Percy Bysshe Shelley

Percy Bysshe Shelley (August 4, 1792 - July 8, 1822) was an English Romantic poet, now most famous for poems such as "Ozymandias", "Ode to the West Wind", "To a Skylark", and "The Masque of Anarchy".


Percy was a seventeenth generation descedant of Richard Fitzalan, 10th Earl of Arundel through his son John Fitzalan, Marshall of England (d. 1379). John was married to Baroness Eleanor Maltravers (1345 - January 10, 1404/1405. Their eldest son succeeded them as John Fitzalan, Baron Maltravers (1365 - 1391). He was himself married to Elizabeth le Despenser (d. April 1/ April 10, 1408).

Elizabeth was a great-granddaughter of Hugh le Despenser "the younger" by his second son Edward Despenser of Buckland (d. September 30, 1342). Her parents were Sir Edward Despenser, 1st Lord Despenser (March 24, 1336 - November 11, 1375) and Elizabeth Burghersh (d. July 26, 1409).

The eldest son of Elizabeth by Baron Maltravers was John Fitzalan, 13th Earl of Arundel. Their third son was Sir Thomas Fitzalan of Beechwood. His own daughter Eleanor Fitzalan was married to Sir Thomas Browne of Beechworth Castle. They had four sons and a daughter. Said daughter Katherine Browne was married in 1471 to Humphrey Sackville of Buckhurst (1426 - January 24, 1488).

Their oldest son Richard Sackville of Buckhurst ( 1472 - July 18, 1524) was married in 1492 to Isabel Dyggs. Their oldest son Sir John Sackville of Buckhurst (1492 - October 5, 1557) was married to Margaret Boleyn. Margaret was a sister to Thomas Boleyn, 1st Earl of Wiltshire. His younger brother Richard Sackville had a less prominent marriage which resulted in the birth of Anne Sackville. Anne herself was later married to Henry Shelley.

Henry became father to a younger Henry Shelley. This younger Henry had at least three sons. The youngest of them Richard Shelley was later married to Joan Fuste , daughter of John Fuste from Ichingfield. Their grandson John Shelley of Fen Place was married himself to Helen Bysshe , daughter of Roger Bysshe. Their son Timothy Shelley of Fen Place (born c. 1700) married widow Johanna Plum from New York City. Timothy and Johanna were the great-grandparents of Percy.


He was born to Sir Timothy Shelley (September 7, 1753 - April 24, 1844) and his wife Elizabeth Pilfold following their marriage in October, 1791. His father was son and heir to Sir Bysshe Shelley, 1st Baronet of Castle Goring (June 21, 1731 - January 6, 1815) by his wife Mary Catherine Michell (d. November 7, 1760). His mother was daughter of Charles Pilfold of Effingham. Through his paternal grandmother Percy was great-grandson to Reverend Theobald Michell of Horsham.

He was the eldest of six children. His younger siblings included:

  • John Shelley of Avington House (March 15, 1806 - November 11, 1866. He was married on March 24, 1827 to Elizabeth Bowen (d. November 28, 1889).
  • Mary Shelley.
  • Elizabeth Shelley (d. 1831).
  • Hellen Shelley (d. May 10, 1885).
  • Margaret Shelley (d. July 9, 1887).
Education and early works

Thus born into an extremely wealthy family of Sussex gentry, Percy became heir to the 2nd baronet of Castle Goring in 1815. He received his early education at home, tutored by Reverend Thomas Edwards of Horsham. In 1802, he entered the Sion House Academy of Brentford. In 1804, Percy entered Eton College. On April 10, 1810 Percy went to the University of Oxford (University College). His first publication was a Gothic novel, Zastrozzi (1810), in which he gave vent to his atheistic worldview through the villain Zastrozzi. In the same year, Shelley together with his sister Elizabeth published Original Poetry by Victor and Cazire. After going up to Oxford, he issued a collection of (ostensibly burlesque but actually subversive) verse, Posthumous Fragments of Margaret Nicholson. A fellow collegian, Thomas Jefferson Hogg, may have been his collaborator.

In 1811, Shelley published a pamphlet, The Necessity of Atheism, which resulted in his expulsion from Oxford on March 25, 1811, along with Hogg. He could have been reinstated, following the intervention of his father, had he recanted his avowed views. Shelley refused, which led to a total break between himself and his father.

Married Life

In the same year, Shelley eloped to Scotland. On August 28, 1811 Percy was married to Harriet Westbrook, the daughter of John Westbrook who was a coffee-house keeper from London. Once married, Shelley moved to the Lake District to write, but shortly afterwards visited Ireland in order to engage in political pamphleteering. Two years later he published Queen Mab: A Philosophical Poem. The poem shows the influence of the British philosopher William Godwin, and much of Godwin's freethinking radical philosophy is voiced in it. By now unhappy in his marriage, Shelley fell in love with Godwin's and Mary Wollstonecraft's daughter, Mary. In July 1814 they eloped to Europe, crossing France and entering Switzerland. After six weeks, and out of money, they returned to England. The Shelleys would later publish an account of this voyage.

In the fall of 1815, while living close to London, Shelley produced the verse allegory Alastor, or The Spirit of Solitude. It attracted little attention at the time, but has come to be recognized as his first major poem.

Introduction to Byron

In the summer of 1816 the Shelleys made a second trip to Switzerland. They were prompted to do so by Mary Shelley's stepsister Claire Clairmont, who had contracted a liaison with Lord Byron the previous April, just before he entered his self-exile on the continent. Byron had lost interest in Claire, and she used the opportunity of meeting the Shelleys as bait to lure him to Geneva. The Shelleys and Byron rented neighboring houses on the shores of Lake Geneva. Regular conversation with Byron had an invigorating effect on Shelley's poetry. A boating tour which the two took together inspired Shelley to write the Hymn to Intellectual Beauty, his first significant production since Alastor. A tour of Chamonix in the French Alps inspired "Mont Blanc", a difficult poem in which Shelley ponders questions of historical inevitability and the relationship between the human mind and external nature. Shelley, in turn, influenced Byron's poetry. This new influence shows itself in the third part of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, which Byron was working on, and in Manfred, which he wrote that fall. At the same time, Mary had been inspired to begin writing Frankenstein. At the end of summer, the Shelleys and Claire returned to England. Claire was pregnant with Byron's child, a fact that would have an enormous impact on Shelley's future.

Personal tragedies and second marriage

The return to England was marred by tragedy. Fanny Kemble, a member of Godwin's household, killed herself in the late Autumn. In December, 1816 Harriet Shelley committed suicide. On December 30, 1816, Shelley and Mary Godwin were married. Only a few weeks had passed since Harriet's body was recovered from the Serpentine River in Hyde Park, London. The marriage was intended, in part, to help secure Shelley's custody of his children by Harriet, but it was in vain: the children were given over to foster parents by the courts.

The Shelleys took up residence in the village of Marlow, Buckinghamshire where lived Thomas Love Peacock , a friend of Percy. Shelley took part in the literary circle that surrounded Leigh Hunt, and during this period came to know John Keats. Shelley's major production this year was Laon and Cythna, a long narrative poem in which the two principal figures were incestuous lovers and which attacked religion. It was hastily withdrawn after only a few copies were published, then edited and reissued as The Revolt of Islam in 1818. Shelley also wrote two revolutionary political tracts under the nom de plume of "The Hermit of Marlow."

Travels in the Italian peninsula

Early in 1818, the Shelleys and Claire left England in order to deliver the daughter of Byron and Claire to Byron, who had taken up residence in Venice. Again contact with Byron encouraged the production of Shelley's poetry. In the latter part of the year he wrote Julian and Maddalo and Prometheus Unbound. Tragedy struck in 1818 and 1819, when his infant daughter and son died of climate-related illnesses.

The Shelleys moved around various Italian cities during these years. Shelley completed Prometheus Unbound in Rome, and spent the summer of 1819 writing a tragedy, The Cenci, in Leghorn. In this year, propmpted among other causes by the Peterloo massacre, he wrote his best-known political poems, The Masque of Anarchy and Men of England, probably his best-remembered works during the 19th century, and the essay The Philosophical View of Reform, his most thorough exposition of his political views.

In 1821, inspired by the death of John Keats, Shelley wrote the elegy Adonais.

In 1822 Shelley arranged for James Henry Leigh Hunt, the British poet and editor who had been one of his chief supporters in England, to come to Italy with his family; he intended that the three of themhimself, Byron and Huntwould create a journal, to be called The Liberal, with Hunt as editor, which would disseminate their controversial writings and act as a counter-blast to conservative periodicals such as Blackwood's Magazine and The Quarterly Review.


On July 8, 1822, Shelley drowned in a sudden storm off Leghorn in the Bay of Spezia, while sailing back from Pisa and Leghorn to Lerici in his schooner, the Don Juan. He was returning from having set up The Liberal with the newly-arrived Hunt. The name "Don Juan", a compliment to Byron, was chosen by Edward Trelawny, a member of the Shelley-Byron Pisan circle, but according to Mary Shelley's testimony, Shelley changed it to "Ariel". This annoyed Byron, who caused "Don Juan" to be painted on the mainsail, giving offence to the Shelleys, who felt that the boat now looked like a coal barge. The vessel, an open boat designed from a Royal dockyards model, was custom-built in Genoa for Shelley. It did not capsize but sank; Mary Shelley declared in her "Note on Poems of 1822" (1839) that this design had a defect and was never seaworthy.

Shelley's body was washed ashore and later cremated on the beach near Viareggio. His heart was snatched, unconsumed, from the funeral pyre by Edward Trelawny, and kept by Mary Shelley until her dying day, while his ashes were interred in the Protestant Cemetery, Rome.


Three children survived him: Ianthe and Charles, his daughter and son by Harriet; and Percy Florence, his son by Mary. Charles died of tuberculosis in 1826. Percy Florence, who eventually inherited the baronetcy in 1844, died without children. The only lineal descendants of the poet are therefore the children of Ianthe.

Ianthe Eliza Shelley was married in 1837 to Edward Jeffries Esdaile. The marriage resulted in the birth of two sons and a daughter. Ianthe died in 1876.


Unlike Byron, who despite his radical views had a large following among the upper classes even while still alive, for decades after his death Shelley was read mainly among socialists and in the labor movement (Karl Marx was among his admirers). Only towards the end of the 19th century did his work, or rather his more innocuous work, become respectable - popularised by, among others, Henry Salt, whose acclaimed biography Percy Bysshe Shelley: Poet and Pioneer was first published in 1896.

This biography was taken verbatim from the Wikipedia. We're providing a snapshot just in case the Wikipedia servers were temporarily unreacheable. The original page is not only much more up-to-date, it also features links to other pages and sites. This snapshot was last updated: 10/06/2004. (mm/dd/yyyy)

Home :: Authors :: Percy Bysshe Shelley