100 Heroes: Francis Bacon

The gay man who demonstrated the power of science.

100 Heroes: Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon is one of the major figures in British history.

Let’s take a look at his life and career.

Early life

Born in London in 1561, Bacon was initially schooled at home but then at the age of 12 he was sent to study at Cambridge.

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 career

Bacon’s political career began in earnest when he was elected as a Member of Parliament in 1581.

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.

Bacon died in 1626, aged 65. He died of pneumonia.

The marriage

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.

The men

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.

Bacon was described as a pederast who favoured young men. There's speculation that was at one point charged with the offence of buggery.

The legacy

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.

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