Edmund Waller

For other people named Edmund Waller, see Edmund Waller (disambiguation).
Edmund Waller

Portrait of Edmund Waller, by John Riley, circa 1685
Born (1606-03-03)March 3, 1606
Coleshill, Buckinghamshire, England
Died October 21, 1687(1687-10-21) (aged 81)
Resting place St Mary and All Saints Church, Beaconsfield
Monuments Beaconsfield
Residence Hall Barn
Other names Rouen
Alma mater King's College, Cambridge

Edmund Waller, FRS (3 March 1606 21 October 1687) was an English poet and politician who sat in the House of Commons at various times between 1624 and 1679. He was educated at Eton and King's College, Cambridge. He entered Parliament early and was at first an active member of the opposition. In 1631 he married a London heiress who died in 1634. Later he became a Royalist, and in 1643 was leader in a plot to seize London for Charles I. For this he was imprisoned, fined, and banished. He made his peace with *Cromwell in 1651, returned to England, and was restored to favour at the Restoration. After the death of his first wife he unsuccessfully courted Lady Dorothy Sidney, the 'Sacharissa' of his poems; he married Mary Bracey as his second wife in 1644. Waller was a precocious poet; he wrote, probably as early as 1625, a complimentary piece on His Majesty's Escape at St Andere (Prince Charles's escape from shipwreck at Santander) in heroic couplets, one of the first examples of a form that prevailed in English poetry for some two centuries. His verse, much of it occupied with praise of Sacharissa, Lady Carlisle, and others, is of a polished simplicity; *Dryden repeatedly praised his 'sweetness', describing him as 'the father of our English numbers', and linking his name with Denham's as poets who brought in the *Augustan age. His early poems include 'On a Girdle' and 'Go, lovely rose'; his later Instructions to a Painter (1666, on the battle of Sole Bay) and 'Of the Last Verses in the Book', containing the famous lines, 'The Soul's dark cottage, battered and decayed, I Lets in new light through chinks that time hath made.' His Poems first appeared in 1645, Divine Poems in 1685, and Poems,.

As a member of Parliament during the political turmoil of the 1640s, he was arrested for his part in a plot to establish London as a stronghold of the king; by betraying his colleagues and by lavish bribes, he avoided death. He later wrote poetic tributes to both Oliver Cromwell (1655) and Charles II (1660). Rejecting the dense intellectual verse of Metaphysical poetry, he adopted generalizing statement, easy associative development, and urbane social comment. With his emphasis on definitive phrasing through inversion and balance, he prepared the way for the emergence of the heroic couplet. By the end of the 17th century the heroic couplet was the dominant form of English poetry. Waller's lyrics include the well-known "Go, lovely Rose!".

Early life

Edmund Waller was the eldest son of Robert Waller (1560-1616) of Coleshill, Buckinghamshire, by Anne, daughter of Griffith Hampden, his wife; thus he was first cousin to The Patriot, John Hampden.[1] Robert Waller was son of Edmund Waller (1536-1603, aka Edmund Waller I), son of Robert Waller (1517–53), a scion of the Waller family of Groombridge Place, Kent. (A branch of this family was seated later at Newport Pagnell, Buckingham, from whence they removed in the 17th century to Virginia, where they became prominent in early Virginia affairs. See Benjamin Waller, Littleton Waller Tazewell and Edwin Waller).[2]

Waller was baptised in the parish church of Amersham, but early in his childhood his father moved the family from Coleshill to Beaconsfield. Of Waller's early education all we know is his own account that he "was bred under several ill, dull and ignorant schoolmasters, until he went to Mr Dobson at Wycombe, who was a good schoolmaster and had been an Eton scholar".[1] Robert Waller died in 1616, and Anne, a lady of rare force of character, sent him to Eton and to the University of Cambridge. He was admitted a fellow-commoner of King's College, Cambridge on 22 March 1620, he left without a degree,[3] before completing his education at Lincoln’s Inn in 1622.[4] On reaching his majority in 1627 he inherited an estate estimated to be worth up to £3,500 a year.[4]

Colonel Adrian Scrope (1601-1660), the Regicide, became his brother-in-law having married his sister Mary in 1624.

Early parliamentary career

Waller claimed that he entered parliament for Amersham (UK Parliament constituency) in 1621, but this is unlikely as the constituency was not re-enfranchised until May 1624 by which time he was already the sitting Member of Parliament for Ilchester after one of the members chose another seat.[4] In 1626 he was elected MP for Chipping Wycombe. He was elected MP for Amersham in 1628 and sat until 1629 when King Charles decided to rule without parliament for eleven years.[4]


Hall Barn, built for Edmund Waller at Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire.

Waller's first notable action was his surreptitious marriage with a wealthy ward of the Court of Aldermen, in 1631. He was brought before the Star Chamber for this offence, and heavily fined. But his own fortune was large, and all his life Waller was a wealthy man. After bearing him a son and a daughter at Beaconsfield, Mrs Waller died in 1634. It was about this time that the poet was elected into the "Club" of Lucius Cary, 2nd Viscount Falkland.[1]

In about 1635 he met Lady Dorothy Sidney, eldest daughter of Robert Sidney, 2nd Earl of Leicester, who was then eighteen years of age. He formed a romantic passion for this girl, whom he celebrated under the name of Sacharissa. She rejected him, and married Henry Spencer, 1st Earl of Sunderland in 1639. Disappointment is said to have made Waller temporarily insane. However, he wrote a long, graceful and eminently sober letter to the bride's sister on the occasion of the wedding.[1]


In April 1640 Waller was again elected MP for Amersham, in the Short Parliament and made certain speeches which attracted wide attention.[1] He was then elected MP for St Ives in the Long Parliament.[4] Waller had hitherto supported the party of John Pym, but he now left him for the group of Falkland and Hyde. His speeches were much admired, and were separately printed; they are academic exercises very carefully prepared. Clarendon says that Waller spoke "upon all occasions with great sharpness and freedom".[4]

"Waller's Plot"

An extraordinary and obscure conspiracy against Parliament, in favour of the King, which is known as "Waller's Plot", occupied the spring of 1643, but on 30 May he and his friends were arrested. In the terror of discovery, Waller confessed "whatever he had said heard, thought or seen, and all that he knew... or suspected of others",[1] and he certainly cut a poor figure compared to his fellow conspirators were unwilling to betray their principles. Waller was called before the bar of the House in July, and made an abject speech of recantation. His life was spared and he was committed to the Tower of London, but, on paying a fine of £10,000, he was released and banished from the realm in November 1643.[1] His fellow conspirators were less fortunate, Richard Challoner and Waller's brother in law, Nathaniel Tomkins, were executed on 5 July 1643.[5]


A4 Waller chart, 1560-1954.

In 1645 the Poems of Waller were first published in London, in three different editions; there has been much discussion of the order and respective authority of these issues, but nothing is decidedly known. Many of the lyrics were already set to music by Henry Lawes.[1] In 1646 Waller travelled with John Evelyn in Switzerland and Italy. During the worst period of his exile Waller managed to "keep a table" for the Royalists in Paris, although in order to do so he was obliged to sell his wife's jewels.[1]


His first wife Anne Banks died in childbirth leaving a surviving daughter Elizabeth[6] or Anne (1634-), wife to William Dormer, Dormer the splendid, (died 1683), son of Sir Robert Dormer, Kt. (d.1649), of Ascot Park, Ascott, Stadhampton, Oxfordshire.

Carte de visite of Harry Edmund Waller, JP, DL (1804-69) of Farmington and Kirkby Fleetham.

He married secondly in 1644[7] Mary Bracey (d.1677), (or Bressy, Bresse or Breaux),[8] of Thame or possibly of somewhere in France, and went over to Calais, afterwards taking up his residence at Rouen. By Mary Breux he had several children. His descendant Rachel Waller, daughter of Edmund Waller VI or VII, considering the Breux family's connections with Barbadoes wrote in 1939 that: this probably gave rise to the assumption that she was not of pure European blood. In support of this theory, we may compare the portrait of the poet with those of his descendants. In these latter, the long face and aquiline lineaments of the poet have given way to round blunt features and curly black hair.[9] The children included:

Carte de visite photo of Edmund Waller VI or VII (1828-98), of Farmington and Kirkby Fleetham, JP, DL. Eldest brother of Mrs Drysdale.
Miss Emily Waller (1835-1919), albumen print, 27 June 1862, aka Mrs Edward William Boudier.
Elizabeth Waller (1840-1892), daughter of Harry Edmund Waller, and wife to Colonel Robert Carstairs Drysdale, RA, JP.
  • Edmund Waller IV or V (?1725-88), 'took to the bottle', MP for Chipping Wycombe 1747-1754 and late 1757-1761. Master, St. Katherine’s Hospital 1747-88,[17] educated St. Mary Hall, Oxford, and Lincoln's Inn. Married (1755) Martha (d. 8.8.1788), daughter of Rowland Philipps of Orlandon, Pembroke;[18]
  • Anne, married (1738), Sir Miles Stapylton, 4th Bart., MP for Yorkshire, 1734-1750, of Myton, (d.1752), their daughter Anne, d.s.p.
  • Rev. Harry Waller (1760-1824), succeeded his brother Edmund in 1810, retired to Boulogne in 1821 (to avoid debt). Married (15.5.1797) Mary/Maria, sister of Rev. John Dolphin (c1775-11.3.1831), curate at Farmington, c1799;[19]
  • Harry Edmund Waller, JP, DL (13.4.1804-69), sold Hall Barn 1832, inherited Kirkby Fleetham, North Yorkshire and Clint, south of Ripon, from his second-cousin-once-removed Miss Sophia Elizabeth Lawrence (1761–1845) of Studley Royal, in 1845 (she left the bulk of these Aislabie derived estates to her third cousins, the Robinson family). This Waller is said to have won the Ascot Gold Cup of 1852. Married (15.6.1826) Caroline-Elizabeth (d. 1.12.1840) daughter of John Larking, of Clare Hall, Lewisham, Kent. He was nominated High Sheriff of Gloucestershire, November 1833;[20]
  • Edmund Waller VI or VII (1828-98), JP, DL, High Sheriff Gloucestershire 1876, once of Little Hall Barn, and of Farmington, near Northleach and Kirby Fleetham (the unentailed later sold 1889). Married (1858) Lucy (died 1878), daughter of Henry Elwes of Colesbourne, a grandfather of Henry John Elwes.
  • Rachel Waller (1868-1954), only child, married (1889) Cecil Fane De Salis (1857-1948) of Dawley Court, Middlesex;
  • Major-General William-Noel Waller, Royal Artillery, (25.12.1831-1909).[21] Married Mary Elizabeth Heygate, and secondly Charlotte Lycester Templer.
  • Harry Noel Waller, (India, 19.8.1859-17.1.1944, 306 West End Avenue, New York, aged 84).[22]

Return to England

At the close of 1651 the Rump Parliament revoked Waller's sentence of banishment, and he was allowed to return to Beaconsfield, where he lived very quietly until the Restoration.[1] In 1655 he published A Panegyric to my Lord Protector, and was made a Commissioner for Trade a month or two later. He followed this, in 1660, with a poem To the King, upon his Majesty's Happy Return. Being challenged by Charles II to explain why this latter piece was inferior to the eulogy of Cromwell, the poet smartly replied, "Sir, we poets never succeed so well in writing truth as in fiction".[1]

Waller entered the House of Commons again in 1661, as MP for Hastings,[4] and Burnet has recorded that for the next quarter of a century "it was no House if Waller was not there". His sympathies were tolerant and kindly, and he constantly defended the Nonconformists.[1] One famous speech of Waller's was: "Let us look to our Government, fleet and trade, 'tis the best advice the oldest Parliament man among you can give you, and so God bless you".[26]

Later life

Edmund Waller's tomb

After the death of his second wife, in 1677, Waller retired to Hall Barn, the house he had designed and owned in Beaconsfield, and though he returned to London, he became more and more attached to the retirement of his woods, "where," he said, "he found the trees as bare and withered as himself." In 1661 he had published his poem, St James' Park; in 1664 he had collected his poetical works; in 1666 appeared his Instructions to a Painter; and in 1685 his Divine Poems. The final collection of his works is dated 1686, but there were further posthumous additions made in 1690.[26]

Waller bought a cottage at Coleshill, where he was born, meaning to die there; "a stag," he said, "when he is hunted, and near spent, always returns home." He actually died, however, at Hall Barn, with his children and his grandchildren about him, on 21 October 1687, and was buried in woollen (in spite of his expressed wish), in a grade II* listed tomb in the churchyard of St Mary and All Saints Church, Beaconsfield.[27]


Detail of portrait of Waller, by Kneller
Line engraving of Edmund Waller, after Sir Peter Lely, late 17th to early 18th century, (4 1/2 x 2 3/4 inches).
Waller, by George Vertue, in 1727, after Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt., in 1684, Bt, (14 x 9.5 inches).

In the opinion of Edmund Gosse, who wrote Waller's biography in the Encyclopaedia Britannica Eleventh Edition (1911), Waller's lyrics were at one time admired to excess, but with the exception of "Song" (Go, lovely Rose) and one or two others, they have lost their popularity. He lacked imaginative invention, but resolutely placed himself in the forefront of reaction against the violence and "conceit" into which the baser kind of English poetry was descending.[26]

Waller was regarded by some as the pioneer in introducing the classical couplet into English verse. It is, of course, obvious that Waller could not "introduce" what had been invented, and admirably exemplified, by Geoffrey Chaucer. But those who have pointed to smooth distichs employed by poets earlier than Waller have not given sufficient attention to the fact (exaggerated, doubtless, by critics arguing in the opposite camp) that it was he who earliest made writing in the serried couplet the habit and the fashion.[26] Waller was writing in the regular heroic measure, (the classical school of poetry) afterwards carried to so high a perfection by John Dryden and Alexander Pope[26][28] as early as 1623 (if not, as has been supposed even in 1621).[26]

Waller, along with his contemporary John Denham (poet), in their poetical legacy achieved the label of "Sons of British Poetry".[29]

Waller is briefly mentioned in Harold Bloom's landmark book on literary criticism The Anxiety of Influence. In it, Bloom refers to Hume's judgement of Waller being "saved only because Horace was so distant," as an underestimation because "Waller is dead. Horace is alive."




  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Gosse 1911, p. 282.
  2. Crozier 1908, p. 37.
  3. "Waller, Edmund (WLR621E)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Kyle & Sgroi 2010.
  5. Roberts 2003, p. 7.
  6. The Family of Dormer in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, Oxoniensia, vol. 11-12 (1946-7), pp. 90–101, by Michael Maclagan
  7. O.D.N.B.
  8. Poems, &c. written upon several occasions, and to several persons, By Edmund Waller, with An Account of the life and writings of Edmund Waller, printed for Jacob Tonson, in the Strand, 1722
  9. Notes on Past Days, by Cecil and Rachel De Salis, Henley-on-Thames, 1939, page 5
  10. Poems, &c. written upon several occasions, and to several persons, By Edmund Waller, with An Account of the life and writings of Edmund Waller, printed for Jacob Tonson, in the Strand, 1722
  11. The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
  12. O.D.N.B.
  13. Poems, &c. written upon several occasions, and to several persons, By Edmund Waller, with An Account of the life and writings of Edmund Waller, printed for Jacob Tonson, in the Strand, 1722
  14. The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1715-1754, ed. R. Sedgwick, 1970
  15. The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1715-1754, ed. R. Sedgwick, 1970
  16. From VCH, A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 9, Bradley Hundred. The Northleach Area of the Cotswolds, Victoria County History, London, 2001: After Sir William's death in 1721 both manors were sold to Edmund Waller of Beaconsfield (Bucks.), and after Edmund's death in 1771 Hazleton descended with his Farmington estate in the Waller family until 1900.
  17. The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1715-1754, ed. R. Sedgwick, 1970
  18. The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
  19. children or associates of various John Dolphins, (who died circa 1756, c. 1770, and 1782), of Shenstone, Staffs, and of Eyford, Gloucestershire, armigerous; Rev. John Dolphin was educated at Christ Church, Oxford, matriculated 3/6/1791 aged 16; BA 1795, MA 1799, prebend of York 1813, Rector of Pebmarsh and Colne Wake, Essex 1823 to death in 1831. Maria Dolphin was aunt of John Dolphin (cricketer).
  20. Announced in the London Gazette, November 1833, but not chosen until Josiah Gist's dearth in office when Waller was appointed as declared in the London Gazette of 26 March 1834, https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/19140/page/559
  21. Burke's Landed Gentry, 1863, volume 2.
  22. http://www.holmesacourt.org/hac/4/9927.htm%20
  23. The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
  24. http://www.westminster-abbey.org/our-history/people/peter-birch
  25. Poems, &c. written upon several occasions, and to several persons, By Edmund Waller, with An Account of the life and writings of Edmund Waller, printed for Jacob Tonson, in the Strand, 1722
  26. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Gosse 1911, p. 283.
  27. Greenwood 1999, p. 128.
  28. Baldwin 1892, p. .
  29. Giffillan 1857, p. .
  30. Giffillan 1857.


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Parliament of England
Preceded by
Sir Richard Wynn
Nathaniel Tomkins
Member of Parliament for Ilchester
With: Sir Richard Wynn
Succeeded by
Sir Robert Gorges
Sir Richard Wynn
Preceded by
Henry Coke
Thomas Lane
Member of Parliament for Wycombe
With: Henry Coke
Succeeded by
Thomas Lane
Sir William Borlase
Preceded by
William Clarke
Francis Drake
Member of Parliament for Amersham
With: William Hakewill
Succeeded by
Parliament suspended until 1640
Preceded by
Parliament suspended since 1629
Member of Parliament for Amersham
With: William Drake
Succeeded by
Francis Drake
William Cheyney
Preceded by
Sir Denny Ashburnham
Nicholas Delves
Member of Parliament for Hastings
With: Sir Denny Ashburnham
Succeeded by
Sir Robert Parker
John Ashburnham
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