John Milton, the son of a stockbroker, was born in London in 1608. He was educated at St. Paul's School and Christ's College, Cambridge and while at university began writing poetry in Latin, Italian and English. Over the next few years his fame grew with works such as Ode Upon the Morning of Christ's Nativity (1629), On Shakespeare (1632), Lycidas (1637) and Epitaphium Damonis (1639).
Milton was touring Italy when he heard about the conflict between Charles I and Parliament. Milton, a Puritan, returned to England to support the rebels. This included the publication of several pamphlets attacking the Anglican Church such asOf Reformation (1641), Of Prelatical Episcopacy (1641), The Reason of Church Government (1642) and Apology for Smectymnuus (1642).
In 1642 Milton married Mary Powell. However, after six weeks, upset by his political views, she returned to her Royalist family. This resulted in him publishing The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce (1643), where he argued that an incompatibility of mind and spirit was a better ground for divorce than adultery. This was followed by On Education (1644) and Areopagitica, A Speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing (1644), a passionate argument for a free press.
Milton's wife returned in 1645 and the couple had four children: Anne (1646), Mary (1648), John (1651) and Deborah (1652). Soon after the birth of Deborah, Milton's wife and son John died.
Milton, a staunch republican, supported the trial and execution of Charles I and in 1649 published The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates. During the Commonwealth Milton was Latin Secretary to the Council of State. His assistant was his close friend, Andrew Marvell. Marvell's help became even more important after Milton lost his sight in 1651. He continued to write and published several pamphlets including Pro Populo Anglicano Defensio (1651), Defensio Secunda (1654) and Defence of Himself (1655).
Milton also wrote poems praising Oliver Cromwell, Thomas Fairfax and Henry Vane. However, Milton grew increasingly concerned about the authoritarianism of Cromwell's government. On Cromwell's death Milton published The Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth.
After the Restoration Milton's work was burnt in public. Milton went briefly into hiding fearing he would be executed as a Regicide. Over the next few years he devoted himself to writing and during this period published Paradise Lost (1667), The History of Britain (1670), Paradise Regained (1671), Samson Agonistes (1671) and Of True Religion (1673).
John Milton died of gout on 8th November, 1674.