Anne Cooke, the third of the nine children of Sir Anthony Cooke and Anne FitzWilliam, was born in about 1528. Her father, was highly educated and tutored Edward VI. Cooke also gave his daughters an education "in the classical languages and the early church fathers".
According to her biographer, Lynne Magnusson: "Under Sir Anthony's zealous protestant guidance, the rigorous intellectual training focused on advancing God's word." For the rest of her life she remained a devout Protestant. (1)
In February 1553, Anne Cooke became the second wife of Sir Nicholas Bacon. At the time he was attorney to the court of wards and liveries. According to Bacon's biographer, Robert Tittler, "In addition to her formidable intellect, Anne Bacon brought with her an exceptionally important set of marital connections". This included her sister, Mildred Cooke, who had married William Cecil. (2)
Despite her strong Protestant beliefs Anne served Queen Mary as a gentlewoman of the privy chamber. After the deaths of two baby daughters, Anthony Bacon was born in 1558 and Francis Bacon in 1561. The boys were educated at the family home at Gorhambury House, near St Albans. Anne was fluent in Greek and Latin as well as in Italian and French and played an important role in his education. His schooling not only included Christian teaching but also thorough training in the classics. (3)
Anne Bacon received criticism for her role in the education of her sons. Alison Plowden, the author of Tudor Women (2002) pointed out that it was women like Bacon that "by the end of the Elizabethan period it was becoming fashionable to poke fun at female learning". (4) Gómez Suárez de Figueroa y Córdoba (Duke of Feria) reported to King Philip II of Spain that Anne was "a tiresome bluestocking". (5)
Anne Bacon was a supporter of Thomas Cartwright the Puritan preacher. As Roger Lockyer has pointed out: "Cartwright, who was only in his mid-thirties, represented a new generation of Elizabethan puritans, who took the achievements of their predecessors for granted and wished to push forward from the positions that they had established. Cartwright declared that the structure of the Church of England was contrary to that prescribed by Scripture, and that the correct model was that which Calvin had established at Geneva. Every congregation should elect its own ministers in the first instance, and control of the Church should be in the hands of a local presbytery, consisting of the minister and the elders of the congregation. The authority of archbishops and bishops had no foundation in the Bible, and was therefore unacceptable. Cartwright's definition lifted the puritan movement out of its obsession with details and threw down a challenge which the established Church could not possibly ignore." (6)
In 1564, Anne Bacon made her mark on English religious prose with her translation from Latin of John Jewel's Apologie of the Church of England. The accuracy and stylistic distinction of her work received immediate recognition when Archbishop Matthew Parker arranged publication of his manuscript copy, making her words the voice of the established church. (7)
Her two sons, Anthony Bacon and Francis Bacon shared her religious beliefs. Francis went abroad with Sir Amias Paulet, the English ambassador at Paris. For the next three years he visited Italy, and Spain. During his travels, Bacon studied languages and civil law while performing routine diplomatic tasks for Francis Walsingham, William Cecil and Robert Dudley. (8)
Anthony lived in Paris and provided intelligence reports for Sir Francis Walsingham. In November 1583 at the request of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, he performed business for Queen Elizabeth. In August 1586 Bacon and one of his pages were accused of sodomy, a capital offence. However, there is no evidence he was charged with any offence. (9)
Francis Bacon was also a homosexual. Robert Lacey has commented: "A discreet homosexual, he had no intimate friends save the beautiful boys he seldom kept long, but he everywhere earned respect for his painstaking work and attention to detail." (10) Bacon became the MP for Melcombe Regis. In the House of Commons showed signs of sympathy to puritanism and often attended the sermons of Walter Travers. (11)
Anthony and Francis Bacon developed a close relationship with Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex. He was one of Queen Elizabeth's most important advisers and since the death of Walsingham had taken command of the intelligence service. (12)
Essex's biographer, Robert Lacey, has pointed out: "In the spring of 1592 Essex and the Bacon brothers found themselves outside the citadel of real political power: but possessing between them the intelligence, the industry, the contacts, the wealth and the pedigree they needed to force an entry. The story of the next six years is the story of how between them they did just that and carved out for themselves a position of potentially overwhelming might." (13)
Anne Bacon was not happy with this relationship. Anthony Bacon represented Wallingford in the House of Commons and bought a London house in the disreputable Bishopsgate Street. She complained that the presence of nearby Butt Inn with its "continual interludes had even infected the inhabitants there with corrupt & lewd dispositions". Anne was also concerned about his relationship with the Spanish politician Antonio Pérez: ‘I would you were well rid of that old, dooted, polling papist. He will use discourses out of season to hinder your health, the want whereof is your great hindrance". She also thought he was far too close to the Earl of Essex. In 1596 Anne wrote: "You have hitherto been esteemed as a worthy friend now shall be accounted his follower… brought as it were into a kind of bondage". (14)
Lynne Magnusson has argued: "Lady Bacon's formidable personality comes most vividly to life in over ninety surviving letters to her sons, most sent from Gorhambury to Anthony in London between 1592 and 1597. She counsels her adult sons about their bodily health, spiritual welfare, financial solvency, fit use for their talents, housing arrangements, and male companions, with a persistence only intensified by her frustration at the limited credit they give her advice. Her life as the female head of a godly household is richly illustrated - the daily business of transporting beer, catechizing servants, and negotiating with tenants, together with the sustained struggle of a strong-willed woman for authority." (15)
The health of Anthony Bacon had always been bad. "His failing eyes that needed almost constant medical attention... He had other ailments. Like so many Elizabethans whose predilections for foods like liver, brains, sweet-breads, spinach, rhubarb and asparagus built up solid material in the kidney he suffered from 'the stone'. Sharp pains would shoot through his back and side and blood flow in his urine as the deposit grew into a little crystalline marble that could kill a man. Seizures of gout made it almost impossible for him to hold a pen." (16) Anthony died in May 1601.
Queen Elizabeth died on 24th March, 1603. The succession of James I brought Francis Bacon into greater favour. He was knighted in 1603. The following year, Bacon married Alice Barnham, the he 14-year-old daughter of a well-connected London merchant Benedict Barnham.
In 1603 Francis Bacon also published a short treatise on the proposed union between England and Scotland entitled A Brief Discourse Touching the Happy Union of the Kingdoms of England and Scotland. This was a work of propaganda on behalf of the king. Privately, Bacon had his doubts, thinking that the king "hastened to a mixture of both kingdoms and nations, faster perhaps than policy will conveniently bear" but on the whole he fully supported the union. He wrote about the importance of uniting "these two mighty and warlike nations of England and Scotland into one kingdom". (17)
In October 1605 he published his first philosophical book, The Advancement of Learning. The work was a general survey of the contemporary state of human knowledge, identifying its deficiencies and supplying Bacon's broad suggestions for improvement. Roger Lockyer, the author of Tudor and Stuart Britain (1985) has argued that Bacon was the first major English figure in the scientific revolution. "Francis Bacon... made himself the propagandist of the scientific method and constantly urged the need for experiment and research. The high position that he held and the fame of his name formed a shelter behind which enquiring men could pursue their researches, and the freedom given to scientific speculation in England may account for the fact that by the late seventeenth century London had become the capital of the scientific as well as the commercial world. It was Bacon's hope that academies would be formed where scientists could exchange information, for he recognized the paramount importance of communications to the spread of knowledge." (18)
Francis Bacon was given the important post of Solicitor General (1607). However, he remained deeply in debt. She impoverished herself trying to help her son and bitterly regretted releases of her interest in family properties, including Gorhambury House.
Anne Bacon died aged 82 in August 1610.
Lady Bacon's formidable personality comes most vividly to life in over ninety surviving letters to her sons, most sent from Gorhambury to Anthony in London between 1592 and 1597. She counsels her adult sons about their bodily health, spiritual welfare, financial solvency, fit use for their talents, housing arrangements, and male companions, with a persistence only intensified by her frustration at the limited credit they give her advice. Her life as the female head of a godly household is richly illustrated - the daily business of transporting beer, catechizing servants, and negotiating with tenants, together with the sustained struggle of a strong-willed woman for authority.