John Crowne was the son of William Crowne, who fought on the Parliamentary side in the English Civil War. In 1657, he accompanied his father to America, and while the elder Crowne established a proprietorship in Nova Scotia province, young Crowne enrolled in Harvard College. William Crowne’s claim to Nova Scotia was made doubtful by a partner’s perfidy and by the restoration of Charles II; therefore, in 1660 John Crowne accompanied his father to London, where they sought royal protection for the proprietorship. In the meantime, Crowne earned a living by becoming a gentleman-usher to an elderly lady and by writing a prose romance in the style of Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia (1590). The family’s hopes for reclaiming the proprietorship ended in 1667 when Charles II ceded Nova Scotia to the French.
Most scholars agree that Crowne wrote plays in order to provide an income and to secure Charles II’s royal favor so that he might compensate the family for its lost lands. Crowne succeeded in the first goal but not in the second. For fourteen years (1671-1685), Crowne strove mightily to please Charles and his court. He wrote plays virtually on command, often following the king’s advice for themes, characters, or Continental models to imitate. Crowne’s dramas in these years are clearly Royalist in sentiment. They articulate aristocratic values and defend Charles against his enemies. Unfortunately for Crowne, Charles had more people who sought favors than he had resources with which to favor them.
After Charles’s death in 1685, Crowne continued to support himself by his pen. He wrote, saw produced, and had published six plays in the next thirteen years. By the late 1690’s, however, his health was failing; he was plagued by what he described as “a distemper, which seated itself in my head, and threatened me with an epilepsy.” Crowne secured an annual pension from Queen Anne, which lasted until 1706. After that, it is unclear how he was able to live; presumably, he resided in poverty and went unremarked by a new generation. In 1712, he died.