Sir Francis Bacon (15611626), the English scientist, jurist and politician, had a lot to say about Elizabethan and Jacobean policy in Ireland and had a significant impact upon it. This online edition includes the bulk of his extant manuscript material relating to Ireland. Much of this has appeared before skittered throughout Bacon's Works and his Letters and Life in the early nineteenth century and the Calendar of State Papers Ireland in the early twentieth century. It is concentrated here in one block in modernised spelling and punctuation and is organised in chronological order so that the development of his interest can be easily tracked. This edition, which incorporates a couple of newly-identified pieces of Bacon, has different types of document position papers with their covering letters, one recorded speech, various business letters, two reports, two court prosecutions and five legal opinions.
The most famous Bacon text relating to Ireland is his tract Certain Considerations touching the Plantation in Ireland presented to James I at the start of 1609 when plans were being evolved for the colonisation of Ulster. However he had already given other pieces of advice or counsel to the Earl of Essex and Robert Cecil (later the earl of Salisbury), and was to do so afterwards to George Villiers (later the duke of Buckingham) and to George Jones, the newly-appointed Chief Justice of Ireland. The advice given to Essex and Cecil was in a private capacity and relates to the completion of the Elizabethan conquest of Ireland. The advice given to King James, Villiers and Jones was proffered when Bacon held office in England first as solicitor-general, then becoming eventually Lord Chancellor and relates to the post-war consolidation of English rule in Ireland. This advice on contemporary policy and high politics was not meant for public view and was not published in his lifetime. When these documents were eventually published, some of them were wrongly dated, and hence were often out of their proper context, usually because their covering letters had been omitted.
Bacon first appeared as an advisor to the Earl of Essex discussing, amongst other things in the 1590s, the war in Ireland. It is interesting how Bacon's letters serious Tacitean missives laced with Latin tags are similar to Essex's own. The first on Ireland was written when Mr Secretary Robert Cecil went off on embassy to France in the spring of 1598. Bacon told Essex that involvement in the Irish Question was a way to purchase honour on three grounds that it would rekindle the Devereux role there begun by his father, that it was the single biggest and most time-consuming issue then in train and that putting it in frame would be a demonstrable contrast with the actions of those who put it out of frame. Essex, he reckoned, would gain honour simply by being seen to have the right people employed there and he should start by consulting those in England with experience of office or martial affairs in Ireland. A second letter soon after shows that Essex was indeed taking a closer interest in Irish affairs and it indicates that he had asked the advice of this ignorant statesman on the ongoing talks with the Earl of Tyrone. Bacon was willing to give Tyrone the benefit of the doubt but wanted soldiers ready in England if a peace could not be secured. It is plain that Bacon preferred the peace option in Ireland so as to eliminate the threat of Spanish intervention, to win over wayward subjects there by just measures and to eventually divide and disunite the Irish confederates. To attain this Bacon was in favour of sending over a reform commission of peaceable men chiefly of respect and countenance. However if Tyrone proved to be dissembling and the peace deal collapsed, a full re-conquest had to be determined upon and Essex himself should be ready to take up the charge. One way or other Bacon saw Ireland as a way of Essex winning a great deal of honour gratis!
There is another Bacon epistle in early 1599, an exhortatory one, when Essex did eventually accept the office of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland a service of great merit and great peril. It reflected the doubts Essex had himself about the task ahead and his worries about the backbiting and intrigue against him at court in his absence. Once again honour is at stake you go upon the greater peril of your fortune, and the less of your reputation; and so the honour countervaileth the adventure; of which honour your lordship is in no small possession. In these circumstances Bacon advises a positive approach; that Essex can win glory where others have failed and that it is a noble enterprise to recover subjects to their allegiance. Indeed he asserts that the greatest triumphs of the Romans, in which generals won their names of honour, were wars against rebels and conquests of savages such as the Germans and Britons. Success in Ireland would be not just transient and enriching victories such as Essex had already won against Spain like capturing some rich carrack but a more permanent and worthwhile achievement. In Ireland Essex would be engaged in a civilising mission to replant and refound the policy of that nation, to which nothing is wanting but a just and civil government. Bacon suggests that in the winning of honour, merit is better than fame, discipline better than adventure and a mix of war and diplomacy better than sheer force. Most interestingly prophetically as to what would subsequently take place Bacon urged Essex to proceed as a good Protestant by following instructions, because exceeding their limits might prove a dangerous disavow. However Bacon admits in signing off that he is no expert in these matters. That his authority is largely academic, writing as he does in methodo ignorantiae, which is when a man speaketh of any subject not according to the parts of matter, but according to the model of his own knowledge.
At the end of 1601 we find Bacon writing a far longer piece of advice on Ireland indeed one of the most conciliatory English documents on Ireland in the whole Tudor period. With Bacon having of course turned against his former patron, this document was now directed to Robert Cecil. Bacon urges Cecil to seize the opportunity of the recent English victory at Kinsale to take in hand the cause of Ireland. According to Bacon, if Cecil pursues a timely peace in Ireland, he will not only increase his own honour but also the Queen's reputation. Though if Bacon, in giving this advice, had an eye to his own advancement, urging Cecil to make himself by this matter as good a patriot as you are a politique seems a tad foolish.
Bacon's Certain Considerations touching the Queen's service in Ireland outlined four objectives extinguishing the embers of war, recovering the hearts of the people, removing the cause of further conflict and reviving the plantations necessary to reduce the country as well to civility and justice as to obedience and justice. The peaceable approach carried strategic and cost advantage. With Spain distracted by commitments in North Africa, the Irish could be weaned off their expectation of Spanish support and in turn the severance of these two parties the Irish and the Spaniards might assist the negotiation of an Anglo-Spanish treaty. In pursuing reconciliation and reconstruction in Ireland, Bacon was concerned not just to proceed politiquely but also legally for instance he refers to the question of ius gentium in the wrapping-up of the Irish war. Here he favours the Italian approach of Banditi leaders being killed as examples rather than wiping out a whole people as if they are savages. Interestingly Bacon has taken on board what Spenser had written in his 1596 View of the Present State of Ireland but is mostly in disagreement with the planter-poet's approach. He is against the extirpation of a people and any further effusion of blood. Indeed he explicitly rejects Spenser's displanting of ancient generations. He is in favour of winning over the Irish as equals under the law, welcoming them at court and even rewarding Irish nobles with lands in England as Philip II had done with Portuguese potentates in Spain when he conquered their country.
Indeed had such assimilatory policies been adopted in the first instance, Bacon implies that the war might have been avoided altogether. If the emergency use of martial law is as necessary as Spenser claimed, it should only be used for a time and in its implementation the military man should be twinned with a judge using summary justice in a form as close as possible to the laws of England. Bacon is even more radical when it came to religion. Breaking with forty years of royal supremacy, Bacon is even ready to concede a limited toleration of Catholicism in certain Irish towns after the model of the Edict of Nantes. He knows this will be an attraction for English recusants to move to Ireland but he does not see that as so bad in itself as it will aid the country's repopulation. Anyhow this was not intended as a permanent concession but as an act of expediency to give the crown time to invest in the proper evangelisation of Ireland. In this recommendation Bacon is taking his cue directly from the concluding section of Spenser's View where the deployment of trained and committed preachers was demanded. Bacon also wants to re-establish the shattered plantation of Munster from which Spenser has been driven, but this time with a view to the interests of the state rather than its private developers by picking better undertakers and fortifying only in places designated as being strategically important. In making this proposal, Bacon taps into the war-weariness evident amongst Robert Cecil and other English leaders. This Bacon tract, because it was separated from its covering letter, has confusingly been attributed to Mountjoy and as a result some historians have considered that Lord Deputy more liberal than he actually was.1 In fact this was Bacon at his most progressive Mountjoy's conclusion of the war was on the contrary draconian, bloody, expensive and long-drawn out.
Bacon had an opportunity to play a more direct role in the development of policy in Ireland when in office under James I. The Flight of the Earls in 1607 followed by the Revolt of O'Doherty in 1608 at last provided the opportunity for an extensive programme of confiscation and colonisation in Ulster. In putting his ideas in this little book to James I at New Year in 1609, Bacon was reacting to some of the early plantation proposals being made by officials in Ireland. Bacon felt assured in proffering advice of his own, as he was now in the same position of solicitor-general as Sir John Popham had been when he had taken a leading role of the 1580s plantation of Munster. Bacon is anxious to have James I play an active part in establishing and promoting the plantation in order to avoid the problems of the earlier colonial ventures in Ireland. He emphasizes how important the project will be to the king's reputation that besides the Union of Crowns, the Ulster Plantation will be other great endeavour of his reign. The tone is extremely unctuous: as in the works of God, the creation is greater than the preservation. Plantations were the way of founding or refounding kingdoms and this godly work would lead to the eventual prosperity and happiness of Britain's sister kingdom of Ireland. With the owners having already vacated the premises, he is able to assert that there was no extirpation involved. On this occasion there is no powerful elite requiring conciliation, merely the need to evolve a civilising mission. Here he uses the metaphor of the harp of Orpheus casting its harmonious spell over nature. This therefore, of all other most memorable and honourable, your majesty hath now in hand; especially if your Majesty join the harp of David, in casting out the evil spirit of superstition, with the harp of Orpheus, in casting out desolation and barbarism.
As well as stoking the king's ego, Bacon emphasized the strategic advantages of the project. It has civic importance in England and Scotland because by relieving those countries of surplus people it may prevent many seeds of future perturbations; in terms of military policy the plantation will finally secure this formerly troublesome province, which attracting foreign interference, was the strategic weak-spot of the British state; and overall he claimed that it would make another Britain out of Ireland by developing its potential, both human and material, for fiscal and military benefit of the state. The king's reputation and involvement was needed to animate the whole enterprise. So too were rich and committed undertakers; these should be coupled in the plantation grants with army veterans who would help provide security. It was no use giving out grants of lands in Ulster to pleasure seekers or profiteers the undertakers had to be in it for the long haul. In this planting, honour was more important than profit. Bacon urged the rewarding of knighthoods echoes of Essex perhaps for those involved. He was also proposing new titles of dignity for nobles undertaking the larger grants. This suggestion is probably the origin of the title of baronet subsequently created as an honour for some of those willing to invest in the plantation. Robert Cecil had a hand in developing this idea but is surely significant Francis's half-brother Nicholas Bacon was created the first baronet in 1611.2 To further encourage the undertakers, he suggested that the king add the moribund Earl of Ulster title to his son's Prince of Wales title.
In Bacon's view the plantation of Ulster had to be a public enterprise if it was going to work. He wanted the direct involvement of the English parliament to finance infrastructure such as bridges, roads and fortifications; in the end it would of course be the City of London providing this much needed strategic investment in the project. Reacting to preliminary proposals and indeed previous failings, Bacon was urging careful attention to the conditions the undertakers would enter into so as to ensure subsequent implementation. Furthermore aware that Ulster was in actual fact inhabited and that swordsmen and kern were a threat there, he was urging nucleated settlements not isolated outposts because that fault in the last plantation of Munster, made the work of years to be but the spoil of days. Overall in the belief that the Irish government did not have time besides its normal duties Bacon wanted the establishment of a resident Plantation commission to have continual bureaucratic oversight of the project. This advice given to the king by Bacon on the Ulster Plantation and its concern for reputation and state-building makes an interesting contrast with published propaganda for the same plantation, for instance Thomas Blenerhasset's A direction for the plantation in Vlster (London, 1610). It also makes a fine contrast with A letter sent by I.B. gentleman the first printed propaganda for plantation in Ireland which had been put out by the classically-minded Sir Thomas Smith and his son in 1572. It is furthermore worth reading this private document in comparison with Bacon's general comment on plantation which he published in Essays or Counsels, Civil and Morall in 1625. The former clearly influenced the latter and though his commentary in the latter was mainly sparked by the Virginia plantation, it is plain that more similarities had appeared between the European and American ventures than he originally thought.
After the Ulster plantation was up and running, Bacon's advice on Ireland continued when he was lord chancellor. We find him advising James I's favourite George Villiers in 1616 on the legal aspects of policy towards recusant towns for Oliver St John's instructions when assuming government of Ireland. Once again Bacon was against forcing consciences he is plainly in favour of an oath of allegiance rather than an oath of supremacy being tendered to magistrates. He also favoured legal process over government edicts in dealing with the town liberties. He was against weeding out Popery by the temporal sword; putting his hopes instead somewhat optimistically in better clergy and better education and in the planters, like the Romans, eventually coalescing with the natives. For political reasons he was against reducing the size of the council in Ireland but for financial reasons he was in favour of establishing a select group of councillors who would work to improve the revenue and this eventually happened. We also have a surviving valedictory speech by Bacon as a client Sir William Jones prepares to leave England to take up a new post as Chief Justice of Ireland. Bacon pointed out to Jones that he will also have a political role as a member of the Irish Privy Council. In this regard Bacon reminds Jones that he will be playing his part in the king's already successful project of the developing of a kingdom which a generation ago many people had wished was sunk beneath the sea. As councillor of state Jones should pay special regard to the plantations (where he was to hold the planters to their covenants not only in the one in Ulster but also in the others now being established in Wexford, Longford and Leitrim), that he should look to the increase of the king's revenue and that he should take an interest in the care of religion. This last charge, preventing the emergence of a Counter-reformation Ireland, Bacon held the most challenging of the lot lest Ireland civil become more dangerous to us than Ireland savage!
In spite of the different political situations and personal circumstances in which these position papers were written, there is a fair degree of continuity in the ideas Bacon put forward in relation to Ireland over this twenty year span. Bacon comes across as a moderate in terms of Irish policy. He regards Ireland as a junior kingdom in need of tutelage and improvement and not as a colony. He sees Ireland as part of Europe he tells William Jones that Ireland is the last of the children of Europa which is being reclaimed from desolation as a sister kingdom and in advising King James on Ulster plantation he clearly sees the inhabitants of Ireland as equal subjects of a kingdom distinct from Britain. Bacon wants an obedient and prosperous Ireland achieved by the reward of its inhabitants and amelioration of their condition rather than their coercion or extirpation. Nor is he interested in forcing the Irish to become Protestants. As the Nine Years War (15941603) comes to a close, he is willing to advocate some form of religious toleration whilst at the same time intensifying evangelisation and when anti-recusancy action is underway in the mid-1610s he favours only exemplary action conducted by the normal judicial mechanisms. Essentially Bacon would have come across as Eudoxus, the England-based policy wonk in Spenser's famous dialogue rather than Irenius, the old Ireland hand. He is an armchair imperialist; he is not a capitalist-colonist. He is interested in honour, sometimes personal honour but mostly the reputation of the state. He is more interested in policy than profit. He is building a British state but it involves for him more European statecraft than exploitative colonialism. Note his famous reference to the Virginia colony, whilst making his proposals for the Ulster plantation, as being an enterprise in my opinion differing as much from this, as Amadis de Gaul differs from Caesar's Commentaries. His approach is academic based often on classical precepts rather than on the ruthless realism of an acquisitive man on the spot. He is a scholarly metropolitan policy-maker not a colonial subaltern.
When we move on to assess his short business letters, we can see Bacon operating first in a private and then later in a public capacity. These have two principal elements gathering information and obtaining and giving out jobs. In his very first letter referring to Ireland we see him informing his brother about news arriving at Court relating to Maguire's revolt and the position of the earl of Tyrone. In his second letter we see he him offering to provide information to his cousin Robert Cecil in France where he is involved in international negotiations. When Bacon himself reached office, we see him demanding information from correspondents, in particular from contacts in Ireland. For instance his correspondence with Sir John Davies, the solicitor-general. In a letter of 1606, Bacon is refusing to exchange news with Davies who has imparted no occurrences there, however in the next extant letter when Bacon is in office, the Solicitor-general of Ireland is being more forthcoming. I would be glad to hear often from you, and to be advertised how things pass, whereby to have some occasion to think some good thoughts; though I can do little. In other words, such knowledge provided the raw material for Bacon's analysis of Irish affairs. As English solicitor-general, Bacon could not do much but he could when he gained experience and was later promoted to more senior and more influential posts. Bacon's role as a patron is also exhibited in these letters. As a friend and advisor of the earl of Essex, we have examples of him in 1598 using his good offices with the earl to suggest individuals, who have sought his intercession, for posts in the army going to Ireland. After Bacon attained office in England especially when he became Lord Chancellor we see him increasingly using his position to obtain legal posts for clients in Ireland. In 1616 and in 1617 we have letters to Buckingham where he proposes Wrytington and then Lowder for posts in the Irish judiciary. And Sir Edward Jones, the new Lord Justice of Ireland, was clearly a client of Bacon's one who was not only being advised to carry through the policies he favoured there but also of course expected to act as an intelligencer for him.
This collection also includes two reports written by Bacon which relate to Ireland. The first is his account of the hearing into the Earl of Essex's activities in Ireland which took place at York House in June 1600. Bacon had been as a Queen's Counsel at that time part of the crown's prosecution of his former friend and patron and Queen Elizabeth subsequently asked him to provide an account which has come down to us in incomplete form. In this instance Essex's actions in Ireland were condemned but in a relatively benign way; however when the following year the earl was tried for an attempted coup d'état, Bacon published his case and trial as A declaration of the Practices and Treasons attempted and committed by Robert late Earl of Essex and his complices against Her Majesty and her kingdoms (London, 1601). That printed pamphlet has not been included as it deals mostly with what took place in London in the immediate run-up to Essex's attempt to seize power. Yet it had as a peroration Essex's Lord Lieutenancy in Ireland which was a massive misrepresentation of his government there. It was now being claimed that Essex had gone into Ireland with malice aforethought, that he carried into Ireland a heart corrupted in allegiance and pregnant of those and like treasons which afterwards came to light. This public denunciation by Bacon of his former patron not only played badly with Essex's remaining friends but also probably with the Irish, all of whom, rebels included, had high hopes of Essex. In 1604 Bacon published An apology concerning the earl of Essex in an attempt to explain and justify his behaviour. From the outset it emphasized Bacon's chief intention as being to serve the state whatsoever I did concerning that action and proceeding, was done in my duty and service to the Queen and the State; in which I would not show myself false-hearted nor faint-hearted for any man's sake living. This motivation often manifest in a most unctuous and fawning fashion was always to the forefront when he eventually obtained the opportunity to serve under James.
The second report we have relates to the gerrymandered Irish parliament of 1613. In June 1613 after the opening of that assembly collapsed into chaos, Bacon drew up and sent to the king a little breviat of the Irish business. Although this breviat is no longer attached to the covering letter held by the Folger Library, it can easily be identified amongst the Carew papers where it is entitled Brief Relation of the Passages in the Parliament summoned in Ireland in 1613. This is a summary of events in the Irish parliament compiled from correspondence sent into England and differs from other documents treating the same topic in having a short historical introduction and in distinguishing the parties as Protestants and Recusants. Bacon had briefed himself well and came to play an important part advising the king on the subsequent commission sent into Ireland and in dealing with the Irish Catholic deputation which arrived at Court to put their grievances to James. Indeed it may be that the parliamentary crisis in Ireland was important in bringing Bacon's political capabilities to the king's notice because since the death of Salisbury the year previous there was no English minister specializing in Irish matters. Indeed Bacon later informed George Villiers in 1616 that when the great rent and divisions were in the Parliament of Ireland, I was no unfortunate remembrancer to his Majesty's princely wisdom in that business.
Bacon was of course involved in many celebrated law cases but his two prosecutions of the Irish delegates have never been properly evaluated and the record of the first one involving the whole delegation has never been published before. Bacon's charge of the Irish recusant party's representatives before the King and Privy Council sometime in the autumn of 1613 was listed as being amongst the Carew Papers at Crowcombe Court, Somerset, by Historical Manuscript Commissioners in 1874.3. However thirty years later those papers were sold off to private collectors and in effect lost to scholars. Fortunately this document has recently been identified amongst manuscripts acquired subsequently by the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York and it now appears here for the first time. The Irish delegation were prosecuted for disturbing, crossing and traducing of the Parliament in Ireland called by Your Majesty and in preparing his charge Bacon utilised a lot of the information assembled in the earlier Brief Relation. As it stands, this document is a disappointment. Rather than being full of interesting constitutional insights on Anglo-Irish relations by England's leading intellectual, it is a rhetorical and fawning performance by a barrister who has been handed a brief with great knockabout potential. The delegates are represented as leaders of a party an interesting usage in parliamentary history who have acted not only in a contemptuous, presumptuous and disorderly fashion but also possibly with seditious intent. They had deigned to question the new corporations erected as a result of the king's most Christian and Blessed act in assisting the country with plantations. They had even asked to see the Lord Deputy's instructions regarding the parliament which was an intolerable presumption on the parts of subjects. Then when parliament collapsed over the appointment of a speaker, this party tried to give law in a fashion to the deputy & capitulate & treat with him upon what conditions they will repair a parliament. For Bacon this was the beginnings of liberty and conditional obedience being as much as to say if you will yield to us in all we require, we will do as shall please us. Furthermore since coming into England, these agents had complained about the infringement of parliamentary rights in an attempt to sow the seeds of scandal and discontent even within the parliament of England. To this Bacon responded, describing himself as a parliament man of thirty-two years' experience, that under King James the liberties of parliament have been ampliate and enlarged and not infringed or restrained. Bacon ended his charge of the Irish agents by burlesquing the case of Thomas Luttrell who like a tribune of the people entered the House of Lords in Dublin to upbraid the Lord Deputy where he sat in his robes of state. Bacon's performance here seems at variance with the moderate opinions he has expressed regarding Ireland. However this was more about defending the actions of an absolutist state and flattering its prince. These delegates were not being ridiculed for being Irish but for demanding their constitutional rights. That explains government fears that they would make common cause with English parliamentary opponents. Interestingly we have another letter from Bacon to the King early the following year where he advises putting off another session of the troublesome Irish parliament so that it will not disturb the planned English one. Instead a carefully stage-managed English parliament should be called first so as to provide an example of obedience to its postponed Irish counterpart.
Bacon's other charge was against William Talbot who was considered the Irish recusants chief oracle for law. Whereas the other Irish delegates had been placed under house arrest at Croyden, Talbot had been sent to the Tower after refusing to repudiate Francisco Suarez's views of the duty of Catholic subjects to heretical monarchs.4 These were circulating in Defensio catholicae fidei contra anglicanae which Suarez had recently published at the Pope's behest against the 1606 English oath of allegiance. When the book reached England, James had ordered its burning by the public hangman. Talbot did not, it seems, possess a copy of the book but when he continued to refuse to deny Suarez's doctrines, he was called before the Star Chamber in March 1614. Suarez had upheld the Pope's claims of temporal authority over kings and the right to deprive them and thereby to incite subjects to tyrannicide. Bacon denounced these monstrous opinions and cited the recent regicides in France and the attempted ones in England. Though Talbot's statement did not venture an opinion on the book and acknowledged his loyalty to King James as sovereign, he also submitted all matters of faith to the judgment of the Catholic church. Bacon was prepared to be lenient and accept this formulation but also thought it was too conditional and far too late in the day. Bacon's charge of Talbot and indeed his case against the whole deputation were referred to again the following month. That was when King James famously denounced the Irish Catholic delegates as but half-subjects, dismissed their complaints and dispatched them home to redeem themselves by behaving properly in their delayed parliamentary deliberations.5.
Bacon and the solicitor-general Henry Hobart also gave a legal opinion on whether the oath of allegiance could be tendered to these Irish in England. They agreed that the oath was not statute law in Ireland and in effect only voluntary. If the delegates had not recently taken communion, they could be required to take the oath but the law officers left it up to the king and privy council whether this applied to non-residents. This opinion is here included with four other legal opinions relating to Ireland which Bacon gave, often in tandem with other English law-officers and judges. The decisions in which Bacon was involved seem to be strict interpretations of existing law and practise, in particular that the laws operating in England were not necessarily the same as those operating in Ireland. Bacon regards Ireland as separate jurisdiction; he does not regard at least so it seems laws made in England to be superior to laws made in Ireland. These decisions do not appear to be anti-Irish or to favour England or Englishmen over Irish subjects of the crown; on the other hand none of these decisions go against the interests of the state. The question is whether or not these legal opinions are similar to the judicial resolutions of his Irish counter-part, Sir John Davies, which Hans Pawlisch has called judge-made law. When they relate to new policies, they surely can be. The judgement relating to Burrell's operation of an Iron Foundary for the East India Company in County Cork seems neutral enough as does the opinion relating to attainted lands, bishops' lands and alienations sent over to the Chief Baron of the Exchequer in Ireland. His decision made together with Ellesmere relating to recusant mayors in Irish town corporations was a call for the strict enforcement of the existing law but the decision made on his own in 1616 relating to Irish towns exporting wool was a more radical departure. Reacting to a proposal by the outgoing Lord Deputy, Sir Arthur Chichester, and London merchants, Bacon was interpreting town charters and statutes to propose a new stapling arrangement for the export of wool. The plan was to extend the number of Irish staple towns which would in future channel all their wool exports through corresponding English staple towns. This was a monopolist, mercantilist and statist measure. Irish wool exports henceforth would go only to England to be taxed by approved state contractors. In 1617 this measure was agreed by the Privy Council of which Bacon was now a prominent member as Lord Chancellor and sent as an instruction into Ireland to be enacted by proclamation. At the time of this Privy Council order, there was already opposition in Ireland to the plan. The scheme never worked in practice all but one of the proposed Irish staple towns refused to participate and in 1619 the Irish Council, forwarding petitions for redress, stated that it had produced none of the good it promised.6
This wool staple scheme may have been a disaster but it was only one of the new Irish policies in which Bacon was now closely involved as part of an attempt at administrative and fiscal reform in Ireland. In 1616 he helped draft a new commission for wards in Ireland. Two years later he was crowing to Buckingham about the increased revenues raised by this measure in Ireland and hoping that similar improvements might be adopted in England. In April 1617 Buckingham had informed him that the king wanted him to go thoroughly about the business of Ireland, whereinto you are so well entered.7 Might it be that whilst it was Buckingham who had control of patronage in Ireland, it was Bacon who was chief architect of policy there between 1616 and 1621?