Sir John HARRINGTON, Knight

Born: 1561, Kelston, Somersetshire, England

Died: 20 Nov 1612, Kelston, Somersetshire, England

Father: John HARRINGTON of Kelston

Mother: Isabella MARKHAM

Married: Mary ROGERS 6 Sep 1583, Cannington, Somersetshire, England













12. Elizabeth HARRINGTON (chr. 16 Sep 1598, Richmond, Surrey, England)



15. Robert HARRINGTON (b. 29 Jun 1602 - bur. 2 Feb 1605)

Sir John Harrington

Attributed to H. Custodis

Born in 1561 at Kelston, near Bath, son of John Harrington and his second wife, Isabella Markham. When Elizabeth became Queen she never forgot the loyalty of Harrington when she was in prison, and in recognition of it she became godmother to the young John.

Educated at Eton, later he went to King's College, Cambridge, where he took the degree of M.A.He described himself as a truantly scholar who had taken little for his money. Yet he also paid a no doubt well-merited tribute to his tutor 'to whom I never came, but I grew more religious; from whom I never went, but I parted better instructed'. There is a pleasant sidelight on the Queen, who sent him a copy of her speech to Parliament (15 Mar 1576), 'and I do this, because thy father was ready to serve and love us in trouble and thrall'. In her letter to him, the Queen addresses him as "Boy Jack" and refers to him as a "strippling" too young to be allowed into Parliament. ( Elizabeth I Collected Works, U. of Chicago, 2000, p.167.). After Cambridge John turned to the study of law at Lincoln's Inn, but abandoned the law on the death of his father (1582) and went to Kelson to look to the building of the house there.

He was not always at Kelston, for he was frequently at Court. And here it mar be noted that, in spite of two or three quarrels and dismissals, his royal godmother always had for him a deep affection, as John Harrington always had for her. Harrington's first escapade was concerned with a translation which he made of the improper story of Giacomo in the 28th book of Ariosto's 'Orlando Furioso'. The manuscript was circulated among the maids of honour at the Court. It fell into the hands of the Queen. John was exiled from Court, but one sees a wink of the eyelid in the verdict, until he had translated the whole of Ariosto's poem into English. John accomplished this by 1592, when he presented a magnificently bound copy of the work to Elizabeth on her visit to Kelston in that year. The versification may not have been above moderately good, but the volume carried a frontispiece, a portrait of Harrington engraved on copper place and signed by William Rogers, the first man to practise chis arr in England, probably the first book in England to be illustrated with copper plates. Harrington was high sheriff of Somerset in 1592.

The next important moment in Harrington's life was the publication in 1596 of A New Discourse upon a Stale Subject, with the subtitle of The Metamorphosis of Ajax. This was published under the author's pseudonym of Misacmos. There were in fact three sections to this dissertation, but the real point of the publication was that Harrington described in detail and with diagrams, and with a good many none too savoury digressions, often aimed at particular and well-known men at Court, his invention of the water-closet, on which John Harrington's chief claim to fame ought to rely. (Ajax was a pun on the words 'a jakes', jakes being the Elizabethan word for a privy). The work was issued under the initials T.C., which stood for T. C. Traveller. He explained 'how unsavoury places may be made sweet, noisome places made wholesome, filthy places made cleanly', at a cost of thirty shillings and eightpence. The Queen was much displeased, not with the indecorous passages in the book, but with veiled allusions to the Earl of Leicester. At one moment Harrington was in great danger of facing Star Chamber: it is almost certain that Elizabeth's affection for him saved him from that process. But the edict went forth that that he leave the Court. By 1598 the Queen had forgiven her godson and commanded that a Harrington water-closet be installed at Richmond Palace.

The next year (1599) the Earl of Essex ser out on his ill-fated expedition to Ireland. The Queen never trusted Essex, least of all on this military venture. She therefore sent her godson as Master of the Horse with orders 'to take account of all that passes in your expedition and keep journal thereof, unknown to any in the company: this will be expected of you. I have reasons to give for this order'. The expedition proved a total failure, and on returning to England Essex took Harrington (whom he had knighted in Ireland) with him to his interview with Elizabeth. The Queen was in a furious temper and ordered Harrington borne to Kelston. 'I did not stay to be bidden twice. If all the lrish rebels had been at my heels, I should not have made better speed'. But before he left London he had another interview with his godmother at which he was 'cleared and graciously dismissed... Until I come to heaven, I shall never come before a statelier judge again, nor one that can temper majesty, wisdom, learning, choler, and favour better than her Highness did at that time'.

In 1602 Harrington saw the Queen for the last time and found her in 'most pitiable state'. Within three months she was dead. How deep was Harrington's affection for the Queen breaks out in a letter to his wife, Mary:

'I can not blot from my memory's table the goodness of our sovereign Lady to me, even (I will say) before born; her affection to my mother... her bettering the state of my father's fortune (which I have, alas! so much worsted), her watchings ayer my youth, her liking to my free speech and admiration of my little learning and poesie, which I did so much cultivate on her command, have rooted such love, such dutiful remembrance of her princely virtues, that to turn askant from her condition with tearless eyes would stain and foul the spring and fount of gratitude'.

Already by 1602 Harrington wrote a tract 'On The Succession to the Crown' in which he supported the claim of James VI to the English throne. He sent a copy to the King and with it a New Year present of a lantern so devised as to symbolize the waning light of Elizabeth and the rising splendour of James. There was also a representation of the Crucifixion with the inscription, 'Lord, remember me when thou comest into Thy Kingdom'. The King treated Harrington graciously, made him a Knight of the Bath, gave to him the properties of Harrington's Markham cousins, forfeited for Sir Griffin Markham's part in the plot to put Lady Arabella Stuart on the throne, added the advowson of the rectory to the manar of Kelston, and confirmed all the properties his father had obtained through his Tudor marriage to the family for ever.

Towards the end of his life, from 1602 onwards, Harrington was involved in three major lawsuits and quarrels over properties to which he tried to lay claim and some of which he tried to secure by force. He was greatly in debt and in need of money, but his methods of repairing his fortunes show him in the least reputable light. Indeed, he was at one moment imprisoned, having promised to stand surety for the debts of his cousin, Sir Griffin Markham. He was in prison for a year, then he escaped.

Rogers,Mary01.jpg (49809 bytes)

Mary Rogers, Lady Harrington

by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger

Oil on wood panel 
44.5 in. x 33.5 in.
Tate Britain, London

Sir John Harington and his wfie, Mary Rogers

by Hieronimo Custodis

Harrington's efforts to win favor at the new court were unsuccessful. In 1605 he even asked for the office of chancellor of Ireland and proposed himself as Archbishop. The document in which he preferred this extraordinary request was published in 1879 with the title of A Short View of the State of Ireland written in 1605. Harrington was before his time in advocating a policy of generosity and conciliation towards that country. He eventually succeeded in obtaining a position as one of the tutors of Prince Henry, for whom he annotated Francis Godwin's De praesulibus Angliae. Harington's grandson, John Chetwind, found in this somewhat scandalous production an argument for the Presbyterian side, and published it in 1653, under the title of 'A Briefe View of the State of the Church'. In 1609 he translated the 'Regimen Sanitatis Salernitanum' and entitled his book 'The Englishman's Doctor', or the 'Schoole of Salerne', perhaps for the use of the Prince Henry.

Harrington died at Kelston on the 20th of Nov 1612. His Epigrams were printed in a collection entitled Alcilia in 1613, and separately in 1615. The translation of the Orlando Furioso was carried out with skill and perseverance. It is not to be supposed that Harrington failed to realize the ironic quality of his original, but he treated it as a serious allegory to suit the temper of Queen Elizabeth's court. If none of Harrington's literary productions commands much attention today, (in his own day his epigrams were much admired), his letters mark him as one of the great letter writers in English literature. Harrington was a shrewd observer, he had a wonderful gift for what would nowadays be newspaper reporting, he was always interesting, usually witty, sometimes Rabelaisian, often serious. Some of the most intimate, alive and even moving portraits that we have of Queen Elizabeth are to be found in his letters: to his letters we owe the most vivid and forthright pictures of James I and his court, especially his vivid account of a drunken orgy, quoted in D. H. Willson's King James VI and I.

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