John Milton was born on the 9th December 1608 and was the first son of John and Sarah Milton of Bread Street London. Milton's father was a prosperous Scrivener; a title that involved several legal and accounting roles, which enabled the young Milton to receive an excellent private education.

Under the tutelage of Thomas Young, Milton became acquainted with Classical studies as well as acquiring a rounded knowledge of modern renaissance learning. At the age of eleven John left the family home to attend St Paul’s school in London, and later at the age of sixteen he attended Cambridge University where he was awarded both a BA and MA degree. Milton’s religious upbringing was within the Protestant church in which it was hoped he would find his calling in life, however Milton later became disillusioned by the corruption he saw in the church, and so his parent’s expectations for him never transpired.

During his school years Milton began to write poetry, and after University he published his first poem ‘On Shakespeare’ which was published in the 1632 folio of the dramatist’s works. In the seven years preceding university Milton conducted his own studies and wrote a vast amount, in both the Latin and English languages, including the pastoral elegy Lycidas (1637). After this seven year sojourn Milton travelled across Europe spending the majority of his time in Italy where he was to be introduced to several eminent Italian artists and scientists including the physicist and astronomer Galileo. After returning to London Milton earned his living by teaching; this is when his political career began to gather force.

Milton's first show of defiance against the monarchy was his support of the Scottish rebellion. This uprising was provoked by Charles I's attempt to reform the Scottish Presbyterian Church. Milton defends the retaliation of the Presbyterian's in his tract ‘Of Reformation Touching Church Discipline’ (1642). In the same year as the publication of this tract, Milton was to marry his first wife Mary Powell, however theirs was not a happy union, for within a few months of their marriage Mary was promptly removed to her parent’s house. This event coincides with the beginning of the civil war and demonstrates just how devastatingly the country was divided; for Mary’s family were Royalists whilst Milton remained a staunch Parliamentarian. In 1645 Charles I was defeated by Cromwell, and in consequence Milton was rewarded for his support by being proclaimed Secretary for Foreign Tongues within the Council of State. In this post Milton was responsible for spreading republican propaganda, particularly on the continent through the Latin language. 

Throughout his career Milton’s eyesight had slowly been failing when in 1652 he became completely blind. In the same year his wife Mary, who had returned to him and bore him three daughters, died during childbirth. Milton was to be married a further two times yet had no more children. When Charles II was reinstated in 1660 Milton continued to be an outspoken supporter of Republicanism and was briefly arrested and fined for this treachery. Between 1658 and 1665 Milton was to compose his most influential work Paradise Lost which he dictated to his secretary. This epic poem reflected both his sublime religious beliefs and his revolutionary fervour. It was instantly realised to be a classic and to this day receives a vast amount of scholarly attention. This led to the publication of the equally ambitious epic poem Paradise Regained in 1671. John Milton died in 1674 of kidney failure and was buried in the church of St. Giles, Cripplegate. 


BBC Radio 4 "Milton - poet or politician"

Luminarium - Comprehensive site on Milton's life and works

Milton-L homepage - A scholarly site dedicated to the poet

Milton Timeline at The Online Library of Liberty