Sir Charles Sedley Biography

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(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Sir Charles Sedley was born into a Cavalier family and grew up during Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate. In 1656, he inherited his title on the death of his brother, and in February, 1657, he married Katherine Savage. In December, 1657, they had a daughter, Katherine, who would become the mistress of James II. Sometime during the 1660’s, Lady Sedley, suffering from the delusion that she was a queen, went permanently insane. In 1672, Sedley arranged for her to be removed to a convent in France, where she died in 1705, outliving her husband by four years. After her departure, Sedley formed a permanent relationship with Ann Ayscough, with whom he had a son, Charles, in 1672.

Sedley was among the group of young gentlemen who became the court favorites of Charles II upon his restoration to the throne in 1660. He quickly established himself in the vanguard of the king’s merry gang, a group known for its riotous living and dangerous atheistic views. His most scandalous behavior occurred at the Cock Tavern in 1663. Sedley had been drinking with several gentlemen when he appeared nude on the balcony of the tavern before a crowd and proceeded to deliver a mock sermon, which was offensive in both its content and mode of delivery. A trial followed, and for his indiscreet behavior, Sedley was fined two thousand marks, half of which is believed to have been remitted by the king. Sedley’s behavior during the 1660’s was by all accounts fairly wild, but by the early 1670’s, he had reformed, quite possibly as a result of the good influence of Ann Ayscough.

Despite his reputation for debauchery in the first decade of the Restoration, Sedley was not given solely to the pursuit of pleasure. Early in his life, he involved himself in public affairs. He was elected to Parliament in 1668 and was apparently sent to France in 1670 on an important diplomatic mission with the earl of Buckingham, Buckhurst, and Sir George Savile. He retained his seat in Parliament for most of his life, performing his most distinguished service during the reign of William III.

Sedley also pursued a second career in letters. He was not a prolific poet, but there is a consistent production of poems and plays from each decade of his life beginning with the 1660’s. He may well have written more poems than have actually survived, for most of his verse was not written for publication. When his poems did appear in print, they were frequently anonymous. Since Sedley made no effort to collect his writings during his lifetime, undoubtedly much of his work was lost. The extant poems were intended to entertain a small group who belonged to the same class and knew one another personally. Poetry was a...

(The entire section is 687 words.)