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Ann, Lady Bacon (Anne Bacon, Anne Cooke) (1528–1610) - BIOGRAPHY, MAJOR WORKS AND THEMES, CRITICAL RECEPTION

church sermons sons translation

Ann, Lady Bacon was the second daughter of Sir Anthony Cooke and Lady Anne Fitzwilliam Cooke; she was the wife of Sir Nicholas Bacon and the mother of Sir Anthony Bacon and Francis Bacon,* Lord Verulam. She was sister to Mildred Cecil, wife of William Cecil, Lord Burghley, chief secretary under Queen Elizabeth,* and the sister of Elizabeth Hoby Russel, wife first to Sir Thomas Hoby* and afterward to Lord Russel. Her other sisters and brothers married less illustriously and, perhaps as a result, are less well known.

Lady Bacon is known to have been trained in the classical tongues, Greek and Latin (and possibly Hebrew), as well as in Italian and French, which, it is said, she spoke like a native. Her father was tutor to Edward VI, and it is believed by some that she may have served as a governess to Edward VI. Yet she was bred not only for a life at court but for a life of godliness as well, having been educated in the Scriptures and the church fathers, a fact for which Theodore Beza praised her in his dedication to his Christian Meditation Upon Eight Psalms (1582).

While still under her parents 1 supervision she translated out of the Italian Fouretene Sermons of Barnardine Ochyne , the head of the Capuchin Order, who had converted to Reformed Protestantism and fled Italy, coming to England during Edward’s reign under the protection of Archbishop Cranmer.* These sermons were published c. 1550, then republished as Certayne Sermons c. 1550 and again c. 1570. Much has been made of her dedication to these sermons since she commends them to her mother in full courtly fashion, at the same time hoping that she has shown her time learning Italian was not spent in dilatory pleasures. Little, however, has been written about the sermons themselves or about her translation, although a considerable amount of attention has been given to C. S. Lewis’ praise of her ability as a translator of the Apology, or Answer, in Defence of the Churche of England from Bishop Jewel’s* Latin text. Her wit and acumen as a letter writer, particularly as demonstrated in her letters to her sons Anthony and Francis, are often commented upon, as is her facility at languages—she frequently punctuates her sentences with Latin and Greek phrases, the latter of which she seems often to have used as a kind of private language, using Greek for statements she clearly did not want read by anyone into whose hands their letters might come. It is, however, the translations and what they tell us about her interests as a learned woman and what they may foretell about her influence on her sons in which I am chiefly interested.


Lady Bacon’s translations of Ochino’s sermons show her complete understanding of the “necessity of believing we are elect,” including the limitations on liberty that allow one to think one thing or another, to speak or not, to govern oneself, and to hear the words of God, but not to receive God’s grace other than by his own election: “There are many that think that as men chose to serve a Prince, so we chose to serve God, but he himself in the contrary, when he said, you have not chosen me, but I you” (Thirteenth Sermon).

Throughout her life Lady Ann was a zealous adherent of the Reformed church. Although her letters to her sons show her maternal concern for their careers and their financial well-being, the primary argument of each of the letters is that they be true to the faith; this counsel she even extended to Essex, when in December 1596 she feared his negative influence over her sons: “This is the will of God, that ye should be Holy, and abstain from fornication, and every one know how to keep his own vessel in holiness and honour; and not in the lust of concupiscence, as do the Gentiles which know not God” (Birch, 218–19). That her sons recalled the model of service set forth in the passage is shown in Francis Bacon’s letter to Elizabeth (20 July 1594) in which he acknowledges the will of God in preventing him from being in service to her (Spedding, I, 304–5).

Lady Ann may have felt that the will of God called her to respond to the need for a translation of Bishop Jewel’s* Apologia Ecclesiae Anglicanae . Jewel himself was concerned that a proper response be made to the papal attack set forth at the Council of Trent lest England’s failure to participate be seen as an opportunity to attack not only the English church but the queen and country as well. Following the publication in 1562 of an unsatisfactory translation, this need grew stronger. That a fine translation appeared from the hands of the wife and sister-in-law of Elizabeth’s two foremost spokespersons on church matters should make Archbishop Parker’s praise of it fully explicable, for the Apology shows not only that the English church was right in setting itself apart from the Roman church but, in copious detail, outlines the ways in which the Roman church had strayed from the “true church of Christ.”


As indicated before, Lady Ann reaped praise as a translator from Bishops Jewel and Parker as well as from Theodore Beza. Letters from Cecil and Essex, among others, show that her goodwill merited consideration. While Spedding takes her to task for attempting to maintain too much control over her sons’ lives once they were adults, Birch clearly finds her to be a sympathetic character (although acknowledging her to have been difficult in her old age). Hughey says little about the quality of her translations, although she does find them superior to the Argentine translations of Ochino. As has already been noted, C. S. Lewis praised Lady Ann’s ability as a translator, noting, “Latin prose has a flavour very hard to disguise in translation, but nearly every sentence in Lady Bacon’s work sounds like an original. Again and again she finds the phrase which, once she has found it, we feel to be inevitable” (307). Her two recent commentators, Beilin and Lamb, both focus attention on the isolated position of the learned woman in the English Renaissance.

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