Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fletcher, Joseph (1582?-1637)

FLETCHER, JOSEPH (1582?–1637), religious poet, son of Thomas Fletcher, merchant tailor of London, was, according to his epitaph, sixty years old at the time of his death in 1637. There can be little doubt that he was four or five years younger. He was entered at Merchant Taylors' School on 11 March 1593–4, and was elected to St. John's College, Oxford, in 1600, matriculating on 23 Jan. 1600–1, at the age of eighteen. He proceeded B.A. in 1604–5 and M.A. in 1608. He took part in a burlesque pageant called ‘The Christmas Prince,’ played at Oxford in 1607, together with his fellow-collegiate, Laud (Triphook, Miscellanea Antiqua Anglicana, 1816). In the autumn of 1609 he was presented to the rectory of Wilby, Suffolk, by Sir Anthony Wingfield, and he died there on 28 May 1637, being buried in the church. A mural brass above his grave with verses inscribed upon it is still extant. He married, first, in May 1610, Grace, daughter of Hugh Ashley, vicar of St. Margaret's, Ilkettshall, a parish in the neighbourhood of Wilby. By her he had six children: Joseph (baptised 7 April 1611), William (baptised 13 April 1612), Grace (baptised 28 Dec. 1613), Marie (baptised 27 Aug. 1605), John (baptised 18 May 1617), and a sixth child, born in December 1618. Fletcher's first wife died in giving birth to the sixth child, and she was buried in Wilby Church on 4 Dec. 1618. Her husband, when entering her death in the burial register, added two elegiac poems, one in Latin and the other in English. Fletcher's second wife (Anne) survived him, and to her he left all his property by a will dated 1 May 1630.

Fletcher was the author of a volume of poetry—now very rare—entitled ‘The Historie of the Perfect, Cursed, Blessed Man: setting forth man's excellencie, miserie, felicitie by his generation, degeneration, regeneration, by I. F., Master of Arts, Preacher of God's Word, and Rector of Wilbie in Suffolk,’ London, 1628, 1629. This is dedicated to the author's patron, Sir Anthony Wingfield. A long prose address to the reader precedes the poem, which is written throughout in heroic verse, and rarely rises above mediocrity. Emblematical designs by Thomas Cecil are scattered through the volume. No copy is in the British Museum. A poem of far higher literary quality called ‘Christes Bloodie Sweat, or The Source of God in his Agonie, by I. F.’ (London, 1613), has also been attributed to Fletcher by Dr. Grosart and Mr. W. C. Hazlitt. The British Museum Catalogue accepts the identification of ‘I. F.’ with Fletcher's initials. But the authorship is very uncertain, and little of the fervour of the earlier work is discernible in the later. Dr. Grosart reprinted the two volumes in his ‘Fuller's Worthies Library’ as Joseph Fletcher's poetical works (1869).

[Robinson's Merchant Taylors' School Reg. i. 34; Clark's Oxf. Univ. Reg. (Oxf. Hist. Soc.), II. ii. 245, iii. 250; Dr. Grosart's preface to Fletcher's Poetical Works; Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. viii. 268.]

S. L. L.