King's College London
Online Exhibitions
'The very age and body of the time': Shakespeare's world

Francis Bacon and history

Title page and frontispiece portrait of Francis BaconTitle page and frontispiece portrait of Francis BaconThe controversy has now faded somewhat, but at one time Francis Bacon (1561-1626) was the prime suspect in alternative theories questioning the true authorship of Shakespeare’s plays and poetry. It is probably due to the extraordinary versatility of Bacon, a true post-Renaissance polymath, that such theories took hold, rather than through any convincing historical or textual evidence. In his lifetime Bacon achieved significant eminence in the fields of science, philosophy and law; he was also an essayist, an historian, and a statesman who enjoyed the favour of James I before a spectacular fall from grace in 1621.

The historie of the reigne of King Henry the Seventh featured here is a late work, at least in part composed in an attempt to regain favour with the King by showcasing Bacon’s suitability as a royal counsellor. First published in 1622, it features a dedication to James’s son, the Prince of Wales and future King Charles I. By the time of this edition of 1641, Charles’s battles with the Long Parliament had begun the slide towards civil war and the eventual execution of the monarch – an ironic counterpoint to Henry’s successful establishment of the Tudor monarchy after the Wars of the Roses. As Bacon writes in the dedication, Henry 

was that king to whom both unions may in a sort referre: that of the Roses being in him consummate, and that of the kingdomes by him begun. … [H]ee was a wise man, and an excellent king; and yet the times were rough, and full of mutations, and rare accidents.
 
This was something Charles would all too soon discover for himself.

The Foyle Special Collections Library copy is from the historical library collection of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, transferred to King’s on permanent loan in 2007. It was previously owned by Hugh Underwood, Deputy Lieutenant of Ely in Cambridgeshire and relative through marriage of Charles I’s nemesis, Oliver Cromwell.

In this exhibition


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