- This is an article about the seventeenth-century poet. For the reality TV "star", see Beauty and the Geek (UK TV series)
Nothing is known of his family or origins, although he referred to himself as a distant relative of George Villiers. Brought up a Roman Catholic, he was educated at Trinity Hall, Cambridge. Bolton then lived in London at the Inner Temple. Both at Cambridge and in London, he participated in the literary life of the time. At Cambridge, he met John Selden, John Coke, and others. In London, he wrote occasional verse, contributing poems to England's Helicon, and commendatory verses to William Camden's Brittania and Ben Jonson's Volpone. He became a retainer of Villiers, and through the Duke's influence, Bolton secured a small place at the court of James I. Bolton married Margaret Porter, the sister of Endymion Porter, another of the Duke's retinue and a minor poet.
Throughout his life, Bolton was oppressed by scarcity, about which he freely informed his numerous prospective patrons. These included, at one time or another, Cecil, Henry Howard, and even Edward Alleyn. He was caught up in Charles's campaign against recusancy in 1628; he was imprisoned first in the Fleet and then in Marshalsea, where he languished for want of a person of power to intercede for him.
Bolton was still living in 1633, but he appears to have died in that year or shortly after.
With the support of Villiers, Bolton advanced a scheme for an English Academy. He proposed a three-part structure. The academy would include learned aristocrats as auxiliary members, and the Lord Chancellor and the two university chancellors as "tutelaries"; but the heart of the enterprise was to be the group of "essentials" who would carry on the work of licensing publications that did not fall under the purview of the Archbishop of Canterbury and advancing antiquarian and historical study. James seems to have approved of the proposal, but the plan died with that king.
The most important of his numerous works are Hypercritica, a short critical treatise begun about 1618 but not finished till 1621 (a date establishable by examination of its manuscript in the Bodleian Library, which refers to Bolton's contemporary Francis Bacon as Viscount St Alban, a title Bacon acquired in that year). This is valuable for its notices of contemporary authors such as Ben Jonson, whom he praises as the greatest English poet; this manuscript was reprinted in Joseph Haslewood's Ancient Critical Essays (vol. ii., 1815); Nero Caesar, or Monarchie Depraved (1624), with special note of British affairs. Unsurprisingly, Bolton praised the virtues of strong monarchy and asserted the horror of any rebellion, even against unjust authority. In the preface, Bolton hints that James had encouraged the work, and the language of the whole text is a more or less evident bid for the patronage of Charles I. The bid failed.
Hypercritica was a kind of prolegomenon to Bolton's most ambitious project, never completed: an updated history of Britain based on archives and other original sources, free of both the cant of medieval historians and the clumsiness of Tudor chroniclers such as Stow. Like the Academy, this work never materialized, though Bolton continued to work on related projects throughout his life. In the early 1630s, he attempted to interest London's city government in an updated history of the city in English and Latin. After some initial interest, the aldermen balked at the cost (more than 3000 pounds). Shortly before his death, Bolton gave the manuscript to Selden; it is now lost. Also lost is a companion to the work on Nero, a biography of Tiberius.
- "Bolton, Edmund (BLTN589E)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.