John Suckling (poet)

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Sir John Suckling
Sir John Suckling as painted by Van Dyck.
Born(1609-02-10)10 February 1609
Whitton, London
DiedMay 1641

Sir John Suckling (10 February 1609 – after May 1641) was an English poet and a prominent figure among those renowned for careless gaiety and wit, the accomplishments of a Cavalier poet. He was also the inventor of the card game cribbage. [1] He is best known for his poem "Ballad Upon a Wedding".

Cavalier poet

The cavalier poets was a school of English poets of the 17th century, that came from the classes that supported King Charles I during the English Civil War (1642–1651). Charles, a connoisseur of the fine arts, supported poets who created the art he craved. These poets in turn grouped themselves with the King and his service, thus becoming Cavalier Poets.

Cribbage card game

Cribbage, or crib, is a card game traditionally for two players, but commonly played with three, four or more, that involves playing and grouping cards in combinations which gain points. Cribbage has several distinctive features: the cribbage board used for score-keeping, the eponymous crib, box, or kitty —a separate hand counting for the dealer—two distinct scoring stages and a unique scoring system including points for groups of cards that total fifteen. It has been characterized as "Britain's national card game" and the only one legally playable on licensed premises without requiring local authority permission.



He was born at Whitton, in the parish of Twickenham, Middlesex, and baptized there on 10 February 1609. His father, Sir John Suckling, was Secretary of State under James I and Comptroller of the Household of Charles I, and his mother was Elizabeth Cranfield, sister of Sir Lionel Cranfield, 1st Earl of Middlesex. The poet inherited his father's estate at the age of eighteen. He went to Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1623, and was enrolled at Gray's Inn in 1627. [2] He was intimate with Ben Jonson, Thomas Carew, Richard Lovelace, Thomas Nabbes and especially with John Hales and Sir William Davenant, who later furnished John Aubrey with information about his friend. [3]

Whitton, London town in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, London, England

Whitton is a suburban area in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames. Together with the neighbouring electoral ward of Heathfield, it forms the north-western part of Twickenham and is located in Southwest London. Whitton and Heathfield are often considered together for administrative purposes. The area has a railway station on the Windsor Line from London Waterloo and has good road links with the A316 running through the area that leads to the M3 motorway. The focus of the district is the High Street which is one of the best-preserved 1930s high streets in London. The most common type of housing in the area is 1930's detached and semi-detached housing. As a mainly residential area in outer London, many residents commute to Central London; education, retail, transport and catering businesses are also significant local employers.

Twickenham suburban area in west London, England

Twickenham is an affluent suburban area of west London, England. It lies on the River Thames and is 10 miles (16 km) west-southwest of Charing Cross. Historically part of Middlesex, it has formed part of the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames since 1965.

John Suckling (politician) English politician

Sir John Suckling was an English politician who sat in the House of Commons at various times between 1601 and 1627.


In 1628, he left London to travel in France and Italy, returning before the autumn of 1630, when he was knighted. In 1631 he volunteered for the force raised by the Marquess of Hamilton to serve under Gustavus Adolphus in Germany. He was back at Whitehall in May 1632; but during his short service he had been present at the Battle of Breitenfeld and in many sieges. [3] His poetic talent was only one of many accomplishments, but it commended him especially to Charles I and his queen, Henrietta Maria. He says of himself ("A Sessions of the Poets") that he "prized black eyes or a lucky hit at bowls above all the trophies of wit." Aubrey says that he invented the game of cribbage, and relates that his sisters came weeping to the bowling green at Piccadilly to dissuade him from play, fearing that he would lose their portions. Suckling was so passionately devoted to cards, that he would frequently spend the whole morning in bed with a pack before him, studying the subtleties of his favourite games. He was considered not only the most skilful card-player, but also the best bowler in England. [4] Suckling is said to have sent numerous packs of marked playing cards to the aristocratic houses of England. He then travelled the country playing cribbage with the gentry, and managed to win around £20,000, [1] an amount equivalent to about £4 million in today’s money.

James Hamilton, 1st Duke of Hamilton Scottish nobleman and leader during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms

James Hamilton, 1st Duke of Hamilton KG PC was a Scottish nobleman and influential political and military leader during the Thirty Years' War and the Wars of the Three Kingdoms.

Battle of Breitenfeld (1631) the Protestants’ first major victory of the Thirty Years War

The Battle of Breitenfeld or First Battle of Breitenfeld, was fought at a crossroads near Breitenfeld approximately 8 km north-west of the walled city of Leipzig on September 17, or September 7, 1631. It was the Protestants’ first major victory of the Thirty Years War.

Charles I of England 17th-century monarch of kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland

Charles I was the monarch over the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 27 March 1625 until his execution in 1649.

In 1634, great scandal was caused in his old circle by a beating which he received at the hands of Sir John Digby, a rival suitor for the hand of the daughter of Sir John Willoughby; and it has been suggested that this incident, which is narrated at length in a letter (10 November 1634) from George Garrard to Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford, had something to do with his beginning to seek more serious society. In 1635 he retired to his country estates in obedience to the proclamation of 20 June 1632 enforced by the Star Chamber against absentee landlordism, and employed his leisure in literary pursuits. In 1637 "A Sessions of the Poets" was circulated in manuscript, and about the same time he wrote a tract on Socinianism entitled An Account of Religion by Reason (pr. 1646). [3]

Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford English earl and politician

Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford was an English statesman and a major figure in the period leading up to the English Civil War. He served in Parliament and was a supporter of King Charles I. From 1632 to 1640 he was Lord Deputy of Ireland, where he established a strong authoritarian rule. Recalled to England, he became a leading advisor to the King, attempting to strengthen the royal position against Parliament. When Parliament condemned Wentworth to death, Charles reluctantly signed the death warrant and Wentworth was executed.

Star Chamber

The Star Chamber was an English court which sat at the royal Palace of Westminster, from the late 15th century to the mid-17th century, and was composed of Privy Councillors and common-law judges, to supplement the judicial activities of the common-law and equity courts in civil and criminal matters. The Star Chamber was originally established to ensure the fair enforcement of laws against socially and politically prominent people so powerful that ordinary courts would probably hesitate to convict them of their crimes. However, it became synonymous with social and political oppression through the arbitrary use and abuse of the power it wielded.

In 1639, Suckling assisted King Charles I in his first Scottish war, raising a troop of a hundred horse, at a cost of £12,000, and accompanied Charles on the Scottish expedition of 1639. Putnam's Monthly Magazine of American Literature states,

The Bishops' Wars of 1639 and 1640 are generally viewed as the starting point of the 1639–1652 Wars of the Three Kingdoms that ultimately involved the whole of the British Isles. They originated in long-standing disputes over control and governance of the Church of Scotland or kirk that went back to the 1580s. These came to a head in 1637 when Charles I attempted to impose uniform practices between the kirk and the Church of England.

At the breaking out of disturbances in 1639, when the Scottish Covenanters advanced to the English borders, many of the courtiers complimented the king, by raising forces at their own expense. Among these, none was more distinguished than Sir John Suckling. These gallant gentlemen vied with each other in the costly equipment of their forces, which led the king facetiously to remark, that "the Scots would fight stoutly, if only for the Englishmen's fine clothes." The troop of horse raised by Sir John alone cost him, so richly was it accoutred, twelve thousand pounds. In the action which ensued, the sturdy Scots were more than a match for the showy Englishmen; and among those who particularly distinguished themselves by their shabby behavior, was the splendid troop of Sir John Suckling. There is every reason to believe that Sir John personally acquitted himself as became a soldier and a gentleman; but the event gave rise to [a] humorous pasquil, which, while some suppose it to have been written by Sir John Mennis, a contemporary wit, others have attributed to Suckling himself. [5]

The amusing ballad was "On Sir John Suckling's most warlike preparations for the Scottish war" in Musarum deliciae (pr. 1656). [3]

He was elected as member for Bramber, during the session of the Short Parliament at a by-election on 30 April 1640. It was complained he had won by "undue means", but the parliament was dissolved on 5 May. [6]

In that winter he drew up a letter addressed to Henry Jermyn, afterwards Earl of St Albans, advising the king to disconcert the opposition leaders by making more concessions than they asked for. In May of the following year he was implicated in the First Army Plot, an attempt to rescue Strafford from the Tower and to bring in French troops to the king's aid. [3] The plot was exposed by the evidence of Colonel George Goring and Suckling left London with Jermyn and others on 6 May 1641 to flee to France; they were found guilty of high treason in their absence by Parliament on 13 August 1641. [7]

The circumstances of his short exile are obscure, and accounts of how he died vary. Alexander Pope, writing in anecdote the next century, stated he had died after arriving in Calais of fever from a wound in his foot caused by a nail having been driven into his boot by a servant who absconded with his money and papers. [8] He was certainly in Paris in the summer of 1641, when on 3 July Sir Francis Windebanke wrote to his son that Parliament had stopped pensions it had been paying himself, Suckling and Jermyn. One pamphlet related a story of his elopement with a lady to Spain, where he fell into the hands of the Inquisition. Aubrey's statement that he committed suicide by poison in Paris, in fear of poverty is generally accepted. [7] He was buried at a Protestant cemetery in the city. A pamphlet, An elegy on the renowned Sir John Sutling (sic) was written in February 1642 or earlier. [7]

Dramatic works

As a dramatist Suckling is noteworthy as having applied to regular drama the accessories already used in the production of masques. His Aglaura (pr. 1638) was produced at his own expense with elaborate scenery. Even the lace on the actors' coats was of real gold and silver. The play, in spite of its felicity of diction, lacks dramatic interest, and the criticism of Richard Flecknoe (Short Discourse of the English Stage), that it seemed "full of flowers, but rather stuck in than growing there," is not altogether unjustified. The Goblins (1638, pr. 1646) has some reminiscences of The Tempest; Brennoralt, or the Discontented Colonel (1639, pr. 1646) is a satire on the Scots, who are the Lithuanian rebels of the play; a fourth play, The Sad One, was left unfinished owing to the outbreak of the Civil War. [3]


Fragmenta Aaurea, 1646 Houghton EC.Su185.646f (A) - Suckling, Fragmenta aurea, 1646, title.jpg
Fragmenta Aaurea, 1646

Among the best known of his minor pieces are the "Ballade upon a Wedding", on the occasion of the marriage of Roger Boyle, afterwards Earl of Orrery, and Lady Margaret Howard, "I prithee, send me back my heart," "Out upon it, I have loved three whole days together," and "Why so pale and wan, fond lover?" from Aglaura. "A Sessions of the Poets", describing a meeting of the contemporary versifiers under the presidency of Apollo to decide who should wear the laurel wreath, is the prototype of many later satires. [3]

A collection of Suckling's poems was first published in 1646 as Fragmenta aurea. The so-called Selections (1836) published by Alfred Inigo Suckling is in fact a complete edition of his works, of which WC Hazlitt's edition (1874; revised ed., 1892) is little more than a reprint with some additions. The Poems and Songs of Sir John Suckling, edited by John Gray and decorated with woodcut border and initials by Charles Ricketts, was artistically printed at the Ballantyne Press in 1896. In 1910 Suckling's works in prose and verse were edited by A. Hamilton Thompson. [9] For anecdotes of Suckling's life see John Aubrey's Brief Lives (Clarendon Press ed., ii.242). [3]

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  1. 1 2 Aubrey, John (1999) [1949]. "Sir John Suckling". In Dick, Oliver Lawson (ed.). Aubrey's Brief lives (1st nonpareil ed.). Boston, MA, USA: D.R. Godine. p. 287. ISBN   978-1-56792-063-5. OCLC   32926202. LCC   CT781 .A9 1999.
  2. "Suckling, John (SKLN623J)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Chisholm 1911.
  4. The Fortnightly, vol. 2 p. 300, George Henry Lewes, John Morley, Thomas Hay Sweet Escott, William Leonard Courtney, Frank Harris - Chapman & Hall, London 1865
  5. "Sir John Suckling". Putnam's Monthly Magazine of American Literature, Science and Art. New York: G. P. Putnam and Co. 6 (32): 171. August 1855. OCLC   50092694. – Part of the Making of America Project, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Library.
  6. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Volume 53. Oxford University Press. 2004. p. 268. ISBN   0-19-861403-9.Article by Tom Clayton.
  7. 1 2 3 Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Volume 53. p. 269.
  8. Pope's version of events appears in "Observations, anecdotes, and characters of books and men" by Joseph Spence (1699-1768), published 1966 in edition by Tom Clayton.
  9. Suckling, Sir John (1910). Thompson, A. Hamilton (ed.). The Works of Sir John Suckling in prose and verse. London: George Routledge & Sons. OCLC   503940651.