three pairs of lovers with space

THE TRIAL OF ANTHONY BACON, 1586

 

Anthony Bacon (1558-1601) was an English spy, and the elder brother of Francis Bacon, later Viscount St. Alban and Lord Chancellor, who, like him, is indicated by primary sources to have been an active pederast. In 1586, while living in the Protestant stronghold of Montauban in Guyenne as unofficial envoy to the King of Navarre, the leader of the French Huguenots (Protestants) and heir-presumptive to the French throne, he was tried and convicted of sodomising his pageboy. This could have led to his execution had not Navarre intervened for his release.

The only surviving records of the affair are the original testimonies, now preserved in the departmental archives of Tarn-et-Garonne. It would of course be preferable to be able to present these here in translation, but as the best substitute for at least the time being, given here is the fullest account of them by Joyce T. Freedman in her unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Anthony Bacon and His World, 1558-1601 (Templeton University, 1979), pp. 103-111.

 

Crisis in Montauban: The Sodomy Trial

Early in 1585 Anthony left Bêarn for Montauban, where a sequence of events inaugurated a suspiciously quiet five-year residence there. In the beginning, Anthony lived in Montauban, a Protestant stronghold, on close terms of intimacy with Navarre's counselors, the leaders of Protestant France, a situation which he described for Essex in his 1596 response to Burghley's attack.

Anthony Bacon in 1594

And at my first coming to Montauban there be witnesses enough how confidently the king's then chief counselors as Grattens, Chancellor; Cleruau, Segur, Du Plessis, superintendents; Du Pin, Chief Secretary, did use me, vouchsafing to sit divers times in council in my chamber which his Lordship heard from their own mouths and congratulated me, therefore, by letters.[1]

In this letter to Essex in which he described his entire sojourn on the continent, Anthony eschewed the traumatic incident that may explain partially, at least, his later attitudes toward returning home and toward achieving 'place'. A possible aspect of Anthony's personality which has until recently remained hidden was uncovered in the summer of 1586 in the town of Montauban in southern France, where he was charged officially with practicing sodomy.  

The original accusation cannot be found, and there seem to be neither English state documents nor letters in The Papers of Anthony Bacon referring to the case. However, according to the testimony, which is filed in the archives of Montauban, Anthony appears to have been charged with having had homosexual relations with one of his pages and with tolerating within his household homosexual relationships among the boys in his employ.  

The charges were serious. And, although unseemly, the fact that guilt was often determined by politics instead of by evidence actually augured better for those accused of sodomy because in an age of license when society was rife with homosexual activities and the hiatus between law and practice yawned wide, indeed, they were probably guilty. The point is that politics counted for more than gaining position and 'place'. And in the case of Anthony Bacon, who represented the English government, with whom the Protestant forces in France were trying to curry favor, politics counted for everything. The trouble with the game of politics is that the vagaries of the players cannot be anticipated with complete accuracy. The fact that Anthony had oiled his way into the power nest of Navarre's counselors did not prevent him from being victimized by the personal grudges of at least one member of the group. Having been brought to the proverbial brink of destruction, Anthony was saved by the personal interference of the King of Navarre.

Portrait of a Boy by an unknown artist, ca. 1590

Informal testimony relating to the charges had been taken in August of 1586, and a letter requesting Anthony's release, written by the King of Navarre, was received by the authorities in Montauban in the fall of 1586; however, the only testimony which is extant was taken on 16 and 17 November 1587, a year later. The questioning of witnesses was conducted by Master Claude de la Grange, historian of the King of Navarre's Court, and was recorded by Antoine Vacquerie, royal notary of Montauban. In the afternoon of 16 November, Paul de la Fontaine, an employee in Anthony's household for nine months, testified that he had seen Anthony shut up with another page, Isaac Bougades, very often and usually in broad daylight, kissing and fondling Bougades and giving him sweets and money to play tennis, cards and dice. The witness said that he had been told by another servant of Bacon's, Michel Frutier of Geneva, that Bacon carnally violated Bougades and that he himself had often found them in bed in broad daylight. The witness further claimed that Bougades excused his conduct with his master by saying that Bacon had told him that sodomy was not evil because Mr. Beza, minister of Geneva, and Mr. Constanier, minister of Montauban, had resorted to it and found it good. The witness testified, also, that this same Bougades had carnally violated a small boy named David, other servant of Bacon's. The witness reported that he had been told of the incident by David himself and again by his own father, Jean de la Fontaine, also in Bacon's employ, who had caught Bougades carnally abusing David. The witness claimed that his father had protested to Bacon, who did nothing to punish Bougades.   

The witness who testified on the morning of 17 November was Jean de la Fontaine, father of Paul, who had been questioned the previous day. This witness testified that when he urged Bacon to fire Bougades, whom he had found carnally violating young David, Bacon, instead of punishing Bougades, dismissed David from his house. The witness also quoted Michel Frutier, a servant referred to by his son, as several times speaking derogatorily about Bacon, with remarks such as "You can count on it [or a similar phrase], Mr. de la Fontaine, he's a bugger." The witness reported that he had seen Bacon shut himself up every day to have dealings of intimacy with Bougades, that the page usually and every night slept in Bacon's room, that he himself on Bacon's order had several times given money to Bougades so that he could play tennis, and that Bacon plied him with sweets. The witness quoted a former domestic servant of Bacon's who currently worked for a lawyer in the city, as saying that he would rather die than go back into the service of Bacon, especially because he's a bugger. The erstwhile servant claimed to know that fact well. 

The third and last witness, who testified in the afternoon of 17 November was David Brysson, the same young boy who had been allegedly violated by Bacon's page Isaac Bougades. David claimed that he had been a lackey in Bacon's household for about a year and a half when Bougades took him into a gallery in the lodgings and tried to have sexual relations with him. Bougades took off David's pants and tried to enter him, but the attempt had caused David such pain that David cried out. Immediately, David testified further, Michel Frutier, one of the other servants, who had heard his shouts, came to help him. To cover up the incident, Bougades gave David a black Spanish-style hat and asked him not to say anything about what had happened. Bougades later located him after he, David, had left Bacon's employ and gave him a few farthings and again asked him not to say anything.[2]  

The notary wrote that this was all that de la Grange had wanted to be copied down. Witnesses of the testimony signed the notary's transcription, and two witnesses who testified signed, but, as the notary commented, David could not sign because he was illiterate. Perhaps David was illiterate because he was too young to have learned to write. The witnesses who testified referred to David as both 'young' and 'small', and the fact that he was caused pain by the attempted sexual violation may indicate that he was quite a bit younger than the other servants, or, simply, that he was new to the Bacon household and to sodomy.[3]

 

Appeal of Charges 

Anthony appealed to the King of Navarre's Council the sentence against him as given by the Seneschal of Quercy at the bench in Montauban.[4] It is not known, if, without the intervention of the King of Navarre, the evidence of the defense as presented by Anthony would have been sufficient to convince the Council to reverse the verdict. 

At the beginning of 1586, during the War of the Three Henrys, one of the many intermittent conflicts in France between Protestant and Catholic forces, the King of Navarre was camped at Caumont-sur-Garonne planning the Protestant defense; however, at some point during the year he journeyed to La Rochelle, one of the four towns that had been given to the Protestants to garrison by the King of France in 1570 in accordance with the terms of the Peace of St. Germain.[5] And it was from there on 23 September 1586 that Navarre wrote to Monsieur de Scorbiac, one of his Councilors in Montauban, directing de Scorbiac to bring Anthony's right-of-appeal before the judge and have it granted. Navarre explained his reason for wanting Anthony freed as quickly as possible.

Henry III King of Navarre by Jean Rabel, 1584

The merit of those to whom he belongs is great. We owe many obligations to the Queen, his sovereign; he is also himself strongly to be recommended. He will know how to repay us in kind for mercy shown to him, and we ourselves are told by God to have care for the strangers in our midst, to safeguard their rights and to see they win justice, and, furthermore, in the situation in which we find ourselves at present it is as well to show leniency, nor is it reasonable to use all the formalities and harshness of French justice towards them.[6] 

It is not clear why, after the King of Navarre's letter of September 1586, directing his Councillor to have the charges against Anthony dismissed, the same witnesses were called upon to testify again in November of 1587, more than a year later--after having given testimony in August of 1586. The original testimony of the first two witnesses, Paul and Jean de la Fontaine, father and son, was given before Claude de la Grange, Navarre's historian, with no indication that anyone else was present. That of David Brysson, given also in August of 1586, was delivered to de la Grange in the study of Monsieur Constanier, minister of Montauban, and with Constanier in attendance. Again, there is no indication that anyone else was present.  

A year later, the testimony was given with formality, there being present witnesses to the testimony, a notary who copied down the proceedings, and signatories of the documents. Perhaps no record was made of the original testimony, with the subsequent verdict being based upon what de la Grange was afraid would be considered hearsay and prejudice. Perhaps the formality of Anthony's appeal of the sentence and Navarre's request for a pardon necessitated official documentation of what may have been originally oral reporting of the most informal kind.

 

Negotiations between England and France

A scene from the French Wars of Religion engraved by Franz Hogenberg

During the summer of 1586, when the charges of sodomy were first made against Anthony, Navarre's representatives were in London negotiating with Elizabeth a loan of money that would subsidize the hiring of German mercenaries to help the Huguenots.[7] By September, after her usual demurring, the Queen complied with Navarre's request, albeit not to the extent that Burghley had promised.[8] Treating with Elizabeth was tricky business, and Navarre knew it. In seeking pardon for Anthony, whom Navarre considered an English emissary, but who was actually, in addition to her representative, Elizabeth's master intelligence agent on the continent, Navarre sought to cover all bases in his relationship with England in order to oil well the way to more money and men. In light of the disunity that existed among Elizabeth's advisers, it was necessary for any faction in Europe seeking aid from England to treat with caution its relationship with that country's representatives. Members of Elizabeth's Privy Council were divided in their sympathies between France and Spain.

Freedman goes on to explain the conflicting considerations that complicated English policy towards the warring countries on the continent. 

The next section of this chapter is entitled “Speculation Regarding Anthony’s Sexuality”. In it Freedman argues on what she admits is (apart from the foregoing trial) only indirect evidence, that Anthony probably was homosexual, but this is mostly based on the homosexuality of some of his associates and its value is limited by Freedman’s apparent unawareness of the distinction between 16th-century sodomy, typically (as in this case) with boys, and the orientation-founded homosexuality of her own century.

The last section of the chapter “The Du Plessis Family” presents sound reasons for suspecting that the investigation and charge of sodomy may have been instigated by an influential couple of that name for personal revenge.

The only other references to the sodomy trial in the thesis are speculations that his prolonged absence from England may have been caused by his fear of the subject of his trial for sodomy being raised there.

 

[1] Anthony Bacon to Earl of Essex, September 1596, Vol. 13, No. 21. [Author’s footnote 25]

[2] Anthony Bacon, Testimony Concerning Sodomy Charges, la côte 5 E 1537, pp. 1-2, 3-5, 6-8, Folios 176-79, Archives Départementales, Montauban, Prêfecture de Tarn-et-Garonne. France. [Author’s footnote 26]

[3] David's last name was either Brysson or Boysson, and he was the son of Barthelemy B and the Marquess Scabesse. (Translator is not sure of the names.) Since David was the son of a Marquess, he would probably have been literate if he were old enough to be educated. [Author’s footnote 27]

[4] As Freedman makes clearer, p. 114, “The fact that Anthony appealed the verdict indicates that he was found guilty as charged.”

[5] The Peace of Saint-Germain-en-Laye ended the Third French Religious War. [Author’s footnote 28]

[6] Daphne Du Maurier, Golden Lads: Sir Francis Bacon, Anthony Bacon and their Friends (New York, 1975), p. 51. [Author’s footnote 29]. It was Du Maurier who first discovered the archival evidence in France.

[7] Conyers Reed, Lord Burghley and Queen Elizabeth (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1960), p. 382. [Author’s footnote 30]

[8] Ibid., p. 386. [Author’s footnote 31]