Robert Southey

12 August 1774 – 21 March 1843

Robert Southey

Robert Southey Portrait

(John James Masquerier,

Robert Southey was a prolific writer and firm friends with William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The three became known as the “Lakes Poets” and they have been attributed with inspiring the start of the Romanticism movement in arts and literature in nineteenth century Britain.

Today, Southey’s name is far less recognisable than that of Wordsworth and Coleridge. However, during his lifetime Southey was highly influential, serving as Poet Laureate for 30 years, and even being offered the position of Member of Parliament, although he refused to take on the role. Southey spent the latter half of his life living in Keswick, after a number of deaths within his close circle led him to seek refuge in the beauty of the area.


Robert Southey was born in Bristol in 1774. His father, Robert Southey, was a bankrupt tradesman, and his mother was named Margaret Hill. At just three years old, Southey was sent to live with his Aunt, Elizabeth Tyler, who, according to Southey’s own accounts, was domineering and unaffectionate. Like many of the literary greats, Southey sought refuge from his childhood unhappiness in the rich escapism that literature offered, reading works by Shakespeare and Milton at a very young age. His revolutionary streak began to show itself whilst he attended Westminster School, where his first piece of published prose mocked the use of corporal punishment. As a result, he was expelled in 1792. In 1793, he attended Oxford University to study for his Holy Orders as directed by his Uncle, but dropped out after just two terms, driven by his keen interest in the French Revolution and his dislike of the establishment.

In 1794, Southey met his first wife, Edith Fricker, with whom he would have eight children in total. The couple remained together until Edith’s death in 1838. During the same year that Southey met his first wife, he met Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The two became firm friends, and together they created the idea of a utopian egalitarian society that they could form in the United States. In order to support the idea, Coleridge married Edith’s sister, Sara, and the two men made plans to emigrate. However, Southey developed doubts, and expressed a desire to base the community in Wales for financial reasons, and the plan was eventually abandoned all together.

Accompanied by his wife, Southey spent the latter years of the 18th century travelling around the UK and Europe, where his youthful fervour for revolution started to diminish, and conservatism began to replace it. He became a prolific writer, publishing letters, plays, poems, essays, and biographies. He became a professional reviewer for a literary magazine, and eventually, having made a name for himself in the literary world, he was appointed poet laureate in 1813.

After the death of his first wife, Edith Fricker, Southey married Caroline Anne Bowles, another poet, in 1839. Shortly after their marriage, Southey developed dementia, and died in Keswick in 1843.


Although Southey achieved notable success during his lifetime, unlike his peers Coleridge and Wordsworth, his legacy has not been so enduring. Very few of his poems remain popular today. Surprisingly, perhaps his most recognisable work is the children’s tale “The Story Of The Three Bears”, better known as “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”. Southey published the tale anonymously in 1837, undoubtedly having heard a version of the tale told to him as a child. His publication popularised the tale, which is still told to children today.

Links to the Lake District

In 1803, Southey suffered a series of bereavements, including that of his mother and his first child. As a result, he sought refuge from the memories of the departed and fled to Cumbria, visiting his friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Greta Hall, Keswick. Shortly after, Coleridge, who had never been happy in his marriage with Southey’s sister-in-law, Sara Fricker, left, Southey was left to support both his own wife and children and Coleridge’s wife and children. Southey remained in Cumbria at Greta Hall until his death in 1843.

Sites of Interest

Southey and Coleridge’s former home, Greta Hall, is now a combination of bed and breakfast and self-catering accommodation. Southey was buried at Crosthwaite Church, Keswick and his tombstone is still in place at the churchyard. Inside the church you will find a memorial to the poet.