Was Bacon Guilty of Bribery or was he Politcally Framed?
Edward Johnson's FRANCIS BACON VERSUS LORD MACAULAY
Bacon in four years had given judgment in over 8,000 cases. Churchil in raking through all these could only find twenty-two where there was a suspicion of any bribery, and in those twenty two cases only 12 persons were found who were willing to come forward and give evidence. Eight of the counts fell through as they were not suits in law but debt cases or arbitrations: ten of them were cases where the fees had been paid long after the cases had been decided, which left four cases out of 8,000 suits. What are we to think of Macaulay who wrote that, The evidence of bribery was overhwhelming and the amount of the plunder which he collected it is impossible to estimate. There can be no doubt that he received very much more than was proved at his trial. Four possible cases out of 8,000!
Thus we find that, on a scrutiny, unparalleled for rigour and vindictiveness, with the exception of four doubtful cases not a single fee traced to Bacon himself could be called a bribe not one appeared to have been given on any promise, not one appeared to have been given in secret, not one appeared to have corrupted justice. Yet Bacon had promised King James to plead guilty, so on 30th April he sent to the House of Lords a confession in which pleaded guilty, answering the various counts fully. He admitted the receipt of several gifts, fines, fees and presents, some by his officers, some by himself. If the receipt of such fees and gifts is held by the Peers to be proof of corruption, he confesses to the offence. But nowhere does he admit, nowhere does he allow his judges to infer, that he has ever accepted a fee or reward to pervert justice.
On 3rd May, the Peers met, the charges and submission were read, and then the Peers adjourned to consider what sentence should be passed. The House being in committee no details of the speeches are on record. On resuming, the Lords, having agreed upon their sentence, sent a message to the House of Commons to say that they were ready to give judgment. The Commons came, headed by the Speaker, who in their name demanded and prayed judgment against the Lord Chancellor as the nature of his offence and demerits demanded. The Lord Chief justice then gave judgment?
(1) That the Lord Viscount St. Alban, Lord Chancellor of England shall undergo fine and ransom of £40,000.
(2) That he shall be imprisoned in the Tower during the Kings pleasure.
(3) That he shall for ever be incapable of any office, place, or employment, in the State or Commonwealth.
(4) That he shall never sit in Parliament nor come within the verge of the Court.
Bacon received the Verdict in the spirit in which they passed it, as a necessary consequence of his plea of guilty, but neither the King, nor the Lords, nor the public, nor he himself , considered it as an act to be enforced. Macaulays comment on the sentence is, In such misery and shame ended that long career of worldly wisdom and worldly prosperity.
As against Macaulays statement, it may be pointed out that the most noble and generous men, the most upright judges, the best scholars, the most pious clergymen, all gathered round Bacon in his adversity, more loving, more reverential than they had been in his days of splendour. Does Macaulay think that men such as the Bishops Andrewes, Neile and Montague; the Earls of Arundel, Pembroke, Dorset and Montgomery, the Lords Mandeville, Digby and Cavendish, the Knights and Baronets Greville, Cotton, Danvers and Saville, the writers Selden, Jonson, Herbert and Hobbes, would still have remained Bacons closest friends if he had been guilty? Would they have corresponded and associated with a convicted rogue? Macaulay states that Bacon was abandoned by all those in whom he had put his trust. The attitude ofall those men to Bacon proves the falseness of Macaulays statement. They knew the truth. How could a rogue inspire in these men the admiration, affection, esteem and reverence with which they regarded Francis Bacon?
When Bacon was sentenced did the reformers proceed with the reformation of the Court of Chancery or any inquiry into the evil practices of the Kings Bench? They did not. All such questions were dropped, which shows clearly that they were simply a pretext to remove Bacon from office. The plot having succeeded so well, the old abuses still continued and the officials still continued to receive presents and fees and the vaunted desires of the Government for reform died off. Bacons situation grew less painful- the fine was remitted, his freedom was restored, he applied to Parliament for a complete reversal of his sentence, which was granted, and his annuity of £1,200 was restored.
If Bacon had really been guilty, why was the verdict more or less quashed, and why was he almost immediately released and the fine remitted? Two days after his conviction Bacon wrote to the Duke of Buckingham as follows:
Good my Lord, procure the warrant for my discharge this day. . . When I am dead, he is .gone that was always a true and perfect servant to his master, and one that was never author of any immoderate, no, nor unsafe, nor unfortunate counsel, and one that no temptation could ever make other than a trusty and honest and thrice loving friend to your Lordship; and howsoever I acknowledge the sentence just, and for reformation sake fit, the justest Chancellor that hath been in the five changes since Sir Nicholas Bacons time. Your Lordships true friend, living and dying, Fr. St. Alban. Tower, 31st May, 1621.
Does this letter sound like the letter of a guilty man or a cringing, whining prisoner, or does it sound like the letter of a man who knew he was innocent and therefore demandednot asked forhis immediate release?
The man whom Macaulay has so wickedly libelled was restored to his legal rights, recalled to his seat among the Peers and surrounded by his friends, all men of the highest types of piety and scholarship, devoted the remainder of his days to his literary work, at last at peace with the world.
It is interesting to note the fate that befell the men who were the cause of Bacons fall. Coke was permanently degraded from the Privy Council and banished from the Court. Cranfield was found guilty of accepting bribes and sentenced to lose all offices, to be imprisoned in the Tower, and ordered to pay a fine of £50,000. Churchil, who had been up to his old tricks again, was convicted of forgery and fraud, and Buckingham was assassinated. Each of these men had in turn been overwhelmed with misery and shame, but Bacon felt no joy in their misfortunes. He spoke no evil word of these three men- breathed no word against the House of Commons, nor questioned the justice of the House of Lords, which was. in keeping with his character as depicted by his personal friends and contemporaries. He knew that the time would come when the truth would prevail and in his last will declared, For my name and memory I leave it to mens charitable speeches, and to foreign nations and the next ages.
It is strange to think that the world has relied on Macaulay for a true estimate of the character of Francis Bacona noble man who devoted the whole of his life and all his money and resources, to the welfare of his fellow men.