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Biography of Edward Gibbon

Portrait of Edward Gibbon

Edward Gibbon was an eighteenth century Member of Parliament but is chiefly remembered as a historian who wrote the “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”.

When and Where was Edward Gibbon Born?

8th May 1737, Lime Grove manor, Putney, London, England.

Family Background:

Edward Gibbon’s father, also called Edward was well off due to inheriting a fortune from his own father. He lived in society and parliament. His mother was Judith Porten.


Private tuition by John Kirkby a clergyman. Grammar school in Kingston-on-Thames run by Dr Wooddeson. Westminster School. Magdalen College, Oxford.

Timeline of Edward Gibbon:

1747: Death of his mother.

1750: Gibbon is forced to leave Westminster School due to ill health and goes to Bath to take the waters.

1751: His health improves and he begins to become interested in history.

1752: Edward Gibbon enters Oxford University as a gentleman commoner where, by his own admission, he spends an idle life.

1753: He converts to Catholicism. He father sends him to Lausanne in Switzerland as a punishment and he is tutored by a Calvinist teacher Daniel Pavillard. He meets Jacques Georges Deyverdun who translated Goethe’s “The Sorrows of Young Werther” into French and John Baker Holroyd who later became Lord Sheffield.

1754: He converts back to Protestantism.

1755: His father marries again to Dorothea Patton. Gibbon spends his time reading mathematics and latin.

1757: He meets Voltaire who describes him as an English youth. He falls in love with Suzanne Curchod the daughter of the Pastor of Crassy and proposes to her. They become engaged.

1758: He begins writing the “Essai sur L’Etude de la Litterature”. Breaks off with Curchod after resistance from his father and returns to England and spends much of his time at New Bond Street in London.

1759: Gibbon serves as an officer in the South Hampshire Militia.

1761: He notices he has a lump near his genitals and consults a surgeon Caesar Hawkins and also Mr. Andrews. He begins keeping a detailed diary.

1763: Gibbon goes on a grand Tour and arrives in Paris. Je journies on to Lausanne in Switzerland.

1764: He meets Suzanne Curchod once more and makes a final break with her. He leaves Lausanne and goes on to Italy with William Guise where he tours Turin, Milan, Genoa, Venice, Bologna, Florence, Pisa, Rome and Naples. He makes a detailed tour of the Roman forum in October and it is there that he got his idea for writing the “History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”.

1765: Returns to England.

1768: He publishes two volumes of the literary review “Mémoires littéraires de la Grande-Bretagne” with his friend Deyverdun.

1769: Deyverdun returns to the Continent.

1770: Gibbon resigns his commission in the Hampshire Militia. Death of his father. His inheritance now gives him financial stability.

1772: Leases out the Buriton family estate and moves to 7 Bentick St, Cavendish Square, London.

1773: First starts writing the “History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” He succeeded Oliver Goldsmith as Professor in Ancient History at the Royal Academy in London.

1774: He is elected as a Member of Parliament for Liskeard in Cornwall. He is nominated to be a member of Samuel Johnson’s Literary Club by Oliver Goldsmith but is blackballed, meaning that an anonymous member had refused his admission. He is later admitted. He achieves a contract with the publishers Strahan & Cadell. He is initiated a freemason of the Premier Grand Lodge of England

1775: He delivers Volume One of the “Decline and Fall” to his publishers.

1776: The work is published for the first time and meets with a hostile reception. One of his major detractors is Joseph Priestley.

1777: He leaves for an extended trip to Paris, where he meets the American Benjamin Franklin.

1778: Gibbon starts work on volume two of the “Decline and Fall”.

1779: He is appointed to the Board of Trade and Plantations by the Government. He loses his Liskeard seat in Parliament when his Patron Edward Eliot defects to the opposition.

1781: Publication of volumes two and three of the “Decline and Fall”. He is Elected as Member of Parliament for Lymington.

1782: He starts work on volume four of the “Decline and Fall”. He loses his position on the Board of Trade.

1783: Gibbon leaves London to live in Lausanne with Deyverdun at his estate called “La Grotte”.

1785: He starts work on volume five of the “Decline and Fall” although progress is interrupted by an attack of gout.

1786: Volume five is completed.

1787: Volume six is completed and with it the entire project. He returns to England with the manuscript and is paid £4,000 by his publisher.

1788: Volumes four to six of the “Decline and Fall” are published. He returns to Lausanne and starts composing his memoirs. Adam Smith remarks that Gibbon’s triumph had made him “at the very head of the literary tribe.”

1789: Death of Deyverdun which means he inherits “La Grotte”.

1790: Gibbon reads Edmund Burke’s “Reflections on the Revolution in France” which he agrees with.

1791: He hears of the Terror in Paris from friends.

1792: He fears a French invasion of Switzerland.

1793: He returns to England and stays with Lord Sheffield after the death of his wife. In August the swelling in his lower body increases rapidly. He becomes dangerously ill and moves to 76 St James Street, London with his friend the bookseller Peter Elmsley.

1794: Gibbon has three operations to drain fluid from his body but things get worse as the knives used were not sterile and he dies on 16th June.

(1796): Lord Sheffield published “The Miscellaneous Works of Edward Gibbon” in 2 volumes.

When and Where did he Die?

16th June 1794, London, England from peritonitis.

Age at Death:


Written Works:

1761: “Essai sur L’Etude de la Litterature”.
1770: “Critical Observations on the Sixth Book of the ‘Aeneid’ (anonymous).
1776: “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”.
1792: “On a Grander Scale” (Memoirs).


Never married but was forced to break off his engagement to Suzanna Curchod by his disapproving father. He kept in touch with Curchod all his life, even after she later married Jacques Necker the Finance Minister of King Louis the Sixteenth of France and became the mother of Madame de Staël.

Site of Grave:

North transept of the St. Mary and St. Andrew’s parish church, Fletching, East Sussex, England in a plot owned by Lord Sheffield’s family.

Places of Interest:


Liskeard where Gibbon was once Member of Parliament.


Sheffield Park (wrote some of “Decline and Fall” there).