Aurelian Townshend (sometimes Townsend) (c.1583 – c.1649) was a seventeenth-century English poet and playwright.
Aurelian Townshend was the son of John Townshend of Dereham Abbey, Norfolk. Both Aurelian and his sister, Frances, were born before 12 December 1583, at which date they are mentioned in the will of Thomas Townshend of Crimplesham, Norfolk. Aurelian was a third cousin of Sir Roger Townshend and of the historian Hayward Townshend (c.1577–1603×21).
Very little is well established about Townshend's life. He was one of the Cavalier poets, and his masque Tempe Restored was performed on Shrove Tuesday of 1632 and had in its cast Queen Henrietta Maria and fourteen court ladies.
Robert Cecil directed Aurelian's education and sent him to Europe to study. Within three years, Townshend was back in England. He then spent time in France as Edward Herbert's friend and aide who "spoke French, Italian and Spanish in great perfection," but this was for a year. In 1613, he became the librettist of Inigo Jones. He became a friend of Thomas Carew's, and wrote poetry for around five years. Carew referred to Townshend in his "In Answer of an Elegiacal Letter, upon the Death of the King of Sweden, from Aurelian Townshend, Inviting Me to Write on That Subject" (published in 1640), where he indicates that Townshend was more engaged in the political world than he.
From such heights as the court masque, Townshend rapidly fell. In 1643, he appears as "a poore and pocky Poet, (who) would bee glad to sell an 100 verses now at sixpence a piece, 50 shillings an 100 verses" before the House of Lords, seeking protection from creditors. The "pocky"-ness implies that, with his debts, Townshend had acquired disease (although not necessarily venereal disease). Other than these few facts, little can be sure.
According to Cokayne, Aubrey de Vere, 20th Earl of Oxford, married, as his second wife, shortly before 12 April 1673, Diana Kirke, daughter of George Kirke, 'the well known Groom of the Bedchamber', by his second wife, Mary Townshend, daughter of Aurelian Townshend. They had a son, Charles, who died as an infant, and with the death of the 20th Earl the heirs male of Aubrey de Vere, 10th Earl of Oxford, came to an end, 'and the earldom of Oxford, created in 1142, became extinct'.
Townshend's poetry is remarkably formal and simultaneously free. His language is delicate, and his lines musical. T. S. Eliot praised the musicality of Townshend's poetry, and Hugh Kenner argues that Townshend's mixture of formality and liberty set the stage for Andrew Marvell, while others consider him distinctly minor (e.g. Rumrich and Chaplin).
- Baker, J.H. (2004). Catlin, Sir Robert (c.1510–1574). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 21 March 2013. (subscription required)
- Beal, Peter (2004). Townshend, Aurelian (fl. 1583–1649?). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 21 March 2013. (subscription required)
- Broadway, Jan (2004). Townshend, Sir Roger (c.1544–1590). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 19 March 2013. (subscription required)
- Chambers, E.K., ed (1912). Aurelian Townshend's Poems and Masks. London: Clarendon Press. Retrieved 21 March 2013. (subscription required)
- Cokayne, George Edward (1945). The Complete Peerage, edited by H.A. Doubleday, Geoffrey H. White and Lord Howard de Walden X. London: St. Catherine Press. pp. 260–1.
- Dean, David (2004). Townshend, Hayward (c.1577–1603x21). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 21 March 2013. (subscription required)
- Kenner, Hugh, ed. Seventeenth-Century Poetry. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964.
- Rumrich, John P. and Gregory Chaplin, eds. Seventeenth-Century British Poetry 1603 - 1660. New York: W. W. Norton, 2006. p. 311.
- Will of Thomas Townshend, yeoman, of Crimplesham, Norfolk, National Archives Retrieved 21 March 2013
- Will of Sir Robert Catlyn, National Archives Retrieved 21 March 2013