Study Guide

Richard Lovelace

Richard Lovelace Biography

Biography (British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

The broad outlines of Richard Lovelace’s life are easy enough to sketch, but when it comes to filling in the details, much remains conjectural. Born in 1618 either at the family manor of Bethersden, Woolwich, Kent, or in Holland, Lovelace was the eldest son of Sir William Lovelace and his wife, Anne (Barne). (The Woolwich church register does not commence until 1663.) His mother spent some time in Holland, where his father served under Sir Horace Vere and was later killed at the siege of Groll in 1627. Her references to her son Richard in her will make it seem likely that he was born while she was with her husband in the Low Countries.

Richard had four brothers, Thomas, Francis, William, and Dudley (the last of whom was responsible for seeing Lucasta: Posthume Poems through the press after his brother’s death), and three sisters, Anne, Elizabeth, and Johanna. There are no records of Lovelace’s childhood. In January, 1630, Lady Lovelace married Jonathan Brown or Browne of London, doctor of laws, and it may be presumed that the family’s fortunes were enhanced as a result. The poet was educated at Charterhouse and entered Gloucester Hall, now Worcester College, Oxford, as a gentleman commoner in 1634.

By all accounts, the young scholar was handsome and amiable. In his second year, according to Anthony à Wood, a not very reliable authority in the case of Lovelace, he attracted the attention of an eminent lady of the queen, who prevailed on the archbishop of Canterbury, then chancellor of the university, to have him awarded a master of arts, though he was only of two years’ standing. The following year, Lovelace was at Cambridge University, where he met several young men then in residence who were to contribute commendatory verses to Lucasta twelve years later; among them was Andrew Marvell.

Upon leaving the university, Lovelace joined the court, where he attracted the attention of George, Lord Goring, later earl of Norwich, and was sent by him as an ensign in the first expedition against the Scots in 1639, under the earl of Northumberland. During the second of these ineffectual campaigns, he was commissioned captain. Although he apparently wrote the tragedy titled The Soldier during the second campaign, the only direct reference to the Scottish campaigns is the drinking song “To General Goring, after the pacification of Berwick.” Among those who rode northward with Lovelace was the poet Sir John Suckling, whose “Ballad upon a Wedding” is traditionally thought to address Lovelace, although there is little, if any, substantive evidence for the attribution.

Following the Scottish campaigns, Lovelace returned to Kent and took possession...

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Richard Lovelace Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

In both his art and life Richard Lovelace played the role of the perfect courtier grandly. During the Parliamentary Wars both he and his family served King Charles I. A favorite of Queen Henrietta, Lovelace learned all the courtly graces, and in his poetry, as much as in his dress, he followed the elegant fashions of the time.

Of a noble family, Lovelace took his honorary degree from Oxford University at age eighteen before he went to the court in London. He fought as a cavalier for the king during the Bishop’s Wars of 1639 and 1640. Having then petitioned in Commons for the king, Lovelace was imprisoned in 1642. While in prison he wrote his famous lyric “To Althea, from Prison.” He was soon released but was required to remain in London for the duration of the Parliamentary Wars and was prohibited from taking any action in favor of the royalist cause.

After the defeat of the king it is believed that Lovelace went to France and was wounded at the siege of Dunkerque in 1646, returning to England in 1648. Imprisoned again, this time for a period of ten months, he collected and published a volume of his poems, Lucasta: Epodes, Odes, Sonnets, Songs, &c. to Which Is Added Aramantha, a Pastorall in 1649. Having spent his fortune in the king’s cause, he lived the rest of his life dependent on the generosity of his friends. After his death, his brother Dudley collected his literary remains and published them in Lucasta: Posthume Poems of Richard Lovelace, Esq. Apart from a few excellent lyrics, Lovelace’s poetry has the extravagance of that of John Donne without his wit or synthesizing powers. While his small body of poetic works may appear contrived to the modern reader, Lovelace’s poetry is well made, carefully controlled, metrically perfect, and rhetorical in the best cavalier manner.