Francis Bacon’s relationships — like those of his King — closely followed the pattern of patron/favourite. More specifically, he had a preference for young Welsh serving-men. The roll of attendants for Bacon’s household in 1618 lists a total of 75 attendants, of whom some 25 were gentlemen waiters. There was Francis Edney, who, upon Bacon’s death in 1626, received “£200 and my rich gown”; young Thomas Meautys, who was to become Bacon’s secretary-in-chief; a Mr Bushell, “gent. usher,” who came to the household in 1608 as a lad of fifteen, and who remained until Bacon’s death; Edward Sherburn, groom of the chamber; and, above all, young Tobie Matthew, who was left only a ring to the value of £30, but who had become Sir Tobie through Bacon’s efforts, and who was well able to care for himself.
Tobie, widely acclaimed for his charm and good looks, had appeared in a play at Gray’s Inn in 1595, and he quickly became Bacon’s most particular friend, intelligencer and confidant. Tobie had previously served as a spy on the Continent, where he had met and been befriended by Buckingham. A contemporary observed that Tobie, while lodging with Bacon at York House, had “grown very gay or rather gaudy in his attire, and noted for certain night walks to the Spanish Ambassador.” Tobie was the inspiration for one of Bacon’s most famous essays, “Of Friendship.”
Although Bacon married, he did so late (at the age of 45), and his marriage produced no children.
Bacon’s biographers often find all this evidence “inconclusive.” This is simply because they cannot accept the notion that a person can be brilliant, virtuous, healthy, and gay at the same time. Historians regularly hide what they cannot deny, and suppress evidence of the homosexuality of historical figures. Happily, Bacon’s most recent biographers Liesa Jardine and Alan Stewart in Hostage to Fortune: The Troubled Life of Francis Bacon (1999) make no attempt to deny the evidence, and even add to it.
- Joseph Cady. “Sir Francis Bacon” in Claude J. Summers (ed.), glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture (Chicago, IL: glbtq, Inc., 2002), updated 26 October 2002 <http://www.glbtq.com/literature/bacon_f.html>.
- Lisa Jardine and Alan Stewart. Hostage to Fortune: The Troubled Life of Francis Bacon (New York: Hill and Wang, 1999).
- Rictor Norton, “Sir Francis Bacon“, Gay History and Literature, updated 14 June 2008 <http://rictornorton.co.uk/baconfra.htm>.