Fleetwood Sheppard (sometimes spelled as "Shepphard," "Sheppheard," and "Sheppeard") (
January 1, 1634– August 25, 1698) was a British courtierand literary wit who was instrumental in the courts of Charles II of Englandand William of Orange. He was an educated man known for his lively wit and honesty, and he was an important figure in the poetry of the 1680s and 1690s.
He was born in
Oxfordshire, attended Magdalen Hall and Christ Church, Oxford, gaining the Bachelor of Artsin 1654 and Master of Arts in 1657. When all persons attaining an M.A. were required to join the Church of England, King Charles intervened and said that Sheppard had a background in civil law (having studied at Gray's Inn) and was "not prepared to take orders, he being a person of much ability" (Ellis 255). Instead, Sheppard became a courtier. He was introduced to Nell Gwynnand became one of her favorite companions, along with Charles Sackville, Lord Buckhurst (later Earl of Dorset). He would remain one of Dorset's closest friends throughout his life. While satirists and gossips (such as Anthony á Wood) said that Sheppard spent his time as "a debauchee and atheist, a grand companion," others suggested that he was a fundamentally honest man who was always interested in a good joke.
He became one of Charles II's dining companions, and when Nell Gwynn gave birth to a male child, he was made the steward of Gwynn's household. This prompted a satirist to accuse him of being the best paid pimp in the land. There is little truth to this charge, however, as Sheppard was not paid by the crown for his services, except for two grants of £200.
Dorset and Sheppard went to
Paristogether. Additionally, Dorset would travel out to meet Sheppard when the latter went out to the country. Whether he and Dorset got in trouble in Paris for some scandalous behavior, as Wood suggests, or not, it is true that Sheppard lived a very active life. He was stabbed beneath the eye while separating Henry Bulkeleyand George Etheridgein a quarrel in a tavern.
Sheppard was not liked by James II, and Sheppard did not like James, either. When Charles II died, Sheppard went into retirement. However, when William came to the throne, Sheppard was back at court and back in favor. Dorset was made the chamberlain of the royal household, and that gave him a great many places to dispense in patronage. For this, he employed Sheppard. Sheppard received the proceeds from those wishing to purchase places, and he received the favors of those wishing a good word to be placed on their behalfs. At the same time, Sheppard was a favorite of the new Queen's, and
John Oldmixonsaid that he made the Queen "very merry." In "A New Way of Selling Places at Court" in 1712, Jonathan Swiftwould say that Fleetwood Sheppard sold places that did not exist and named successors for posts that were not vacant, that he enriched himself greatly. In 1690he was made a gentleman usher to the king. In 1694he was knighted, became a gentleman usher to the black rod in the House of Lords, and was inducted as a knight of the garter.
Sheppard was a patron of many poets and one of those who discovered others. He was one of the ones, for example, who "discovered" "
Paradise Lost" when Buckhurst bought it from a small stall at a fair. He was also present when Matthew Priorwas discovered reading Horaceas a tap puller in a bar and sent to school to cultivate his talents. He was also one of the main supports of Robert Gould, as well as John Oldmixon. He may have embraced the Puritancause around 1695, and some of his old friends were disaffected by this change. Charles Gildon, Thomas Rymer, and John Dennisdedicated volumes of literary criticismto Sheppard, and John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochesterregarded Sheppard as the only critic he needed for his verses.
In his last years, Sheppard was reported dead several times before he died. In 1694, Lord Godolphin heard a report that Sheppard had died, but Sheppard himself responded, saying that he was alive, but that he had suffered from "the stone" for twelve to fourteen years. In December of 1697, he was again reported as dead. In July of 1698, he was "again" reported as dead. He did die shortly afterward, but in 1768 a joking "Annual Register" announced that Sheppard was still alive, in good health, and 120 years old.
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