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Biography of John Milton

John Milton was a seventeenth century epic poet.

When and Where was he Born?

9th December 1608, Bread Street, London, England a short walk from St Paul’s Cathedral.

Family Background:

John Milton was the son of John Milton senior, a scrivener and church composer and his wife Sara.

Education:

As a young boy he is taught by Thomas Young, a Scottish Presbyterian  and then moves St. Paul’s School, London and Christ’s College, Cambridge.

Timeline of John Milton:

1615: His brother Christopher is born on the 24th November.

1620: He enters St Paul’s School where, according to his brother, he studied very hard.

1625: He goes up to Christ’s College, Cambridge on 12th February and is taught by William Chappell. 

1629: He is unhappy with the way he mistreated by some of his fellow students and is unmoved by the dramas performed by the University.

1632: Milton leaves Cambridge University after receiving an MA with distinction and moves back to his father’s houses at Horton in Buckinghamshire and in Hammersmith, near London.

1634: First performance of “Comus”, with music by Court Composer Henry Lawes, on 29th September at Ludlow, Shropshire. This is in honour of the installation of Thomas Egerton, the Lord President of Wales, at Ludlow Castle.

1637: Death of his mother Sara at Horton.

1638-39: “Lycidas” is published in the Cambridge memorial volume for Edward King, a fellow pupil at Christ’s College who had died at sea. Milton embarks on a tour of the continent, through France, Italy and Switzerland. He talks to many scholars along the way but one highlight is meeting Galileo, who was under house arrest by the Inquisition in Florence. He decides not to continue on to Greece as rumours reach him of a possible civil war in England.

1639-40: Back in London he begins a private school for his nephews but then accepts children from the aristocracy.

1641: Milton begins writing anti-Episcopal leaflets.

1642: He marries Mary Powell in May or early June but she leaves him a month later to return to her family in Oxford who are on the side of the Royalist cause. The English Civil War begins in August. In October his brother Christopher enlists with then Royalists in Reading.

Statue of John Milton
Statue of John Milton on the rear facade of 
the Royal Academy in London (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1644: The Battle of Marston Moor on 2nd July marks a turning point against the King in the war where Parliament took full control of the north.

1645: Milton plans to marry “the daughter of Doctor Davis” but Mary Powell returns. On 14th June at the Battle of Naseby King Charles the First loses all chances of winning a military conclusion to the war.

1646: The entire Powell family are ejected from Oxford which was the Kings temporary capital and they move in with Milton. His daughter Anne is born on the 29th July.

1647: Milton’s father dies leaving behind a modest estate which includes the house in Bread Street, London. Most of the Powells return to Oxford and the Milton family move into a house in High Holborn in London.

1648: His daughter Mary is born on the 25th October.

1649: Execution of King Charles the First on 30th January and Milton was almost certainly in attendance. In March he is appointed Secretary for Foreign Tongues to the Council of State. He begins loosing his sight. In November he is giving official lodgings for his state post at Scotland Yard.

1651: On 24th February he publishes “Defensio pro populo Anglicano” (“Defence of the English People”) to explain the actions of the English on the Continent. On 16th March his son John is born. The Milton family move to a house in Petty France in Westminster, near St Jame’s Park.

1652: In February Milton becomes totally blind, probably due to glaucoma. On 2nd May his daughter Deborah is born but his wife dies three days later due to complications in the childbirth. In June his son John dies and neglect from his nurse is suspected.

1653: On the 20th February he writes a letter to the authorities recommending the poet Andrew Marvell become his assistant. 

1655: He has more time to take up his own learning and begins preparing a Latin dictionary and a Greek lexicon. His salary is reduced to £150 per year but that becomes his pension for life. It is likely that he began “Paradise Lost” at this period.

1656: He marries Katherine Woodcock in November.

1657: His daughter Katherine is born.

1658: Death of Oliver Cromwell on 3rd September. Death of his wife Katherine on 19th October.

1659: Milton goes into hiding from the future King Charles the Second’s loyalists at a friend’s house in Bartholomew Close. In June Parliament discusses having him arrested and the hangman publically burns “Defensio pro populo Anglicano” and “Eikonoklastes” on 27th. He moves twice more in fear for his life to Red Lion Fields, Holborn and Jewin Street. In October he is finally caught and arrested.n in December Andrew Marvell, then a Member of Parliament protests that his jail fees of £150 are excessive.

1660: Restoration of the monarchy on 30th May with the return of Prince Charles as King Charles the Second. Milton is released from prison.

1662: Milton begins teaching Thomas Ellwood who mentions the creation of “Paradise Lost” and “Paradise Regained” in his autobiography.

1663: He marries Elizabeth Minshull in on 24th February which upsets his daughter Mary. The family move to Artillery Walk, near Bunhill Fields in London. it is here that he finishes “Paradise Lost”.

1665: Milton moves to the countryside at Chalfont St. Giles, Buckinghamshire to try and escape the plague.

1666: His father’s old house at Bread Street, London is destroyed in the Great Fire of London.

1667: “Paradise Lost” is published in ten books.

1670: Milton has his portrait taken in pastels by William Faithorne and it is subsequently made into a print.

1671: “Paradise Regained” and “Samson Agonistes” are published together.

1674: The second edition of “Paradise Lost” is published in July along with poems by Andrew Marvell. Milton dies in early November.

When and Where did he Die?

8th-10th November 1674, Chalfont St. Giles, Buckinghamshire, England from complications due to gout.

Age at Death:

66.

Written Works:

1628: “On the Death of a Fair Infant dying of a Cough”.
1629: “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity”.
1630: “The Passion” (unfinished).
1631: “L’Allegro” and “Il Penserro”.
1632: “On Shakespeare”.
1637: “Comus”.
1638: “Lycidas.” “Justa Eduardo King”. “Mansus”.
1640: “Epitahium Damonis”.
1641: “Of Reformation in England”.”Of Prelatical Episcopacy”. “Animadversions”.
1642: “An Apology against Smectymnuus”. “The Reason of Church Government urged against Prelacy”.
1643: “The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce”.
1644: “Areopagitica”. “Of Education”. “The Judgement of Martin Bucer concerning Divorce”.
1645: “Colasterion”. “Tetrachordon”. “Poems (Including Christ’s Nativity,” “Penseroso,” “Sonnets”). “Poems of Mr. John Milton, Both English and Latin”.
1646: “Poems”.
1649: “Eikonoklastes”. “The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates”. (a defence of the Regicides). “Observations on the Articles of Peace”. 
1651: “Defensio pro Populo Anglicano”. “Sonnet to Sir Henry Vane”.
1654: “Defensio Secunda”.
1655: “Defensio Pro Se”.
1659: “A Treatise of Civil Power in Ecclesiastical Causes”. “Likeliest Means to Remove Hirelings out of the Church”. “Ready and Easy Way To Establish a Free Commonwealth”.
1660: “The Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth”.
1667: “Paradise Lost” (published).
1669: “Accidence Commenced Grammar”. 
1670: “History of Britain”.
1671: “Paradise Regained”.  “Samson Agonistes”.
1672: “Art of Logic”.
1673: “Poems on Several Occasions”. “Of True Religion”.
1674: “Paradise Lost. (Revised)”. “Epistolae Familiares” (familiar letters to friends).  “Prolusiones” (college exercises). 
(1695): “First Annotation of Poetical Works”.
(1698): “Collected Prose Works”.

Marriages:

  1. May or June 1642 to Mary Powell. (died 1652).
  2. November 1656 to Katherine Woodcock. (died 1658).
  3. 24th February 1663 to Elizabeth Minshull.

Site of Grave:

St. Gile’s Church Without, Cripplegate, London Wall, London, England next to his father.

Places of Interest:

LONDON:

British Library, St. Pancras.

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