WALLER, Edmund (1606-1687), of Hall Barn, Beaconsfield, Bucks.; later of St. James's Street, Westminster
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Family and Education
b. 3 Mar. 1606,1 1st s. of Robert Waller of Coleshill, Amersham, Bucks. and Anne, da. of Griffith Hampden of Great Hampden, Bucks.2 educ. privately, High Wycombe g.s. (Gerard Dobson), Eton c.1618-21, King’s, Camb. 1621, L. Inn 1622.3 m. (1) 15 July 1631 (with £8,000)4 Anne (bur. 23 Oct. 1634),5 da. and h. of John Bancks, Mercer, of London, 1s. d.v.p. 1da.;6 (2) by 1644, Mary (bur. 2 May 1677),7 da. of one Bracey of Thame, Oxon., 5s. (1 d.v.p.), 8da. (2 d.v.p.).8 suc. fa. 26 Aug. 1616.9 d. 21 Oct. 1687.10 sig. Edm[und] Waller.
J.p. Bucks. 1633-43;11 commr. oyer and terminer 1640,12 array 1642,13 Midlands assoc., 1642, Poll Tax, Bucks. 1660, 1666, assessment 1661, 1664-5, 1672, 1677, corporations 1662-3, loyal and indigent officers, Mdx. 1662, highways and sewers, London and Westminster 1662-3, assessment, Bucks. 1663-74, 1679-80, Mdx. 1664-9, Westminster 1673-9, subsidy, Bucks. 1663, 1678-9.14
Commr. trade 1655-7, 1660-8, plantations 1660-72, trade and plantations 1672-4.15
Renowned as one of the outstanding poets of the seventeenth century, Waller is a Member whose biography is already well documented elsewhere.17 Of a wealthy gentry family, he was born in 1606 at Coleshill on the Hertfordshire/Buckinghamshire border, and numbered among his relatives the future regicide, Sir Hardress Waller†, and the parliamentarian general, Sir William Waller†.18 His mother was the sister of John Hampden*, one of the leading opponents of Charles I’s Personal Rule. Waller was aged only ten when his father died, and his mother bought his wardship for 1000 marks.19 His early years were spent at High Wycombe grammar school under the tutelage of the Eton scholar, Gerard Dobson. Thereafter Waller studied for three years at Eton and a year at Cambridge before completing his gentleman’s education at Lincoln’s Inn in 1622. At his majority, which he reached in 1627, Waller inherited an estate estimated to be worth up to £3,500 a year, and in 1631 he further augmented his personal fortune by marrying a wealthy London heiress. After she died in childbirth in 1634, he spent the remainder of the decade unsuccessfully courting the daughter of the 2nd earl of Leicester (Sir Robert Sidney*), Dorothy Sidney, referred to in many of his poems as ‘Sacharissa’.20
Waller’s poetic output includes several works commemorating events of the 1620s, including Prince Charles’s escape from shipwreck on the Spanish coast in 1623, and the assassination of the duke of Buckingham in 1628. However, it is unlikely that he composed these contemporaneously, since the start of his literary career has been dated to the mid-1630s at the earliest.21 As well as pre-dating certain poems that celebrated Charles’s heroism, Waller claimed to have first entered Parliament at the age of 16 for Amersham.22 However, Amersham was not re-enfranchised until May 1624, by which time Waller was 18 and had already been returned for Ilchester, in Somerset; he was nevertheless one of the House’s youngest Members. He was presumably recommended to Ilchester by the borough’s first choice, his brother-in-law, Nathaniel Tomkins*, who had plumped for Christchurch instead. Waller made no recorded impact on the Parliament. It is not known whether he stood for election in 1625, but the following year he gained a seat at Chipping Wycombe in his native Buckinghamshire. Once again he left no trace on the records. In 1628 he was returned for Amersham, four miles from Beaconsfield. Although a ‘Mr. Waller’ was named to various committees and made a number of speeches, this is more likely to have been Capt. Henry Waller than the subject of this biography.23 Waller was again returned for Amersham at the elections for the Short Parliament, and for St. Ives in November 1640.24
During the late 1630s Waller joined the literary circle of the 2nd Viscount Falkland (Lucius Carey†) at Great Tew.25 In addition to publishing several political works and speeches, he came to be regarded as a fine orator by John Aubrey and even by Lord Clarendon (Edward Hyde†) who, in an otherwise hostile character sketch, described him as having ‘a graceful way of speaking’ and an ‘excellence and power of wit’.26 In defiance of the parliamentarian sympathies of many of his kinsmen, Waller made repeated appeals for moderation and compromise, and when conflict became inevitable, he ultimately sided with the king. In 1643 he was involved in an abortive royalist conspiracy to capture London which became known as ‘Waller’s Plot’. After making a full confession, which resulted in the hanging of the other conspirators, including his brother-in-law Tomkins, he was able to buy his own stay of execution at a cost of £10,000.27 Expelled from Parliament and banished from the realm, he remained exiled in France and Switzerland until pardoned by the Rump in 1651, probably through the influence of his kinsman, Oliver Cromwell*. After the Restoration he was returned to Parliament for Hastings in 1661 and Saltash in 1685. Waller added a final codicil to his will, dated 2 July 1687, leaving his estates and wealth to be divided between his numerous children.28 He died of dropsy on 21 Oct. 1687, and was buried at Beaconsfield.29 Various portraits of him at different ages are preserved at the National Portrait Gallery and at Rousham House, Oxfordshire. His third son, Edmund, sat for Amersham between 1689 and 1695.
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Authors: Chris Kyle / Rosemary Sgroi
- 1. C142/359/136.
- 2. Lipscomb, Bucks. iii. 182; VCH Bucks. iii. 158-9.
- 3. J. Aubrey, Brief Lives, ii. 274, 278; Eton Coll. Reg. comp. W. Sterry; Al Cant.; LI Admiss.
- 4. Memorials of St Margaret’s, Westminster ed. A.M. Burke, 339; CLRO, Letter Bk. LL, f. 219.
- 5. Beaconsfield Par. Reg. (Beaconsfield and District Hist. Soc., iii), 160.
- 6. Lipscomb, iii. 182.
- 7. Beaconsfield Par. Reg. 168.
- 8. E. Waller, Poems (1722), xxxix-xl; Poems of Edmund Waller ed. G. Thorn Drury, pp. xii, lxvii.
- 9. C142/359/136.
- 10. Lipscomb, iii. 201; W.H. Hastings Kelle, ‘Amersham’, Recs. of Bucks. ii. 349.
- 11. C231/5, pp. 101, 222, 437.
- 12. C181/5, f. 176v.
- 13. Northants. RO, FH133.
- 14. C181/7, pp. 198, 214; Diary of John Evelyn ed. E.S. de Beer, iii. 319; SR, v. 209, 328, 455, 528, 570, 582, 619, 755, 805, 852, 869, 900; HEHL, Stowe no. 2, f. 452; HMC Lords, i. 174.
- 15. CSP Dom. 1655-6, p. 54; Officials of Boards of Trade comp. J.C. Sainty (Office Holders in Modern Britain iii), 21, 23, 119.
- 16. Recs. Royal Soc. (4th edn.), 16, 377.
- 17. Oxford DNB; W.L. Cherniak, The Poetry of Limitation: A Study of Edmund Waller, 7-51; J.C. Gilbert, Edmund Waller, 15-35.
- 18. Harl. 5800, f. 41.
- 19. WARD 9/162, f. 241v.
- 20. Clarendon, Life, i. 53-4; T. Raylor, ‘The Early Poetic Career of Edmund Waller’, HLQ, lxix. 257.
- 21. Raylor, HLQ, lxix. 239-65.
- 22. Clarendon, i. 54; Waller, Poems, (1722), xii.
- 23. Procs. 1628 vi. 601.
- 24. M.F. Keeler, Long Parl. 376.
- 25. K. Weber, Lucius Carey, 111-20; M.L. Donnelly, ‘The Great Tew Circle and the Emergence of the Neoclassical Mode’, in Literary Circles and Cultural Communities in Renaissance Eng. ed. C.J. Summers