John Donne's marriage and its aftermath

John Donne's employment

Thomas EgertonA legal training was seen as a good way into politics and the court. Donne was ambitious and in 1598 he was appointed Secretary to Sir Thomas Egerton, the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, an influential post. He had previously sailed with the Earl of Essex's expedition against the Spanish at Cadiz, which wiped out a treasure fleet and burned the town. It may have been the connections made then that got him this desirable job.

John Donne in love

Egerton's household included a pretty young niece, Ann Moore. Donne and she fell in love. She was under age, and there seemed little prospect of Donne being allowed to marry her, had he asked her uncle's permission. So in 1601 they married secretly. This sounds very romantic, but it lost Donne his job when her father, the Keeper of the Tower of London, heard about it, and even had him put in prison for a while.

John Donne, Ann Donne, ‘Undone’

In the end, the matter of Donne’s marriage went to court. Fortunately, the court found them to be legally married, but from then on, for much of the marriage, Donne's career was on the rocks. Famously, he wrote:

John Donne, Ann Donne, undone

They had little money of their own, until eventually Ann's father gave Donne her dowry. For two years they lived at Loseley, near Guildford, where relatives gave them a house; then at Mitcham, a small village south of London.

John Donne - A family to support

What made John and Ann Donne’s financial state worse was their growing family. Ann had a child nearly every year. Donne had to find what jobs he could. Clearly the two were devoted to each other, but there were considerable strains on them both and Ann was frequently ill. Donne had a room off the Strand in London, both to stay in touch with the world and also to study in quiet. He still wrote a little poetry privately.

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