This text was copied from Wikipedia on 29 April 2017 at 3:22AM.

Sir John Denham

Sir John Denham FRS (1614 or 1615 – 19 March 1669) was an Anglo-Irish poet and courtier. He served as Surveyor of the King's Works and is buried in Westminster Abbey.

Early life

Denham was born in Dublin to Sir John Denham, Chief Baron of the Irish Exchequer, and his second wife Eleanor Moore, daughter of Garret Moore, 1st Viscount Moore. He was educated at Trinity College, Oxford and at Lincoln's Inn in London.

In his earlier years Denham suffered for his Royalism; during the English Civil War, he was appointed High Sheriff of Surrey (for 1642) and governor of Farnham Castle.

After 1660

Denham became a Member of Parliament for Old Sarum in 1661, became a Fellow of the Royal Society on 20 May 1663, and became a Knight of the Bath. He built or commissioned the original Burlington House in Piccadilly in about 1665.

After the Restoration Denham became Surveyor of the King's Works, probably for reasons of his earlier political services rather than for any aptitude as an architect. John Webb, who, as Inigo Jones's deputy had the competence to have served in the post, and complained "though Mr. Denham may, as most gentry, have some knowledge of the theory of architecture, he can have none of the practice and must employ another."[1] There is no evidence that he personally designed any buildings, although he seems to have been a competent administrator; he may however have played some part in the design of his own home, Burlington House. John Webb was appointed Denham's deputy by 1664 and did Denham's work at Greenwich (from 1666) and elsewhere.

Denham made an unhappy marriage, and his last years were clouded by dementia. With Denham's increasing mental incapacity, Charles II requested in March 1669 that Christopher Wren be appointed Denham's "sole deputy"; Wren succeeded him as King's Surveyor upon his death two weeks later. Denham was buried in Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey.


Denham began his literary career with a tragedy, The Sophy (1641), but his poem, Cooper's Hill (1642), is the work by which he is remembered. It is the first example in English of a poem devoted to local description, picturing the Thames Valley scenery round his home at Egham in Surrey. Denham wrote many versions of this poem, reflecting the political and cultural upheavals of the Civil War.

Gilfillan wrote of Denham and his contemporary Edmund Waller: "Neither Denham nor Waller were great poets; but they have produced lines and verses so good, and have, besides, exerted an influence so considerable on modern versification, and the style of poetical utterance, that they are entitled to a highly respectable place amidst the sons of British song."[2]

He also received extravagant praise from Samuel Johnson, who quoted Denham's verse to exemplify the use of several words;[3] but the place now assigned him is more humble.


  1. ^ Quoted in Howard Colvin, A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 1600-1840, 3rd ed. (Yale University Press), 1995, s.v. "Denham, Sir John;" Denham has a brief entry ex officio.
  2. ^ George Gilfillan, "Life of Sir John Denham", in The Poetical Works of Edmund Waller and Sir John Denham, ed. George Gilfillan (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1857), p. 203.
  3. ^ Allen Reddick, The Making of Johnson’s Dictionary 1746-1773 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 166.

External links

Court offices
Preceded by
John Embree
Surveyor of the King's Works
Succeeded by
Christopher Wren
Parliament of England
Preceded by
Seymour Bowman
John Norden
Member of Parliament for Old Sarum
With: Edward Nicholas
Succeeded by
Edward Nicholas
Eliab Harvey

5 Annotations

vincent  •  Link

1615-69, English poet and dramatist. His fame rests largely on two works: Cooper's Hill (1642), a topographical poem, combining descriptions of scenery with moral reflections, and The Sophy, a historical tragedy of the Turkish court, acted in 1641. He served the royalists during the Puritan revolution and as a result was made surveyor general of the royal works. He was knighted in 1661.

He was born at Dublin in 1615; the only son of Sir John Denham, of Little Horsely in Essex ....more..

159 My eye, descending from the hill, surveys
160Where Thames amongst the wanton valleys strays;
161Thames, the most lov'd of all the Ocean's sons
162By his old sire, to his embraces runs,
163Hasting to pay his tribute to the sea,
164Like mortal life to meet eternity.
165Though with those streams he no resemblance hold

Bill  •  Link

John Denham, created at the Restoration K.B., and Surveyor-General of the Works; better known as the author of Cooper's Hill. Ob. 1668.
---Diary and correspondence of Samuel Pepys, the diary deciphered by J. Smith. 1854.

Bill  •  Link

John Denham, son of Sir John Denham, Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench in Ireland, born at Dublin in 1615, appointed at the Restoration Surveyor-General of the Works, and created a Knight of the Bath at the Coronation of Charles II.; better known as the author of "Cooper's Hill." He was one of the original Fellows of the Royal Society. His troubles with his second wife are related further on in the Diary. He died March, 1668-9, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
---Wheatley (1894).

Bill  •  Link

DENHAM, Sir JOHN (1615-1669), poet; son of Sir John Denham (1559-1639); matriculated at Trinity College, Oxford, 1631; studied law at Lincoln's Inn; published 'The Sophy,' an historical tragedy, 1642; compelled to surrender Farnham Castle, of which he was governor, to Sir William Waller, 1642; published 'Cooper's Hill,' his best-known poem, 1642; petitioned Charles to pardon Wither, of whose poems Denham thought meanly; councillor of Charles I, and attendant of Henrietta Maria at Paris; sent to Holland with a letter of Instructions for Charles II, 1649; published a translation of Virgil's 'Aeneid II,' 1656; licensed by Cromwell to live at Bury in Suffolk, 1658: surveyor-general of works, 1660; K.B., 1661; became mad for a short period, 1666, in consequence of the faithlessness of his second wife. Lady Margaret Denham; lampooned by Samuel Butler, author of 'Hudibras,' 1667; published occasional verses and satires. His 'Cooper's Hill' is the earliest example of strictly descriptive poetry in English.
---Dictionary of National Biography: Index and Epitome. S. Lee, 1906.

Log in to post an annotation.

If you don't have an account, then register here.


Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.


  • Dec






  • Oct