John Milton (1608-1674)
John Milton was born in Bread Street in the City of London in December 1608. He was educated at St Paul's Church and later at Christ College, Cambridge. After graduating, he stayed on to study for a Master of Arts Degree in preparation for the priesthood. However, finding himself in disagreement with the Church, he chose instead to dedicate himself to God through his poetry.
He left Cambridge in 1632 to live with his father in Hammersmith and at Horton which was then in Buckinghamshire. He spent the next six years in seclusion, studying and writing the masques Arcades and Comus, together with the better known pastoral elegy Lycidas.
In 1638 he left for a period of travel in Europe, much of it in Italy. He returned because of the civil war in England and through a series of polemical writings supported the puritan cause against the bishops.
In the early 1640s, Milton set up his own little school, where he taught the sons of relatives and wealthy acquaintances; the tract Of Education was a product of this period. It was about this time that he married for the first time, to a 16-year-old named Mary Powell, who was to bear him four children but died during the birth of the last one.
In 1649 Milton was appointed by the Commonwealth to be Secretary of Foreign Tongues, ostensibly as it required Milton's extensive knowledge of languages. In reality though, Milton spent much of his time writing propaganda for the Commonwealth and against the monarchy. The best known and celebrated of these was his Defence of the English People.
By this time Milton was badly affected by what was probably glaucoma so it is likely he never actually 'saw' his second wife Katherine Woodcock. They married in 1656 and she died only two years later. His sonnet Methought I Saw My Late Espoused Saint was probably written in response to her death.
The restoration of the monarchy in 1660 prompted Milton to go into hiding. Despite being later imprisoned, he was released soon afterwards. He married for a third time in 1663, to Betty Minshull, and retired to write in London and, briefly, Chalfont St Giles. It was during these final years that Milton wrote his most celebrated works: Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. These demonstrate his own anguish at the ultimate failure of both the revolution and the puritans' hopes for the establishment of Christ's kingdom on earth.
Milton died on 8 November 1674 and is buried in St Giles Church, Cripplegate, in the City of London.
Milton's connection with the borough
Historians disagree about exactly when Milton moved to Horton, but letters which he sent to Eton College from 1632 onwards give Horton as his address. Also, the Encyclopaedia Britannica and sources both at Cambridge and his house in Chalfont St Giles support the view that Horton was a base for him.
In Horton, the house he lived in is long gone but it is thought to have been on what is now the Berkyn Manor Estate and it was there that he wrote the pastoral elegy Lycidas.
Milton's mother Sara died in Horton in April 1637 and a memorial stone was placed in the floor of the parish church. This was moved to the Chancel in the 19th century and now stands on one of the oldest of the church's walls.
Milton left Horton for his European travels in 1638.
In December 2008, the 400th anniversary of Milton's birth was celebrated throughout the country.