John Wilmot, earl of Rochester Biography


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

John Wilmot was born in Ditchley, Oxfordshire, England, on April 10, 1647. He was the son of Henry, Viscount Wilmot, a distinguished Cavalier general, who had fought for Charles I and was made earl of Rochester by him. Later his father would effect the escape of Charles II from England to exile in France. Anne St. John, his mother, was the daughter of Sir John St. John, a Wiltshire knight and prominent Puritan.

John Wilmot inherited the earldom of Rochester and Adderbury Manor at the age of eleven. A handsome and precocious youth, he entered Wadham College, Oxford, at thirteen, where he was exposed to the most advanced scientific and philosophical thinking of the time: “the real centre of the English Enlightenment.” His earliest poetry was written there in celebration of Charles II on his return in May, 1660; these few lines reminded the king of his debt to Wilmot’s father. He richly rewarded the son, conferring a master’s degree on the boy, granting him a pension of five hundred pounds a year, and arranging for his Grand Tour complete with a learned Scottish physician and virtuoso as his tutor.

After touring France and Italy, he returned to England in the winter of 1664 and joined the court of Charles II, immediately gaining notoriety for wit, profanity, and debauchery. Soon Rochester became the informal leader of a fashionable group of literary wits known as the Merry Gang, which included the playwright Sir George Etherege; John Sheffield, earl of Mulgrave; Charles Sackville, earl of Dorset; the poet Sir Charles Sedley; and Rochester’s closest friend, Henry Savile.

Influenced by the writings of Thomas Hobbes, Rochester interpreted his materialist philosophy as a defense of sensuality and began an active revolt against both Cavalier romanticism and Puritan idealism. Although critics now agree that his reputation as a frantic rake and libertine was largely undeserved, the early lyrics and songs of this period display a determined hedonism and thorough enjoyment of the high-spirited frolic of the Whitehall Palace. In Royal Charles: Charles...

(The entire section is 853 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

John Wilmot, the earl of Rochester, produced some of the finest lyrics and satires in English literature. He was born during the English Civil War to Anne Wilmot, who came from a parliamentary family, and Henry, Lord Wilmot, a cavalier cavalry officer, who in 1652 was rewarded for his loyalty to the king by being created the earl of Rochester. Although in 1653 Anne Wilmot joined her husband in exile in France, three years later she took her children back to the Ditchley estate, which she had inherited from her first husband. In 1658 Henry died, and John Wilmot became the earl of Rochester.{$S[A]Wilmot, John;Rochester, John Wilmot, earl of}

Rochester was educated first at home, then at Burford Grammar School, and finally at Wadham College, Oxford, where he devoted himself to debauchery. When he was fourteen Rochester received his M.A. and departed on the customary grand tour of France and Italy.

Returning three years later, the handsome, witty young man was soon installed at the glittering court of Charles II. Rochester soon realized, however, that he would have to marry money if he were to keep up his lavish lifestyle. Shortly after meeting Elizabeth Malet of Somerset, a great heiress who was also beautiful and intelligent, Rochester kidnapped her from the coach in which she was riding with her grandfather, Lord Hawley. He was apprehended almost immediately and sent off to serve on a warship, where in his first battle and in a subsequent action he performed heroically.

With a monetary gift from the king, along with an appointment and a salary as Gentleman of the Bedchamber, Rochester could renew his courtship of Elizabeth Malet. She accepted his proposal, and on January 29, 1667, they were married. During the next thirteen years Rochester spent most of his time at court, while his wife divided her time between his family...

(The entire section is 759 words.)