Biography of John Donne

John Donne1572-1631

The metaphysical poet and clergyman John Donne was one of the most influential poets of the Renaissance. He was just as famous for his witty cutting poetry as he was for his enthralling sermons. John was born to a prominent Roman Catholic family from London in 1572. Not a healthy child, John Donne would lead a life plagued with illness.

He received a strong religious upbringing until his enrollment at the University of Oxford at the age of 11. After only three years at Oxford it is believed that he transferred to the University of Cambridge for another three years of study, never obtaining a degree at either college. In 1590 John made a decision that would shape his life: he converted to Anglicanism.

With his newfound faith to support him, John moved to London to study law at Lincoln's Inn. With a promising legal career in front of him, he joined the second Earl of Essex, Robert Devereux, in a naval expedition to Cadiz, Spain. Sometime during the return trip in 1598, he was appointed to be the private secretary for Anne More, niece of the Keeper of the Great Seal, Sir Thomas Egerton. Donne excelled at caring for his charge - so well that in 1601 they were secretly married. After Egerton relieved Donne of his position he was imprisoned for his amorous actions. He later wrote about his experience in poetry, "John Donne - Ann Donne - Undone."

John continued to live in London for the next few years working as counsel for the anti-Catholic pamphleteer, Thomas Morton from 1604 to 1607. It is also during this time that Donne began his writing with Divine Poems in 1607 and Biathanatos in 1608, later published after his death, in 1644.

In 1608 Donne made up with his father-in-law after a few attempted suicides. Pseudo-Martyr, Donne's next work, published in 1610, won him favor with the king. The prose work was a treatise that said Catholics could swear allegiance to King James the first without renouncing the pope. In 1615 John became a priest of the Anglican church and began giving his now famous sermons. Later that same year, he optioned the position of royal chaplain. St. Paul's Cathedral appointed him Dean in 1621, a position he held for ten years. In a final interesting note, our esteemed Mr. Donne performed the eulogy for his own funeral and even posted for a portrait in his death shroud shortly before his death in 1631, of an unknown terminal illness. All of Donne's now famous works were published after his death.

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