Life and Law in Early Modern England - Sir Francis Bacon

Michael Widener

Sir Francis Bacon, Viscount St. Albans, 1561-1626. Essayes. Religious meditations. Places of perswasion and disswasion. Seene and allowed (London, 1597). Collection of the Elizabethan Club of Yale University; gift of Alexander S. Cochran, December 1911.

Sir Francis Bacon, Viscount St. Albans, 1561-1626. The elements of the common lawes of England (London, 1630). Rare Book Collection, Lillian Goldman Law Library; acquired with the John A. Hoober Fund.


Francis Bacon, Viscount St. Albans, had an illustrious career as a writer, philosopher, and politician. The son of Lord-Keeper Nicholas Bacon, he studied at Trinity College, Cambridge and was called to the bar at Gray’s Inn. Through the patronage of the Earl of Essex, Bacon entered parliament, but, due to his outspoken criticism of Queen Elizabeth, failed to secure prize appointments, with his life-long rival Edward Coke instead being appointed Elizabeth’s Attorney General. His opportunities improved under James I, when he was appointed Solicitor General and later Lord Chancellor.

As Lord Chancellor Bacon argued strenuously for the King’s prerogative, claiming at times that such prerogative came not from the common law, but instead from absolute right. Following his defense of prerogative in the face of parliamentary discontent, and allegations of bribery, Bacon was ultimately impeached. Because of his published works, Bacon ranks among the most important early modern philosophers.

     – Justin Zaremby

“Life and Law in Early Modern England,” an exhibition marking the Centenary of the Elizabethan Club, is curated by Justin Zaremby with Mike Widener, and is on display February-May 2011 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library Yale Law School.

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