John Donne

The life of a Poet, Priest and Lawyer

(Corrupted extracts from John Donne's poems add to the intrigue of Tony Thistlewood’s contemporary mystery Stealing Tomorrow’s Thunder – apologies, Mr Donne, for the use and abuse of your wonderful words!)

John Donne was an enigma: he preached to kings, yet he wrote saucy ballads to his patroness, Lucy Countess of Bedford; he was a devote Catholic, yet he became the Protestant Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral; he eulogised peace, yet he went to war against Spain, serving under the Earl of Essex and Sir Walter Raleigh at Cadiz and in the Azores; he fathered twelve children in sixteen years, yet he never remarried when his wife died only days after their twelfth child was stillborn.

It is fair to say that this man was not one of the flamboyant characters that strutted the early 17th century stage such as William Shakespeare, Robert Cecil or Sir Walter Raleigh. Rather, he floated in the background writing, procreating (twelve children in sixteen years!), struggling to feed his large family and eventually questioning his Catholic faith. Even so, his writing output was as prolific as it was varied and much of it has survived to this day. (See summary below)

Most of us have probably quoted, or read, something from his work at one time or another, even if it was only the title of a book… What? Oh, yes you have! Remember this…

    No man is an island, entire of itself… 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 is a quote from Meditation XVII of Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions (1624) – catchy title!


Snapshot Bio of John Donne

Date of Birth:

    21st January 1572
Place of Birth:

    London, England

Parents:

    Father: John Donne (b. ? d.1576)

    John Donne senior was a warden of the Ironmongers Company in the City of London. He was a recusant Catholic.

    Mother: Elizabeth Heywood (b. ? d.1577)

    Mary was daughter of John Heywood, the playwright. She was also a recusant Catholic and a great-niece of the Catholic martyr Thomas More. Within a few months of her husband’s death, Mary married Dr John Syminges, a wealthy widower with three children.

Date of Death:

    31st March 1631
Buried:
    In 1666, the Great Fire of London destroyed the Old St Paul’s Cathedral where John Donne was buried. Fortunately, a memorial statue of him survived the Fire and can be seen in the present day St Paul’s Cathedral.
Siblings:
    John was the third of six children.
Married:
    m.1601 Anne More (b.? d.1617)
    (Niece of Sir Thomas Egerton, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal).
      Children:
      They had 12 children in 16 years. 7 survived to adulthood:
        Constance
        John
        George
        Lucy
        Bridget
        Margaret
        Elizabeth

Education:

    Oxford University - Hart Hall (now known as Hertford College)
    Cambridge University
(He was unable to obtain a degree at either Oxford or Cambridge because, being Catholic at that time, he refused to take the Oath of Supremacy.)
    Admitted to Lincoln’s Inn in 1592

Positions held:

    Served with the Earl of Essex and Sir Walter Raleigh at Cadiz (1596) and the Azores (1597)
    Chief secretary to Sir Thomas Egerton, the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal (1597 – 1601)
    Member of Parliament for Brackley (1602)
    Ordained as a Protestant priest (1615)
    Reader of Divinity at Lincoln’s Inn (1616)
    Chaplain to Viscount Doncaster (later the Earl of Carlisle) during his time in Germany (1618 - 1620)
    Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral (1621 – 1631)
    Royal Chaplain to King Charles I (1625 – 1631)

Literary Works:

    John Donne’s output was prolific. The following list is included to show the variety and quantity of his writings.
      Poems (over 60)
      Epithalamions (Marriage Songs) (3)
      Elegies (20)
      Divine Poems (22)
      Holy Sonnets (19)
      Letters (13)
      Epigrams (16)
      Satires (5)
      Gunpowder Plot Sermon
      Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions and Death's Duel (23 Meditations)
      Sermons (56)
      Essays in Divinity

Click here to read the plot outline of Stealing Tomorrow's Thunder



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