John Denham, son of John Denham the Judge and Baron of the Irish Exchequer, was born in Dublin in 1615. He graduated from Oxford University and went on to divide his time between practising law at Lincoln’s Inn and writing poetry.
In 1634 aged nineteen he married Ann Cotton, a wealthy heiress from Gloucestershire, who bore him one son and two daughters. Despite his reckless gambling habits, he was made royalist Sheriff of Surrey in 1642. However, he soon resigned this post and returned to his true passion, poetry. The widely acclaimed poem, Cooper’s Hill was published in 1643.
In the late 1640’s, Denham embraced the royalist cause once more, working in secret on behalf of the queen. Having been widowed in 1647, Denham took up residence in France. Here, his powerful yet graceful poetry was a great comfort to the exiled courtiers. On his return to England in 1653 he found that his estates had been confiscated and all his possessions sold by the parliamentarians.
In 1660, his loyalty was rewarded with a knighthood and he was appointed Surveyor General of His Majesty’s Works. Five years later he married again to Margaret Booke, and it was during this brief marriage that Denham was widely believed to have suffered a spell of madness. Making a full recovery however, he went on to write one of his finest pieces on the death of Abraham Cowley in 1667. He died in the following year, and was buried next to Cowley in Westminster Abbey.