John Cleveland (1613-1658)

John Cleveland was one of the most popular English poets of the 17th Century

John Cleveland 17th Century English Poet
John Cleveland (1613-1658)

16th June 1613 John Cleveland (The eldest son of Thomas Cleveland, an usher in a charity school) was born in Loughborough, Leicestershire.

1621 The Cleveland family moved to Hinckley, Leicestershire. John was educated at Hinckley Grammar School in Hinckley, Leicestershire. The headmaster at the Grammar School was Richard Vines. Richard Vines wrote against the Anglican establishment in The Civil War period and was present at The Execution of Charles I.

Thomas and Elizabeth Cleveland (John's parents) produced a number of children, two of whom died young.

September 1627 John was admitted to Christ's College, Cambridge and a brilliant academic career opened out before him. It was at Christ's that Cleveland first came across a member of the old Lincolnshire family, the Thorolds, who were to figure largely in his life in the Civil War and Protectorate.

1629 John was chosen to deliver the Latin address of welcome to the Chancellor of the University and the French Ambassador.

1632 John graduated from Christ's College in Cambridge with a BA.

1634 Together with Edmund Thorold, his co-student at Christ's College, he was elected Fellow of St. John's, which was his father's college. He became a college tutor and lecturer on rhetoric, and was much sought after. Among his pupils at St. John's were Samuel Drake and John Lake, both held an important ecclesiastical appointments in the Restoration and compiled the posthumous 1677 collection of Cleveland's works.

1640 After Oliver Cromwell had gained the parliamentary seat of the town of Cambridge, John went to Oxford where the King had established his camp. It was during his time at Oxford that he wrote one of his most celebrated pieces of verse satire, 'The Rebel Scot', and a tract, 'The Character of a London Diurnal', a piece of Royalist propaganda which was the kind of writing that laid the foundations of modern journalism.

1645 As a staunch Royalist, he opposed the election of Oliver Cromwell as member for Cambridge in the Long Parliament, and lost his college post as a result.

1645 John's allegiance to the Royalist cause was put to practical account at the siege of Newark, where he served as Judge Advocate inside the garrison. The post had the nominal rank of colonel. Serving alongside him was his former pupil from St. John's, Samuel Drake. Also at Newark was another reminder of St. John's who was a recusant relative of his colleague Edmund Thorold, another Edmund, who was Commissioner of Array for Lincolnshire.

1646 At the fall of Newark, Cleveland, along with all other members of the garrison, was allowed to walk out with honour and to seek refuge at the nearest possible point. He stayed for a while at the home of the recusant Thorolds, Hough on the Hill, some ten miles away across the Great North Road. John lost this office and spent his time wandering around the country dependent on the bounty of the Royalists.

1647 The Poems were published in The Character of a London Diurnal and thereafter in some 20 collections in the next quarter century, this large number of editions attests to his great popularity in the mid-17th century. His best work is satirical, slightly reminiscent of Hudibras.

His real achievement lay in his political poems, which were mostly written in heroic couplets and satirised contemporary persons and issues. John's political satires influenced his friend Samuel Butler (in Hudibras), and his use of heroic couplets foreshadowed that of John Dryden.

1655 John joined the Royalist army at Oxford, but was captured by the Parliamentarians and was imprisoned for 'delinquency' at Yarmouth Prison. After an eloquent plea he was released by Cromwell.

John went to London, where he lived in Grey's Inn.

29th April 1658 John finally succumbed to malaria, which ironically Cromwell would die of as well in September of the same year. He was buried in the church of St. Michael Royal, College Hill, London.

1974 The Hinckley Grammar School along Butt Lane was renamed the John Cleveland College.

An example of John Cleveland's Poetry

'Epitaph on the Earl of Strafford'

The execution of Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford
The execution of Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford in 1641

'Here lies wise and valiant dust,

Huddled up 'twixt fit and just:

STRAFFORD, who was hurried hence

'Twixt treason and convenience.

He spent his time here in a mist;

A Papist, yet a Calvinist.

His prince's nearest joy, and grief;

He had, yet wanted all relief.

The prop and ruin of the state;

The people's violent love, and hate:

One in extremes loved and abhorred.

Riddles lie here; or in a word,

Here lies blood; and let it lie

Speechless still, and never cry.'