Sunday 24 January 2016

A Queer Philosopher's Achievement : Francis Bacon

[Achievement – the name given in heraldry to the full pictorial representation of a coat of arms.]
One of my favourite historical lgbt people is Sir FrancisBacon (1561-1626). He was a true man of many talents – a statesman, a scientist, a philosopher and a writer. Before I go into his coat of arms you may like to read about his philosophical credentials in his entry in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Basically, Sir Francis Bacon was among the first champions of the belief in proper investigation, observation and experimentation of the natural world. He was also a leading statesman of his time and his coat of arms shown below illustrates that.

Francis Bacon was born in 1561, the son of Sir Nicholas Bacon, a prominent statesman at the court of Queen Elizabeth I. On 22nd February 1568 Sir Nicholas and his brothers were granted a coat of arms which was inherited by their descendants including, of course, Sir Francis Bacon. Below is his full achievement of arms.
The shield show two coats of arms quartered together. In the top left and bottom right quarters are the arms of the Bacon family, and in the other quarters are the arms of the Quaplode family. The Quaplodes were a landed family in Norfolk whose heiress married into the Bacons. Their descendants inherited both arms in this configuration. This would also be the coat of arms used by Sir Francis’s older brother Anthony Bacon. Both used cadency marks to indicate which son of Sir Nicholas they were. Anthony, as the 4th son, would have put a small bird called a martlet on his shield. Sir Francis, as 5th son, put a small circle called an annulet on his. I have not shown this annulet in my painting because Sir Francis is the only member of his family who was entitled to use any of the other devices you can see.

What can we see that tells us that this is the specific coat of arms of Sir Francis Bacon and not anyone else in his family? We need to follow his political career to decode the design. With each new appointment the paraphernalia surrounding the shield changed. Originally Sir Francis would have used a shield, including his cadency mark, with a simple helmet like the one is shown in Michelle Dumaresq’s achievement. In 1603 Francis was knighted, which meant he changed his helmet for one with an open visor, as used by other knights such as Sir Elton John.

In 1617 Sir Francis was appointed Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. This high office of state would have enabled him to show a representation of the Privy Purse which contained the Great Seal below his shield. I’ve tried to find a good quality image of the Privy Purse he would have used to no avail, so I haven’t show it.

Sir Francis was appointed Lord High Chancellor of England and was created a peer of the realm with the title Baron Verulam. This was the highest position in the state that any member o f the lgbt community had held since Sir Piers Gaveston, King Edward II’s lover, was appointed Guardian of the Realm in 1307.

The Lord High Chancellor is still one of the highest offices of state. If you have ever watched coverage of the State Opening of Parliament you would have seen the Chancellor of the day hand the speech to the Queen from the steps of the throne in the House of Lords. You would also have seen an Usher carrying the ceremonial mace which is placed in front of the Queen. Sir Francis was entitled to show this mace, 2 of them, behind his shield.

On being created a Baron Verulam Sir Francis would have changed his helmet again. As a peer he used the more elaborate helmet with a gold barred visor you see here. Modern peers are entitled to place a coronet sitting on top their shield to show their rank of nobility. During his lifetime there was no coronet for a baron. But in 1621 he was promoted to a viscount with them title Viscount St. Albans. His boss, King James I, authorised the use of a coronet for viscounts, and this is the one I show.

Right at the top of the painting, on top of the helmet, is the crest. You may think that the boar is a pun on the family name of Bacon, bit it isn’t. The boar crest was actually that of the Quaplode family and in the grant to Sir Nicholas’s father in 1568 replaced the original Bacon crest which was a griffin. The family motto at the bottom translates as “Mediocrity is Stable”.

Sir Francis resigned as Lord High Chancellor in 1621 over a bribery scandal and the use of the maces behind his shield was stopped. However, I like the look of the maces and it reminds me that members of the lgbt community have been involved in the government of England for centuries.

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