Sir Nicholas Bacon (1509-1579), lord keeper of the great seal of England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, was the second son of Robert Bacon of Drinkstone, Suffolk, and was born at Chislehurst. He was educated at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, graduating B.A. in 1527, and afterwards spent some time in Paris. Having returned to England and entered Gray's Inn, he was called to the bar in 1533, and four years later began his public life as solicitor of the court of augmentations. Quickly becoming a person of importance he obtained a number of estates, principally in the eastern counties, after the dissolution of the monasteries, and in 1545 became member of parliament for Dartmouth. In 1546 he was made attorney of the court of wards and liveries, an office of both honour and profit; in 1550 became a bencher and in 1552 treasurer of Gray's Inn. Although his sympathies were with the Protestants, he retained his office in the court of wards during Mary's reign, but an order was issued to prevent him from leaving England. The important period in Bacon's life began with the accession of Elizabeth in 1558. Owing largely to his long and close friendship with Sir William Cecil, afterwards Lord Burghley, his brother-in-law, he was appointed lord keeper of the great seal in December of this year, and was soon afterwards made a privy councillor and a knight.
He was instrumental in securing the archbishopric of Canterbury for his friend Matthew Parker, and in his official capacity presided over the House of Lords when Elizabeth opened her first parliament. In opposition to Cecil, he objected to the policy of making war on France in the interests of the enemies of Mary queen of Scots, on the ground of the poverty of England; but afterwards favoured a closer union with foreign Protestants, and seemed quite alive to the danger to his country from the allied and aggressive religious policy of France and Scotland. In 1559 he was authorized to exercise the full jurisdiction of lord chancellor. In 1564 he fell temporarily into the royal disfavour and was dismissed from court, because Elizabeth suspected he was concerned in the publication of a pamphlet, "A Declaration of the Succession of the Crowne Imperiall of Ingland," written by John Hales (q.v.), and favouring the claim of Lady Catherine Grey to the English throne. Bacon's innocence having been admitted he was restored to favour, and replied to a writing by Sir Anthony Browne, who had again asserted the rights of the house of Suffolk to which Lady Catherine belonged.
He thoroughly distrusted Mary queen of Scots; objected to the proposal to marry her to the duke of Norfolk; and warned Elizabeth that serious consequences for England would follow her restoration. He seems to have disliked the proposed marriage between the English queen and Francis, duke of Anjou, and his distrust of the Roman Catholics and the French was increased by the massacre of St Bartholomew. As a loyal English churchman he was ceaselessly interested in ecclesiastical matters, and made suggestions for the better observation of doctrine and discipline in the church. He died in London on the 20th of February 1579 and was buried in St Paul's cathedral, his death calling forth many tributes to his memory. He was an eloquent speaker, a learned lawyer, a generous friend; and his interest in education led him to make several gifts and bequests for educational purposes, including the foundation of a free grammar school at Redgrave. His figure was very corpulent and ungainly. Elizabeth visited him several times at Gorhambury, and had previously visited him at Redgrave. He was twice married and by his first wife, Jane, had three sons and three daughters. His second wife was Anne (d. 1610), daughter of Sir Anthony Cooke, by whom he had two sons.
Bacon's eldest son, Nicholas (c. 1540-1624), was member of parliament for the county of Suffolk and in 1611 was created premier baronet of England. This baronetcy is still held by his descendants. His second and third sons, Nathaniel (c. 1550-1622) and Edward (c. 1550-1618), also took some part in public life, and through his daughter, Anne, Nathaniel was an ancestor of the marquesses Townshend. His sons by his second wife were Anthony (1558-1601), a diplomatist of some repute, and the illustrious Francis Bacon (q.v.).
See G. Whetstone, "Remembraunce of the life of Sir N. Bacon," in the Frondes Caducae (London, 1816); J. A. Froude, History of England, passim (London, 1881 f.).