A many of many talents and wearer of many hats, Sir Francis Bacon was an author, essayist, philosopher, scientist, statesman, lawyer and ‘modest Renaissance-era thinker’ who became famous during the reign of King James I. He was the first Viscount of St Albans and had deep connections with Hertfordshire…

On the 22nd of this month it will be exactly 462 years since the birth of one of Hertfordshire’s most famous figures, Sir Francis Bacon.

Bacon was born in January 1561 at York House near the Strand in London. If his family connections were anything to go by, he was destined for great things. Not only was Francis the son of Sir Nicholas Bacon who was Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, he was the grandson of the humanist Anthony Cooke. As an added bonus his aunt was married to William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, who was an incredibly important player in the court of Queen Elizabeth I.

Herts Advertiser: Sir Francis Bacon painted circa 1618 by John Vanderbank Photo: National Portrait Gallery/WikimediaSir Francis Bacon painted circa 1618 by John Vanderbank Photo: National Portrait Gallery/Wikimedia

Bacon was educated at home in his early years owing to poor health, which would plague him throughout his life. His father had built an immense and spectacular mansion – Old Gornambury House- just outside St Albans and it’s likely Francis spent much of his childhood here. A prolific builder, Sir Nicholas, spent years expanding and adapting the house to turn it into a showpiece of the Elizabethan era. Sadly, just ruins are left of the home today.

Francis attended Trinity College at the University of Cambridge when he was just 12 years old, living there for three years along with his older brother Anthony, under the personal tutelage of Dr John Whitgift, who would be the future Archbishop of Canterbury.

It was at Cambridge that Bacon first met Queen Elizabeth. She was said to be impressed by his precocious intellect and knowledge of Latin and was accustomed to calling him ‘The young lord keeper’.

Francis then travelled abroad to Europe but the sudden death of his father in February 1579 prompted him to return to England.

Due to an issue with the will Francis was left very little money by his father. He had to borrow cash and soon ended up in debt. He would be in debt until his dying days. To support himself, he began studying to be a lawyer and took up residence in law at Gray's Inn in central London.

Herts Advertiser: The Regency-period terraced barrister chambers law offices at the Gray’s Inn, Inns Of Court at High Holborn on the site of where Sir Francis practised lawThe Regency-period terraced barrister chambers law offices at the Gray’s Inn, Inns Of Court at High Holborn on the site of where Sir Francis practised law

For two years he worked quietly at Gray's Inn until he was admitted as an outer barrister in 1582.

Determined to enter politics Francis’s parliamentary career began when he was elected MP for Bossiney, Cornwall, in a by-election in 1581. In 1584 he took his seat as MP for Melcombe in Dorset and in 1586 for Taunton. He would go onto become the MP for Middlesex, Ipswich and Cambridge University.

Francis became known as a liberal-minded reformer, eager to amend and simplify the law. He was forever writing papers on social and church reform. Though a friend of the crown, he opposed feudal privileges and dictatorial powers. He also spoke against religious persecution.

He advocated for the union of England and Scotland, which made him a significant influence toward the consolidation of the United Kingdom.

Francis was said to be a kind man. In 1597, William Rawley, his personal secretary and chaplain, described Francis as “tender-hearted, “ free from malice", "no revenger of injuries", and "no defamer of any man".

That same year Francis finally got to enter the royal court when he became the Counsel Designate for the ageing queen Elizabeth. With this very grand yet honorary position, which did not pay a salary, Francis’ duties were to advise the monarch about legal issues and to interrogate and charge those suspected of treason.

But it was under Elizabeth’s successor, King James I, that Bacon would really flourish.

Herts Advertiser: Sir Francis Bacon (c) Getty imagesSir Francis Bacon (c) Getty images

While James reigned, Francis was not only knighted but he rose to the highest political office, Lord Chancellor. His international fame and influence spread and he also achieved personal success during this time when he married Alice Barnhem, the daughter of a rich London alderman, in 1606. The couple would be married until Francis’s death but would have no children.

In 1605 Francis published one of his most famous works ‘The Advancement of Learning’ which was dedicated to the king.

Francis also played a leading role in establishing the British colonies in North America, especially in Virginia, the Carolinas and Newfoundland in northeastern Canada. Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States even wrote that Bacon was ‘one of the greatest men who had ever lived’.

Francis was made Baron Verulam in 1618, and Viscount of St Albans in 1621. His influence over the King eventually inspired resentment in many of his peers. Some of his enemies were waiting to pounce – and pounce they did in 1621 when Francis was accused of – and admitted- accepting bribes in his parliamentary and legal work.

Among the items he was said to have accepted were gold buttons and expensive draperies for his home. These transgressions saw him fined £40,000, banished from the court and even imprisoned in the Tower of London for a few days.

Though later pardoned by the king, Francis was effectively ‘cancelled’. His public life ended in disgrace. It was during this trying time that Francis retired to Old Gorhambury House in Hertfordshire. Here he pursued his literary endeavours, working on pieces such as “New Atlantis”, “The History of Life and Death” and “the History of Henry VII”.

Francis died of pneumonia on April 9, 1626 at Arundel Mansion in Highgate, London. He was 66 years old.

His death was put down to an experiment gone wrong. Just before he got ill he had been driving in his coach through Highgate. He ordered the coachman to stop then proceeded to get out and buy a chicken from a woman in a nearby cottage. He had the chicken killed then stuffed it with snow to see how long the ‘refrigeration process’ would keep the dead bird from spoiling. However, the saga saw him get a chill which turned deadly.

He was buried in St Michael's Church in St Albans. At the news of his death, more than 30 great minds of the age collected together their eulogies of him, which were then later published in Latin.

There is a monument to Francis Bacon at St Michael's Church. Statues of him can also be found across the world including at Cambridge University and at the Library of Congress in Washington DC.

Despite having no children which saw his peerages die with him, Francis Bacon’s legacy lives on. In both his literary and scientific works- of which there were many- he made it clear he believed in the betterment of human society through an enthusiastic pursuit of truth and good will.

He was an enlightened thinker of the age. He argued for a sceptical and methodical approach to science and insisted that findings be based upon careful observation of events in nature and inductive reasoning.

His idealistic view of fairness and charity was echoed in the Bacon family motto, "Mediocria Firma", which means "modest things are surest".

Much has been written about this Renaissance thinker over the years, good and bad. He’s been accused of everything from being an ‘occultist’ to being the secret author behind Shakespeare’s plays! He has also raised eyebrows for his marriage as Alice was only 14 when they wed. He was 45. His debts of £23,000 in debt- equivalent to £4 million today- after often brought up as leading to his downfall.

Sir Francis, however, would most likely scoff at some of the claims. He was fearless in his determination to succeed in so many fields. One of his most famous quotes, “Nothing is terrible except fear itself” echoes this sentiment.