As Bacon's conduct in this emergency seriously affected his fortunes and has been much misunderstood, it is necessary to state, as briefly as possible, the whole facts of the case. The House having been duly informed of the state necessities, assented to a double subsidy and appointed a committee to draw up the requisite articles. Before this was completed, a message arrived from the House of Lords requesting a conference, which was granted. The committee of the Commons were then informed that the crisis demanded a triple subsidy to be collected in a shorter time than usual, that the Lords could not assent to less than this, and that they desired to confer on the matter. This proposal of the Lords to discuss supply infringed upon the privileges of the Commons; accordingly, when the report of committee was read to the Lower House, Bacon spoke against the proposed conference, pointing out at the same time that a communication from the Lords might be received, but that the actual deliberation on it must be taken by themselves alone. His motion, after some delay, was carried and the conference was rejected. The Lords upon this lowered their demands, and desired merely to make a communication, which, being legitimate, was at once assented to.
The House had then before them the proposal for a triple subsidy, to be collected in three, or, as the motion ultimately was shaped, in four years, instead of in six, as the ordinary custom would have been. Bacon, who approved of the increased subsidy, was opposed to the short period in which it was proposed to raise it. He suggested that it would be difficult or impossible for the people to meet such heavy demands, that discontent and trouble would arise, and that the better method of procedure was to raise money by levy or imposition. His motion appears to have received no support, and the four years' subsidy was passed unanimously. Bacon, as it turned out, had been mistaken in thinking that the country would be unable to meet the increased taxation, and his conduct, though prompted by a pure desire to be of service to the queen, gave deep and well-nigh ineradicable offence. He was accused of seeking popularity, and was for a time excluded from the court. His letter to Burghley, who had told him of the queen's displeasure with his speech, offers no apology for what he had said, but expresses regret that his motives should have been misunderstood. He soon felt that the queen's anger was not to be appeased by such a justification.
The attorney-generalship had fallen vacant and Bacon became a candidate for the office, his most formidable rival being his life-long antagonist, Edward Coke, who was then solicitor. Essex warmly espoused Bacon's cause and earnestly pressed his claims upon the queen; but his impetuous, pettish pleading tended to retard the cause. Burghley, on the other hand, in no way promoted his nephew's interest; he would recommend him for the solicitorship, but not for the attorney-generalship; and it is not improbable that Sir Robert Cecil secretly used his influence against his cousin. The queen delayed the appointment, and Bacon's fortunes, as they then stood, could ill brook delay. He was harassed with debt and at times so disheartened that he contemplated retirement from public life. In March 1594 it was at last understood that Coke was to be attorney-general. Essex, though bitterly mortified, at once threw all his energies into the endeavour to procure for Bacon the solicitorship; but in this case also, his method of dealing, which was wholly opposed to Bacon's advice, seemed to irritate the queen.
The old offence was not yet forgiven, and after a tedious delay, the office was given, in October 1595, to Serjeant Thomas Fleming. Burghley and Sir John Puckering seem to have assisted Bacon honestly, if not over-warmly, in this second application; but the conduct of Cecil had roused suspicions which were not perhaps without foundation. Essex, to compensate in some degree for Bacon's disappointment, insisted on presenting him with a piece of land, worth about £1800, and situated probably near Twickenham Park. Nor did his kindness cease there; before sailing on the expedition to Cadiz, in the beginning of 1596, he addressed letters to Buckhurst, Fortescue and Egerton, earnestly requesting them to use their influence towards procuring for Bacon the vacant office of master of the rolls. Before anything came of this application, the Cadiz expedition had resulted in a brilliant success, and Essex became the idol of the army and the people. Bacon saw clearly that such a reputation would assuredly alienate the affections of the queen, who loved not to have a subject too powerful or too popular.
He therefore addressed an eloquent and imploring letter to the earl, pointing out the dangers of his position and urging upon him what he judged to be the only safe course of action, to seek and secure the favour of the queen alone; above all things dissuading him from the appearance of military popularity. His advice, however, was unpalatable and proved ineffectual. The earl still continued his usual course of dealing with the queen, depending solely upon her supposed affection for him, and insanely jealous of any other whom she might seem to favour. His unskilful and unlucky management of the sea expedition to Ferrol and the Azores in no way lowered his popularity with the people, but undoubtedly weakened his influence with the queen.
Bacon's affairs in the meantime had not been prospering. He had increased his reputation by the publication in 1597 of his Essays, along with which were the Colours of Good and Evil and the Meditationes Sacrae; but his private fortunes were in a bad condition. No public office apparently could be found for him; a scheme for retrieving his position by a marriage with the wealthy widow, Lady Elizabeth Hatton, failed, and in 1598 he was arrested for debt. He seems, however, to have been growing in favour with the queen. Some years previously (perhaps about 1594), he had begun to be employed by her in crown affairs, and he gradually acquired the standing of one of the learned counsel, though he had no commission or warrant, and received no salary. At the same time he was no longer on the former friendly terms with Essex, a certain estrangement having sprung up between them, caused no doubt by the earl's dislike of his friend's advice. The earl's affairs were then at a somewhat critical stage, and as our judgment upon a most important episode in Bacon's life depends upon our knowledge of the events of the ensuing year, it will be requisite to enter somewhat minutely into proceedings with which Bacon himself had nothing to do.