Image of two men kissingEssays on Gay History and Literature by Rictor Norton

Anthony Bacon

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Sir Francis Bacon's brother Anthony (1558-1601) was a vague presence glimpsed in the shadows of his famous brother, until Daphne du Maurier's 1975 biography of the two brothers, Golden Lads. Dame Daphne's original research in the Archives Departmentales at Montauban, France, brought to light for the first time a document showing that Anthony was charged with sodomy in the summer of 1586. His favourite page was Isaac Burgades, who himself would forcibly "mount" a still younger page in the household, David Boysson, and who told another page, Paul de la Fontayne, that there was nothing wrong with sodomy. One of the lackeys, Barthelemy Sore, had left Anthony's service because his master was wont to bugger all the boys and then bribe them with sweetmeats to keep quiet. In France, convicted sodomites were sentenced to death by le bucher (in 1563 Benoist Grealou, a priest at nearby Moissac, was so convicted and brule tout vif).

Portrait of Anthony Bacon


Although "all the world knew that Monsieur Bacon was a bugger," Anthony was never executed, and no records of such facts can be found in any English archives. He was probably paroled on good behaviour, but in any case never suffered legal reprisal, for in September Henri, King of Navarre, personally intervened, and wrote a letter to the King's Councillor:

I write now desiring you to bring his right of appeal promptly before the judge and have it granted as expeditiously as possible. . . . He will know how to repay us in kind for mercy shown to him.

The result is that the charge—though evidence was heard again in November 1587—was not pressed. The case was so effectively suppressed that no knowledge of it came to light until 1973, after the diligent researches of Daphne du Maurier.

Anthony was plagued by crippling illness throughout his life—gout, perhaps arthritis—and is convincingly portrayed as "a bird in a cage." His occupation was that of a political correspondent, gathering information through a wide network of reporters or spies, first for Secretary Walsingham at Westminster, then for the Earl of Essex. Du Maurier persuasively suggests that his principal informant, Tom Lawson, was also his lover, and the two men often lived together until Anthony's death.


When Anthony left Mantaubon (with his Gascon page Jacques Petit) after the scandal, he lived for a time with brother Francis at Gray's Inn, and the biography paints a fine picture of quiet revelry there even though Anthony was most of the time confined to his bed. Large sums of money were spent on drink and the weekly purchase of beaver hats which they distributed amongst their favourites. Somewhat later a bachelor establishment was set up at Anthony's estate in Redbourn, which included his travelling companion Ned Selwyn, Thomas Lawson, and Jacques Petit.

The prolific correspondence of this bird in the cage reveals much about this tumultuous era—with constant threat of a Spanish invasion, usurpers to the throne, political intrigues along the ladder of preferment—but unfortunately not enough about Anthony the man. He was frank, forthright, tender, perceptive, and an eminently sympathetic character, but it is hard to tease out a truly intimate portrait. Unlike his brother, he never married.

His more personal letters were careful replies to his mother Lady Ann Bacon, a fanatic religionist whose letters to her wayward sons are often little more than monotonous lists of moral proverbs. She has a certain delightful appeal as a vigorous and cantankerous old woman who will be nobody's fool, but ultimately she is as obnoxious as any male chauvinist.


For a number of years Anthony lived at Essex House (with Tom Lawson) as an important agent of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex. When that ill-fated Earl was acused, then convicted, of high treason, Anthony left the house and simply disappeared. Du Maurier has been unable to trace his final residence or the exact circumstances of his death, but has discovered—again for the first time—his final burial place, St Olave's Church, Hart Street.

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Rictor Norton, "Anthony Bacon", Gay History and Literature, updated 14 June 2008 <>.

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