Biography of John Donne

Portrait of John Donne

John Donne was was a seventeenth century scholar, poet and cleric.

When and Where was he Born?

Between 24th January and 19th June 1572, London, England.

Family Background:

John Donne was born of Catholic parents, John, a prosperous ironmonger and Elizabeth Donne. His mother was a descendent of Sir Thomas More. His father was a prosperous merchant. He was the third of six children.


Hart Hall, later Hertford College, Oxford and Cambridge University to study law.

Timeline of John Donne

1576: Death of his father. His mother later marries Dr. John Syminges.

1577: Death of his sister Elizabeth.

1578: Death of his sisters Katherine and Mary.

1584: John Donne goes to Oxford University.

1588: Death of his stepfather John Syminges.

1589: He tours on the European continent.

1590: His mother marries again this time to Richard Rainford.

1592: Donne is admitted to Lincoln’s Inn to study law.

1593: His brother Henry dies.

1595: See a portrait of John Donne from this year in the National Gallery, London.

1597: Donne goes on an expedition to Cadiz in Spain with the Earl of Essex.

1598: He travels to the Azores with Essex. Becomes Secretary to Sir Thomas Egerton, the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal.

1601: He becomes Member of Parliament for Brackley in Northamptonshire. He secretly marries the niece of Sir Thomas Egerton, Anne More.

1602: He is dismissed from Egerton’s service once he finds out about his secret marriage to his niece, Anne.

1603: Daughter Constance was born. Son John was born.

1605: John Donne travels to France and possibly Italy. Son George is born.

1606: The family move to Mitcham and John Donne becomes a Protestant.

1607: He takes lodgings in the Strand in London. His son Francis is born.

1608: Daughter Lucy was born.

1609: Daughter Bridget was born. First publication of “The Expiration”.

1611: Daughter Mary was born. Publication of “Ignatius his Conclave” and “The First Anniversary”.

1612: His eighth child is stillborn.

1613: Son Nicholas was born but died within a few months.

1614: John Donne becomes the Member of Parliament for Taunton, Somerset. Death’s of children Mary and Francis. Ordained as deacon and priest at St. Paul’s Cathedral encouraged by King James the First.

1615: He is appointed as a Royal Chaplain. Daughter Margaret born.

1617: He delivers his first sermon at St. Paul’s Cross. His twelfth child is still born. His wife Anne dies whilst giving birth.

1619: Donne joins Viscount Doncaster on an embassy to Germany.

1621: He is appointed as Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

1622: Publication of first two of Donne’s sermons.

1623: He is taken seriously ill.

1624: First publication of “Devotions upon Emergent Occasions”. Meditation 17: Now, this bell tolling softly for another says to me, Thou must die: contains his most famous lines “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And  therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls: it tolls for thee.” This continues the bell theme seen in Meditation 16. This of course has been further enhanced by Ernest Hemingway using “For Whom the Bell Tolls” as a title for one of his novels in 1940.

1627: Death of his daughter Lucy.

1630: His final illness begins. Most of the poems known today were published posthumously as they were originally written for friends or patrons.

When and Where did he Die?

31st March 1631, London, England of stomach cancer.

Age at Death:


Written Works:

1612: “Pseudo-Martyr”.
1611: “Ignatius his Conclave”. “An Anatomy of the World: The First Anniversary”.
1612: “The Second Anniversary: Of the Progress of the Soul”.
1624: “Devotions upon Emergent Occasions”. (A free download of this work in .pdf format can be found here).
1631: “Death’s Duel”. “Poems”.
(1640): “Eighty Sermons”.
(1649): “Fifty Sermons”.
(1651): “Essays in Divinity”.
(1652): “Paradoxes, Problems, Essays, Characters”.


1601: Secretly marries the niece of Sir Thomas Egerton, Anne More.

Site of Grave:

He was buried in the Old Saint Paul’s Cathedral which was burnt down in the Great Fire of London in 1666. His memorial from there is currently in the new St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, England.

St Paul's Cathedral
St Paul’s Cathedral, London (copyright Anthony Blagg)

Places of Interest:


St. Paul’s Cathedral (Old building, known by Donne, was burnt down in 1666 during the Great Fire of London).
British Library.
Lincoln’s Inn Fields. (See more here).