Milton’s Cottage was built in the late 16th century, most probably for the estate manager of The Vache – once owned by Robert George Fleetwood, one of the Regicides of Charles I.
Fleeing the outbreak of the Bubonic plague in London, Milton came to Chalfont St. Giles with his wife and daughters in 1665, where a house had been secured for them by Milton’s friend and pupil, Thomas Ellwood – who famously referred to it as “that pretty box in St Giles, Chalfonte.”
Although he lived here for less than 2 years, Milton’s Cottage was an important place in the writer’s life: within these walls he completed Paradise Lost and was inspired to write its sequel, Paradise Regained. It was these late, great works that ensured his enduring poetic legacy and universal recognition as one of the world’s greatest writers.
Milton’s Cottage was secured for the nation after a public appeal to prevent it being dismantled and moved to the USA. Queen Victoria opened the subscription list of the purchase of Milton’s Cottage in 1887 and it has been open to the public as a museum ever since.
John Milton was born in 1608 into a century of revolution — in politics, print, science and the arts. By the time he died, in 1674, Britain had experienced the governments of three different Stuart monarchs, the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell, a few short-lived experiments in republican government – as well as Civil War.
Milton was at the centre of this this turbulent period. Having postponed his early poetic aspirations to support the Republican cause, he served in Cromwell’s government as the Secretary for Foreign Tongues. During this time he devoted himself to polemical, theological and historical prose – much of which remains relevant to readers today through its exploration of personal, religious and political freedom.
After the restoration of the English monarchy in 1660, now blind, politically out of favour – and lucky to escape with his life – Milton returned to his first love, poetry. During this time he produced his greatest masterpieces, including the epic Paradise Lost. Begun while imprisoned in the Tower of London and completed at Milton’s Cottage, it was published in 1667 and immediately hailed, in the words of the poet John Dryden, as “one of the most sublime poems this age or nation has produced.”
John Milton wrote more than Paradise Lost.
Visit Milton’s Cottage and you’ll discover how much more. As well as early editions of his best-known poetic works, including Lycidas, Paradise Lost and Paradise Regain’d, you’ll find a treasure-trove of his iconic prose writings, many of which focus on freedoms in government, religion, speech and the press.
“Laurel and Myrtle and what higher grew
Of firm and fragrant leaf: on either side
Acanthus, and each odourous bushy shrub
Fenc’d up the verdant wall, each beauteous flower,
Iris all hues, Roses and Jessamine
Reard high their flourish’d heads between, and wrought
Paradise Lost, Book 4, Line 694
The garden at Milton’s Cottage has been planted with species of flowers and plants that are referenced in Milton’s writings.
It is the only cottage garden in the Chilterns listed by English Heritage as a Grade II Registered Historic Garden, worth visiting in its own right.