BACON, Nathaniel (1547-1622), of Stiffkey, Norf.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. 1547, 2nd s. of Sir Nicholas Bacon by his 1st w.; bro. of Nicholas and Edward and half-bro. of Anthony and Francis. educ. Trinity Coll. Camb. 1561; G. Inn 1562. m. (1) c.1569, Anne, illegit. da. of Sir Thomas Gresham, 1s. d.v.p. 3da; (2) c.1600, Dorothy, da. of Arthur Hopton of Witham, Som., wid. of William Smyth, s.p. Kntd. 1604.

Offices Held

J.p. Norf. from 1574, q. by 1577, sheriff 1586-7, 1599-1600, dep. lt. by 1601; ancient, G. Inn 1576; commr. grain 1576, piracy 1578; dep. steward of duchy of Lancaster lands in Norf., Suff. and Camb. 1583, steward 1599; commr. sewers c.1586; collector for the loan 1589-1604; commr. recusancy 1592, musters 1596; freeman, King’s Lynn 1597; commr. imprest of mariners 1598; feodary, coroner, escheator and clerk of the market of Methwold 1604.1


After leaving Cambridge without graduating, Bacon proceeded to Gray’s Inn where he shared the lord keeper’s chamber with his brothers Nicholas and Edward, and his half-brother Anthony. He owned several estates in Norfolk, acquiring the manor of Eccles in 1572 and, in right of his wife, possessing property in Langham and Marston, and the manor of Hemsby, which formerly belonged to Norwich priory. In 1571 his father bought Stiffkey for him. He resided there from 1574 and succeeded to legal ownership of it on the lord keeper’s death in 1579. His father also left him £200 to rebuild the hall, a work which Nathaniel accomplished, in magnificent fashion, by 1604.2

Appointed to the Norfolk commission of the peace while still in his 20s, Bacon henceforth associated himself keenly with local affairs. Though the number of special commissions to which he was appointed indicates the Privy Council’s regard for his ‘uprightness and indifferency’, he was opposed to the deputy lieutenant, Sir William Heydon, Sir Edward Clere and Sir Arthur Heveningham, who were, in his view, using the offices of local government and royal patents to further ‘their own commodities’: he objected to their having ‘the gain ... of private persons covered with the shadow of a public benefit’ Around him gathered a faction, of fellow puritans, his relatives, and those justices who for various reasons had a grievance against the ‘lieutenancy group’ The quarter sessions and parliamentary elections became occasions for factional struggles. Bacon himself was especially prominent in trouble over the erection of new piers at Sheringham, the disposal of county funds, and compounding for purveyance.3

Bacon’s two periods as Member for Tavistock were no doubt the result of religious affinity and family friendship with the 2nd Earl of Bedford; his own local standing explains his membership for Norfolk and King’s Lynn. His name does not appear in the journals of the 1571 Parliament, but he was probably the ‘Mr. Bacon’ appointed to a committee concerning grants made by the dean and chapter of Norwich on 2 Mar. 1576. He served on a committee dealing with the case of Arthur Hall on 6 Feb. 1581, and during the 1584 Parliament he was named to a committee considering juries (12 Dec.). In his next Parliament (1593) Bacon was named to committees concerning the subsidy (26 Feb., 1 Mar.), relief of the poor (12 Mar.) and a private land bill (23 Mar.). He spoke on the subject of children of recusants on 28 Feb. 1593, and was appointed to the committee on recusancy the same day. He is also reported as having ‘put the House in remembrance’ of a request by some of the subsidy committee that ‘the present necessity now moving them to offer the said double subsidy and double fifteenths and tenths should be set down and inserted in the bill for the granting thereof’ As knight for Norfolk in 1593 he had the opportunity of sitting on a legal committee (9 Mar.) and a cloth committee (23 Mar.). In his last Elizabethan Parliament Bacon emerged as an active committeeman, being concerned with enclosures (5 Nov.), forestallers (7 Nov.), penal laws (8 Nov.), maltsters (9 Nov., 12 Jan. 1598), weavers (10, 21 Nov.), illegal marriages (11 Nov.), clerical subsidies (12 Nov.), ecclesiastical causes (14 Nov.), cloth (18 Nov.), rogues (22 Nov.), the Great Yarmouth charter (23 Nov.) as well as Norfolk matters such as land reclamation (25 Nov.) and the possessions of the bishopric of Norwich (30 Nov.). A strong opponent of monopolies, he seconded a motion against them on 8 Nov. and was named to the committee on the 10th. At the beginning of the 1597 Parliament he had been named to the standing committee on privileges and returns (5 Nov.), and as a member of this he became concerned with the disputed Ludlow return (12 Nov.). As burgess for King’s Lynn he was appointed to a committee concerned with Exeter merchants on 12 Dec. His ambition to have ‘the first voice’ and sit as senior knight of the shire was realized in the first Stuart Parliament.4

Bacon contributed to the strength of puritanism in Norfolk. John More, the fanatical ‘Apostle of Norwich’, was his contemporary at Cambridge. In 1578 the dean of Norwich complained to the Privy Council that More, who had been suspended from preaching by the bishop, was ‘catechising’ at Bacon’s house. Norfolk puritans, who regarded Bacon as ‘a zealous favourer of the preachers of the word’, sought his influence to reconcile quarrelling ministers and to recommend suitable preachers for certain parishes. He also led the puritan gentry of the county in opposition to Bishop Freake of Norwich and his ‘popish’ friends. In 1593, in an attempt to stop the bishop from holding his visitations in Norfolk and Suffolk, Bacon asked Hickes to put the request before Burghley, and added ‘how little good is most commonly done by their visitations is well known’ During a parliamentary debate on the bill against recusants, Bacon had taken the opportunity to speak scathingly about bishops and their officials. Disliking two clauses of the bill which allotted extra functions to prelates, he complained that ‘the office of bishops is to preach ... they ought rather to attend their vocation and calling, and to discharge the same’ He then accused bishops’ chancellors of being ‘so much affected to the canon law that some are infected with popish religion’ He is mentioned, with others of his family, in the dedication of Robert Allen’s monumental Doctrine of the Gospel.5

In 1614, expecting death, Bacon made a detailed will, asking to be buried in Stiffkey church, under or near a family monument of black marble ‘which the workmen have now in hand’ His three daughters, who had married John Townshend, Robert Gawdy and Thomas Knyvet, were named as executrices, the estates being shared between them and his wife, with provision for his grandchildren. Bacon apologised for giving ‘no greater legacies’, since he was heavily in debt to his elder step-son, Owen Smyth, the profits of whose lands he had used during Smyth’s minority. He had, moreover, given his second wife ‘£400 a year more than I assured her before marriage’ Bacon died in November 1622.6

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: G.M.C.


  • 1. DNB (Bacon, Sir Nicholas); Al. Cant. i. 65; Cockthorpe par. reg.; A. H. Smith thesis, 57; SP12/121/23; Stiffkey Pprs. (Cam. Soc. ser.3, xxvi); Supplementary Stiffkey Pprs. (Cam. Misc. xvi); Lansd. 48, f. 136; 146, f. 18; APC , xxvi. 388; Lynn Freemen, 128; Somerville, Duchy, i. 596.
  • 2. Blomefield, Norf. ix. 250, 409-26; xi. 167; Norf. Arch. viii. 143; x. 146-7.
  • 3. A. H. Smith thesis, 193, 197, 206, 221-5, 233-5, 284-6; Stiffkey Pprs.; APC, ix. 203, 256; xii. 119, 145, 279, 354; xiv. 396; xx. 187; xxvi. 460; CSP Dom. 1547-80, pp. 628, 657, 665, 669-70; 1581-90, pp. 112, 173, 301, 319, 403, 610, 648.
  • 4. Neale, Commons, 59-60, 196-7, 314; Parlts. ii. 353; Townshend, Hist. Colls. 102, 103, 104, 108, 110; Bull. IHR, xii. 12; D’Ewes, 292, 339, 474, 477, 481,496, 499, 507, 508, 552, 553, 554, 555, 556, 559, 560, 561, 562, 563, 565, 567, 571, 578; HMC Hatfield, iv. 295; Spedding, Life of Francis Bacon, iv. 232; A. Simpson, Wealth of the Gentry, 97 n; CJ, i. 110, 123.
  • 5. Collinson thesis, 201-7, 316-17, 860, 868, 873; DNB; Stiffkey Pprs. ; A. H. Smith thesis, 160; Neale, Parlts. ii. 283; Lansd. 75, f. 88.
  • 6. DNB; CSP Dom. Add. 1580-1625, pp. 542-4; PCC 2 Swann.