1690 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Churchyard

Anthony Wood, Athenae Oxonienses (1690-91; 1721) 1:317-19.



THOMAS CHURCHYARD was born of genteel Parents in the ancient Borough of Shrewsbury, and being much addicted to Letters when a Child, his Father, who had a fondness for him, caused him to be carefully educated in Grammar Learning, and to sweeten his Studies, was taught to play on the Lute. When he came to the Age of about 17, he left his Father and Relations, and with a sum of Money then given to him, he went to seek his Fortune; and his Heels being equally restless with his Head, he went to the Royal Court, laid aside his Books, and for a time, so long as his Money lasted, became a Royster. At length being reduced low in his Purse, he was taken into the Service of the most noble, learned, and poetical Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, lived with him as his Servant four Years in the latter end of K. Hen. 8. In which time applying himself to his Book, and to the exercizing his Muse in Poetry, he was much countenanced by that most noble Count; but that Earl being untimely cut off to the great regret of the learned Men of that time, in Jan. 1546, the hopes of Churchyard's rising higher were in a manner buried in his Grave. Afterwards he turned a Soldier of fortune, learned their Postures and Duty, but suffered much hardship, left that employment, travelled very far to learn the Modern Tongues, or at least some smattering in them, returned, was wholly bent to his Study, and then spent some time in Oxon, in the condition at least of an Hospes among his Country-men of Wales; but having a rambling Head, return'd to his Warlike Employment, went into Scotland, as it seems, was there taken Prisoner, and upon a Peace made, return'd to the Court very poor and bare, spoiled of all, and his Body in a sickly and decay'd condition. It was then that he resolved to continue at home and never go to the Wars again; and being then about 30 Years of Age, he went to Shrewsbury for Recruits, and as it seems for a time to Oxon. At length he was taken into the service of Robert Earl of Leicester, Chancellor of the University of Oxon, but found him not such a Master as Surrey, being as much different as Gold is from Glass. Afterwards he wooed a rich Widow called Catherine Browning, but she giving him no countenance, he became much passionate, and troubled in Mind. In the Spring following, he, contrary to his former Resolution, went to the Wars again, (in Flanders as it seems) had a command there, was wounded and taken Prisoner; but shewing himself a Person of bravery and breeding, was respected and well used by the Enemy, who setting a great ransome upon him, escaped by the endeavours of a Lady of considerable Quality, and his Supplies for that end were by her exhibited. Afterwards he trudged on foot threescore Miles thro' By-ways before he could come to his Friends, went home, recruited, went to the Wars again, was taken, committed to close custody for a Spy, condemned to lose his Head by martial Law; but by the endeavours of a noble Dame was repriev'd, reliev'd, and sent away. So that returning home, he sought again after a Wife, and whether he took one, in truth I cannot tell, nor how his Life was spent after 1580, when by the Men of those times he was accounted a good Poet, by others a poor Court-Poet, but since as much beneath a Poet as a Rhimer. As for his Works, some of them are in Prose, but mostly in Poetry, yet many of them quite lost, and much labour have I taken to recover the Titles of these following [list omitted].

This Author Churchyard died poor, and is buried near the famous old Poet John Skelton in the Choir of St. Margaret's Church in Westminster.