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 of the family estates. In late April, 1642, he helped deliver the Kentish Petition to the House of Commons, for which he was confined in prison for perhaps as long as two months. The petitioners could not have hoped for any response less severe, especially as a similar petition of the previous month on behalf of the bishops and the liturgy had been ordered burned by the common hangman. In June, Lovelace was released on bail from his confinement, provided he remain in close communication with the Speaker of the House. Although he was forbidden to take an active role in the struggle between the king and Parliament, he outfitted his brothers Francis and William with men and money to aid the royalist cause and arranged for his younger brother, Dudley, to study tactics and fortification in Holland.
Lovelace probably spent the greater part of the years 1643-1646 in Holland and France. His departure may have occasioned the lyric “To Lucasta, going beyond the seas.” In Holland, he presumably learned the language and acquired an appreciation of the world of art then flourishing, with Rembrandt at the height of his powers. Lovelace was present at the siege of Dunkirk in 1646, where he was wounded. A year later, he was back in London and was admitted with the Dutch-born portraitist Peter Lely to the...
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