Authors: Sir John Suckling

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English poet and playwright

Author Works


Fragmenta Aurea, 1646

The Last Remains of Sir John Suckling, 1659


Aglaura, pr., pb. 1638

The Goblins, pr. 1638

Brennoralt, pr. 1646

The Works of Sir John Suckling: The Plays, pb. 1971 (L. A. Beaurline, editor)


The Works of Sir John Suckling: The Non-dramatic Works, 1971 (Thomas Clayton, editor)


Sir John Suckling is typical of the Cavalier poets, who flourished at the court of Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria during the decade before the outbreak of the English civil war. They served the king, wrote polished, witty verses, and entertained the court ladies with their gallantries. Suckling was born in 1609 in Twickenham, a suburb of London, into a family with close court connections. His father, Sir John Suckling, was a member of parliament, secretary of state, and comptroller of the household under James I, and he became a member of the Privy Council of Charles I. The poet’s mother, who died when he was four, was the sister of Lionel Cranfield, James’s lord treasurer from 1622 to 1626, the one man who almost succeeded in curbing the royal extravagances for a brief period.{$I[AN]9810000325}{$I[A]Suckling, Sir John}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Suckling, Sir John}{$I[tim]1609;Suckling, Sir John}

Suckling may have attended the Westminster school before he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1623. He left the university without a degree and went on to London to Gray’s Inn, ostensibly to study law. However, at this period the Inns of Court were as much a playground for rich young noblemen as institutions of learning, and Suckling probably sought amusement where he could find it. When his father died in 1627, he began at once to squander his newly acquired fortune, which was substantial.

The young nobleman left Gray’s Inn in 1628 for a two-year tour of France and Italy. Knighted by Charles I at Theobalds when he came back to England in 1630, he soon joined a group of English soldiers who fought under King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden in the following year. His extravagance on his return to London in 1632 was legendary; the story is told that his sisters wept for fear he would gamble away their dowries. He lived chiefly at court, where he was named gentleman of the privy chamber, and where he composed many of his clever, cynical lyrics addressed to mournful lovers and faithless ladies.

Suckling’s interests were not exclusively frivolous; he numbered among his friends the noted philosopher Lucius Cary, Lord Falkland, and the scientist Robert Boyle as well as many of the poets of his time. He composed a philosophical tract, “An Account of Religion by Reason,” which was published with his poetry in Fragmenta Aurea in 1646.

A number of Suckling’s best works were written between 1635 and 1640; one of the wittiest of them, “A Session of the Poets,” contains satirical portraits of his literary acquaintances. His play Aglaura was lavishly produced for the court at his own expense in 1637, and Brennoralt, a dramatic commentary on the Scottish rebellion, appeared a few years later.

When Charles I raised an army to invade Scotland in 1639, Suckling furnished a unit that was distinguished for its magnificent finery, if not for its military ability, an act which earned him considerable ridicule from his countrymen. He became a member of the Long Parliament in 1640, but his public career ended abruptly with his involvement in a plot to free Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, who had been sentenced to death by Parliament for treason. To escape arrest Suckling fled to France, where he died in 1642–according to the gossipy seventeenth century biographer John Aubrey, by a self-administered dose of poison. Another report says that a servant caused his death. While his death was untimely, the world in which he had delighted no longer existed: There was no place in Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth for the dilettante man of letters who played at being a soldier when it suited his fancy.

BibliographyBeaurline, L. A. “‘Why so Pale and Wan?’: An Essay in Critical Method.” In Seventeenth-Century English Poetry: Modern Essays in Criticism, edited by William R. Keast. Rev. ed. London: Oxford University Press, 1971. Beaurline sees the poem as a dramatic lyric with a “facetious” (in the sixteenth century sense) narrator whose wit reflects unity in situation, character, argument, and language. Beaurline also discusses the poem as a response to the more complex Metaphysical poetry.Clayton, Thomas. “‘At Bottom a Criticism of Life’: Suckling and the Poetry of Low Seriousness.” In Classic and Cavalier: Essays on Jonson and the Sons of Ben, edited by Claude J. Summers and Ted-Larry Pebworth. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1982. Clayton’s essay provides an overview of Suckling criticism and proceeds to analyze four poems: the early “Upon St. Thomas’s Unbelief,” “An Answer to Some Verses Made in His Praise,” “Why So Pale and Wan,” and “Love’s Clock.” Places Suckling’s work in its literary context.Miner, Earl. The Cavalier Mode from Jonson to Cotton. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1971. Though he disapproves of Suckling the man, Miner often finds in him the poetic embodiment of Cavalier love poetry. In fact, Miner believes the “battle of the sexes” cliché was first given Cavalier expression in Suckling’s “A Soldier” and “Loves Siege.”Squires, Charles L. Sir John Suckling. Boston: Twayne, 1978. Squires covers Suckling’s life, plays, poems, prose, and literary reputation. He also provides careful readings of several poems, and his criticism of the four plays is detailed. Suckling emerges as the spokesman for the Cavalier era. Includes a chronology and bibliography.Summer, Joseph H. The Heirs of Donne and Jonson. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1970. Summers considers Suckling as an exemplar of the gentleman at court and finds in his verse debts to Ben Jonson and John Donne. Treating the narrative voice in poetry, Summers makes distinctions between the Donne originals and the Suckling responses, particularly in the cases of “The Indifferent” and “Love’s Deity,” which are answered in Suckling’s Sonnets II and III.Van Strien, Kees. “Sir John Suckling in Holland.” English Studies 76, no. 5 (September, 1995): 443. Suckling traveled in the Low Countries in the early seventeenth century yet left no record of his journeys. A letter written by Suckling and additional material are pieced together to develop a picture of the writer during a little-known period of his life.
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