Richard Lovelace (1618-1657). Painting by William Dobson (1611-1646), circa 1645. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Richard Lovelace (1618-1657) was an English poet of the 17th century. He was a Cavalier poet who fought on behalf of the king during the Civil War. His best known works are "To Althea, from Prison" and "To Lucasta, Going to the Warres."


Family and youthEdit

Lovelace was born in 1618. His exact birthplace is unknown, but it is documented that it was either Woolwich, Kent, or Holland.[1] He was the oldest son of Sir William Lovelace and Anne (Barne) Lovelace, and had four brothers and three sisters. His father was from an old distinguished military and legal family and the Lovelace family owned a considerable amount of property in Kent.

His father, Sir William Lovelace, was a member of the Virginia Company and an incorporator in the second Virginia Company in 1609. He was a soldier and he died during the war with Spain and Holland in the siege of Grol Holland, a few days before the town fell. Richard was only 9 years old when his father died.[2][3]

Richard's father was the son of Sir William Lovelace and Elizabeth Aucher who was the daughter of Mabel Wroths and Edward Aucher, Esq. who inherited, under his father's Will, the manors of Bishopsbourne and Hautsborne. Elizabeth's nephew was Sir Anthony Aucher (1614 – 31 May 1692) an English politician and Cavalier during the English Civil War. He was the son of her brother Sir Anthony Aucher and his wife Hester Collett.

Richard Lovelace's mother, Anne Barne (1587–1633), was the daughter of Sir William Barne and the granddaughter of Sir George Barne III (1532- d. 1593), the Lord Mayor of London and a prominent merchant and public official from London during the reign of Elizabeth I; and Anne Gerrard, daughter of Sir William Garrard, who was Lord Mayor of London in 1555.

Lovelace's mother was also the daughter of Anne Sandys[4] and the granddaughter of Cicely Wilford and the Most Reverend Dr. Edwin Sandys, an Anglican church leader who successively held the posts of the Bishop of Worcester (1559–1570), Bishop of London (1570–1576), and the Archbishop of York (1576–1588). He was one of the translators of the Bishops' Bible.

Anne Barne Lovelace married as her second husband, on 20 January 1630, at Greenwich, England, the Very Rev. Dr. Jonathan Browne[5] They were the parents of one child, Anne Browne, who married Herbert Crofte, S.T.P. and D.D and were the parents of Sir Herbert Croft, 1st Baronet.[6]

His brother, Francis Lovelace (1621–1675), was the second governor of the New York colony appointed by the Duke of York, later King James II of England. He was also the great nephew of both George Sandys[7] (2 March 1577 – March 1644), an English traveller, colonist and poet; and of Sir Edwin Sandys[8] (9 December 1561 – October 1629), an English statesman and one of the founders of the London Company.

In 1629, when Lovelace was 11, he went to Sutton’s Foundation at Charterhouse School, then located in London.[1] However, there is not a clear record that Lovelace actually attended because it is believed that he studied as a “boarder” because he did not need financial assistance like the “scholars”.[1] He spent five years at Charterhouse, three of which were spent with Richard Crashaw, who also became a poet. On 5 May 1631, Lovelace was sworn in as a “Gentleman Wayter Extraordinary” to the King. This was an “honorary position for which one paid a fee”.[1] He then went on to Gloucester Hall, Oxford, in 1634.

Collegiate careerEdit

Richard Lovelace attended Oxford University and he was praised for being “the most amiable and beautiful person that ever eye beheld; a person also of innate modesty, virtue and courtly deportment, which made him then, but especially after, when he retired to the great city, much admired and adored by the female sex" by one of his contemporaries, Anthony Wood.[2] At the age of eighteen, during a three-week celebration at Oxford, he was granted the degree of Master of Arts. While at school, he tried to portray himself more as a social connoisseur rather than a scholar, continuing his image of being a Cavalier.[9] Being a Cavalier poet, Lovelace wrote to praise a friend or fellow poet, to give advice in grief or love, to define a relationship, to articulate the precise amount of attention a man owes a woman, to celebrate beauty, and to persuade to love.[2] Lovelace wrote a comedy, 'The Scholars,' and a tragedy titled 'The Soldiers,' while at Oxford. He then left for Cambridge University for a few months where he met Lord Goring, who led him into political trouble.

Politics and prisonEdit

Lovelace’s poetry was often influenced by his experiences with politics and association with important figures of his time. At the age of thirteen, Lovelace became a "Gentlemen Wayter Extraordinary" to the King and at nineteen he contributed a verse to a volume of elegies commemorating Princess Katharine.[10] In 1639 Lovelace joined the regiment of Lord Goring, serving first as a senior ensign and later as a captain in the Bishops’ Wars. This experience inspired the 'Sonnet. To Generall Goring.' Upon his return to his home in Kent in 1640, Lovelace served as a country gentleman and a justice of the peace where he encountered firsthand the civil turmoil regarding religion and politics.[10]

In 1641 Lovelace led a group of men to seize and destroy a petition for the abolition of Episcopal rule, which had been signed by fifteen thousand people. The following year he presented the House of Commons with Dering’s pro-Royalist petition which was supposed to have been burned. These actions resulted in Lovelace’s first imprisonment.[10] Shortly thereafter, he was released on bail with the stipulation that he avoid communication with the House of Commons without permission. This prevented Lovelace, who had done everything to prove himself during the Bishops’ Wars, from participating in the first phase of the English Civil War. Lovelace did everything he could to remain in the king’s favor despite his inability to participate in the war.

Lovelace did his part again during the political chaos of 1648, though it is unclear specifically what his actions were. He did, however, manage to warrant himself another prison sentence; this time for nearly a year. When he was released in April of 1649, the king had been executed and Lovelace’s cause seemed lost. As in his previous incarceration, this experience led to creative production—this time in the form of spiritual freedom, as reflected in the release of his first volume of poetry, Lucasta.[10]


1618- Richard Lovelace born, either in Woolwich, Kent, or in Holland.
1629- King Charles I nominated “Thomas [probably Richard] Lovelace,” upon petition of Lovelace’s mother, Anne Barne Lovelace, to Sutton’s foundation at Charterhouse.
1631- On 5 May, Lovelace is made “Gentleman Wayter Extraordinary” to the King.
1634- On 27 June, he matriculates as Gentleman Commoner at Gloucester Hall, Oxford.
1635- Writes a comedy, The Scholars.
1636- On 31 August, the degree of M.A. is presented to him.
1637- On 4 October, he enters Cambridge University.
1638-1639- His first printed poems appear: ‘An Elegy” on Princess Katherine; prefaces to several books.
1639- He is senior ensign in General Goring’s regiment - in the First Scottish Expedition. “Sonnet to Goring.”
1640- Commissioned captain in the Second Scottish Expedition; writes a tragedy, The Soldier. He then returns home at 21, into the possession of his family’s property.
1641- Lovelace tears up a pro-Parliament, anti-Episcopacy petition at a meeting in Maidstone, Kent.
1642- 30 April, he presents the anti-Parliamentary Petition of Kent and is imprisoned at Gatehouse. After appealing, he is released on bail, 21 June. The Civil war begins on 22 August, he writes “To Althea, from Prison,” “To Lucasta.”In September, he goes to Holland with General Goring. He writes “The Rose.”
1642-1646-Probably serves in Holland and France with General Goring. He writes “The Scrutiny.”
1643- Sells some of his property to Richard Hulse.
1646- In October, he is wounded at Dunkirk, while fighting under the Great Conde against the Spaniards.
1647- He is admitted to the Freedom at the Painters’ Company.
1648-On 4 February, Lucasta is licensed at the Stationer’s Register. On 9 June, Lovelace is again imprisoned at Peterhouse.
1649- On 9 April, he is released from jail. He then sells the remaining family property and portraits to Richard Hulse. On 14 May, Lucasta is published.
1650-1657- Lovelace’s whereabouts unknown, though various poems are written.
1657- Lovelace dies.
1659-1660- Lucasta, Postume Poems is published.


Lovelace first started writing while he was a student at Oxford and wrote almost 200 poems from that time until his death. His first work was a drama titled The Scholars. The play was never published; however, it was performed at college and then in London. In 1640, he wrote a tragedy titled 'The Soldier' which was based on his own military experience. When serving in the Bishops' Wars, he wrote the sonnet 'To Generall Goring,' which is a poem of Bacchanalian celebration rather than a glorification of military action. One of his most famous poems is 'To Lucasta, Going to the Warres,' written in 1640 and exposed in his first political action.

During his first imprisonment in 1642, he wrote his most famous poem "To Althea, From Prison", which illustrates his noble and paradoxical nature. Later on that year during his travels to Holland with General Goring, he wrote 'The Rose,' following with 'The Scrutiny' and on 14 May 1649, 'Lucasta' was published. He also wrote poems analyzing the details of many simple insects. 'The Ant,' 'The Grasse-hopper,' 'The Snayl,' 'The Falcon,' 'The Toad and Spyder.' Of these poems, 'The Grasse-hopper' is his most well-known. In 1660, after Lovelace died, "Lucasta: Postume Poems" was published; it contains 'A Mock-Song,' which has a much darker tone than his previous works.[2]

William Winstanley, who praised much of Richard Lovelace's works, thought highly of him and compared him to an idol – "I can compare no Man so like this Colonel Lovelace as Sir Philip Sidney” – of which it is in an Epitaph made of him;

Nor is it fit that more I should aquaint
Lest Men adore in one
A Scholar, Souldier, Lover, and a Saint [10]

His most quoted excerpts are from the beginning of the last stanza of To Althea, From Prison:

Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for an hermitage

and the end of To Lucasta. Going to the Warres:

I could not love thee, dear, so much,
Lov'd I not Honour more.

Critical introductionEdit

by Edmund Gosse

It may safely be said that of all the Royalist lyrists Lovelace has been overestimated the most, as Carew has been the most neglected. The reason of this is not hard to find. Carew was a poet of great art and study, whose pieces reach a high but comparatively uniform standard, while Lovelace was an improvisatore who wrote two of the best songs in the language by accident, and whose other work is of much inferior quality. A more slovenly poet than Lovelace it would be difficult to find; his verses have reached us in the condition of unrevised proofs sent out by a careless compositor; but it is plain that not to the printer only is due the lax and irregular form of the poems. It did not always occur to Lovelace to find a rhyme, or to persist in a measure, and his ear seems to have been singularly defective.

To these technical faults he added a radical tastelessness of fancy, and an excess of the tendency of all his contemporaries to dwell on the surroundings of a subject rather than on the subject itself. His verses on "Ellinda’s Glove" must have been remarkable even in an age of concetti. The poet commences by calling the glove a snowy farm with five tenements; he has visited there to pay his daily rents to the white mistress of the farm, who has gone into the meadows to gather flowers and hearts. He then changes his image, and calls the glove an ermine cabinet, whose alabaster lady will soon come home, since any other tenant would eject himself, by finding the rooms too narrow to contain him. The poet, therefore, leaves his rent, five kisses, at the door, observing, with another change of figure, that though the lute is too high for him, yet, like a servant, he is allowed to fiddle with the case. Such trivialities as these were brought into fashion by the wayward genius of Donne, and continued in vogue long enough to betray the youth of Dryden. In Lovelace we find the fashion in its most insipid extravagance.

Yet there are high qualities in the verses of Lovelace, though he rarely allows us to see them unalloyed. His language has an heroic ring about it; he employs fine epithets and gallant phrases, two at least of which have secured the popular ear, and become part of our common speech. "Going to the Wars", his best poem, contains no line or part of a line that could by any possibility be improved;[11] "To Althea" is less perfect, but belongs to a higher order of poetry. The first and fourth stanzas of this exquisite lyric would do honour to the most illustrious name, and form one of the treasures of our literature. It is surprising that a poet so obscure could for once be so crystalline, and that the weaver of gossamer conceits could contrive to be so tenderly sincere.

The romantic circumstances under which Lovelace wrote these lines have given to them a popular charm. The imprisonment under which he was suffering was brought upon him in the unselfish performance of duty. He had been chosen by the whole body of the county of Kent to deliver the Kentish petition to the House of Commons; the result was, doubtless, what he expected, the petition being burned by the Common Hangman, and he himself, on the 30th of April, 1642, thrown into the Gatehouse Prison.

The romantic career of Lovelace must be taken into consideration when we blame the defects of his poems. He was born to wealth and station, he was generously educated, and he became a favourite with the royal family while he was but a youth. During the brief period of his prosperity he lived the life of a spoiled child. He was the handsomest man of his generation, he was addressed under the name of Adonis, and he spent his time in reading Greek poetry, in playing and singing, and in feats of arms. His manners were, we are told "incomparably graceful." Yet, born into that iron age, his career closed in the most tragic way. It being reported that he was killed, his betrothed married another man; and after wasting all his substance in the recklessness of despair, this darling of the Graces died in extreme want, and in a cellar. A life of only forty years spent in such vicissitudes gave little opportunity for that retirement from the world which scholarship and art require. His hasty verses were thrown off at a heat, and the genius in them is often rather a spark than a steady flame.

In the curious verses entitled "The Grasshopper" ... we seem to possess an instance of his hurried and jejune mode of composition. He commences by addressing the grasshopper, in lines of unusual dignity and pregnancy, but he presently forgets this, and, without any sign of transition, recommences "Thou best of men and friends," this time plainly addressing the friend, Charles Cotton, to whom the ode was sent. It is difficult to believe that he ever himself read over his lines, for it could not fail to occur to him, had he done so, that the same object could not be spoken to as "Poor verdant fool" and as "Thou best of men and friends." But when we consider with what nonchalance the lyrical poets of the seventeenth century composed and then neglected their effusions, the surprising thing is not that these have reached us in so inaccurate and fragmentary a form, but that they have reached us at all.[12]


Six of his poems ("To Lucasta, Going to the Wars," "To Lucasta, Going beyond the Seas," "Gratiana Dancing," "To Amarantha, That She Would Dishevel Her Hair," "The Grasshopper," and "To Althea, from Prison") were included in the Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900.[13]


  • Lucasta. London: Tho. Harper, and are to be sold by Tho. Ewster, 1649
    • facsimile edition), Menston, UK: Scolar Press, 1972.
  • Lucasta: Posthume poems. London: William Godbid for Clement Darby, 1659.
  • Lucasta: Epodes, odes, sonnets, songs, &c. &c. To which is added, Aramantha, a pastoral. Chiswick, UK: Press of C. Whittingham, 1817.
  • Lucasta: The poems of Richard Lovelace, Esq., now first edited, and the text carefully revised (edited by William Carew Hazlitt). London: J.R. Smith, 1864; London: Reeves & Turner, 1897.
  • Songs and Sonnets. New York: R.H. Russell, 1901.
  • The Poems of Richard Lovelace: Lucasta, etc. London: Hutchinon, 1906.
  • Lucasta: The poems of Richard Lovelace, Esq. Chicago: Caxton Club, 1921. Volume II
  • The Poems of Richard Lovelace (edited by C.H. Wilkinson). Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1925.
  • Lucasta, et cetera: Love poems. Mount Vernon, NY: Golden Eagle Press, 1948.
"To Althea, from Prison" by Richard Lovelace (read by Tom O'Bedlam)01:26

"To Althea, from Prison" by Richard Lovelace (read by Tom O'Bedlam)

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[14]

Poems by Richard LovelaceEdit

  1. To Lucasta, Going to the Wars

See alsoEdit


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Weidhorn, Manfred. Richard Lovelace. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1970
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 131: Seventeenth-Century British Nondramatic Poets, Third Series. A Bruccoli Clark Layman Book. Edited by M. Thomas Hester, North Carolina State University. The Gale Group, 1993. pp. 123-133
  3. Letters from Constantijn Huygens. Letter 3816. London, october 1644
  5. Jonathan Browne, Doctor of Laws. Browne matriculated at Gloucester Hall, Oxford 13 October 1620, aged19, and received the degree of B. C. L. 1624/5, D. C. L. 1630 and L. L. D. He held the following preferements: rector of Shelly, Essex, 1621; rector of St. Faith's, London, 1628; rector of Hertingfordbury, Herts, 1630; president of Sion College, 1636-1637; canon of Hereford Cathedral,1636; dean of Hereford Cathedral 1636; canon of Westminster Abbey 1639. He outlived his wife and died December, 1643, and his will (undated and unregistered) was proved 8 April 1645 (Oxford Wills; Prerogafive Court of Canterbury, 1645).
  6. Croft Baronets
  9. “The Early Seventeenth Century” The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Sixteenth Century, The Early Seventeenth Century. Ed. Barbara K. Lewalski and Katharine Eisaman Maus. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2006. 1681-1682.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 Wilkinson, C.h., ed. The Poems of Richard Lovelace. Oxford, Great Britain: Oxford, 1963.
  11. It is curious, however, that the beautiful figure of the first stanza is to be found in Habington’s, "To Roses in the bosom of Castara".
  12. from Edmund W. Gosse, "Critical Introduction: Richard Lovelace (1618–1658)," The English Poets: Selections with critical introductions (edited by Thomas Humphry Ward). New York & London: Macmillan, 1880-1918. Web, Apr. 10, 2016.
  13. Alphabetical list of authors: Jago, Richard to Milton, John. Arthur Quiller-Couch, editor, Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900 (Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1919)., Web, May 19, 2012.
  14. Search results = au:Richard Lovelace, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Feb. 8, 2016.

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