Sir John Harington (1561-1612)

scholar, poet, translator, courtier, soldier, letter-writer, and epigrammatist

Sir John Harington

Sir John Harington (1561-1612) of Kelston came of an old and distinguished family.

The name is derived from Haverington, in Cumberland, where the Haringtons were barons from the earliest days. Their chief seat was at Aldingham, in Lancashire, where they resided from Edward I’s time.

The last Baron Harington fell at the battle of Wakefield (1460) .1 Two representatives of the family, Sir Robert and Sir James Harington, for bearing arms at the battle of Towton (1461) and for taking Henry VI prisoner, were attainted by Henry VII, and twenty five large manors were forfeited to the crown. 2 Sir James Harington, of Brierley, in Felkirk, Yorkshire, subsequently entered the Church, and died Dean of York.

John Harington, father of the epigrammatist, was the son of Alexander Harington, and grandson of Sir James Harington, of Brierley. 3

Large estates in Rutland and Lincolnshire were owned by another branch of the family, from which was descended John Lord Harington of Exton. 4

John Harington, father of our writer, restored the fortunes of his branch of the family. He held, under Henry VIII, several important offices.

1. William Dugdale, The Baronage of England, 2 vols., 1675-1676, II, 99-100; 416. Nugae Antiquae, 1119, III, 306-312.

2. Harleian MSS. 1549; John Collinson, The History of Somersetshire, 3 vols., Bath, 1791, I, 128.

3. Grants of Arms named in Docquets and Patents to the End of the Seventeenth Century, ed. W. H. Rylands. Harleian Society, LXVI (London, 1915), 115. See also Notes and Queries for Somerset and Dorset, IV, 155. Sir James Harington is mentioned by the epigrammatist as his great-grandfather. Nugae Antiquae, 1779, II, 143-144. Cf. Letter 54, infra.

4. Collinson, op. cit., I, 128

via Full text of “Letters and epigrams of Sir John Harington, together with The prayse of private life”.

Edited with an Introduction by Norman Egbert McClure, Professor of English, Ursinus College.

Harington’s letters are here for the first time collected and edited. Of the sixty-two letters in this volume, nineteen were printed in Henry Harington’s Nugae Antiquae (1779, 1804), and a few others have appeared elsewhere.

Harington made little way in the favor of King James; and died in 1612, remembered perhaps chiefly by his ageing fellow-“servants,” as the old word went, in the vanished Court of Queen Elizabeth.


Sir John Harington, the inventor of the first toilet, who lived in the 16th Century, composed epigrams about life at the time which Mr Standage said bear some resemblance to the brief Tweets of today.

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