Alice Barnham

Last updated

Alice Barnham
Alice Barnham.gif
Engraving of Alice Barnham
Born(1592-05-14)14 May 1592
Died1650 (aged 5758); buried 9 July 1650
Resting placeOld Parish Church of Eyworth, Bedfordshire
Other namesAlice Barneham
TitleThe Viscountess St Albans
Lady Underhill
Francis Bacon
(m. 1604;died 1626)

John Underhill
(m. 1626)
Parent(s) Benedict Barnham
Dorothy Smith

Alice Barnham, Viscountess St Albans (14 May 1592 – 1650) was the wife of English scientific philosopher and statesman Francis Bacon.



She was born 14 May 1592, to Benedict Barnham and his wife, Dorothy, née Smith. Benedict Barnham (1559–1598) was a London merchant, who held the positions of Alderman, Sheriff of London (1591–1592), and Member of the English Parliament for Yarmouth. His father had been Sheriff before him. Her mother, Dorothy, or Dorothea (d. 1639), was the daughter of Humphrey Ambrose Smith, an important Cheapside mercer and the official purveyor of silks and velvets to Queen Elizabeth. Alice was the second of a family of daughters, her sisters being Elizabeth, Dorothy, and Bridget; a fifth, Benedicta, died at the age of 16 days. Her father died 4 April 1598, when Alice was not even six, but Alice was apparently a favourite, as his will said:

I give to my daughter, Alice Barneham, my lease of certain lands at Moulsham and Chelmsford in the County of Essex. And if it happen that the same Alice doe die and unmarried then I give the same lease to Elizabeth my eldest daughter, etc.

Her mother was also left well off, with legacies of land and plate, and quickly remarried, to Sir John Pakington of Worcestershire, 22 November 1598. After John died in 1625, she would remarry again, two more times, to Robert Needham, earlier that year made 1st Viscount Kilmorey, and when he died in 1631, Thomas Erskine, Earl of Kellie.

Her older sister Elizabeth Barnham (1591–1623) married Mervyn Tuchet, 2nd Earl of Castlehaven, who would become infamous for his depravity. The third sister married Sir John Constable, a friend of Bacon's, and the fourth married Sir William Soames.

Courtship and first marriage

After her father's death, Alice was brought up in the family of Sir John Pakington, who was a great favourite of Queen Elizabeth, known as "Lusty Pakington" for his magnificence of living. He owned several estates that hosted royalty, including King James I of England on his way from Scotland to take possession of the English throne in 1603. The family's favourite home was in the Strand, London.

Bacon's letters begin mention of Alice Barnham, 3 July 1603, an Alderman's daughter, an handsome maiden to my liking, when she was only eleven. They were engaged three years, and married 10 May 1606, before Alice turned fourteen, at St Marylebone's Chapel, a suburb to the North of London, with the reception at the Strand estate. She brought an income of £220 a year from her father's estate, and expected more after the death of her mother.

Alfred Dodd, in Francis Bacon's Personal Life-Story (Rider & Company: London, 1949) says their marriage was political:

Bacon had saved himself three years previously from being excommunicated altogether from the public service by his readiness for an engagement with a child of eleven years (Alice Barnham), a commoner. He was now going to open the door to State offices by his marriage to the "handsome wench" of thirteen, according to his bargain with the King and Cecil.

Marriage to Francis Bacon

The Bacons' early married life was disturbed several times by quarrels between Sir John Pakington and Dorothy, when Dorothy would appeal to her powerful son-in-law, and Francis Bacon would try to stay out from between them. Once Bacon was even a judge on the High Commission and had to reject a lawsuit from Dorothy against John which had put John in prison.

Alice Bacon and her mother Dorothy were both reported by contemporaries as having extravagant tastes, and being interested in wealth and power. However, early in the marriage, Bacon had money to spare, "pouring jewels in her lap", and spending large sums on decorations. Power was also available, as in March 1617, along with Francis Bacon being made temporary Regent of England, a document was drawn up making Lady Bacon first lady in the land, taking precedence over all other Baronesses (it is not clear whether it was signed into law).

Their marriage led to no children. In 1620, she met Mr. John Underhill, and Mr. Nicholas Bacon, gentlemen-in-waiting at York House, Strand, Bacon's London property. She was rumoured to have had an ongoing affair with Underhill. Underhill was a cousin of the William Underhill who sold New Place to William Shakespeare in 1597.

In 1621, Bacon was accused of taking bribes, heavily fined, and removed from Parliament and all offices. Lady Bacon personally pleaded with the Marquis of Buckingham for the restoration of some of Bacon's salary and pensions, to no effect. They lost York House and left the city in 1622.

Reports of increasing friction in the marriage appeared, with speculation that some of this may have also been due to financial resources not being as abundantly available to Alice as she was accustomed to in the past. Alice was reportedly interested in fame and fortune, and when reserves of money were no longer available, there was constant complaining about where all the money was going.

In 1625, Bacon became estranged from his wife, apparently believing her of adultery with Underhill. He rewrote his will, which had been quite generous to her, leaving her lands, goods, and income, to revoke it all:

What so ever I have given, granted, conferred, or appointed to my wife in the former part of this my Will, I do now for just and great causes, utterly revoke, and make void, and leave her to her right only.

Remarriage to John Underhill

Less than two weeks after Bacon's death from pneumonia on 9 April 1626, Alice Barnham Bacon married courtier John Underhill, at the Church of St Martin in the Fields, London, 20 April 1626. Soon after, on 12 July 1626, Charles I of England knighted him at Oatlands.

They lived together at Old Gorhambury House, St Albans, Hertfordshire.

The Viscountess St Albans, as she still preferred to be called, spent much of her marriage in Chancery proceedings, lawsuits over property. The first year was over her former husband's estate, trying to get what was left of Bacon's property, without his much greater debts. She was opposed in this by Sir John Constable, her brother in law, who had held some of the estate in trust. In 1628 she filed suits for property owned by her late father. In 1631, she and her husband both filed suit against Nicholas Bacon, of Gray's Inn, their former friend, who had married Sir John Underhill's niece, and gotten Underhill to sign an agreement for a large dowry and extensive property, including some property of Alice that Sir John did not have rights to, and could only inherit after her death. Their petition to court stated that Bacon had tricked Underhill "who was an almost totally deaf man, and by reason of the weakness of his eyes and the infirmity in his head, could not read writings of that nature without much pain," to sign a paper not knowing what it contained.

In 1639, Viscountess St Albans and Sir John Underhill became estranged, and began to live separately. In a later lawsuit, after her death, Underhill blamed Robert Tyrrell, or Turrell, their manservant, for this alienation of affections. In her will of 1642, she left half her property to Turrell, and other property to her nephew, Stephen Soames. She was buried in the old Parish Church of Eyworth, Bedfordshire, 9 July 1650, near her mother, and her sister, Lady Dorothy Constable.


    Related Research Articles

    Francis Bacon English philosopher and statesman

    Francis Bacon, 1st Viscount St Alban,, also known as Lord Verulam, was an English philosopher and statesman who served as Attorney General and as Lord Chancellor of England. His works are credited with developing the scientific method and remained influential through the scientific revolution.

    Nicholas Bacon (Lord Keeper) English politician

    Sir Nicholas Bacon was an English politician during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England, notable as Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. He was the father of the philosopher and statesman Sir Francis Bacon.

    Mervyn Tuchet, 2nd Earl of Castlehaven English nobleman

    Mervyn Tuchet, 2nd Earl of Castlehaven, was an English nobleman who was convicted of rape and sodomy and subsequently executed.

    Elizabeth Hatton English noblewoman

    Elizabeth, Lady Coke, was an English court office holder. She served as lady-in-waiting to the queen consort of England, Anne of Denmark. She was the daughter of Thomas Cecil, 1st Earl of Exeter, and Dorothy Neville, and the granddaughter of William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley. She was the wife of Sir William Hatton and later of Sir Edward Coke.

    Benedict Barnham was a London merchant, alderman and sheriff of London and MP.

    Elizabeth Wriothesley, Countess of Southampton English countess

    Elizabeth Wriothesley, Countess of Southampton was one of the chief ladies-in-waiting to Elizabeth I of England in the later years of her reign.

    John Pakington (died 1625) English noble

    Sir John Pakington of Aylesbury was a courtier in the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I. He was a favourite of Elizabeth's who nicknamed him "Lusty Pakington" for his physique and sporting abilities. Away from court he held a number of official positions including Sheriff of Worcestershire in 1595 and in 1607.

    John Underhill (1574–1679) was an English courtier. He was the son of Thomas Underhill of Loxley and Nether Pillerton in Warwickshire, and grandson of Thomas Underhill, who entered Lincoln's Inn.

    Thomas Kitson British merchant

    Sir Thomas Kitson was a wealthy English merchant, Sheriff of London, and builder of Hengrave Hall in Suffolk.

    Sir Hercules Underhill (1581–1658) was the son of William Underhill of Warwickshire, owner of New Place in Stratford-Upon-Avon. William Underhill sold New Place to William Shakespeare in 1597, and Hercules Underhill confirmed the sale in 1602.

    Sir Francis Barnham (1576–1646) was an English politician who sat in the House of Commons at various times between 1604 and 1646. He supported the Parliamentary cause in the English Civil War.

    Sir Anthony Ashley, 1st Baronet English politician

    Sir Anthony Ashley, 1st Baronet, PC was Clerk of the Privy Council, which was the most senior civil servant in the Privy Council Office. Ashley accompanied the fleet to Cádiz as a representative of the Queen. He distinguished himself by the capture of Cádiz and was knighted by Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex at Cádiz after the capture of the city. Ashley sat in several parliaments, and was highly distinguished by favor of Queen Elizabeth I of England.

    George Rolle English politician

    George Rolle of Stevenstone in the parish of St Giles in the Wood near Great Torrington in Devon, was the founder of the wealthy, influential and widespread Rolle family of Devon, which according to the Return of Owners of Land, 1873 in the person of Hon. Mark Rolle, the adoptive heir of John Rolle, 1st Baron Rolle, had become by that year the largest landowner in Devon with about 55,000 acres. He was a Dorset-born London lawyer who in 1507 became Keeper of the Records of the Court of Common Pleas and was elected as a Member of Parliament for Barnstaple in 1542 and 1545. He became the steward of Dunkeswell Abbey in Devon, and following the Dissolution of the Monasteries he purchased much ex-monastic land in Devon. Not only was he the founder of his own great Devonshire landowning dynasty but he was also an ancestor of others almost as great, including the Acland baronets of Killerton, the Wrey Baronets of Tawstock and the Trefusis family of Trefusis in Cornwall now of Heanton Satchville, Huish, later Baron Clinton, heirs both of Rolle of Heanton Satchville, Petrockstowe and of Rolle of Stevenstone.

    Elizabeth Bacon (died 1621) English Tudor gentlewoman

    Elizabeth Bacon was an English aristocrat. She is presumed to have been the Lady Neville of My Ladye Nevells Booke, an important manuscript of keyboard music by William Byrd, which was compiled in 1591. She was the daughter of Queen Elizabeth's Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, Sir Nicholas Bacon, by his first wife, Jane Ferneley. She was, successively, the wife of Sir Robert Doyley, the courtier Sir Henry Neville, and the judge Sir William Peryam.

    Dorothy Kitson later, Dorothy, Lady Pakington, was the daughter of Sir Thomas Kitson, a wealthy London merchant and the builder of Hengrave Hall in Suffolk. Her first husband was Sir Thomas Pakington, by whom she was the mother of Queen Elizabeth I's favourite, Sir John "Lusty" Pakington. After Sir Thomas Pakington's death she married Thomas Tasburgh. She was one of the few women in Tudor England to nominate burgesses to Parliament and to make her last will while her husband, Thomas Tasburgh, was still living. Her three nieces are referred to in the poems of Edmund Spenser.

    Robert Pakington was a London merchant and Member of Parliament. He was murdered with a handgun in London in 1536, likely the first such killing in the city. His murder was later interpreted as martyrdom, and recounted in John Foxe's Acts and Monuments. He was the grandfather of Queen Elizabeth I's favourite, Sir John "Lusty" Pakington.

    Dorothy Smith, while married to John Pakington a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I was involved in a matrimonial dispute that was heard in front of the Attorney General, Francis Bacon who was also her son-in-law.

    Fulke Underhill (1578–1599) was the son of William Underhill II of Warwickshire, owner of New Place in Stratford-Upon-Avon. His father sold New Place to William Shakespeare in 1597, and his brother Hercules Underhill confirmed the sale in 1602. Fulke was alleged to have murdered his father by poison, but sources differ on whether he was accused, tried, and hanged, or accused only after his death; see below.

    Margaret Bourchier, Countess of Bath was an English Tudor noblewoman. She is notable for the three high-profile and advantageous marriages she secured during her lifetime, and for her success in arranging socially impressive marriages for many of her children. Through her descendants she is common ancestor of many of the noble families of England.

    Elizabeth Brydges Maid of Honour to Elizabeth I of England

    Elizabeth Brydges was a courtier and aristocrat, Maid of Honour to Elizabeth I, and victim of bigamy. Elizabeth Brydges was a daughter of Giles Brydges, 3rd Baron Chandos and Frances Clinton, who lived at Sudeley Castle.


    Further reading