On 31st March 1621, in a small West Yorkshire village called Winestead, Andrew Marvell was born to parents Andrew Marvell and his wife Anne. When Marvell was three years old, his father, a reverend, relocated the young family to nearby Hull in order to take up the position of lecturer at the Holy Trinity Church. It was in Hull that the poet spent his childhood, being educated at the local grammar school before, in 1633, going on to study at Trinity College, Cambridge, receiving his BA in 1638. It was during his time at Cambridge that Marvell’s first published verse – a Latin and Greek poem on the birth of Princess Anne – appeared in a Cambridge University 1637 volume of poetry, Musarum Cantabrigiensium.
In 1640, while studying for his master’s degree, Marvell was forced to leave Cambridge after his father’s accidental death by drowning. The details on how many Marvell spent the years after this event are scarce and are based on speculation more than on facts, but we know that between the years of 1642–1646 he would visit numerous countries around Europe, including the Netherlands, France, Italy, and Spain, where he may – or may not – have spent time travelling with and tutoring the sons of noble men; we simply cannot for certain say one way or the other (as I said, the details are scarce). On his return to England, Marvell would find a country divided by politics and preparing to go to war with itself once more after a brief period of peace. It was from this point, 1648 to 1652 in particular, that is it believed Marvell composed the majority of his lyrics.
During the height of the Second Civil War, 1648, Marvell composed and published two poems – ‘Elegy Upon the Death of My Lord Francis Villiers’ and ‘To His Noble Friend Mr Richard Lovelace’ – that indirectly dealt with issues concerning the political climate. Even today, Marvell’s politics are debated and considered unclear. He wrote that up until the mid-1650s he had ‘not the remotest relation to publick matters’; yet, if we are to link his own opinions to that of his poetry in any way, then this is not true. In such a tumultuous period for England, it is highly unlikely that a man who would later go on to have a career in politics would be completely devoid of political thought. What Marvell could have plausibly said was that up until this point, he hadn’t the remotest commitment to any one party or cause; his poetry over this decade would range from royalist sympathies, as seen in ‘My Lord Francis Villiers’ and ‘An Horatian Ode’, to outright republican praise in his later dedications to Oliver Cromwell and his anti-royalist vision for England.
Whatever Marvell insists, his link to politics began in 1650 when he joined the household of Lord Thomas Fairfax, a commander for the parliamentarians during the Civil War. Marvell’s time at the country estate – named Nun Appleton House – was spent tutoring Fairfax’s daughter, Mary. Marvell left the house in late 1652, but not before he produced the poem ‘Upon Appleton House, To My Lord Fairfax’, where his illustration of the house is used as vehicle to express his own views on contemporary issues. It was also during this time that it is believed Marvell wrote his best-known poem, ‘To His Coy Mistress’.
By 1653, Marvell had befriended fellow poet John Milton who by this time was working for the Commonwealth as Secretary for Foreign Tongues. Milton recommended Marvell for a position as his assistant, writing to the council that Marvell was ‘soe fit every way for the purpose’ of assuming the role vacated by his deceased former assistant. Despite Milton’s positive appraisal, the council rejected Marvell. He eventually secured the position in 1657, earning £200 a week, and held the position until the restoration of monarchy in 1660. Even though Marvell had been a supporter of Cromwell’s Commonwealth, he adapted freely and comfortably to life under Charles II. Along with other friends, Marvell’s position in parliament was influential in sparing John Milton – a bigger threat to the monarchy – from imprisonment or death under the new regime. In 1659, Marvell was invited to stand as MP for Hull, a position he held for the remainder of his life. In the last years of his life, he would write popular, well-selling satirical political pamphlets that mocked influential political figures and their policies. His outspoken views often led to public disagreements with prominent members of society, resulting in a series of back and forth attacking editorials which were printed in the press. Marvell died on August 16th 1678, in London. His death was caused by the mistreatment of tertian ague (a type of fever) and not – as some people not entirely misguidedly believed, given the times – of political murder. Marvell’s first printed collection, Miscellaneous Poems, was published posthumously in 1681.