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Papers of the Bacon-Townshend family of Stiffkey, Norfolk, 1550-1640

Identifier: B33869
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Scope and Content

This collection contains the call numbers L.d.1-1036.

The Bacon papers, which compose approximately two-thirds of the papers of the Bacon-Townshend family of Stiffkey, Norfolk, were generated by Sir Nathaniel Bacon and are concerned with local administration, estate management, and household affairs. Many of his official letters were drafted by his clerk, Martin Man, who took over the writing office and muniment room at Stiffkey in 1580, and who also endorsed many of Bacon's incoming letters. As justice of the peace, Bacon arbitrates property and financial disputes between his neighbors, prosecutes petty offenders, and takes depositions (in particular, regarding bastardy cases, as well as a piracy case in August and September 1576). Other papers deal with family and estates, including accounts, letters to Nathaniel from his brother Edward, and negotiations for the marriage of his daughter Anne Bacon to Sir John Townshend (1593-94). A few provide insight into his commercial activites, including what appears to be a part ownership of a vessel trading in the Low Countries, the master of which, Francis Johnson, sends him reports (1577-79). There are a considerable number of letters from one member of the family to another; those written by Anne, Sir Nathaniel's first wife and the natural daughter of Sir Thomas Gresham, are of special interest because they reveal something of her character and her position as a young wife. Letters and papers connected with assistance which Sir Nathaniel rendered to his father, the lord keeper, in the building of Gorhambury House form an important but small class. His career in Parliament and his activities as sheriff play no conspicuous role in the papers.

The Townshend papers cover three generations, and deal with estates, agriculture, and private family business. There are numerous bonds and deeds concerning the property of Sir Roger Townshend, a few letters from Horatio, 1st Viscount Townshend, son of Sir Roger Townshend, 1st bart., as well as approximately fifty tradesmen's bills, mostly receipted, originating in the household of Lady Jane (Stanhope) Townshend, grandmother to Sir Roger Townshend, 1st bart., both after she was widowed and after she remarried and became Jane, Lady Berkeley.

More than forty letters were written by women, including Lady Anne (Gresham) Bacon, Lady Anne (Cooke) Bacon, Lady Elizabeth (Bacon) Doyly Neville Peryam, Lady Anne Woodhouse, Elizabeth Knyvett, Lady Anne Townshend, Lady Jane Townshend, Margaret Berney, Jane Bowes, Elinor Breton, Jane Bullock, Anne Caesar, Jane Coningsby, Anne Corbet, Elizabeth Gauden, Barbara Godsalve, Mary Hasset, Anne Heydon, E. Honor, Rachel Hopton, Ann Penning, Margaret Stone, and Jane Tuttoft. The letters from Lady Anne (Gresham) Bacon have been drafted in her husband's hand, and in four of them, she practices her signature multiple times (L.d.18-21).

The miscellaneous items include a contemporary copy of the first Duke of Buckingham's "Rodomontados," "sent by his servant the Lord Gryme to the Lower House of Commons," from "Nonesuch," on June 21, 1628 (L.d.889; printed in Poems and Songs relating to George Villiers, duke of Buckingham, and his assassination by John Felton, ed. Frederick W. Fairholt (London: The Percy Society, 1851): 28-31, from BL Sloane MS 826); notes in French and Italian on contemporary and ancient historians, including Camden, Bacon, Tacitus, and Suetonius (L.d.890); a detailed account of Gervase Markham's challenges on behalf of his brother Robert, in a dispute with Thomas Cooper and Nicholas Sutton in 1583 (L.d.922); a copy of a Latin letter to Sigsmund II, the king of Poland, ca.1600 (L.d.934); and an account of a disputation between a Protestant and a Catholic, n.d. (L.d.980).


  • 1550-1640


Collection is open for research.

Biographical Note

Sir Nathaniel Bacon (1546?-1622) was the second son of Sir Nicholas Bacon, lord keeper to Elizabeth I, and Jane, daughter of William Fernley. He matriculated at Trinity College, Cambridge in Michaelmas term, 1561, and was admitted to Gray's Inn on December 16, 1562. In 1569, he married Anne Gresham, natural daughter of Sir Thomas Gresham, Royal Agent in the Netherlands, and Winifred Dutton, wife of Thomas Dutton. They had three daughters (Anne, Winifred, and Elizabeth), and two sons, both of whom died in infancy. Anne died in 1595, and in 1597 Bacon married Dorothy, daughter of Sir Arthur Hopton. Sir Nathaniel's three daughters were his joint heirs, and to the eldest, Lady Anne Townshend, and to her descendants went, among other properties, the manor of Stiffkey, which had been Sir Nathaniel's principal seat. Soon after his death in June 1622, his grandson Sir Roger Townshend, then head of the family, occupied Stiffkey.

Bacon served as a justice of the peace for nearly fifty years, beginning in 1574, and was sheriff of Norfolk in 1586 and 1599. He was an M.P. for Tavistock in 1571 and 1572, was returned as knight of the shire for Norfolk for three parliaments (1584, 1593, 1604), and as burgess for King's Lynn for one parliament (1597). He was a subsidy commissioner, and served on numerous other special commissions. He was knighted in 1604.

Bacon was related to numerous court figures. His father-in-law was Sir Thomas Gresham, and his half-brothers were Francis Bacon and Anthony Bacon (through his father's second marriage, to Anne Cooke). Through his father's second marriage, he became a kinsman of William Cecil, Lord Burghley, Sir Henry Killigrew, Lord John Russell, and Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury. Through his sister's marriages, he was a brother-in-law to Sir Robert Doyly, Sir Henry Neville, Sir William Peryam, Sir Francis Wyndham, and Sir Robert Mansell.

For a biographical pedigree, see the typescript finding aid (Z6621.F61 B3), compiled ca. 1958.


1036.0 items (17 boxes)

Language of Materials



Letters and documents concerned with family, business, estate, financial, legal, and governmental affairs of Sir Nathaniel Bacon (1547-1622), Sir Nicholas Bacon (1509-1579), and members of the Townshend family, all of Norfolk. A few items are earlier than 1550 or later than 1640.


The Papers of the Bacon-Townshend family of Stiffkey, Norfolk are divided into two series: Letters (L.d.1-636) and Documents and unsigned letters (L.d.637-1036).

In series 1 (L.d.1-636), most of the letters are signed, and many are autograph. In general, letters are arranged chronologically by person, undated ones first, followed by dated and conjecturally dated items. The letters of Sir Nathaniel Bacon and those of Anne, his wife, tend to be copies or drafts and are thus unsigned. The letters of Sir Nathaniel's youngest sister, Elizabeth are incorrectly arranged because she wrote under the three surnames of her three successive husbands. Letters signed by two or more persons are placed under the name of the first signer.

The organization of series 2 is, in retrospect, more arbitrary, since recent scholarship has allowed many of these documents and letters to be more accurately identified. Documents which were presumed to have had either a Bacon or a Townshend origin were divided into two subseries, 2.1 (L.d.637-785) and 2.2 (L.d.786-878). Documents (including letters) of questionable origin (because they were unsigned, defective, or illegible) were placed in 2.3 (L.d.879-1012), while 2.4 (L.d.1013-1036) was a supplement to 2.1 and 2.2, the family connection of the documents becoming apparent too late for correct assignment. The Papers of Nathaniel Bacon of Stiffkey vols. 1-3 has been indispensable for dating many of the Bacon documents in series 2.


Henry Clay Folger purchased the papers of the Bacon-Townshend family of Stiffkey, Norfolk in October 1925 from Mr. Frank Marcham, a London rare book and manuscript dealer. Marcham had purchased them from the Sotheby's auction of Townshend papers on July 14-16, 1924 (lots 5, 13, 20, 24 (see V.a.273), 68, 86, 92-5). Marcham also might have purchased some of the papers from Hodgson & Co. (July 3 1924, lot 449, according to The Papers of Nathaniel Bacon of Stiffkey, vol. 1, eds. A. Hassell Smith, Gillian Baker, and R.W. Kenny (Norwich: Centre for East Anglian Studies, 1979): xxvi, n. 67).

The Bacon and Townshend papers originally came together as a result of the marriage of Lady Anne (Bacon) Townshend, eldest daughter of Sir Nathaniel Bacon of Stiffkey (Norfolk), to Sir John Townshend. The bulk of Sir Nathaniel Bacon's property passed to his grandson, Sir Roger Townshend, 1st baronet, after Bacon's death in June 1622, and the manuscripts in the muniment room at Stiffkey were transferred to Townshend's newly-built seat, Raynham Hall (Norfolk). The papers of the Bacon-Townshend family of Stiffkey, Norfolk at Raynham remained mostly intact until two large sales at Sotheby's in 1911 and 1924. For an extensive account of the disbursement of the Stiffkey archive, see The Papers of Nathaniel Bacon of Stiffkey, vol. 1: xx-xxxvii.

Other Formats

We are in the process of updating links in this finding aid. Until all links have been updated, please go to Papers of the Bacon-Townshend family of Stiffkey, Norfolk, 1550-1640 to view digital images of select items.

Available in microfilm (Film Fo. 1712-1714).

Transcriptions of most of the manuscripts appear in The Papers of Nathaniel Bacon of Stiffkey (Norfolk Record Society), 46- (1979-) (in progress).

Cited in De Ricci, Census of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the United States and Canada, p. 408, no. 1472.2-1472.1023.

Digital image(s) of Papers of the Bacon-Townshend family of Stiffkey, Norfolk - portions only

Transcriptions of L.d.669-675 included in "'And one of them slayne, but by whom ... he Cannot judge': The pirate depositions taken by Nathaniel Bacon (1576) at the Folger Shakespeare Library"

Related Material

The Folger Shakespeare Library has other manuscripts relevant to the Bacon and Townshend families, a number of which were obtained from dealers in the same period as the papers of the Bacon-Townshend family of Stiffkey, Norfolk listed in this finding aid, and like the papers of the Bacon-Townshend family of Stiffkey, Norfolk, were originally part of the Sotheby's auction of Townshend papers, July 14-16, 1924 (including manuscripts from lots 1, 7, 9, 16, 17, 23, 25, 54, 85, 90 of this auction). Other related manuscripts were originally part of the December 18-19, 1911 Sotheby's auction of Townshend papers. In 1970, the library purchased fifty-one documents (X.d.502) from Hoffman and Freeman, which were originally offered for sale at Christie's in 1964 and Sotheby's in 1965 (see separate finding aid for the Papers of Nathaniel Bacon). Manuscripts relating to Francis and Anthony Bacon (half-brothers to Nathaniel Bacon) and to Sir Nicholas Bacon in his capacity as Privy Councilor and lord keeper (including his widely-copied speeches), are not listed here, but can be found in the catalog.

Folger MS X.c.41. Letter from Edward Bacon to Nathaniel Bacon, 1573/4 February 13.

Folger MS X.d.50 (1). Accounts between Nathaniel Bacon and Robert Blackman, his cousin, 1577 September 11; 1578 October 12; 1595 October 8

Folger MS X.d.50 (2). Letter from Nathaniel Bacon to Anthony Bacon : draft, [1576 August]. Verso: memoranda for his cousin, Robert Blackman. [1579].

Folger MS X.c.30. Letter from Nathaniel Bacon to William Cecil, Lord Burghley : copy, 1579 June 1.

Folger MS Z.d.19. Exchequer quittance for Nathaniel Bacon as sheriff of Norfolk, after 1587 September 29.

Folger MS X.d.619. Tax roll from Nathaniel Bacon, Norfolk, to the Exchequer, 1589 May 2-5.

Folger MS E.b.2. Estate accounts for Stiffkey, 1588-1598.

Folger MS X.d.116. Warrant concerning purveyance for the Queen's Household, 1596/7 March 16.

Folger MS X.d.227. Letter signed by Norfolk justices to officials of the several hundreds, 1598 September 5.

Folger MS E.b.3. Estate accounts of Sir Nathaniel Bacon, 1598-1601.

Folger MS X.d.135. Order from the Justice of the Peace of Norfolk to Sir Bassingbourne Gawdy, 1599 August 6.

Folger MS X.d.147. Letter signed by Norfolk justices to the Privy Council, 1599/1600 January 25.

Folger MS X.d.346. Examinations by Nathaniel Bacon, Norfolk Justice, of Stephen Nichols and 5 other suspected cut-purses, 1607 May 27.

Folger MS V.a.273. Memoranda of the recognizance and remembrances for the Norfolk Court of the Quarter Sessions of the Peace, taken before Sir Nathaniel Bacon, 1607-1621.

Folger MS Z.c.24 (24). Copy of the Will of Sir Nathaniel Bacon of Stiffkey, May 10, 1614, 1614 June 4

Folger MS X.c.94. Letter signed from Sir Nathaniel Bacon, Stiffkey, to Sir Roger Townshend, London, 1619 June 7.

Folger MS X.d.479. Autograph letter signed from Nathaniel Bacon, Friston, [Suffolk], to his brother, James Bacon at Burgate, Suffolk, 1631 May 11.

Folger MS Z.c.44 (2). Grant of a general livery from the Court of Wards and Liveries to Tristram Tucwell, yeoman, son and heir of Thomas Tucwell, deceased, 1559 February 1.

Folger MS X.d.256-258. Inventories of Jane Berkeley, 1605, 1611 and 1618.

Folger MS X.c.16. Letter signed from William Cecil, Baron Burghley, to Sir Roger Townshend, 1589 June 15.

Folger MS X.d.169 (1-4). Autograph letters signed from Sir Miles Corbett to Sir Roger Townshend, ca. 1589-ca. 1620.

Folger MS X.c.17. Letter signed from Sir Anthony Felton to Sir Nicholas Bacon, 1600 October 19.

Folger MS Z.c.41 (1). Copy of lease from Anne Gresham to Elizabeth, Queen of England, February 9, 1590, 16th century?

Folger MS X.c.22. Letter signed from Lady Elizabeth Knyvet to Sir Roger Townshend, ca. 1615 November 29.

Folger MS X.d.71. Copy of letter from the Justices of Norfolk, England, to the Privy Council, May 26, 1585, ca. 1585?

Folger MS X.d.30 (15). Letter from Privy Council to Sir Nicholas Bacon, Sir John Higham, Bassingborne Gawdy, and Doctor Styll concerning mortgage on land at Rayden, Norfolk, 1589 June 16.

Folger MS V.b.148. Autograph letter signed from John Stanhope, Baron Stanhope of Harrington, to his sister Mrs. Townsend, 1590 November 2.

Folger MS Z.c.24 (26). Bond from Roger Townshend of Raynham, Norfolk, Esq., to Michael Stanhope of Grays Inn, London, Esq., 1585 January 8.

Folger MS V.b.147. Inventories of the Townshend family, taken from 1608-1617.

Folger MS V.b.161. Inventories of the Townshend family, taken from 1589-1652.

Folger MS X.c.19. Letter signed from Sir Francis Walsingham to Lord Cromwell and Nathaniel Bacon, 1583 June 18.

Folger MS G.c.3. Articles of agreement between Sir Henry Woodhouse and Charles Stutevile, 1590 December 27.

Folger MS X.d.619. Tax roll from Nathaniel Bacon, Norfolk, to the Exchequer, 1589 May 2-5.

Folger MS X.d.502. Papers of Nathaniel Bacon [manuscript], 1574-1650 (bulk 1590-1622). (See also finding aid)

Folger MS X.c.110. Letter signed from Francis Walsingham, Greenwich, to Nathaniel Bacon, Norfolk, 1589/90 February 7

Folger MS X.d.620. Commissioners for the prisoners in the King's Bench, Southwark, to Sir Christopher Heydon, Sir John Townshend, Dr. John Hunt and Nathaniel Bacon, Esq., Norfolk, 1600 July 2.

Separated Materials

A manuscript by Sir Robert Naunton, Fragmenta regalia, or, Observations on the late Queene Elizabeth, her times and favourites, ca. 1635, was acquired with this collection but cataloged separately: G.b.1

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Papers of the Bacon-Townshend family of Stiffkey, Norfolk, 1550-1640 Folger MS L.d.1-1036
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Revision Statements

  • January 17, 2017: This finding aid was edited by Emily Wahl to update the Title Proper from "Bacon-Townshend collection" to "Papers of the Bacon-Townshend family of Stiffkey, Norfolk"

Repository Details

Part of the Folger Shakespeare Library Repository

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