HARINGTON, Sir John

(1560-1612)
Godson of Queen Elizabeth I,* John Harington was granted opportunities both at court and on the battlefields of Ireland. However, his literary efforts brought him his greatest success as a poet, translator, and chronicler of his age.
Harington, often called Harington of Kelston, was the firstborn son of John Harington of Chestnut and Stepney and Isabella Markham, gentlewoman to Eliz­abeth I. The Haringtons were a noble family whose descendants obtained sig­nificant wealth for the capture of Henry VI at the Battle of Hexham (1464). Harington enjoyed a life of privilege. He attended Eton (1570) and King s Col­lege, Cambridge (1575). Harington received the master of arts degree in 1581 and went to Lincoln s Inn to pursue law. These studies were cut short by the death of Harington s father in 1582; shortly thereafter Harington took over his father s estate at Kelston Manor at Somersetshire. Harington married Mary Rog­ers, or "Mall," as he affectionately called her, in 1583. The couple's first child was born in 1589. Rogers gave birth to a total of eleven children. It was shortly after his marriage that Harington began spending more time at court as courtier to Elizabeth I. His court activities came to a halt in 1588 when Elizabeth I punished Harington for translating some bawdy passages from Ludovico Ariosto's* Orlando Furioso. When Elizabeth got hold of the material, she sent for Harington and ordered him to return to the country and not come before her again until he produced a complete version of the poem, which he did.
Harington s Orlando Furioso brought him tremendous respect from his con­temporaries. The translation was published in 1591 and became an immediate success. His literary activities continued throughout the 1590s with his satirical epigrams, which were circulated at court. Many of these epigrams were written to amuse his wife and jest at his mother-in-law s expense. The epigrams were not published in his lifetime, but Harington did publish a pamphlet titled A New Discourse of a Stale Subject, Called the Metamorphosis of Ajax in 1596. This work, on the indelicate subject of domestic sanitation, had a stormy reception; the scandal surrounding this publication resulted in another court hiatus for Harington.
Harington was pardoned by Elizabeth I in 1599 when he was invited to join the earl of Essex in his mission to stifle the earl of Tyrone's rebellion in Ireland. During this eventful campaign, Essex used his power as viceroy to knight Har-ington and numerous others. When Essex returned to England later that year, he found the queen displeased with his activities both on and off the fields. Harington, as a member of Essex s mission, was also treated coldly upon return. Elizabeth I requested a visit from Harington in 1602, but he never again enjoyed security at court.
Upon James I's* ascension in 1603, Harington sought favor from the new king and greeted his arrival to the throne with a celebratory elegy. Harington s situation seemed more promising toward the end of that year when the king invited him to court. Harington began sending gifts to Prince Henry, including Harington s own translation of The Aeneid, book 6 (1604), and a copy of his epigrams (1605). Though Harington petitioned for various posts, he never ob­tained a position. Harington died in November 1612, survived by his wife and seven of his children.
By Harington s own admission, he played the fool too often, which thwarted his advancement at court. In addition to his fine translation of Orlando Furioso, he authored a collection of writings featuring humorous and candid views of domestic life and critiques of court. The opinions expressed in his letters reveal popular attitudes toward manuscript and print cultures and the literature of his day. He applauded Philip Sidney s* Astrophel and Stella, Arcadia, and Defense of Poesy, along with Edmund Spenser's* Fairie Queene.
Bibliography
D. H. Craig, Sir John Harington, 1985.
J. Harington, The Letters and Epigrams ofSir John Harington, ed. N. E. McClure, 1930.
Michele Osherow

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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