Narrative Summary of Andrew Marvell

Overview: This text tells the story of Andrew Marvell, an English writer and politician of the 17th century. It delves into his early life, his travels abroad, his time spent as a civil servant under the Commonwealth, and his long parliamentary career. It focuses on his significant works, including his poems like “The Garden” and “To his Coy Mistress,” and his prose pamphlet, “The Rehearsal Transprosed,” which was a scathing critique of his adversary, Samuel Parker. The text also examines Marvell’s political views, highlighting his fervent belief in England’s free constitution and his anxieties about the rising power of Catholicism and arbitrary rule.

Main parts:

  • Early Life and Education: This section details Marvell’s upbringing in a religious household, his education at Hull Grammar School, and his time at Trinity College, Cambridge. It covers his brief foray into Catholicism and his subsequent return to the Protestant faith.
  • Travels and the Influence of Fairfax: Marvell’s travels abroad and his subsequent time as tutor to the daughter of Lord Fairfax at Nunappleton House are described. This period marked a significant development in Marvell’s poetic style, as evidenced by his “garden poetry.”
  • Civil Servant under Cromwell: This part explores Marvell’s time serving as Milton’s assistant in the Secretary for Foreign Tongues office, his appointment as tutor to Cromwell’s ward, and his early foray into political satire through poems criticizing the Dutch.
  • Parliamentary Career: The bulk of the text explores Marvell’s long tenure as a Member of Parliament for Hull, from Richard Cromwell’s Protectorate to his death in 1678. It covers his correspondence with his constituents, his political battles against corrupt officials, and his ardent defense of the English constitution.
  • The Rehearsal Transprosed: This section focuses on Marvell’s famous prose work, his counter-argument to Samuel Parker’s pro-monarchy and anti-Toleration pamphlets, and his witty use of satire and humor to dismantle Parker’s arguments.

View on Life:

  • The Importance of a Free Constitution: Marvell passionately believed in the balance of power represented by England’s free constitution, which he saw as a safeguard against tyranny and a guarantee of liberty. He was deeply troubled by the king’s growing power and the threat of Catholicism.
  • The Value of Reason and Moderation: Marvell believed in reason and moderation in all things, particularly in matters of religion. He was critical of those who clung to rigid dogma and excessive zeal, especially in the clergy.
  • The Importance of Virtue in Government: Marvell believed that good government rested on the integrity and virtuous conduct of its leaders. He was deeply critical of those who used their positions for personal gain and corruption.


  • The Abduction of Isabella Thwaites: This is the story of the Yorkshire heiress who was abducted from the Cistercian nunnery of Nunappleton House and married to Sir William Fairfax.
  • The Death of Oliver Cromwell: Marvell’s poetic reflections on Cromwell’s death and the political turmoil that ensued are explored.
  • The Dutch Wars: This section recounts the conflicts between England and the Dutch, including the infamous capture of Sheerness and the raid on Chatham.
  • The Great Fire of London: This section describes the devastation of the fire and its aftermath, including the political and social tensions it ignited.


  • The Rise of Catholicism: Marvell was deeply concerned about the king’s Catholic leanings and the threat it posed to England’s Protestant identity and constitution.
  • The Corruption of the Court: He battled against the corruption and influence peddling that permeated Charles II’s court, believing it threatened both the nation’s well-being and its political system.
  • The Dutch Wars: He witnessed the disastrous consequences of England’s wars with the Dutch, and argued against them on both moral and strategic grounds.


  • Marvell vs. Samuel Parker: This is the main conflict of the text. Marvell’s biting satire and sharp intellect clashed with Parker’s dogmatic and self-righteous approach to religion and politics.


The text follows a chronological arc, mapping Marvell’s life from his birth to his death. It highlights key milestones like his travels abroad, his service under the Commonwealth, his political battles in the House of Commons, and his significant literary works.

Point of view:

The text is written from a third-person perspective, providing a balanced and objective account of Marvell’s life and work.

How it’s written:

The text is written in a formal and informative style, with a blend of biographical details, historical context, and analysis of Marvell’s work. It utilizes a conversational tone to engage the reader, but maintains a scholarly approach. An example is how the text describes the debate on the Oath Bill, “It grew therefore to the greatest contest that has perhaps ever been in Parliament, wherein those Lords, that were against this oath, being assured of their own loyalty and merit, stood up now for the English liberties with the same genius, virtue, and courage, that their noble ancestors had formerly defended the great Charter of England…”


The tone of the text is respectful and admiring towards Marvell, while also being critical of his adversaries and the political climate of his time. The text is often satirical in its observations about court life and political machinations.

Life Choices:

  • Marvell’s decision to remain a Protestant: He rejected Catholicism and the influence of the Jesuits.
  • His choice to remain an independent politician: He refused offers of office and patronage, remaining true to his constituents and his principles.
  • His commitment to defending English liberties: He dedicated his life to fighting for a free and just government.


  • The importance of a vigilant and informed citizenry: Marvell’s life illustrates the necessity of citizens actively participating in their government to safeguard their rights and liberties.
  • The perils of unchecked power and corruption: His struggles against corrupt officials and the king’s authoritarian tendencies highlight the dangers posed by unchecked power.
  • The power of words and wit: His effective use of satire and his willingness to speak truth to power demonstrate the potent influence of words in shaping public discourse and challenging injustice.


  • Andrew Marvell: A brilliant and versatile man, a gifted poet and a staunch defender of liberty, who was fiercely intelligent, witty, and independent.
  • Samuel Parker: A bitter and self-righteous clergyman, who was Marvell’s main adversary in the world of ecclesiastical and political debate.
  • Oliver Cromwell: The Lord-Protector, a powerful and complex figure, whom Marvell both admired and criticized.
  • Charles II: The king, a witty but ultimately corrupt and self-serving ruler, who was more interested in his pleasures and his financial well-being than in the welfare of his people.
  • Lord Fairfax: The Parliamentarian general, who provided Marvell with a haven at Nunappleton House.


  • Liberty vs. Tyranny: The text explores the struggle between those who championed a free and just government and those who favored a more authoritarian system.
  • Religion and Politics: It examines the complex relationship between religious beliefs and political power, particularly in the context of England’s religious tensions.
  • Integrity and Corruption: Marvell’s life and work are presented as a testament to the importance of integrity in government and the dangers of corruption.


  • The sanctity of a free constitution: The text champions the principles of limited government, checks and balances, and the rule of law.
  • The importance of religious tolerance: It argues for a more tolerant approach to religious differences, rejecting the intolerance and persecution that marked the Restoration era.
  • The value of civic engagement: Marvell’s dedication to serving his constituents and his unwavering commitment to his principles underscore the significance of active citizenship.


  • Marvell: He sought to defend the English constitution, protect religious liberty, and expose corruption.
  • The Reader: The text aims to educate and inform the reader about Marvell’s life, work, and beliefs, encouraging reflection on the ongoing struggles for freedom and justice.

Unique Vocabulary:

  • “Composure” and “comprehension” man: Marvell’s terms for someone who believes in religious toleration and compromise.
  • “Tender Conscience”: Parker’s term for a conscience overly concerned with trivial matters and easily offended.
  • “Old Noll”: A popular and often derogatory term for Oliver Cromwell.
  • “The King’s Women”: A common term for the king’s mistresses.


  • The Story of Isabella Thwaites: The tale of the young heiress abducted from Nunappleton House illustrates the political and social tensions of the time.
  • The “Grey Weevil” Parker: This amusing anecdote about Parker’s early life at Cambridge, where he was known for his somber demeanor, illustrates his hypocrisy.
  • The Story of the Proffered Bribe: The tale of how Marvell rejected the Lord Treasurer Danby’s bribe, though not entirely verifiable, highlights his integrity and commitment to his constituents.


  • The dangers of unchecked power: The text argues that power, if unchecked, can lead to corruption and tyranny.
  • The importance of a well-informed citizenry: It advocates for a society where citizens are educated and engaged in their government.
  • The role of satire in exposing corruption: It celebrates the use of humor and wit in challenging the abuse of power.

Facts and findings:

  • Marvell’s extensive correspondence with the Corporation of Hull: This unique record offers valuable insight into Marvell’s political activities.
  • The secret Treaty of Dover: The text reveals the details of this clandestine agreement between Charles II and Louis XIV.
  • The trial of William Penn and William Mead: This event highlights the government’s oppressive policies toward Nonconformists.


  • Cromwell’s spending: Marvell’s work shows how Cromwell’s expenditure, mostly on the navy, grew from £200,000 to £2 million.
  • The cost of the Dutch War: The text mentions the enormous sums of money Parliament voted to fund the war.
  • The number of ejected ministers: The Act of Uniformity resulted in the expulsion of approximately 2,000 clergymen.

Points of View:

The text is written from a predominantly Whig perspective, favoring a free constitution, religious tolerance, and opposition to Catholic influence. This perspective colors the portrayal of Charles II, the Anglican bishops, and those who supported a more authoritarian system.


The text offers a unique perspective on Marvell’s life and work, highlighting his complexity as a man of letters, a politician, and a defender of liberty. It challenges traditional perceptions of Marvell as a Puritan or a Republican, showcasing his nuanced and independent thinking.

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