Sir Henry Newbolt was born in Bilston, Staffordshire, in 1862, the son of a vicar who died when Henry was four years old. His mother then moved to Walsall and Henry was educated at Walsall Grammar School and Caistor Grammar School, from where he won a scholarship to Clifton College in Bristol. He rose to become head boy there and editor of the school magazine. He went on to Corpus Christi College, Oxford to read law, graduating in 1887. He then studied to become a lawyer and practised for twelve years.
In 1899 he gave up his work as a lawyer to devote himself full-time to writing. In this same year he married Margaret Duckworth of the prominent publishing family. The marriage, which produced a daughter in 1890 and a son in 1993 was, to say the least, unconventional, in that the couple lived together with Margaret’s cousin Laura “Ella” Coltman, with whom Margaret had a long-running lesbian affair. Newbolt himself had an affair with Ella at a later date and the two women appear to have shared his affections thereafter in this bizarre ménage à trois.
Newbolt wrote his first novel Taken From The Enemy in 1892, a play, Mordred, an Arthurian drama, in 1895, as well as contributions to The Law Digest. His first volume of poems, Admirals All, which included one of his best known poems, Drake’s Drum, which celebrated England’s past naval heroics. This was followed by other volumes of poetry, The Island Race (1898), The Sailing of the Longships (1904), and Songs of the Fleet (1910).
From 1900-1904 he was the editor of The Monthly Review and during WWI he was a member of the War Propaganda Bureau and later Controller of Telecommunications at the Foreign Office. He was knighted in 1905 and appointed a Companion of Honour in 1922. He died at his home in Kensington, London, in 1938, aged 75.
In all Sir Henry Newbolt wrote twelve collections of poems and a further 28 books, including a naval history of the war, as well as two volumes of autobiography, the second published by his wife after his death. His early poetry is characterised by his patriotism for which he was unfairly denounced by some critics as a warmonger, but his later works explored themes of love, nature, and family.