LYLY, John (c.1554-1606), of London.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
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Family and Education

b. c.1554, s. and h. of Peter Lyly of Canterbury by Jane Burgh of ?Burgh Hall, Yorks. educ. Magdalen Coll. Oxf. 1571, aged 17, BA 1573, MA 1575, incorp. MA Camb. 1579. m. Beatrice, da. and h. of Richard Brown of Mexborough, Yorks., 3s. 3da.

Offices Held


Author of Euphues and esteemed ‘a rare poet, witty, comical and facetious’, Lyly enjoyed considerable literary success but little material good fortune. His years at Oxford ended in disappointment when he unsuccessfully asked Burghley to assist him to a fellowship, yet it was Burghley who first found him employment, possibly to begin with in his own household and later with the Earl of Oxford, to whom Lyly dedicated in 1580 the second part of Euphues.By 1584 certainly he was serving the Earl, apparently as secretary, and seeing much of the court.

During the 1580s he secured some minor office or offices at court. His family pedigree describes him as an esquire of the body to the Queen but no supporting evidence has been found. Possibly he became vice-master of the St. Paul’s and Savoy companies of child actors, and he may have held a post in the revels. That he felt insufficiently appreciated is evident from his petitions to the Queen for more rewarding employment. Disappointed in his hopes of the reversion of the mastership of the revels, he wrote in 1601—but perhaps did not submit—his last, bitter appeal: ‘thirteen years your Highness’s servant, but yet nothing ...; a thousand hopes, but all nothing; a hundred promises, but yet nothing ... The summa totalis amounteth in all to just nothing’. His literary output seems to have declined sharply; from 1595 to his death only two entertainments for the Queen can confidently be attributed to him, the first performed at (Sir) Julius Caesar’s house at Mitcham in 1598, the second at Harefield, the lord keeper’s house, in 1602. Creditors, too, were pressing, and his difficulties increased when his wife was disinherited by her father. He died in November 1606 and was buried in the church of St. Bartholomew-the-Less.

Although his service at court brought little reward, it most probably explains his returns for Aylesbury and Appleby, since their respective patrons, Sir John Pakington and the Earl of Cumberland, were prominent courtiers. It is also noteworthy that his fellow-Member for Aylesbury in 1593, Sir Thomas West, was brother to the Lord de la Warre to whom Lyly had dedicated the first part of his Euphues in 1579. His return for Hindon, a borough under ecclesiastical control, with Archbishop Whitgift prominent at the time, may have been connected with his vigorous defence of the episcopate during the Marprelate controversy. He is named only once in the business of the Commons, on 3 Feb. 1598, when he was appointed to the committee of a bill about wine casks.

A. Feuillerat, John Lyly; R. W. Bond, Complete Works; Q. Elizabeth’s entertainment at Mitcham, ed. Hoston; D’Ewes, 592.

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: B.D.