Sir Richard Fanshawe Biography

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(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Sir Richard Fanshawe would have made the perfect hero for a nineteenth century historical novel. His life was shaped by the events of the English Civil War (1640-1660). King Charles I’s disputes with the Puritans over church ritual and with Parliament over taxation brought two decades of rebellion, a regicide, and a Commonwealth government under Oliver Cromwell. Fanshawe’s social class and ideals ensured that he would remain faithful to the Royalist cause and that he would spare neither expense nor energy in defense of monarchy. The war years brought Fanshawe dramatic and romantic adventures, a courageous and ardent wife, and a series of important political posts. He was, in Alfred Harbage’s phrase, “royal quixote and married lover.”

Fanshawe was born in 1608, the son of Sir Henry Fanshawe, third remembrancer to James I. At fifteen, Fanshawe entered Jesus College, Cambridge, where he excelled at classical languages. Three years later, he went to the Inner Temple to study law but found it a less agreeable subject. Two early poems record his fidelity to the Muse of poetry and to aristocratic ideals. A tour of France and Spain in the early 1630’s allowed Fanshawe to indulge his love of languages and to prepare for a diplomatic career. The tour was rewarded: From 1635 to 1638, he served as secretary to the English ambassador in Spain.

The eruption of civil war in 1640 brought Fanshawe into the Royal Army. Quartered at Oxford in 1643, he met Anne Harrison, seventeen years younger and the daughter of an impoverished knight. Fanshawe married her in 1644 and was appointed secretary of war to Prince Rupert. For the next two years, the newlyweds followed the prince’s court around England and to the Channel Islands.

When the Puritan capture of Charles led to a lull in the fighting, the Fanshawes settled in London. In 1648, Fanshawe brought out his translation of Il pastor fido and other poems. Soon thereafter, the imprisoned Charles asked Fanshawe to carry letters to the queen in France. Back now on active service, Fanshawe became treasurer of the navy and recruited Royalist soldiers in Ireland. When Cromwell invaded Ireland after the execution of Charles, the Fanshawes barely escaped. Entering the service of Charles II, Fanshawe led an embassy to Spain to seek financial aid. In 1651, Fanshawe was captured at the Battle of Worcester and imprisoned at Whitehall. Two months later, Anne successfully petitioned for her husband’s release on grounds of his ill health.

Fanshawe’s enforced leisure in prison and on parole allowed him to turn his attention to literature. In the next six years, he produced the rest of his major works: translations of Horace’s odes, Camões’s epic, and two Spanish...

(The entire section is 667 words.)