John Harington (writer)
Portrait by Hieronimo Custodis, c. 1590–93
|Baptised||4 August 1560|
|Died||20 November 1612 (aged 52)|
Kelston, Somerset, England
Sir John Harington (also spelled Harrington, baptised 4 August 1560 – 20 November 1612), of Kelston, but baptised in London, was an English courtier, author and translator popularly known as the inventor of the flush toilet. He became prominent at Queen Elizabeth I's court, and was known as her "saucy Godson", but his poetry and other writings caused him to fall in and out of favour with the Queen. His best-known work today, A New Discourse of a Stale Subject, called the Metamorphosis of Ajax (1596) is a political allegory and a coded attack on the monarchy. His New Discourse described a forerunner to the modern flush toilet that was installed at his house at Kelston.
Early life and family
Harington was born in Kelston, Somerset, England, the son of John Harington of Kelston, the poet, and his second wife Isabella Markham, a gentlewoman of Queen Elizabeth I's privy chamber. He had the honour of being accepted as a godson of the childless Elizabeth, one of 102.
Harington married Mary Rogers, daughter of George Rogers of Cannington (son of Sir Edward Rogers) and Jane Winter, on 6 September 1583.
Courtier under Elizabeth
Although he had studied the law, Harington was attracted early in life to the royal court, where his free-spoken attitude and poetry gained Elizabeth's attention. Elizabeth encouraged his writing, but Harington was inclined to overstep the mark in his somewhat Rabelaisian and occasionally risqué pieces.
His attempt at a translation of Ariosto's Orlando Furioso caused his banishment from court for some years. Angered by the raciness of his translations, Elizabeth told Harington that he was to leave and not return until he had translated the entire poem. She chose this punishment rather than actually banishing him, but she considered the task so difficult that it was assumed Harington would not bother to comply. Harington, however, chose to follow through with the request and completed the translation in 1591. His translation received great praise, and is one of the translations still read by English speakers today.
Invention of the flush
Around that time, Harington also devised England's first flushing toilet – called the Ajax (i.e., a "jakes", then a slang word for toilet). It was installed at his manor in Kelston. This forerunner to the modern flush toilet had a flush valve to let water out of the tank, and a wash-down design to empty the bowl. It has been suggested that "john" as a modern term used particularly in the US refers to its inventor, but this is disputed.
In 1596, Harington wrote a popular book called A New Discourse upon a Stale Subject: The Metamorphosis of Ajax about his invention. He published it under the pseudonym of Misacmos. The book made political allusions to the Earl of Leicester that angered Elizabeth. The book was a coded attack on the stercus or excrement that was poisoning society with torture and state-sponsored "libels" against his relatives Thomas Markham and Ralph Sheldon. After the publication of this work, he was again banished from the court. Elizabeth's mixed feelings for him may have been the only thing that saved Harington from being tried at Star Chamber.
Campaigns in Ireland
In 1599, Elizabeth sent an army, led by Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, to Ireland during the Nine Years War (1594–1603), to subdue a major rebellion by the Gaelic chieftains, led by Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone. Following her strong recommendation that Essex include him in his army, Harington was put in command of horsemen under Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton. Harington's legacy from this campaign was his letters and journal, which served to give Elizabeth good intelligence about the progress of the campaign and its politics. Harington wrote: "I have informed myself reasonably well of the whole state of the country, by observation and conference: so I count the knowledge I have gotten here worth more than half the three hundred pounds this journey hath cost me." During the campaign Essex conferred a knighthood on Harington for his services. Essex fell into disfavour with Elizabeth for concluding the campaign by making a truce with Tyrone, which amounted to a virtual capitulation to the Irish rebels (she snapped at Essex: "if I had meant to abandon Ireland, it had been superfluous to send you there"), and also caused her fury over the large number of knighthoods he awarded.
Harington, present at the truce negotiations, accompanied Essex back to court to account to Elizabeth, but experienced royal wrath: "Tell my witty godson to get him home... it is no season to fool it here!" However, his wit and charm soon secured forgiveness: despite his closeness to Essex, he survived his downfall with his own reputation more or less unsullied. During what proved to be the Queen's last Christmas, he tried to lighten her mounting moods of melancholy by reading from his comic verses. Elizabeth thanked him, but said sadly, "When thou dost feel creeping time at thy gate, these fooleries will please thee less – I am past my relish for such matters."
Courtier under James I
After the Queen's death, Harington's fortunes faltered at the court of the new King, James I. He had stood surety for the debts of his cousin, Sir Griffin Markham, in the sum of £4000, when the latter had become involved in the Bye and Main Plots. Not able to meet his cousin's debts without selling his own lands, and unwilling to languish in gaol, he escaped from custody in October 1603. However, James I had already recognised his loyalty and created him a Knight of the Bath and granted him the properties forfeited upon Markham's exile.
He claimed to be unhappy at James's Court, due specifically to the heavy drinking indulged in by both sexes, but in fact he seems to have derived a amusement from observing the antics of the courtiers. He left a description of a disastrous attempt by Sir Robert Cecil to stage a masque at Theobalds in honour of a visit by the King's brother-in-law, Christian IV of Denmark in 1606, where some players were too drunk to stand up: "The entertainment and show went forward, and most of the presenters went backward, or fell down, wine did so occupy their upper chambers."
Towards the end of his life, Sir John Harington became tutor to Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales. He annotated for him a copy of Francis Godwin's De praesulibus Angliae. Harington's grandson, John Chetwind published these annotations in 1653 under the title of A Briefe View of the State of the Church. While tutoring the Prince, Harington also translated from Italian to English verse Regimen sanitatis Salernitanum (Health Regimen of the School of Salernum), a medieval collection of health tips. The translation was published in 1607 in London.
In popular culture
- Jason Scott-Warren: "Harington, Sir John (bap. 1560, d. 1612)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2004) Retrieved 17 August 2015.
- McDonald, D. (November 1956). "Sir John Harington: Queen Elizabeth's Godson". History Today. 6 (11). Archived from the original on 5 April 2014.
- "Harington, John (HRNN576J)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
- "The Throne of Sir John Harrington". Historic UK. Archived from the original on 16 February 2017. Retrieved 9 May 2017.
- Culture UK – The invention of the indoor closet or the lavatory, toilet or loo as it is known today Archived 19 October 2006 at the Wayback Machine
- Kinghorn, Jonathan (1986), "A Privvie in Perfection: Sir John Harrington's Water Closet", Bath History, 1: 173–188. ISBN 0-86299-294-X. Kinghorn supervised a modern reconstruction in 1981, based on the illustrated description by Harington's assistant Thomas Coombe in the New Discourse.
- "The Throne of Sir John Harrington". Historic UK. Archived from the original on 16 September 2016. Retrieved 6 September 2016.
- "Why is a bathroom sometimes called a "john"?". English Language and Usage. Archived from the original on 16 September 2016. Retrieved 6 September 2016.
- "Why is the Toilet is Sometimes Called a "John"". Today I Found Out. Archived from the original on 26 August 2016. Retrieved 6 September 2016.
- Kinghorn (1986)
- Jørgensen, Dolly. "The Metamorphosis of Ajax, jakes, and early modern urban sanitation" (PDF). University of Texas Arlington. Retrieved 9 May 2017.
- Kane, Brendan; McGowan-Doyle, Valerie (2014). Elizabeth I and Ireland. Cambridge University Press. p. 185. ISBN 9781316194683.
- Schmidgall, Gary (2015). Shakespeare and the Poet's Life. University Press of Kentucky. p. 95. ISBN 9780813157252.
- "Sir John Harington". Just History. Retrieved 9 May 2017.
- Nichols, John (1828). The Progresses, Processions, and Magnificent Festivities, of King James the First, His Royal Consort, Family, and Court:. Nichols/AMS Press. p. 73.
- "A Salernitan Regimen of Health". Gode Cookery. Archived from the original on 15 January 2013. Retrieved 25 January 2013.
- Scott-Warren, Jason. "Harington, Sir John". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 16 April 2012.
- Nicholson, Max (15 March 2012). "South Park: "Reverse Cowgirl" Review". IGN. Retrieved 6 June 2017.
- Grimble, Ian (1957). The Harington Family. Jonathon Cape, London.
- Kilroy, Gerard. Edmund Campion: Memory and Transcription, 2005. Archived from the original on 28 September 2011. Retrieved 28 December 2005.
- Kinghorn, Jonathan (1986). "A Privvie in Perfection: Sir John Harrington's Water Closet". Bath History. 1: 173–188. ISBN 0-86299-294-X
- Thomas Park, ed., Nugae Antiquae by Sir John Harington, Knt, 3 vols, London (1804)
- Scott-Warren, Jason (2004–2007), "Harington, Sir John (bap. 1560, d. 1612)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford: Oxford University Press
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: John Harington|
- John Harington's Latin letter to Sir Francis Walsingham, 2 November 1580, AALT, (TNA SP12/144).</ref>
- The de Haverington connection
- The Harington and Harrington family
- Sir John Harington – the first flushing toilet?
- Title page of Harington's Orlando Furioso
- The Metamophosis of Ajax Online reading and multiple ebook formats at Ex-classics
- Works by or about John Harington at Internet Archive
- Works by John Harington at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)