The famous novelist does fact rather than fiction. This is the first part of the biography of Anthony and Francis Bacon. Written in the 1970s, Ms du Maurier brings her story-writing skills into the telling of history, creating characters and speculating on feelings while marshalling her material into a clear plot-line.
Wordsworth stated the "the child is father of the man" and Ian Mortimer in The Perfect King has suggested that "childhood is the most important" stage in life and therefore essential to a biography even though the early years are least likely to be well-documented. This biography starts on page one with their mother, Ann. She was a remarkable, a formidable, woman! Intensely protestant, she became a minor best-seller in Calvinist circles for her translations of Italian sermons. Fanatically protestant, her letters to her sons repeatedly warn them of the dangers of Roman Catholicism lurking in every foreigner and anyone else who might not conform to her strict ideals. Instead she insists that they behave in accordance with her highly limited and puritanical code. She moaned a lot! Not that it seems to have done any good at all.
Anthony spent most of his young life abroad, especially in France, mingling with Papists and fondling young pages. There is evidence that his Romish connections may have been because he was spying on behalf of Walsingham. There is also evidence that he probably was homosexual: he broke off an early engagement and never subsequently married, there are a number of reports about the young boys, and while in France he was accused of sodomy and only escaped being burned alive by the intervention of the future Henri IV of France.
Back in Britain he was more circumspect, at least in this respect. Becoming spymaster to the Earl of Essex was not in hindsight a brilliant career move. The Earl repeatedly fell out with Queen Elizabeth, once being placed under house arrest for laying his hand upon his sword after she boxed his ears for turning his ack on her and finally being executed for treason following an abortive coup.
Meanwhile Francis spent most of these years as a lawyer. He redeemed himself (and his brother?) following the fall of Essex by being part of the prosecution team at the Earl's trial. This despite the Earl repeatedly trying (although failing) to help him in his career: many historians have seen this as base ingratitude on the part of Francisd although it might have just been his way of extrication the Bacon brothers from the tricky situation in which the anyway-doomed Earl had already placed them.
Du Maurier highlights the crazy way in which Elizabethan finances worked. Both Bacon brothers spent huge amounts of their own money in pursuit of their patron's interests. Anthony paid many of Essex's spies from his own pocket; he also subsidised his brother because Francis had inherited nothing from their father. As a result of both brothers' expenses, they had to borrow, top mortgage and to sell much of their inheritance. This draw predictable and repeated complaints from their mother who was expected to live from the income of at least some of these properties; clearly this income dwindled with time. The Bacon's were not alone. The great Walsingham died in poverty because he had pauperised himself running and paying for Elizabeth's secret service. Given she escaped repeated assassination attempts and plots against her life and throne, this does seem somewhat ungrateful of her.
One thing that really annoyed me about this book is du Maurier's habit of quoting in French and Latin without offering a translation. I have ranted about this before! It seems to me that the author is saying: 'I am fluent in foreign languages and if you aren't then perhaps you are too stupid to read my book'. I beg all future editors not to allow this practice.
Despite this flaw, this is an interesting tale, engagingly told. I read it in a single sitting (albeit I was a captive audience on a ten hour flight to Cuba not forgetting the two hour train ride to the airport and the two hours sitting in the departures lounge). It was particularly illuminating about Anthony, of whom I had not previously heard.
August 2013; 260 pages
Also considering Francis Bacon is Lytton Strachey's double biography of Elizabeth and Essex
- Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57