Ex-Classics Home Page

Foxe's Book of Martyrs -- 469. AN ORATION OF NICHOLAS BACON



The oration in effect of Sir Nicholas Bacon, knight, lord keeper of the great seal of England, spoken in the Star Chamber the twenty-ninth of December, in the tenth year of the reign of our sovereign Lady Elizabeth, by the grace of God of England, France, and Ireland, queen, defender of the faith, &c. And in the year of our Lord God 1567; then being present as under: --


Matthew, archbishop of Canterbury.
William, marquis of Northampton.
Francis, earl of Bedford.
Lord Clinton, admiral of England.
William Howard, lord chamberlain.
The bishop of London.
Lord Grey of Wilton.
Sir Edward Rogers, knight.
Sir Ambrose Cave, knight, chancellor of the duchy.
Sir William Cecil, knight, principal secretary.
Sir Francis Knollis, knight, vice-chamberlain.
Sir Walter Mildmay, knight, chancellor of the Exchequer.
Lord Cattelene, chief justice of the King's Bench.
Lord Dyer, chief justice of the Common Pleas.
Sir William Cordell, knight, master of the Rolls.
Justice Western, Justice Welsh, Justice Southcote, Justice Carrus.

            "It is given to the queen's Majesty to understand, that certain of her subjects, by their evil dispositions, do sow and spread abroad divers seditions, to the derogation and dishonour, first of Almighty God, in the state of religion stablished by the laws of this realm, and also to the dishonour of her Highness, in disproving her lawful right of supremacy amongst her subjects. And this that they do, is not done as in secrecy or by stealth, but openly avouched, and in all companies disputed on. And thus, by their bold attempts, they seem not to obey or regard the authority of laws, nor the quiet of her subjects. As for example, by bringing in and spreading abroad divers lewd libels and seditious books from beyond the seas; and in such boldness, that they do commend those writers in their seditious books, containing manifest matter against the estate established. Which boldness of men, so universally and every where seen and heard, cannot be thought to be done but by the comfort and aid, or at the least way winked at by them whom the queen's Highness hath placed in authority to repress these insolencies. And the queen's Highness cannot more justly charge any for this disorder, than such who be in commissions chosen to repress these disorders.

            "If it be answered me, that they cannot see such open boldness and factious disorders, I must say that they have no eyes to see; and if they hear not of such contemptuous talk and speech, I may say that they have no ears. I would have those men judge what will come of these unbridled speeches in the end, if reformations be not had thereof. What cometh of factions and seditions, we have been taught of late years, and what the fruits thereof be, which I beseech God long to defend us from. If such disorders be not redressed by law, then must force and violence reform: which when they take place, may fortune to fall as soon on them that seem to have least consideration in this matter. If force and violence prevail, then ye know that law is put to silence, and cannot be executed, which should only maintain good order. If it be replied against me, that to the suppressing of these open talks there is no law, which by special letter can charge any man offender; I must say, that whatsoever the letter of the law be, the meaning of the law was and is clean contrary to the liberty of these doings. 1f it be said, that no man can be charged by the law, except it can be proved against him, that his speech and deeds be done maliciously; what ye call malice, I cannot tell. But, if the bringing in of these seditious books make men's minds to be at variance one with another, distraction of minds maketh seditions, seditions bring in tumults, tumults work insurrections and rebellion, insurrections make depopulations and desolations, and bring in utter ruin and destruction of men's bodies, goods, and lands: and if any sow the root whereof these men come, and yet it can be said that he hath no malice, or that he doth not maliciously labour to destroy both public and private wealth, I cannot tell what act may be thought to be done maliciously.

            "And further, if it be said to me, that the man which should be charged with offence, must be proved to have done his act advisedly: to that I answer, If any bring in those books, distribute them to others, commend and defend them, and yet cannot be charged to have done advisedly, I have no skill of their advisedness. If it be said, that the law entreateth of such acts as be directly derogatory, and of none other; what is direct overthwarting the law, when the contrary thereof is plainly treated, holden, and defended, and the truth by arguments condemned? It may he said again, that the world doth not now like extremity in laws penal, and calleth them bloody laws. As for extreme and bloody laws, I have never liked of them; but where the execution of such laws toucheth half a dozen offenders, and the non-execution may bring in danger half a hundred, I think this law nor the execution thereof may justly be called extreme and bloody. In such-like comparison I may utter my meaning, as to make a difference between whipping and hanging. Indeed, though whipping may be thought extreme, yet if, by whipping, a man may escape hanging, in this respect, not whipping bringeth in this bloodiness and extremity, and not the execution of the law; and better it were, a man to be twice whipped, than once hanged: the pains do differ, but wise men will soon consider the diversity. The truth is, to suffer disobedient subjects to take boldness against the laws of God and their prince, to wink at the obstinate minds of such as be unbridled in their affections; to maintain a foreign power of the bishop of Rome, directly against the prince's prerogative stablished by laws, is not this to hatch dissension, and to cherish sedition? To extol the writings of such, who, by all their wits, devise to supplant the prince's lawful authority? If these doings be not means to the disturbance and utter ruin of this realm, I know not what is good governance. If these be not the sparks of rebellion, what be they?

            "Thus much having spoken to your Wisdoms, I doubt not of your assenting with me; the rather also because I utter them unto you as from the queen's Majesty by commandment, who doth require of us all a more diligence in execution of laws, than is spied commonly abroad: whereby we shall do our duties to Almighty God the better, declare our allegiance to our sovereign, regard the majesty of the laws, love the quiet of our country, and procure the safety of ourselves.

            "God save the queen."


Previous Next