Edmund Waller was born in Coleshill, Buckinghamshire, England in March of 1606. He was the eldest son of Robert Waller and his wife Anne. The family was well-connected to the English government, bolstering their place in society. Waller was second cousin to Oliver Cromwell. Robert Waller was a barrister throughout his son’s early life but retired when the family moved to the Beaconsfield Estate. Managing the property became a full-time job. The young Edmund Waller did not enjoy his youthful education, that is until he went to Mr Dobson at the Royal Grammar School in High Wycombe.
Early Life and Education
Waller’s father died when Edmund was only ten years old. He was soon sent by his mother to Eton in 1618, and later to the University of Cambridge. He was admitted to Cambridge in March of 1620 but left without a degree. Waller then enrolled at Lincoln’s Inn, one of the four Inns of Court in London to which barristers belong. Two years later the family moved to Hall Barn and Waller came into his inheritance.
It was around this same time period that Waller was elected MP for Chepping Wycombe. He later sat for Amersham until 1629 when King Charles chose to rule without parliament. There is no record of Waller making any great impact. A few years later, in 1631, Waller married Anne Banks. She was the daughter of a mercer who had died and left her with approximately £8,000. Waller had not been given permission to marry her and the Aldermen made a complaint against the couple. They demanded that her entire fortune be forfeited to the City of London. King Charles denied this request and Waller was only subject to a fine.
Unfortunately the marriage did not last long. Anne died in childbirth in October of 1634. She gave birth to a son and daughter before her death. Waller soon met Lady Dorothy Sidney. He felt passionately about the young woman, writing a number of poems dedicated to her, but was rejected. She went on to marry someone else. It was also around this time that he was elected into the “Club,” a literary circle located at the home of Lucius Cary, 2nd Viscount Falkland.
Around 1640 he was rejoined parliament as a member for St Ives. He was known for his academically prepared speeches that avoided criticizing the king. His profile was on the rise, a fact which allowed him to take a lead on a number of different issues. He was concerned with the pressure for parliament to interfere with the king’s power. Waller was moving closer to the monarchy and advocated for better relations between the king and parliament.
“Waller’s Plot” and Exile
In 1643, in what has come to be known as “Waller’s Plot,” Edmund and others planned to use passive resistance to convince parliament to negotiate. Unfortunately things did not go to plan and the “passive resistance” turned into an armed rising. Waller was arrested in connection with the plot in May of the same year. He made a full confession and was called before the bar of the House in July. He paid bribes to leading members of the House and only spent a year and a half in the Tower of London. Waller was released into exile in November of 1644.
Waller traveled to France and Switzerland where he made a home for himself alongside his new wife, Mary. It is likely the two married in secret while Waller was imprisoned in the Tower. It was in 1645 that his collection, Poems, was first published in London.The work was released in three editions. A number of the verses were later set to music. Throughout his exile the poet remained hopeful for reconciliation with the Commonwealth government. His wish came true when in January of 1652 he was allowed to return to England.
Later Life and Death
Upon his return to England he published A Panegyric to my Lord Protector. This work was dedicated to Cromwell and was published in 1655. He was soon made a Commissioner for Trade. The following years saw him write a number of poems in support of Cromwell. That is until the Restoration brought Charles II back to the throne. His support was transferred over to the king and he wrote, ‘To the King, upon his Majesty’s Happy Return.’
In the later years of the 1670s, Waller acted as broker between the factions of the Popish Plot, but was not very successful. He took a brief break from politics but returned in 1685 with the accession of James II. Waller continued to write politically themed poetry, now focused around reconciliation.
Waller’s second wife died in 1677 and he retired to Hall Barn. In 1685 his collection, Divine Poems was published. It included the piece, ‘Of the Last Verses in the Book’ A second volume followed soon after. Waller died in October of 1687 and was buried in the churchyard of St Mary and All Saints Church.