Francis Bacon and his Nemesis Edward Coke

From the chapter The Last of the Tudors

Francis Bacon's Personal Life Story

by Alfred Dodd


Sir Edward Coke

He was born in 1552, about nine years older than Francis Bacon. He is regarded as a great lawyer on the strength of his four Institutes. He was twice married, his domestic life being full of quarrels. He was the life-long rival of Francis Bacon and always clashed in their law and politics. From the days of Elizabeth's parliaments he was Francis Bacon's most unscrupulous enemy.Coke became obsessed with jealousy at seeing Sir Francis striding ahead of him in State matters. It reached a climax when he was disgraced by the King. It became his sole aim to drag his rival down and engineered a vile plot which was only too successful.
"I am the Coward Conquest of a Wretch's Knife" wrote Francis Bacon. The wretch was Coke."Coke was one of the most truculent and unscrupulous of English lawyers. He was a potent element in Bacon's ruin," says Dean Church. The fact is he hated the superior intellectual abilities of Francis Bacon. He is destined to live in future ages as the miscreant who stabbed "Shake-speare" to the heart.
-Alfred Dodd, p.178-9, in Appendix 1 to The Martyrdom of Francis Bacon


We must now return to see how Francis Bacon faced the world after the Earl of Essex's death, for the world moves in spite of tragedy and change to mould anew the lives of living men and women.
In the Essex trial we saw that Francis Bacon was junior to Counsel to Sir Edward Coke. Had it been seen how Coke allowed his venom of invective to carry him off the rails into unseemly wrangles with the prisoners, and how, over and over again, his junior had to interrupt the procedure to bring him back to the points at issue. Though we still know little of the personal relationship of these two men--"their behaviour to each other when they met, the style of their conversation, and the manner of their courtesies"--yet we know of a truth that Coke hated Francis Bacon, the impecunious ill-fated genius, with all the venom that a rich, ill-favoured man of poor intellect (though a great academic lawyer) and a miserly, uncharitable disposition....would feel towards a handsome man ten years his junior; he equal as an orator, his superior as a thinker, his complete opposite as an idealist and brilliant wit. It was this feeling of inferiority complex that made Coke go out of his way whenever possible to belittle and humiliate his rival. That Francis Bacon had had to intervene in the Essex trial naturally rankled in his breast as a pointed slight--a barb that had to be returned at the earliest moment. A few weeks later an opportunity presented itself when the two men met in the Exchequer in their professional capacity. Francis Bacon had moved for the reseizure of the lands of a lapsed reucusant. How this came to affront the Queen's Attorney-General who "had never shown any tenderness for such offenders," is difficult to determine. James Spedding does not know nor anyone else. It was a carry over from the Essex trial. In revenge, Coke had determined deliberately to insult Francis Bacon in public by taunting him with his luckless birth.[Francis Bacon is the Queen's bastard] Since Essex's Tudor blood had not saved him from the block, Francis Bacon hereafter could be scoffed and jeered at with impunity until his life was made a misery and he was driven out of public life.

We should have known nothing of this incident but for the fact that it was placed on record by Francis Bacon himself so that it might be appraised at its true value in after years. It never saw the daylight until 1663--sixty-two years, after it was written, like so many of Francis Bacon's documents which veil a secret ; and its true significance has never been explained by anyone, though expositors have made numerous guesses as to what it was all about ; all agree it veiled something of importance.

To Mr. Secretary Cecil

It may please your Honour,

Because we live in an age where every man's Imperfections is but another's Fable ["a subject of common talk; to tell fictitious tales;"] :and that there fell out an accident in the Exchequer; which I know not how nor how soon may be traduced.... I am bold now to possess your Honour.... as one careful of my Advancement and yet more jealous of my Wrongs, with the Truth of that which passed; deferring my farther request until I may attend your Honour...Fr. Bacon. Gray's Inn, 29th Apl. 1601

This vague letter of complaint was sent to Cecil, and was actually a request to restrain his henchman, Sir Edward Coke, form personally vilifying him. The engimatical phrases in the letter [bastardy would be an "Imperfection;" a "Fable" is common talk ; "Wrongs" would apply to Non-Recognition;] and the "Document" he enclosed--can only be explained on the supposition that Francis Bacon was the Queen's Unacknowledged Son and that Coke knew the secret of his birth through Coke's friend and superior Officer Cecil. Cecil would know it as a Secret of State, and had passed on the information to Coke who had used it as a weapon against Francis. Whether he had got the information from Cecil or not, Coke knew he was a Tudor and Francis Bacon lets Cecil know at once that he is not to be hounded out of public life by his relative's vulgar abuse. He acquaints Cecil with the facts because as the Secretary of State it is his Province to guard ALL STATE SECRETS and he must therefore take all necessary steps that there is no repetition. Those are the clear implications involved. Here is the document enclosed with the letter,

A True Rememberance of the Abuse I received
of Mr. Attorney-General publicly in the Exchequer
the first day of Term; for the Truth whereof I
refer myself to all that were present
I moved to have a reseizure of the lands of Geo. Moore, a relapsed reucusant...and shewed better matter for the Queen against the discharge by Plea.... And this I did in as gentle and reasonable terms as might be.
Mr. Attorney- General kindled at it , and said , "Mr. Bacon, if you have any tooth against me, pluck it out ; for it will do you more hurt than all the teeth in your head will do you good." I answered coldly in these very words, "Mr. Attorney, I respect you : I fear you not : and the less you speak of your own greatness, the more I will think of it."
He replied, "I think Scorn to stand upon Terms of Greatness towards You, you who are Less than Little; Less than the Least;" and other Strange Light Terms he gave me with that insulting which cannot be expresed.
Herewith stirred, yet I said no more than this : "Mr. Attorney, Do not depress me so far ; for I have been your better, and may be again, when it PLEASE THE QUEEN.
With this he spake, neither he nor I could tell what, as if he had been bron Attorney-General ; and in the end he bade me not meddle with the Queen's business, but with mine own; and that I was unsworn, etc. I told him, sworn or unsworn was all one to an honest man; and that I ever set my Service first, and myself second; and wished to God he would do the like.
Then he said, it were good to clap a cap.utlegatum Upon My Back! To which I only said he could not, and that he was at Fault ["a missing or losing of th trail or scent']; for he Hunted upon an Old Scent.
He gave me a number of Disgraceful Words besides; which I answered in SILENCE, and showing that I was not moved with them.

Now why did Francis Bacon seize the opportunity to place this apparently insignificant word squabble on the record? Why was it never published in his day? Why was it so carefully preserved for his friends to publish more than a couple of generations afterwards? These facts ought to intrigue any literary researcher into the life and character of Francis Bacon. The document is obviously worthly of analysis. Let us therefore examine it.
What were the "Light Terms" and "Disgraceful Words" uttered with "Insults" "that cannot be expressed?" That could only be answered with "SILENCE?" What can he possibly have said that Francis Bacon felt that the Secretary of State ought to know? Clearly he regarded it as something serious... something affecting the State for he sends the covering letter not to Cecil personally but to "Mr. Secretary Cecil" in his Official Capacity. It refers to a State Secret.... to his secret something "I cannot tell WHAT" but the next phrase gives the clue that it refers to the fact that he was BORN a Tudor. Coke spoke as if "He had been BORN Attorney-General," the inference being "as I have been BORN  a TUDOR. " It is clear, then, that it was not a common wrangle between two Lawyers using vulgar Billingsgate to each other. It was something far more important than that. Francis Bacon dare not have written to the Secretary of State over a mere row or the use of indelicate words any more than a barrister today would dream of writing the head of the State about a Law Court altercation.

The "ABUSE" he had received was undoubtedly this : Coke taunted him with the secret of his "Birth" and called him the ugly name of "Bastard." He thought he could safely afford to do so. He was the all powerful Cecil's right hand man, a relation, privy to his secrets. The "Tudor Blood" had not saved Robert Essex from the axe and so Francis Bacon was fair game to fly at. Through Cecil he would know that the Queen had decided that Francis would never be called to the Throne; that he had never sought "Access" to the Queen since the trial; that all his life he would be compelled to carry the iron MASK  of Bacon thus obliterating his identity; and that he could not openly seek redress because the Honour of the Queen would be involved. All that Francis could say in reply to the "Abuse" was this : "I have been your Better" which was true as a young Prince, though concealed, with the expectation of the Throne. He adds, with equal Truth, "I may be your Better again when it Please the Queen", i.e., if the Queen were to name him as "the heir of her "Natural Body" which was the Queen's Prerogative by special Act of Parliament.
The fact that Francis Bacon mentions the Queen shows at once that the "Abuse" was connected with the Queen in some way. What other explanation covers the facts save the Queen that the "Virgin Queen" had given "Francis Bacon" birth?
Coke's reply proves the truth of this. He says it were good to stick a Label on Francis Bacon's Back, as a Mark of Disgrace, to let the World know that he was "Less than the Least".... in his birth, being born of " unknown" parents who were "unmarried." "Ah, " says Francis Bacon in effect, "You could not do it" for no one dare Label me without injury to the Queen. "You hunt upon an Old Scent " in order to try to disgrace me, something that happened forty years birth!
There have been numerous conjectures by historians an biographers as to the meaning of this document,what the quarrel was about, what Coke meant by wishing to pin a disgraceful label on his back. No one has hitherto interpreted it for no traditionalist has suspected Francis Bacon's relationship to Elizabeth. It is transparently clear when the letter is read in the light of this knowledge and the significance of the Latin phrase used by Coke, that was to be "clapped on the back" of his rival-- a capias utlegatum or utlagatum.
What does it mean? Wherein does it differ from an ordinary Writ? How could it apply to Francis Bacon?
It is derived from Saxon's utlaghe. The word "Outlaw" comes from the same root. Jacob's Law Dictionary, Vol. IV, p. 454 says

 Outlaw : Saxon utlaghe. One deprived from the benefit of the Law, and out of the King's protection.

Outlawry means that a person has refused to appear when process has been issued against him ; that he has secreted himself or fled.

Outlawry : Utlagaria : The being put out of the Law. The loss of the benefit of the King's protection. (Jacobs)

Capias Utlagatum : Is a Writ that lies against a person who is outlawed in any action.... the sheriff is commanded to seize all his compel the defendant to appear....(Jacobs)

A capias utlagatum was issued where a party had refused to appear, or who had fled, or who had secreted himself and had afterwards returned to his domicile; so that a capias utlegatum is a Writ that lies against a person who is outlawed for not appearing in Court, for remaining in hiding, so as to compel the defendant openly to appear.
Now what did Coke mean when he said that Francis Bacon ought to be labelled with such a Writ of Attachment? The actual meaning is that Coke charges him with being an "OUTLAW" in a spcial sense, i.e., out of the Queen's protection, with having forfeited his rights as a citizen, with having no rights, with his goods and chattels belonging to the State, to the Queen as the Head of the State. It was a very serious charge for one State Legal Official to make against another.

Now we know that Francis Bacon had never fled the country. He was not, and never had been, in "Hiding" in a physical sense at all. He was not out of the Queen's legal protection and therefore he had not forfeited as an outlaw his goods and chattels.

Yet there was a truth in Coke's horrid sneer. If he were not absolutely right in the legal sense he was partially right. Coke knew he could not serve him with a Writ for a legal offence committed, yet the alleged crime was such that the Attorney General would have loved to have placed a label on his back--capias utlagatum--that all the world might know of his disgrace : For Francis Bacon WAS in "Hiding." He was a Tudor "Hiding" under the mask of Francis Bacon. He was a "Natural Son"of the Queen, not a Legal Son, and so he was "Outside the Law" of the Succession. He was "Out of the Queen's Protection" for she had never acknowledged him officially as her son, and he was thus an "Outlaw" in a very real sense with his monies and his goods for they belonged to the Queen because they were derived from her as a one-time "Gentleman-Pensioner." "Your Birth deprives you of any Rights of Inheritance," says Coke in effect, "and a Writ (a writing) should be attached to you that all men might know the kind of Outlaw you are.....A BASTARD with no Legal Rights whatever, a man with no locus standi anywhere. You are Less than Little ; LESS than the LEAST."
This is the Charge so adroitly framed that Francis Bacon cannot reply to it without implicating the Honour of the Queen.... so he meets it in "Silence," the Charge "he could not tell."

"He gave me a number of disgraceful Words besides," but he is careful not tell what they were. The omission is on exactly the same line as the omitted words to the Queen in the Apologia.

In his letter he often refers to bruits(rumours) and scandals which attack his GOOD NAME, but never stops to explain the nature of them. (I.Donnelly, The Great Cryptogram, Vol. II, pp. 635-8)

This is the correct interpretation of the document which has hitherto never been explained. It proves that Coke knew that Francis Bacon was the concealed son of "The Virgin Queen." But neither Donnelly nor Spedding ever suspected that the "Discreditable Secret"--as it has been termed--was the fact tht in Law Francis Bacon was "an Adulterine Bastard," base-begotten though born in wedlock. It was nothing personally discreditable at all. But the world has ever looked askance at the "Love-Child" and the "Royal Bastards" of history have usually been the victims of harsh treatment. Dean Church asks what was his "Secret" but he does not attempt to answer and never once suspects the truth. It is not now clear that Francis Bacon wrote to Cecil because Coke was making use of a State Secret which might have disastrous consequences to all concerned. It was a warning that he was not going to be insulted with impunity and that it was Cecil's place officially to stop his henchman from repeating such cruel slurs to belittle him.

What this most sensitive of men had to undergo at the hands of rude, foul-mouthed bullies of the Coke-school....was a purgatory only to be described by the pen of a Shake-speare. Think of this sinister secret dogging Francis Bacon's footsteps in public, private, and social life....never knowing the moment when some miscreant like Coke might hurl the bomb of bastardy to undo his happiness.... to make him shrink within himself in lonely isolation.

On the same day as he wrote to Cecil, Francis Bacon wrote to Coke. This in itself is sufficient to show the "Abuse" was beyond mere vulgarisms. He addresses the letter thus :

A Letter of Expostulation to the Attorney-General,
Sir Edward Coke
Mr. Attorney,
I thought best, once and for all, to let you know in plainness what I find of you, and what you shall find of me.
You take to yourself a Liberty to disgrace and disable my Law, my Experience, my Discretion.
What it pleaseth you, I pray, think of me : I am one that knows both mine own wants and other men's ; and, it may be, perchance, that mine mend and others stand at a stay. And surely I may endure in Public Place to be WRONGED, without repelling the same to my best advantage to right myself.....
That I have written is to a good end, that is to the more decent carriage of my Mistress's Service. This letter, if it be answered by you in Deed, and not in Word, I suppose it will not be worse for us both. Else it is but a few lines lost, So this being but to yourself I for myself rest.

So far as I know neither Cecil nor Coke replied but it obviously answered the desired purpose. These open scurrilities ceased. The implied threat behind both letters was this : If you do not stop these insults about my birth I shall bring the matter officially to the notice of the Queen and the Privy Council....the very last thing that Cecil wanted. Coke would have been impeached and it would have flung the now burning question of the Succession into the melting pot. No wonder that Coke kept his thoughts to himself about Francis Bacon's ill fated birth after such a rejoinder. It spiked Coke's guns of vulgar abuse most effecively.