LGBTQ Heroes: Francis Bacon
As part of LGBT History Month, we’re celebrating some of the iconic queer people of the past.
Francis Bacon is one of the major figures in British history, but you may not have realised that he embraced his queer identity. Let’s take a look at his life and career.
22 January 1561
9 April 1626, aged 65. He died of pneumonia.
Born in London, Bacon was initially schooled at home but then at the age of 12 he was sent to study at Cambridge. Was being tutored by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and it was while he was at Cambridge that Bacon first met Queen Elizabeth.
After Cambridge, Bacon lived in Paris with England’s Ambassador to the French court. The death of his father, in 1579, brought Bacon back to London where he began work as a barrister.
The move into politics
Bacon’s political career began in earnest when he was elected as a Member of Parliament in 1581. But it was his legal expertise that helped Bacon to really ascend – winning favour with Queen Elizabeth by leading the legal team that prosecuted her once-favourite Earl of Essex for treason.
Bacon’s position of influence was further consolidated when James I succeeded Elizabeth to hold the English throne. In 1613, James I appointed Bacon to be his Attorney General.
Bacon’s public career was ended when his enemies moved against him in parliament, and a parliamentary committee charged him with corruption.
When Bacon was 45, he married Alice Barnham – who was then aged 14. They remained married until Bacon’s death, but he had disinherited her after discovering her affair with another man.
There are conflicting reports, but there are contemporary reports that indicate that Bacon was orientated to ‘masculine love’ – the term that was used at the time to refer to same-sex encounters between men.
Historian John Aubrey, writing in the decades immediately following Bacon’s death, described Bacon as pederast who favoured young men. Other historians of the time also have references to speculation that Bacon could have been charged with buggery.
It is possible that allegations of homosexuality were used to try and discredit Bacon.
The impact that Bacon had on the world as we know it today was surprisingly far-reaching.
Bacon is best remembered as an advocate of science. He articulated the Scientific Method as a means of observation and induction.
He also played a leading role in the British colonisation of North America – especially Virginia, the Carolinas, and Newfoundland.
In the legal profession, Bacon is credited with having shaped many of the common law principles that guide the British legal system today, as well as the Napoleonic Code that was adopted in France.
But perhaps his most fundamental contribution to the shaping of our world was Bacon’s advocacy for the organisation of knowledge. Bacon developed the idea that a classification of knowledge must be universal – that humanity would be better off if educational resources were publicly available and classified in a logical way.
Francis Bacon is undoubtedly one of the great queer men of history.