LE DOUX's COFFRE, BUT WHOSE PAPERS?

by Peter Farey

 

In "The Story that the Sonnets Tell" A.D. Wraight first suggested that a Monsieur Le Doux, mentioned in the Bacon Papers at Lambeth Palace Library, might be a surviving Christopher Marlowe (Wraight, 1994. p.375). Subsequent research certainly seemed to confirm this possibility. I have myself supported this idea for so long that it came as a bit of a shock to me to realise that it might not be true after all.

Much of what we know about Monsieur Le Doux is based upon the contents of his coffre (chest), apparently in the possession of Anthony Bacon in 1596. Both Wraight and I (1995) believed that the contents of the chest must also therefore have belonged to Le Doux, and this is certainly assumed in the Index to the Papers as well. Unfortunately, however, a more careful look at the evidence shows that this may not have been the case at all.

There are two lists concerning Le Doux at Lambeth. One is endorsed Cathologue des liures de Mr le Douz, and is what appears to be a list of 56 books, each of which has a price written against it, with a grand total of 14: 9s: 0d. It is not certain exactly why these figures are there.

Since this booklist was first noticed, nearly every one of the books has been accurately identified (Farey, 1998, Appendix 2): all except two, in fact. These are an item Le coffre de bonne esperance and, the one following this, Monsr Petit un angelot. It is with this one that we should perhaps start, since it may provide us with a key to what this is all about.

Wraight pointed out that an angelot was not only a cherub, but also a 10 shilling coin (Wraight, 1996, p.91). Probably because of an error of transcription, however, she did not connect this with another document. On 24 January 1595/6, Anthony Bacon's Gascon servant, Jaques Petit, wrote a letter to his master, with a postscript in which he mentioned that he owed Monsieur Le Doux ten shillings, but in the book this is shown as 10 "li" (or pounds). We have, on Le Doux's list, words which may be translated as "Monsieur Petit, 10 shillings" and the sum of 10 shillings next to it. It seems too coincidental for this not to be a record of the debt, which would also, of course, explain why we were unable to find the 'book'.

This is important, since it shows that the rest of the figures are money that Le Doux is owed. This could, of course, be either as some form of expense claim, or indicate that he has sold these books to Anthony Bacon. The Petit item would seem to preclude anyone outside that group owing Le Doux the money - Marlowe's patron, Thomas Walsingham, for example.

If we now look at the other unidentified item immediately preceding it, therefore, we can see that this might not be a book either. A coffre de bonne esperance could in fact be just a chest; and, having no further use for it, he is selling it to Bacon for 12 shillings, the amount shown. Looking at some pictures of antique-style furniture a while back, I read that that one wooden coffer was in fact called a "hope chest". Is something like that what was meant by the coffre de bonne esperance?

We now come to the second list, the one we said contains Le Doux's papers. Well, what it actually says is that it is a Cathologue des liures qui sont dans le coffre de Mr Le Douz ("Catalogue of the books which are in the chest of - or from - M. Le Doux"). In other words, these could just be papers and files for which room has now been found in the chest that was purchased a month earlier. In which case, they would have belonged to Anthony Bacon.

Would that make sense? It certainly would.

  • The named letters are all from people known to be close acquaintances and correspondents of Anthony's.
  • There are no letters from Anthony himself.
  • There is a book of speeches by Anthony's Bacon father, of which the British Library has a beautiful handwritten copy, apparently given to Christopher Yelverton by Anthony.
  • There are copies of various pieces by his brother Francis - including his Essays, a year before they were published, dedicated to Anthony.
  • We know that Francis also collected proverbs, phrases and sayings, and there is evidence here of just the same thing.
  • There is a copy of Anthony's own commonplace book, and "other collections" of his papers, including of the Princes & present state of Christendome 1582, said to be by Anthony Bacon and Nicholas Faunt (du Maurier, 1975, p.54).
  • There are many documents of exactly the type that would be obtained by someone whose job, as his was, the collection and interpretation of foreign intelligence concerning France, Spain and Scotland. As his aunt, Lady Russell, complained to him: "...you are too well known and beloved in Scotland to be a true Englishman, and busy yourself with matters above your reach, as foreign intelligence and entertainment of spies." (Ibid. p. 173)
  • There is evidence of particular interest in his friend, Henri IV of France.
  • Anthony's concern with happenings involving a Monsieur De Lussan, the Governor of Blaye, is reflected both in the Bacon Papers and in this list.
  • As a spymaster frequently receiving letters in code, the clavis steganographia, a key to a code or codes, is hardly surprising.
  • We may, of course, wonder why this particular list of files should be the only one to survive. Where are all of the other similar filing records? The most likely explanation I can think of is that most of them (a few have more recent dates) were documents which Anthony Bacon had had to leave behind in Montauban when he returned from France in early 1592, and that Le Doux had eventually brought them over in the coffre for delivery to him. So any reliance we may have placed hitherto on the contents of the coffre telling us anything significant about Monsieur Le Doux himself must now seem a bit too much like wishful thinking on our part.

     

    © Peter Farey, 1999 (updated 2009)

     

    Bibliography

    Daphne du Maurier, Golden Lads (1975)

    A.D. Wraight, The Story that the Sonnets Tell (1994)

    A.D. Wraight and Peter Farey, William Shakespeare: New Evidence (unpublished paper, 1995)

    A.D. Wraight, Shakespeare: New Evidence (1996)

    Peter Farey, A Deception in Deptford (1998) web address http://www2.prestel.co.uk/rey/appx1a.htm


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