Anna Castle interviews Francis Bacon



Today, Anna Castle (AC) is interviewing Francis Bacon (FB), a courtier of Queen Elizabeth I and also a barrister with an interest in philosophy.

AC: Where and when were you born?

FB: I was born on January 21, 1561, in York House on the Strand. That’s in Westminster, just outside of London. My late father, Sir Nicholas Bacon, was the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. York House is the traditional residence of the Lord Keeper.

AC: What influence did your birth family have on you, your choices, your life?

FB: My father, though a gentleman, was of somewhat humble origin. His father was the sheep reeve for the Bishop of Ely in Cambridgeshire. My father earned a degree from Cambridge University and entered the service of King Henry VIII. He was a brilliant man, who worked hard to bring about the Reformation in England, and prospered from his labors. After his first wife died, he married my mother, Lady Anne, one of the famous daughters of Sir Anthony Cooke. All five sisters were renowned for the education and wit. My mother was and is a devout Calvinist. Her translations of theological works are highly regarded throughout the Protestant world.

AC: Tell us what goal(s) you hope to accomplish?

FB: My parents bequeathed to me the twin values of service and devotion. I added my own dream of reforming science and the law. As I wrote to my uncle, the Lord Treasurer, I have taken all knowledge to be my province. I believe that human industry and ingenuity can make the world a better place for all.

AC: What prevents you from achieving your goals?

FB: Chiefly, the largeness of them. The best way to achieve my aims is to establish a large college of men trained in the proper methods of searching out true facts, rather than engaging in sterile debates about ancient books. They would apply their knowledge to devising better instruments for building, sowing, reaping, sailing — everything that people do. Alas, such an institution would require a great outlay of funds; such that only a king could supply. So far, I’ve been unable to persuade my queen to open her purse so wide.

AC: Do you believe women are the weaker sex?

FB: Women are certainly weaker in body. Thus God made them. Most women are constrained by their proper role in society, which is to bear and rear children and be helpmates to their husbands. But women are as capable of receiving education as men; my own mother and aunts are proof of that. My mistress, Queen Elizabeth, a woman, is the best-educated prince in Europe. She has her father’s strength and will — and temper!

AC: How do you earn a living?

FB: You make me sound like a tradesman! I have an income of some 300 pounds a year, from lands my father provided for me. It isn’t enough to sustain a life at court, but fortunately, I have chambers at Gray’s Inn, the legal society to which I belong, following my father and uncle. I do sometimes take cases, if they are particularly interesting in some point, for which I am remunerated. But most of work is unpaid. I write briefs advising my uncle, the Lord Treasurer, and other courtiers regarding religion and other matters of political import. I also manage my brother Anthony’s correspondence from France, translating his intelligence reports and sharing the information with a select few ministers, such as Sir Francis Walsingham.

AC: How did you begin to investigate murders and other crimes?

FB: The inductive method of investigation that I have developed lends itself naturally to the discovery of guilty parties to crimes. It’s very simple, really. First one examines the facts on the ground, as it were, gathering all evidence that might be found, both of a physical nature, such as footmarks or blood, and of testimony from witnesses. I don’t do that part myself, of course. I have an active, young assistant who actually enjoys running about asking intrusive questions, named Thomas Clarady. Clarady brings me the evidence, like a dog delivering a bird to its master. I then apply induction, generalizing from facts to principles, or what you might call ‘theories of the crime.’

AC: Let’s jump ahead to the end of your life. After Queen Elizabeth died, King James ascended to the throne. He elevated you to the peerage, creating you Viscount St. Albans, and made you his Lord Chancellor, the chief judge in all the land. Then your enemies pulled you down, envious of your power and your friendship with the king, by accusing you of accepting bribes to influence the decisions of your court. You were stripped of your title, driven out of office, and banished from the court.

If you could relive any part of your life, what changes would you make?

FB: I would hire more honest servants. (He smiles wryly.) It was they who demanded bribes, unbeknownst to me. I accepted gifts from suitors in my court, of course. Everyone does. But the record shows clearly that those gifts never affected my judgement.

Looking further back, perhaps I should have retired from court as a young man, or better, never have embarked on that tortuous and thankless path. I could have retired to my little house in Twickenham and lived comfortably on my £300 per annum, devoting myself to my researches and my writing. But I think that would have made me a narrower man.

AC: What do you hope people will remember about you?

FB: That I tried to turn philosophy away from the fruitless bickering of the medievals toward practical arts and sciences; learning for the betterment of mankind, not the self-regard of individuals.

[AC’s final note: If you want to know more about Francis Bacon’s ideas, his Essays are available in many versions online, in ebooks, as well as at every library on earth.]


Award-wining author Anna Castle writes three series: the Francis Bacon mysteries, the Professor & Mrs. Moriarty mysteries, and the Lost Hat, Texas mysteries. She has earned a series of degrees — BA in the Classics, MS in Computer Science, and a PhD in Linguistics — and has had a corresponding series of careers — waitressing, software engineering, grammar-writing, assistant professor, and archivist. Writing fiction combines her lifelong love of stories and learning.

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