Henry Fielding (1707-1754) was born in Sharpham, Somerset. His mother’s family, the Goulds, did not approve of his father, Colonel Edmund Fielding. When she died in 1718, the Goulds fought for custody of the children. They eventually won, and Henry and his siblings were raised by their grandparents.
Fielding attended Eton College from 1719 to 1724. He briefly pursued a 15 year old heiress, Miss Sarah Andrew of Lyme Regis, making strenuous efforts to win her hand (and fortune), but her guardians intervened and had him dispatched out of town.
In 1727, aged 20, Fielding found himself in London, in urgent need of an income. He had some high society connections, and used them to gain an introduction to theatre circles. His first play, Love in Several Masques, was produced in 1728 at the Drury Lane Theatre.
But Fielding did not see writing as the solution to his financial woes. Less than a month after his debut as a playwright, he enrolled at Leiden University to study classics and law. Financial difficulties pursued him, however, and within two years he was back in London writing plays. The Temple Beau was staged in 1730. Others followed rapidly, including The Author's Farce and The Tragedy of Tragedies. While several of his works were highly acclaimed, his career was not proving terribly lucrative.
In 1734 Fielding married the beautiful Charlotte Craddock of Salisbury (he was later to model his heroine Sophia Western on Charlotte). Their first daughter was born in 1736. Around the same time, Fielding became a managing partner of the Little Theatre in Haymarket. During 1736 he enjoyed much success with his political satire Pasquin, a Dramatic Satire on the Times, which ran for over 60 performances. The play attacked the corrupt administration of Sir Robert Walpole. Fielding followed this with The Historical Register for the Year 1736, a thinly disguised attack on the government. The government did not take kindly to the satire, responding with the Licensing Act of 1737, which put stage productions under the direct control of the Lord Chamberlain.
Fielding retired from the theatre and became a barrister. Under continual financial strain, and with a second daughter to support, he began editing an anti-Walpole periodical called The Champion, or British Mercury (1739-1741) under the pseudonym Captain Hercules Vinegar. He also benefited from the largesse of a wealthy benefactor, Mr Ralph Allen, who later inspired the character of Squire Allworthy. After Fielding's death, Allen provided for the education and support of his children.
Fielding wrote his first novel in 1741. It was a response to the success of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded. Fielding parodied the book with An Apology for the Life of Mrs Shamela Andrews, achieving popular success. His second novel, The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews, published in 1742, dealt with Pamela's brother, Joseph. It too began as a parody, but evolved into an accomplished and acclaimed novel.
In 1743 Fielding published Miscellanies, a collection of essays, poems, plays, and prose fiction. It included the satiric piece The Life of Jonathan Wild the Great. Wild was a London criminal who was hanged in 1725. The work was recognized as an allegory about the career of Walpole, painting the Whig party as a gang of thieves.
Charlotte died in 1744, following frequent periods of illness. In 1747, Fielding married Charlotte's former maid, Mary Daniel, who was pregnant, creating rather a scandal. Mary bore five children, three of whom died young.
In 1748 Fielding was appointed Justice of the Peace for Westminster and Middlesex. He continued to write, focusing on political pamphlets and essays. His periodical publications True Patriot, and History of Our Own Time (1745-1746) and the Jacobite's Journal (1747-1748) were strongly anti-Stuart.
Together with his younger half-brother John, in 1749 he founded what some have called London's first police force, the Bow Street Runners, and worked to improve the judicial system and prison conditions.
In the same year, Fielding published The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, which was a great success. His final novel, Amelia, was published in 1751. His essay-periodical, The Covent-Garden Journal (1752), included some of his most humorous pieces.
By 1753 Fielding was suffering terribly from gout, and relied on crutches to move around. In an attempt to improve his health, he travelled to Lisbon in 1754 with his wife and daughter, but died a few months later, aged 47.