Abraham Cowley

Engraving of Abraham Cowley by W. Faithorne

Abraham Cowley was born in London in 1618. He was educated at Cambridge University, but was expelled after refusing to sign the Solemn League and Covenant. In 1644 he joined the exiled English court in France where he was appointed confidential secretary to Queen Henrietta Maria, ensuring the safe conveyance of all correspondence between herself and the king. Whilst on a secret mission to England, he was arrested and imprisoned, but a good friend, Dr Scarborough, later secured his release.

Cowley removed himself from the strains of life at the exiled court and returned to England in 1656. He went to study medicine in Oxford and later took up a fellowship in Cambridge. It is curious hat his loyal service to the crown was not recognised upon the Restoration in 1660, when so many others were rewarded. It was not until 1665 that he finally received a grant of a little land and a substantial income. He lived at Porch House in Chertsey, and it was here that he was finally able to write poetry and study horticulture in peace and quiet. He died in 1667, having never married and was buried with great ceremony in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey.

He is remembered as a poet of the Metaphysical school, whose best known work is a collection of love poems called The Mistress (1647). He is also noted for the great simplicity and naturalness of his prose.