Informative Summary of Bacon y R.W. Church


 R.W. Church’s biographical sketch of Francis Bacon, edited by John Morley, presents a deeply insightful and often painful look at one of the most complex figures of the Elizabethan and Jacobean era. Bacon, a man of unmatched intellectual gifts and a fervent desire to advance human knowledge, is portrayed as a figure constantly torn between his lofty ambitions and the compromising realities of courtly politics.

The text highlights Bacon’s long struggle for recognition and his relentless pursuit of political advancement, culminating in his appointment as Lord Chancellor. However, it also reveals his moral failings, his willingness to serve a corrupt system, and his ultimate downfall through charges of bribery. Despite his personal flaws, Bacon’s unwavering commitment to the pursuit of knowledge and his revolutionary ideas about scientific inquiry are presented as enduring legacies that continue to shape our understanding of the world.

Key Findings:

  • Bacon’s Complex Character: The text reveals Bacon as a figure both brilliant and flawed, ambitious yet morally compromised. His intellectual genius and vision for the advancement of knowledge are undeniable, but his actions are often driven by self-interest and a desire to please those in power.
  • Conflict Between Science and Politics: Bacon’s passion for knowledge is constantly at odds with his pursuit of political power. He seeks wealth and influence to support his scientific endeavors, but the compromises he makes ultimately lead to his downfall.
  • The Corrupt World of the Jacobean Court: The biography paints a vivid picture of the corruption and intrigue that characterized James I’s court. Bacon is shown to be deeply enmeshed in this world, using his talents to serve the King and the powerful Duke of Buckingham.
  • Bacon’s Enduring Legacy: Despite his personal failings, Bacon’s contributions to philosophy and science are undeniable. His emphasis on empirical observation and inductive reasoning laid the foundation for the scientific revolution.


  • The Nature of Ambition: The text provides a powerful lesson on the complexities and potential pitfalls of ambition. Bacon’s relentless pursuit of power highlights the dangers of sacrificing integrity for personal gain.
  • The Importance of Moral Courage: Bacon’s failure to stand up for his friend, the Earl of Essex, and his willingness to participate in Essex’s prosecution for treason, illustrate the consequences of lacking moral courage.
  • The Power of Ideas: Despite his flawed character, Bacon’s ideas about the importance of empirical observation and the need for a new approach to scientific inquiry revolutionized the way we understand the world.
  • The Limitations of Genius: Bacon’s life demonstrates that even the most brilliant minds are susceptible to the corrupting influences of power and ambition.
  • The Evolution of Scientific Thought: The biography offers a fascinating insight into the state of knowledge in Bacon’s time and the transition from traditional, deductive approaches to the empirical methods of modern science.

Historical Context:

The text places Bacon’s life within the tumultuous period of the late Elizabethan and early Jacobean eras. England is undergoing a period of significant change: the Elizabethan religious settlement is being challenged by the rise of Puritanism, England is becoming increasingly prosperous and powerful on the world stage, and the King’s court is rife with intrigue and corruption. Bacon is shown navigating this complex world, trying to balance his personal ambitions with his desire to serve the crown and advance the cause of knowledge.


  1. Bacon’s Early Life: Born in 1561, Bacon was the son of Sir Nicholas Bacon, Lord Keeper under Queen Elizabeth I. He was exposed to the highest levels of political power from a young age.
  2. Bacon’s Education: Bacon attended Trinity College, Cambridge, where he developed a critical view of Aristotle’s philosophy. He later studied law at Gray’s Inn.
  3. Bacon’s Early Career: Bacon’s early career was marked by frustration as he struggled to gain a prominent position in Queen Elizabeth’s government.
  4. Bacon’s Patronage: The Earl of Essex, a powerful favorite of Queen Elizabeth, became Bacon’s patron and close friend.
  5. The Attorney General Appointment: Essex unsuccessfully attempted to secure the Attorney General position for Bacon, which ultimately went to his rival, Edward Coke.
  6. Essex’s Rebellion: Bacon played a controversial role in the prosecution of his former friend, Essex, for treason.
  7. Bacon’s Relationship with James I: After the death of Elizabeth and the accession of James I, Bacon continued to seek political advancement.
  8. Bacon’s Knighthood: Bacon was knighted by James I, but not in a manner that distinguished him from hundreds of others.
  9. Bacon’s Parliamentary Career: Bacon served in Parliament, where he displayed his legal and political talents.
  10. The Solicitor General Appointment: Bacon finally achieved a significant promotion, becoming Solicitor General in 1607.
  11. Bacon’s Marriage: In 1606, Bacon married Alice Barnham, an alderman’s daughter.
  12. The Attorney General Appointment: In 1613, Bacon was appointed Attorney General, succeeding his rival, Coke.
  13. The Rise of Buckingham: Bacon recognized the growing power of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, and sought to gain his favor.
  14. Coke’s Humiliation: Bacon played a key role in the downfall of Coke, who was removed from his judicial position for challenging the royal prerogative.
  15. The Lord Keeper Appointment: In 1617, Bacon was appointed Lord Keeper, the highest judicial position in England.
  16. Bacon’s Chancellorship: Bacon was formally appointed Lord Chancellor in 1618 and elevated to the peerage as Baron Verulam.
  17. Chancery Reforms: As Chancellor, Bacon sought to reform the Court of Chancery, addressing the backlog of cases and improving efficiency.
  18. Acceptance of Gifts: Despite his public pronouncements against judicial corruption, Bacon accepted gifts from suitors, a common practice at the time.
  19. The Parliament of 1621: The Parliament of 1621 launched an investigation into abuses of power and corruption within the government.
  20. Bacon’s Downfall: Bacon was accused of bribery and forced to resign as Chancellor. He was fined, imprisoned, and banned from public office.


  1. Age 12: Sent to Cambridge, highlighting the early age of university attendance in that era.
  2. Age 16: Admitted to Gray’s Inn, demonstrating the early involvement of young men in legal professions.
  3. Age 18: Called home due to his father’s death, impacting his financial security and career trajectory.
  4. Age 31: Expressed his ambition to “take all knowledge to be my province” in a letter to Lord Burghley.
  5. Age 47: Appointed Solicitor General after a long period of seeking advancement.
  6. Age 52: Became Attorney General, a position he had aspired to for many years.
  7. £1800: Value of the estate gifted to Bacon by the Earl of Essex, indicating the depth of their friendship.
  8. 2000: The number of decrees Bacon made annually as Chancellor, signifying the volume of his workload.
  9. £2000: Cost of the masque Bacon presented at the Somerset wedding, a display of his wealth and desire to impress.
  10. £4000: Fine imposed on Attorney General Yelverton for legal errors, demonstrating the severity of punishments for perceived offenses against the crown.
  11. £100,000: Initial fine proposed for Lord Treasurer Suffolk before being reduced to £30,000, illustrating the political considerations in sentencing.
  12. 400 years: Bacon believed removing the seal would set an example for this duration, underscoring his hope for reform in judicial practices.
  13. £40,000: Fine levied against Bacon for corruption, a significant sum highlighting the seriousness of the charges.
  14. 6000: Amount Bacon claimed to have lost annually due to his fall from grace, emphasizing the financial impact of his disgrace.
  15. 3 years and 5 months: Duration Bacon describes as “old in misery,” conveying the depth of his suffering after his condemnation.
  16. 5 years: Length of Bacon’s “cleansing week of expiation,” reflecting his understanding of the gravity of his actions.
  17. 15 years: Length of Bacon’s service to the King prior to his downfall, emphasizing the magnitude of his loss.
  18. 64 years old: Bacon’s age at the time of his death, marking the end of a tumultuous and ultimately tragic life.
  19. 200 years: Bacon’s assessment of his censure as the “justest in Parliament” for this period, suggesting the rarity of such proceedings.
  20. 28 Articles: Number of charges of bribery brought against Bacon, indicating the scale of the accusations.


  1. Puritanism: A Protestant movement emphasizing strict moral conduct and simplified religious practices.
  2. Prerogative: The exclusive rights and powers of the monarch.
  3. “Learned Counsel”: Lawyers employed by the government on a case-by-case basis, without a fixed salary or position.
  4. “Impositions”: Custom duties levied by the king based on his prerogative, a source of tension with Parliament.
  5. “Great Contract”: A proposed agreement between James I and Parliament to exchange certain royal prerogatives for a fixed annual income.
  6. Naturalisation: The process of granting citizenship to foreign-born individuals.
  7. Monopolies: Exclusive rights granted by the crown to produce or sell certain goods or services, often controversial and seen as abusive.
  8. Præmunire: A writ used to punish those who asserted authority in opposition to the Crown.
  9. Star Chamber: A royal court used to try cases of political offenses and those involving powerful individuals.
  10. “Referees”: Individuals, often legal experts, who certified the legality of royal grants and patents.


  1. Essex’s Generosity: Essex gifting Bacon an estate worth £1800 exemplifies their close friendship and Essex’s support for Bacon’s ambitions.
  2. Bacon’s Defense of Elizabeth: Bacon’s response to Father Parsons’ pamphlet attacking Queen Elizabeth demonstrates his willingness to use his writing skills to defend the Crown.
  3. Bacon’s Letters to Burghley: Bacon’s numerous letters to his uncle, Lord Burghley, pleading for advancement illustrate his persistent but ultimately unsuccessful attempts to gain patronage.
  4. The Coke-Bacon Clash in Court: The heated exchange between Bacon and Coke in the Exchequer Court showcases their professional rivalry and personal animosity.
  5. Bacon’s “Commentarius Solutus”: This personal notebook, detailing Bacon’s thoughts on his career, finances, and even strategies for advancement, provides a revealing glimpse into his private ambitions and methods.
  6. The “Addled Parliament”: Bacon’s efforts to mediate between the Crown and Parliament in the “addled Parliament” of 1614 highlight his attempts to balance competing interests.
  7. The Overbury Murder Trial: Bacon’s involvement in this high-profile case, involving a poisoning scandal at the heart of the Jacobean court, exemplifies his role in upholding the interests of the Crown, even in the face of shocking crimes.
  8. The Yelverton Case: Bacon’s harsh prosecution of his former colleague, Yelverton, for seemingly minor legal errors, reveals his ruthlessness in enforcing the King’s will and punishing perceived disloyalty.
  9. Bacon’s “History of Henry VII”: This work, written in the aftermath of Bacon’s fall, demonstrates his continued intellectual vigor and his attempt to secure a lasting legacy through his writing.
  10. The “New Atlantis”: This unfinished philosophical tale showcases Bacon’s imaginative vision of a utopian society devoted to the advancement of knowledge and the betterment of humankind.


Francis Bacon’s life is a study in contradictions: a man of towering intellect and grand visions who was ultimately brought low by his own ambition and moral failings. Though he revolutionized the approach to scientific inquiry and laid the groundwork for the scientific revolution, his personal life was marred by compromises and betrayals. He serves as a cautionary tale of the corrupting nature of power and the dangers of sacrificing integrity for the sake of personal gain. Yet, his legacy as a philosophical giant and a master of the English language remains undiminished. His ideas continue to shape our understanding of the world, reminding us of the power of human curiosity and the enduring importance of seeking knowledge for the betterment of humankind.

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