John Harington (inventor)

Infobox Person
name = Sir John Harington

image_size =
caption = Sir John Harington, 2nd Baron Harington of Exton
birth_date = August 4, 1561
birth_place = Kelston, Somerset, England
death_date = November 20, 1612
death_place =
education =
occupation =
spouse = Mary Rogers 1583
parents =

children =

John Harington (also spelled Harrington) (August 4, 1561 – November 20, 1612) was a courtier and author. He became a prominent member of Queen Elizabeth I's court, and was known as her 'saucy Godson'. But because of his poetry and other writings, he fell in and ultimately out of favour with the Queen, as well as with her successor, James I. He is well-known today as the inventor of a forerunner of the modern flush toilet, described in his famous work "The Metamorphosis of Ajax" which had enjoyed considerable popularity on its publication in 1596.

Family life

Harington was born in Kelston, Somerset, England, the son of John Harington of Kelston (d. 1582), the poet, and his second wife Isabella Markham (d. 1579), a gentlewoman of Queen Elizabeth I's privy chamber. He enjoyed the honour of being accepted as a godson of the childless Queen, becoming one of her 102 god-children. Her god children were persons that the Queen was fond of. If the Queen's friend had a child or children, the Queen would often show extreme niceties to them, and sometimes, would accept them as godchildren. She treated them well. Persons who also made great achievements, such as John Harington, were made god children. Sometimes, if the children had misbehaved or showed disrespect, they could be removed, as Sir John Harington was when he was just 14Fact|date=June 2007.

The exact relationship between the John Harington of Kelston and the line of John Harington of Exton has not been established. Apparently John of Kelston did not know the pedigree of his obscure grandfather, Alexander of Stepney. Nevertheless it is generally assumed that he was also descended from the first Lord Harington of Aldingham, a baron in Edward II's time.

He was educated at Eton and King's College, Cambridge.

Although he had intended to study law, Harington was attracted early in life to the royal court, where his freespoken attitude and poetry gained Elizabeth's attention. The Queen 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, but was completed in 1591 and received great praise. [] Angered by the raciness of his translations the Queen 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 eventually completed translating the poem. His version of the poem is the translation that is still read by English speakers today. [ [ Culture UK - The invention of the indoor closet or the lavatory, toilet or loo as it is known today ] ]

Harington wed Mary Rogers in 1583 and together they had fifteen kids'.

Harington fell ill in May 1612 and died on 20 November 1612; he was buried in Kelston.

Campaigns in Ireland

In 1599 the queen sent an army, led by Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, to Ireland during the Nine Years War (1595-1603). Following her strong recommendation that Essex include him in his army, Harington was put in command of horseman under Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton. Harington's legacy from this campaign were his letters and journal, which served to give the queen 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 the queen for concluding the campaign on a truce, and also caused her fury over the large number of knighthoods he awarded. Harington had been present at the truce negotiations, and on accompanying Essex when he returned to court to account to the queen, he experienced the royal wrath. However, his wit and charm soon secured the queen's forgiveness.

Literary works

Harington continued to write, even though he had vowed to give up poetry upon the death of Queen Elizabeth. He published just one more slim volume of verse in 1607, but continued to send letters both to friends and to the king's eldest son, Prince Henry, until 1609. Some of these letters were later collected by Harington's descendant, Henry Harington, and published under the title of "Nugae Antiquae" in 1769. The volume is a significant source for the history of the Tudor re-conquest of Ireland.

Orlando Furioso

The Metamorphosis of Ajax

Around this time, Harington also devised Britain's first flushing toilet — called the Ajax (i.e. "a jakes"; "jakes" being an old slang word for toilet) — installed at his manor in Kelston, and which was reputed to have been current with the queen herself. Indeed, the American utilisation of the word 'John' as a euphemism for toilet, or bathroom, derives from Harington's invention. In 1596, Harington wrote a 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 the Queen, and he was again banished from the court. The Queen's mixed feelings for him may be the only thing that saved Harington from being tried at Star Chamber.

Life as a courtier

After the queen's death, Harington's fortunes faltered at the court of the new King, James I. He spent some time at his manor at Kelston, but then found himself serving time in prison. 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 custody in October 1603. However, James I had already recognised his loyalty and created him a Knight of the Bath and also granted him the properties forfeited upon Markham's exile.

Towards the end of his life, Sir John Harington became the tutor to Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales. He annoted for him a copy of Francis Godwin's "De praesulibus Angliae". Harington's grandson, John Chetwind later published these annotations in 1653, under the title of "A Briefe View of the State of the Church".

Sir John Harington died on November 20, 1612 at the age of 51. Though he was never able to regain his place in high society in England, his poetry at the time was well known and much admired, despite lacking much place inmodern literature.


A portrait, on loan from the National Portrait Gallery, London, is on show in Montacute House, Somerset, England and another is [ here] .



External links

* [ The de Haverington connection]
* [ The Harington and Harrington family]
* [ Sir John Harington - the first flushing toilet?]
* [ Comprehensive on-line reference]
* [ Another good reference]


*cite book | author=Grimble, Ian | title=The Harington Family| publisher=Jonathon Cape, London| year=1957| id=|
*cite paper | author=Kilroy, Gerald | title=Sir John Harington: ‘A Protesting Catholique Purytan’ | date=2004 | url= Citation
last = Scott-Warren
first = Jason
aljfaslkfuthor-link =
contribution = Harington, Sir John (bap. 1560, d. 1612)
editor-last =
editor-first =
title = Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
volume =
pages =
publisher = Oxford University Press
place = Oxford
year = 2004-2007
contribution-url =

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