Of Empire by Francis Bacon
Like Of Seditions and Troubles, this essay is political. It has a historical flavour to it, which adds to our historical understanding. According to Bacon, a man would be unhappy if he had nothing to wish for and was terrified of numerous things. Having little to desire and many things to fear will make a man sad, as is often the case with kings. Because kings have the highest status in their respective countries, they have little desires. They do not have anything to desire for because they have everything. As a result, people are depressed or unhappy; their minds are filled with risks and apprehensions; and they have become confused and unable to think rationally. Bacon used several historical references to give advise to kings and to bolster his arguments. There are numerous examples of kings who achieved numerous conquests in war and then grew superstitious and depressed because they were unable to continue gaining military successes. This class of kings, he claims, includes Alexander the Great, Dioclesian, and Charles V. A king who is used to winning battles is disillusioned or frustrated when he discovers that he cannot continue his conquest career. According to Bacon, it is extremely difficult for a king to achieve the mental state required to efficiently govern his country. A king must learn to combine the traits and procedures required for rule. A king must be both stern and gentle. He should not shift his mood abruptly from harshness to mildness or vice versa. Nero was an emperor who met his demise as a result of his own fault.
In this essay, Bacon attempts to provide important advice and suggestions to kings regarding their dealings with their neighbours, wives, children, clerics, aristocrats, merchants, common people, and warriors. When it comes to neighbouring countries, a king must be serious, cautious, and alert. He should not allow any neighbouring country to grow more powerful than it was previously through territorial expansion or trade expansion. A king has the authority to go to war with another king if the latter attempts to become more powerful than he was previously. For example, King Henry VIII of England, Francis I of France, and Charles V of Spain kept the balance of power in such a way that none of them could pose a threat to the others. Furthermore, kings must be wary of their spouses. There were wives who were harsh to their husbands, and some kings suffered greatly as a result of their wives’ enmity. Bacon cited the case of Livia, who was responsible for the assassination of her husband, Emperor Augustus. She poisoned her husband in order to further her lover, Sejanus’, aspirations. Roxolana was responsible for the devastation of her husband’s household, Solyman the Magnificent. Edward II of England was assassinated as a result of an intrigue in which the queen played a significant role. In general, the wives of kings plot against their husbands for one of two reasons. Either they wish to improve their own children’s chances of ascending to the kingdom, or they engage in clandestine love affairs with other men, under the influence of whom they become hostile to their spouses.
As his sons are traitors, a king becomes a victim of his own suspicions about his sons. This mistrust has fatal implications. Constantinus the Great assassinated his son Crispus, resulting in the deaths of his other sons. King Philip of Macedonia killed his son Demetrius, though he later died of repentance. There have, however, been incidents of sons openly revolting against their fathers. In such instances, fathers were justified in taking appropriate action against their sons. In 1512, Selymus I publicly revolted against his father, Sultan Bajazet II, and dethroned him. Similarly, Henry II, King of Englandthree ,’s sons openly revolted against him. Richard, Geoffrey, and John were their names. Priests pose a threat to the King as well. If they are proud or powerful, kings should be wary of them. Archbishops of Canterbury Anselmus and Thomas Beckett clashed openly with their kings. When the priesthood gain the support of a foreign power, the risk to kings increases.
Furthermore, according to Bacon, a king should hold the nobility at bay while not attempting to deprive them of all power. If a king levies too many taxes on merchants, he will lose their trust. Excessive taxation causes trade stagnation and, as a result, a loss of state revenue. Soldiers represent a threat to a king if they are united and accustomed to receiving monetary rewards, such as those received by the Roman emperors’ bodyguard. Soldiers should be placed under the direction of multiple generals and should not be spoiled by monetary rewards. At the end of the essay, King is compared to a planet that is constantly moving and hence does not have time to rest. The planet is also held in high regard since its movement has an impact on human affairs, for better or worse. A king is also held in great regard; he, too, does not get much sleep, and he, too, may do both good and harm to the people. A king must remember that he is a man, as well as that he is god or stands in the place of God. In other words, a king must remember that he is human and can make mistakes. But he should remember that he is divine in the sense that he can do a lot of good.
Though the essay is about kings and the policies they should follow, it surely sheds light on human nature and allows us to grasp the motivations that drive kings’ actions and policies, as well as the behaviours of various sorts of people.