Nathaniel Bacon 1546?-1622

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Sir Nathaniel BACON 1546?-1622

Biographical Note

Born in London, son of Sir Nicholas Bacon, Lord Keeper; a member, therefore, of an influential political family and half-brother of Francis Bacon. Matriculated at Trinity College, Cambridge 1561, but did not graduate; admitted at Gray's Inn 1562. On his marriage to Anne Gresham in 1569 the couple had settled upon them a group of estates across Norfolk and Suffolk, and in 1578 they moved to Stiffkey Hall which became the main seat of this branch of the family. Bacon was a major figure in Norfolk local government for the rest of his life, serving as JP (from 1573), sheriff of Norfolk (1586-7, 1599-1600), commissioner for musters (1596-1605), steward of the Duchy of Lancaster estates in Norfolk (1599), deputy lieutenant for the county (1605-22). He was knighted in 1604. He was also MP for Norfolk in various parliaments from 1584 onwards. Hassell Smith analyses his political contribution in terms of supporting the local economy of north Norfolk, particularly, and notes his firm Calvinist beliefs and opposition to church involvement in affairs of government.


'Although he possessed a well-stocked library, he showed little interest in cultural pursuits' (ODNB). Peter Reid, however, described him as a 'serious bibliophile' and he made detailed provision in his will for the disposal of his books. All his English books, "printed and written", were divided between his wife and three daughters, while all his French law books, together with "such great books as I have" went to his grandson Roger Townshend. His Latin books were given to another grandson, Henry Gawdy, while he noted that another grandson, Thomas Knyvett, was not left any books "because he is like to be stored otherwise".

An inventory of ca.1625 listing 286 books, said to belong to Sir Roger Townshend, is among the papers of Sir Nathaniel and his family now in the Folger Library (Folger MS L.d.776), and is transcribed and edited in vol.1 of PLRE. As R. J. Fehrenbach explains in his introduction, the circumstances of the list and the origin of the books is not clear, and it may be that many or all the books listed were part of Bacon's library. The list includes books across many subjects, including law, theology, science, philosophy, history, geography and classics, but does not appear to be a complete library; it is noticeable that most of the books are folios or quartos, with fewer octavos. Examples: BL 1492.ff.18.

Characteristic Markings

Inscription of Sir Nathaniel Bacon (BL 1492.ff.18 A. Poliziani, Epistolae, 1542)

The Bacon book in the British Library, an octavo copy of Ambrogini, Epistolae, 1542, has Bacon's inscription "Nathanaell Bacon xijd" on the flyleaf, and on the titlepage, in a different handwriting, "Sat sito si sat bene Na. Baco[n]".


  • Fehrenbach, R. J. Sir Roger Townshend's books, Private Libraries in Renaissance England 3 in R. J. Fehrenbach and E. S. Leedham-Green (eds), Private Libraries in Renaissance England vol.1, 1992, 79-135.
  • Reid, P. Proto-bibliophiles among the English aristocracy, Library History 18 (2002), 25-38.
  • Smith, A. Hassell. "Bacon, Sir Nathaniel (1546?–1622), local politician." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  • West, S. The development of libraries in Norfolk country houses, UEA PhD thesis, 2000.