Statues and Monuments: John Donne


John Donne, a poet, writer and cleric, was born in London in January 1572 as the middle of 6 children into a Roman Catholic family, at a time when the practice of the Roman rite was outlawed in England. At 11 he attended Hart Hall (now Hertford College) in Oxford and at 14 entered Cambridge University. He completed his studies but did not graduate as he was unwilling to take the oath of supremacy. Following Cambridge, he entered the Inns of court in London. In 1593 his brother Henry was arrested for hiding a Roman Catholic priest and whilst in prison contracted bubonic plague and died. His death seems to have had a profound effect on John regarding his Roman Catholic beliefs. In 1597 John was appointed as secretary to Sir Thomas Egerton, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. During this time he met and fell in love with Anne More, Sir Thomas’ niece and in 1601 they wed in secret as both Sir Thomas and Anne’s father opposed the wedding. John found himself briefly in Fleet prison and although he was released after a short while, his career was in ruins. During this time, he scraped a living as a lawyer and a writer of poetry and anti-catholic pamphlets. Anne and John were reconciled with her family in 1609 and the following year he acquired a patron in Sir Robert Drury, who gave them a house in Drury Lane. In 1615, at the suggestion of James I, he was ordained priest in the Church of England and was appointed a Royal Chaplain. He finally received a degree from Cambridge University. However, in 1617 Anne died, having borne John 12 children in 16 years of marriage. In 1621 he was appointed Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, a position he held until his death in 1631. He had become famous for his preaching and his poetry and hymn writing. He was buried in St Pual’s and a memorial was set up in the churchyard. This survived the Great Fire of 1666, unlike the Cathedral. but was moved inside once the new St Pauls was finished. In 2012 this bust of John Donne by Nigel Boonham was unveiled in the churchyard.

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