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Bacons and Baronets by M. M.


There died in November last a gentleman who, though not remarkable himself, was the head and representative of so famous a family and order that his death is an event deserving of some notice. This was Sir Henry Hickman Bacon, premier baronet of England. This gentleman was not the descendant of the great Francis Bacon, Baron Verulam, but head of the family whence that eminent man, a cadet of the house, sprung.

The origin of this family is lost in the obscurity of centuries. Sir Nicholas, an eminent lawyer of England in the reign of Queen Mary, succeeded, when Elizabeth ascended the throne, to the lord-keepership of the great seal. He married twice, and had a numerous issue, and the baronet lately deceased is the direct representative of the lord-keeper's eldest son by his first marriage, who was the first person created—by James I., on May 22, 1611—a baronet.

And it is not a little remarkable that whilst of the baronetcies since created an immense percentage have become extinct, and only some half dozen of those created in 1611 remain, the first ever created has survived, and bids fair to do so for some time to come. The baronetcy of Hobart (earl of Buckinghamshire)—whose ancestral seat of Blickling, in Norfolk, passed some time since, with its magnificent collection of books, by marriage, into the Scotch family of Ker, and now belongs to the marquis of Lothian—and that of Shirley (held by Earl Ferrers), seem to be the only baronetcies now extant whose patents bear date the same day as that of Bacon.

The others left of the same year are Mordaunt, of which we heard so much in a trial in 1870; Gerard, an ancient Lancashire Catholic house; Monson (Lord Monson); Musgrave of Edenhall ("the luck of Edenhall" is the subject of one of Longfellow's poems); Gresley, Twysden, Temple and Houghton. The last became well known a few years ago in this country as the largest holder of Confederate bonds.

Francis Bacon, familiarly known as Lord Bacon, though in fact he never enjoyed that honor, his titles being Baron Verulam and Viscount St. Alban's, was second son of his father's second marriage, his mother being one of three sisters, the most eminent blue-stockings of the period, daughters of Sir Anthony Cooke, of Gidea Hall, Essex.

Another of Sir Anthony Cooke's daughters was Lady Burleigh, who had been governess to Edward VI., second wife of the famous lord-treasurer, and direct ancestress of the present talented marquis of Salisbury, vice-chancellor of the University of Oxford, whose sister, Lady Mildred Beresford-Hope, wife of the well-known son of the author of Anastasius, bears the same name (Mildred) as her ancestress. Indeed, names are thus frequently transmitted for centuries in English families, and often thus serve as links in genealogical research. The Cooke family has long been extinct, and their stately seat was pulled down by a London alderman in the eighteenth century.

Another sister, Lady Hobby—whose husband resided at Bisham Abbey, a fine old place, maintained in admirable repair, near Windsor—was a terrible disciplinarian, and there is an ugly story of her having whipped a wretched son of hers into his grave, from exasperation at his inability to make his "pothooks," when she was teaching him writing, without blots. Curiously enough, when, some years ago, improvements were being made at the Abbey, a number of copy-books of the style of writing common at the period in which Lady Hobby lived were discovered behind wainscoting, and all were blotted.

The manor of Gorhambury, the great Bacon's seat, was purchased by his father, whose other seat was Redgrave in Suffolk. Gorhambury is near the town of St. Alban's, renowned for its abbey, now in course of splendid rehabilitation.

Not far from St. Alban's once stood the celebrated Roman city of Verulam, called by Tacitus Verulamium, which Bacon, deeply imbued with Latin learning, appropriately selected for his first title. The plough has now for many centuries made furrows over it, and the only vestiges remaining are a few detached masses of the wall. Verulam was bounded on the south-west by the Roman Watling Street. Gorhambury was built by Sir Nicholas, and in the archbishop of Canterbury's library at Lambeth may be seen an interesting account of the expenses. It need scarcely be added that Queen Elizabeth paid her lord-keeper a visit there. Sir Nicholas Bacon left Gorhambury to Mr. Anthony Bacon, the eldest son of his second marriage, and he, dying unmarried, left the estate to his brother Francis.

Gorhambury now belongs to the earl of Verulam, whose family name is Grimston. It was left by the great Bacon to his friend, Sir Thomas Meautys, and thence, by a course of intricate successions, came to the present proprietor.

Bacon, like so many other famous men, had no children. He died in Lord Arundel's house at Highgate in 1626.

Sir Robert Bacon, fifth baronet, sold Redgrave, the family seat in Suffolk, to Lord Chief-Justice Holt toward the end of the seventeenth century. Holt, who died in London 5th of March, 1710, was buried there, and a grand monument to his memory may be seen in the church. It was erected by his brother and heir, for, like Bacon, he was childless.

Redgrave Hall, eighty-seven miles from London by the coach-road, is a large square mansion. The male line of the Holt family has long been extinct, but the present owner of the estate is descended from the great lord chief-justice's niece, who married Mr. Wilson, a younger son of an ancient Westmoreland family.

But to pass to the origin of the order of baronets. After one of the almost chronic Irish insurrections against British rule, James I. conceived in 1609 the idea of offering to English and Scotch settlers, known to be possessed of capital, a large portion of the forfeited estates in Ulster. The supposed necessity of a military force for the protection of the colonists suggested to Sir Antony Shirley a project of raising money for the king. He proposed the creation of a new honor, between those of knight and baron, and that it be conferred by patent at a fixed price for the support of the army in Ulster—that it should descend to heirs male, and be confined to two hundred gentlemen of three descents in actual possession of lands worth one thousand pounds a year—a sum equal to five thousand now.

James I. approved of the scheme, as he would have done of any which seemed feasible for raising the wind, and the patents were offered at the price of ten hundred and ninety-five pounds, the estimated amount of the charge of thirty soldiers during three years. The purchasers did not prove so numerous as had been expected. In the first six years ninety-three patents were sold at £101,835. "It is unnecessary to add," says Doctor Lingard, "that the money never found its way to Ireland" in the shape of forces paid for by this process.

There have been three or four creations of baronetesses in their own right, but nearly two centuries have elapsed since such a creation. James II. made a curious remainder clause in a patent, by creating a Dutchman a baronet with remainder to his mother. It has been a mooted question whether baronets are not entitled to a coronet, and a certain Sir Charles Lamb, who died a few years ago, was so determined to uphold their privileges on this score that he had this ensign worked into the ornamentation of his entrance gates at Beaufort, near Battle Abbey, Sussex; but he met with small encouragement in such notions from his brother-baronets. An old English gentleman was wont to declare that more of disagreeable eccentricity is to be found amongst members of the baronetage than amongst those of any other order of men. He chanced to be thrown early in life amongst several eccentric beings of the class, and took his ideas accordingly; but it is a fact that a very large number of stories about eccentric baronets are in circulation. A marked man of the kind was early in the last century an individual who, in consequence of his height, was called Long Sir Thomas Robinson. It was in allusion to him that the lines were penned:

Unlike to Robinson shall be my song—
It shall be witty, and it sha'n't be long.

This was the man to whom a Russian nobleman displayed the greatest anxiety to be introduced, under the impression that he was the real identical and unadulterated Robinson Crusoe.

Sir Thomas was a bore of the first magnitude, and an inveterate hanger-on about cabinet-ministers and other prominent persons. He was constantly worrying Lord Burlington and Lord Burlington's servants by his Paul-pry-like presence. On calling at Burlington House, and being told that his lordship had gone out, he would desire to be let in to look at the clock or to play with a monkey which was kept in the hall, and so at length get into his lordship's room. The servants, exasperated, preconcerted a scheme to be rid of the nuisance. So, one day, as soon as the porter opened the gate and found Sir Thomas outside, he said, "His lordship is gone out, the clock has stopped, the monkey is dead."