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John Donne

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John Donne was born in London, England, sometime during end of 1571 or between January and June 19[2] in 1572, the third of six children. His father, of Welsh descent, also called John Donne, was a warden of the Ironmongers Company in the City of London and a respected Roman Catholic who avoided unwelcome government attention, out of fear of being persecuted for his Catholicism.[3][4] John Donne Sr. died in 1576, leaving his wife, Elizabeth Heywood, the responsibility of raising their children.[4] Elizabeth Heywood, also from a noted Catholic family, was the daughter of John Heywood, the playwright, and sister of Jasper Heywood, the translator and Jesuit. She was a great-niece of the Catholic martyr Thomas More.[5] This tradition of martyrdom would continue among Donne’s closer relatives, many of whom were executed or exiled for religious reasons.[6] Despite the obvious dangers, Donne’s family arranged for his education by the Jesuits, which gave him a deep knowledge of his religion that equipped him for the ideological religious conflicts of his time.[5] Elizabeth Donne nee Heywood married Dr John Syminges, a wealthy widower with three children, a few months after John Donne Sr's death. The next year, 1577, John Donne's sister Elizabeth died, followed by two more of his sisters, Mary and Katherine, in 1581. Before the future poet was ten years old he had thus experienced the deaths of four of his immediate family.

Part of the house where John Donne lived in Pyrford.

Donne was a student at Hart Hall, now Hertford College, Oxford, from the age of 11. After three years at Oxford he was admitted to the University of Cambridge, where he studied for another three years. He was unable to obtain a degree from either institution because he refused to take the Oath of Supremacy required of graduates.[5] In 1591, he was accepted as a student at the Thaives Inn legal school, one of the Inns of Court in London. In 1592 he was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn, another of the Inns of Court legal schools.[5] His brother Henry was also a university student prior to his arrest in 1593 for harbouring a Catholic priest. Henry Donne died in prison of bubonic plague, leading John Donne to begin questioning his Catholic faith.[4]

During and after his education, Donne spent much of his considerable inheritance on women, literature, pastimes, and travel.[5][3] Although there is no record detailing precisely where he travelled, it is known that he visited the Continent and later fought with the Earl of Essex and Sir Walter Raleigh against the Spanish at CÐ"ÐŽdiz (1596) and the Azores (1597) and witnessed the loss of the Spanish flagship, the San Felipe, and her crew.[7][4][1] According to Izaak Walton, who wrote a biography of Donne in 1640:

“ ... he returned not back into England till he had stayed some years, first in Italy, and then in Spain, where he made many useful observations of those countries, their laws and manner of government, and returned perfect in their languages. ”

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