John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, was born at Ditchley Manor House in Oxfordshire. His father was a landowner and Royalist general, his mother a member of a famous Puritan family. Wilmot inherited the earldom at the age of eleven; he entered Oxford two years later, and completed his education with a tour of France and Italy. He became a principal member of the group of wits at the court of Charles II; married the young heiress, Elizabeth Malet; and served with distinction in naval warfare. When Rochester became notorious as one of the most debauched of the court wits, a number of legends gathered about his name. Etherege's Dorimant in The Man of Mode was generally taken as a portrait of Rochester. After a period of considerable doubt and debate, Rochester renounced his libertine views and experienced a religious conversion shortly before his death. During his lifetime Rochester's poetry appeared in broadsides or was circulated in manuscript; only after his death was it collected, and both the authenticity and accuracy of many texts are still being established.
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