Henry King Biography


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Even a cursory examination of the poet’s background will suffice to show that Henry King’s art is very much a reflection of the life that produced it. Born in 1592, King was the eldest of five sons of John King, scion of an aristocratic family and renowned Anglican divine and eventual bishop of London. Since John King intended each of his sons to enter the ministry, Henry received an education befitting a man of learning. As a youngster, he attended the Westminster School, where Jonson, among many other notables, had studied, and where, as part of his classical training, he became practiced in the techniques of versification. After he left Westminster, he proceeded to Oxford, where he took his B.A. degree in 1611, his M.A. in 1614, and his B.D. and D.D. in 1625.

The oldest son of an influential clergyman, King came into contact as a child and young man with some of the most distinguished churchmen and courtiers of the time, among whom was Donne. Donne was a good friend of John King and, according to Donne’s early biographer, Izaak Walton, grew to be no less fond of Henry. In 1616, as a young student of divinity, King was named to the clerical office of Prebendary of St. Paul’s Church, where several years later, Donne would become dean. Their relationship remained close, and shortly before his death in 1631, Donne made King his legal executor. King’s final service for Donne came in the form of the funeral elegy he composed, “Upon the Death of my ever Desired friend Dr. Donne Deane of Pauls.”

From the example of his father, from his formal education, and, not improbably, from his acquaintance with Donne would emerge the intellectual cast of mind and the religious and political propensities that would permanently shape King’s life, his career, and, no less so, his poetry. From all that is known of it, King’s life appears to have been a genuinely religious one, predicated on a belief that God’s ordinances were...

(The entire section is 798 words.)