Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bacon, Francis (1587-1657)

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BACON, Sir FRANCIS (1587–1657), judge, was son of 'John Bacon, of King's Lynn, Norfolk, gentleman' (Francis, Admission to Gray's Inn), and grandson of Thomas Bacon, of Hesset, in Suffolk, As Hesset belonged to the immediate ancestors of the lord-keeper. Sir Nicholas Bacon, it seems probable that Francis was sprung from the same stock as his illustrious namesakes, being therefore the fifth of that family who attained judicial rank. Born about 1587, he commenced his legal studies at Barnard's Inn, and was admitted a member of Gray's Inn in Feb. 1607. He was not called to the bar until eight years later in 1615. His name as counsel not being found in any contemporary reports, it has been inferred that his practice must have been either in chancery or in the provinces. In 1624 and 1626 he is mentioned as having contributed considerable sums towards the repair of the font and east window of St. Gregory's Church, Norwich (Blomefield, Norwich, ii. 274). In 1634 he was autumn reader at Gray's Inn (Gray's Inn Books); two years later the king granted him the office of drawing licenses and pardons of alienations to the great seal during his life in reversion (Rymer, xx. 123); and in 1640 he was admitted to the degree of serjeant-at-law. In October 1642, the king, being then at Bridgnorth on his way to London, appointed Bacon to a seat in the King's Bench (Dugdale, Chron. Ser. 110), and at the same time knighted him. This appointment seems to have given satisfaction to the parliament, as we find among the pro- positions tendered by parliament to the king in Feb. 1643, demands for the dismissal of several of the judges, but 'that Mr. Justice Bacon may be continued ' (Clarendon, vi. 231). While Charles was at Oxford, Bacon was one of 'the sworn judges still at Westminster, of which there were three in number,' and presided alone in the King's Bench, as his 'brothers' Reeve and Trevor did in the Common Pleas and Exchequer (ibid. vii. 317).

At the important trial of Lord Macguire, in Hilary term 1645, on the charge of high treason for his share in the Irish rebellion and massacre of 1641, Bacon was the only judge, and he appears to have conducted the trial with great patience and fairness. Lord Macguire had demanded to be tried by a jury of Irish peers, 'On this plea at the beginning of Hilary term Judge Bacon delivered his judgment that a baron of Ireland was triable by a jury in this kingdom' (State Trials, iv. 665); and this judgment was formally approved of by both houses. One of the counsel for the prosecution desiring 'speedy progress, this being a public case,' was reminded from the bench that ' a public case must have public justice on both sides. … We must do that which the law doth allow' (ibid, 668). Bacon's determination to discharge his duties impartially is further shown by his committing to prison James Symbal and others 'for speaking of words against the king in time of war' (Whitelocke, 269). He continued to sit on the bench until the execution of Charles, but after that event new sions were issued to the judges, and they were required to take the oath in the name of the people instead of in the king's name. Bacon and five of his brethren 'were not satisfied to hold ' on these terms, and had the courage to resign their seats. The other six judges, after some hesitation, agreed to hold office,'provided that by act of the commons the fundamental laws be not abolished' (ibid. 378). After his resignation Bacon lived in retirement until his death on 22 Aug. 1657. Over his grave in St. Gregory's Church, Norwich, a handsome monument was raised by his eldest son Francis, who became reader in Gray's Inn in 1662. By his wife Elizabeth, daughter of William Robinson, he had several children, but the family has long been extinct (Wotton, Baronetage, i. 2).

[Foss's Judges of England, and works cited above.]

G. V. B.