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English and Creative Writing

Photo of Professor Nicholas McDowell

Professor Nicholas McDowell

Professor of Early Modern Literature and Thought


01392 724269


I was born and went to school in Belfast and then studied at Cambridge and Oxford. An interview I did with The Guardian some years ago about my route into academia and the origins of my research interests can be accessed here.

My principal interest is the literary, cultural and intellectual history of the period 1500-1800, with particular focus on the Civil Wars of the 17th-century, and on major literary figures of that period, pre-eminently John Milton and Andrew Marvell. A subsidary interest is the legacy of 17th-century ideas and conflicts in the modern world, especially 20th-century Ireland. Much of my work is animated by a fascination with how writers articulate, register, or resist historical change through literary innovation. Poetry has been a particular focus: it can embody most intensely the tension between liberty and constraint that is fundamental to religious and political thought.

Forthcoming talks:

  • 'The Genius of Areopagitica', at 'Radicalism, Politics and Poetics in Early Modern Europe', Princeton University, 11-12 May 2023
  • '"Of True Virtue Void": The Virtue Politics of John Milton', plenary at the Thirteenth International Milton Symposium, University of Toronto, 10-14 July 2023
  • 'The Poetry of Civil War: from Milton to Yeats', at the West Cork History Festival, 11-13 August 2023
  • 'The Poetry of Civil War in Britain and Ireland: from Milton to Mahon', Visiting Speaker Seminar, Department of English, Bristol University, 15 November 2023
  • '"A Vomit to God himselfe": John Milton and the Revolting Parliament', at 'Parliament and Revolutionary Britain' colloqium, The History of Parliament Trust, 18 Bloomsbury Square, London, 27 April 2024

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My major study of the intellectual development of Milton, focusing on his early life and writing up to the outbreak of the English Civil Wars, was published by Princeton University Press in 2020. Poet of Revolution: The Making of John Milton is also available as an audiobook and is now out in paperback; a Chinese translation is to be published by Guangxi Normal University Press. The book featured in a news story in The Sunday Telegraph; an extract can be read on Literary Hub and podcast interviews can be heard on, for example, Princeton Ideas PodcastSparks of History, and Artidote. An online debate about the significance of the book can be watched at Online Library of Liberty. Poet of Revolution was chosen as one of the five 'Best History Books of 2020' on Five Books and there are reviews in, for example, the Los Angeles Review of BooksProspect, the Catholic HeraldHistory Today, the Times Literary Supplementthe London Review of Books and the New York Review of Books. It has been awarded the James Holly Hanford prize of the Milton Society of America for the most distinguished book published in 2020. I am currently completing the sequel, contracted to Princeton University Press, which covers the second half of Milton's life. New work on Milton and free speech and on the astonishing recent identification of Milton's copy of the Shakespeare First Folio can be freely read in Aeon and The Seventeenth Century

My next project is a comparative study of poetic responses to the experience of civil war which seeks to put the early modern in a longer perspective. Focused on 17th-century Britain and 20th-century Ireland, 'The Poetry of Civil War' argues for civil war poetry as a specific genre in English literature, distinct from 'war poetry' and with its own recurring tropes and images which are rooted in ancient Greece and Rome but operate transhistorically and beyond relationships of direct influence. Preliminary essays on this topic have appeared in Essays in Criticism and Global Intellectual History. I am indebted to the Leverhulme Trust for the award of a 2022 Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship to research and write 'The Poetry of Civil War' in 2023-5, about which more can be read in the Leverhulme Trust Newsletter. Alongside this project, I will be editing Paradise Lost with William Poole of New College, Oxford: we have been commissioned to produce a brand new Longman Annotated English Poets edition of the poem.

I'm also the author of The English Radical Imagination: Culture, Religion, and Revolution, 1630-1660 (Oxford University Press, 2003) and Poetry and Allegiance in the English Civil Wars: Marvell and the Cause of Wit (Oxford University Press, 2008); and the editor, with Nigel Smith, of The Oxford Handbook of Milton (Oxford University Press, 2009; paperback, 2011), and, with N. H. Keeble, of The Oxford Complete Works of John Milton. Volume VI: Vernacular Regicide and Republican Writings (Oxford University Press, 2013), for which I completed a new scholarly edition of Milton's English prose works in defence of the execution of Charles I.

My recent work on the cultural politics of literary translation and transmission in 17th- and 18th-century Britain and Ireland, focusing on translations of the great French satirist Rabelais, was assisted by the award of a Research Fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust and a Maddock Research Fellowship from Marsh's Library, Dublin. Essays derived from this work have appeared in English Literary RenaissanceRenaissance QuarterlyRenaissance Studies, and the first volume of the Oxford History of the Novel, and a new article on the role of forced migration in literary translation is coming out in English Literary History in 2024. This work will be collected in a forthcoming monograph. With my Exeter colleague Henry Power, I have edited (and contributed three chapters to) the 36-chapter Oxford Handbook of English Prose, 1640-1714, which is now in production with OUP for publication in late 2024. I have published many articles and essays in collections, on topics ranging from political prose in Tudor England to Jonathan Swift's satirical voices. 

My research has previously been recognized by the award of a Philip Leverhulme Prize in Modern European Languages by the Leverhulme Trust, and four of the annual awards of the Milton Society of America for the most distinguished publication on John Milton (the Irene Samuel Award for a collection of essays in 2011, the James Holly Hanford Award for an essay in 2013, the John T. Shawrcoss Award for an edition in 2015, and the James Holly Hanford Award for a monograph in 2022).

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I have recently supervised doctoral students working on Milton, Marvell and Anglo-Dutch relations; on Milton and materialist philosophies; on Milton, utopianism, and millenarianism, on Milton, gender, and the Bible, and on representations of labour in early modern literature. Recent students who have published their doctoral work in books and journal articles include Dr Esther van Raamsdonk; Dr Philippa Earle; Dr Tessa Parslow, and Dr Anthony Bromley.

I'm pleased to discuss potential doctoral projects relating to literature and culture in Britain, c. 1500-1750, especially relating to the following topics:

  • early modern poetry
  • early modern prose
  • literature and the English Civil Wars
  • literature and political allegiance
  • literature and religious difference / theology / the Bible
  • heterodoxy and radical ideas
  • translation and literary transmission, especially Anglo-French
  • education, humanism and the universities
  • literary patronage and literary communities
  • representations of Ireland / the Irish
  • scholarly editing and textual studies
  • connections between early modern and modern poetry
  • 17th-century reception of Shakespeare
  • Milton
  • Andrew Marvell
  • Herrick, Lovelace and the 'Cavalier' Poets
  • Swift and eighteenth-century satire

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Copyright Notice: Any articles made available for download are for personal use only. Any other use requires prior permission of the author and the copyright holder.

| 2025 | 2024 | 2023 | 2021 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004 | 2003 | 1997 |


  • McDowell N. (2025) 'The Cavalier Petrarch: Translation and Coterie Culture in Caroline and Civil War England', Translating Petrarch in Early Modern Britain, Manchester University Press.


  • McDowell N, Power H. (2024) '"An Age of Prose"?', The Oxford Handbook of English Prose, 1640-1714, Oxford University Press.
  • McDowell N. (2024) 'Rabelais in the Whig World: Religious Persecution, Forced Migration, and the Politics of Literary Translation in Post-Revolutionary England', ELH: English Literary History.
  • McDowell N. (2024) 'Keys', The Oxford Handbook of English Prose, 1640-1714, Oxford University Press.
  • McDowell N. (2024) 'Freedom in the Cavalier Poets', Words at War: the Contested Language of the English Civil War, British Academy / Oxford University Press, 102-114.
  • McDowell N. (2024) 'Cavalier Poetry', Oxford History of Poetry in English. Volume 5: Seventeenth-Century British Poetry, Oxford University Press.
  • McDowell N. (2024) 'Dissent', Swift in Context, Cambridge University Press, 240-247.
  • McDowell N. (2024) 'Heresiography and Religious Controversy', The Oxford Handbook of English Prose, 1640-1714, Oxford U.
  • McDowell N, Power H. (2024) The Oxford Handbook of English Prose, 1640-1714, Oxford University Press.


  • McDowell N. (2023) '"Shakespeares Workes, and such Prelaticall trash": Milton's Shakespeare from the Philadelphia First Folio to the Political Prose', Milton Studies, volume 65, 1, pages 100-121.
  • McDowell N. (2023) 'John Milton (1608-74)', History from Loss: A Global Introduction to Histories written from defeat, colonization, exile, and imprisonment, Routledge, 80-86.



  • McDowell N. (2019) 'Refining the Sublime: Edward Phillips, a Miltonic Education and the Sublimity of Paradise Lost', Milton Studies, volume 61, 2, pages 239-260.
  • McDowell N. (2019) 'Shakespearean Constitutions: Literary Culture and Republicanism', Political Turmoil: Early Modern British Literature in Transition, 1623-1660, Cambridge University Press, 132-146.
  • McDowell N. (2019) 'The Double Personality of Lucianic Satire from Dryden to Fielding', The Oxford Handbook of Eighteenth-Century Satire, Oxford University Press, 145-160, DOI:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780198727835.013.4.
  • McDowell N. (2019) 'Marvell's French Spirit', The Oxford Handbook of Andrew Marvell, Oxford University Press, 614-634.


  • McDowell N. (2018) 'Towards Redefinition of Cavalier Poetics', The Seventeenth Century, volume 32, 4, no. special issue, pages 413-431.




  • McDowell N. (2015) 'Towards a Poetics of Civil War', Essays in Criticism: a quarterly journal of literary criticism, volume 65, no. 4, pages 341-366.



  • McDowell N, Smith N. (2012) The Oxford Handbook of Milton, DOI:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199697885.001.0001.
  • McDowell N. (2012) The Blackwell Encyclopedia of English Renaissance Literature, gen. eds. Alan Stewart and Garrett Sullivan; contrib. eds. Rebecca Lemon, Nicholas McDowell, Jennifer Richards, volume 1-3.
  • McDowell N. (2012) ‘The Scottish inhabitants of that Province are actually revolted’: John Milton on the Failure of the Ulster Plantation’, The Plantation of Ulster: Ideology and Practice, Manchester University Press.
  • McDowell N. (2012) The Encyclopedia of English Renaissance Literature, Blackwell.


  • McDowell N. (2011) 'Herrick and the Order of the Black Riband: Literary Community in Civil War London and the Publication of "Hesperides"', 'Lords of Wine and Oil': Community and Conviviality in Herrick and his Contemporaries, Oxford University Press.



  • McDowell N. (2009) The Oxford Handbook of Milton, ed. N. McDowell & N. Smith, Oxford University Press.
  • McDowell N. (2009) Review Article: Authorship and Authority in Recent Milton Criticism, SEVENTEENTH CENT, volume 24, no. 2, pages 361-370.
  • McDowell N. (2009) 'Miltion's Regicide Tracts and the Uses of Shakespeare', The Oxford Handbook of Milton, Oxford University Press, 252-271.
  • McDowell N. (2009) '"Lycidas" and the Influence of Anxiety, The Oxford Handbook of Milton, Oxford University Press, 112-135.


  • McDowell N. (2008) 'Dante and the Distraction of Lyric in Milton's "To My Friend Mr Henry Lawes"', The Review of English Studies, volume 59, pages 232-254.
  • McDowell N. (2008) Family politics; Or, how John Phillips read his uncle's satirical sonnets (with transcription from Bodleian MS Rawl. Poet. 30), MILTON QUART, volume 42, no. 1, pages 1-21.
  • McDowell N. (2008) Poetry and Allegiance in the English Civil Wars: Marvell and the Cause of Wit, Oxford University Press.


  • McDowell N. (2006) 'Writing the Literary and Cultural History of Radicalism in the English Revolution'.
  • McDowell N. (2006) 'Abiezer Coppe, Horace and the Dormouse', Notes and Queries: for readers and writers, collectors and librarians, volume 53, no. 2, pages 166-168.
  • McDowell N. (2006) 'Early Modern Stereotypes and the Rise of English: Jonson, Dryden, Arnold, Eliot', Critical Quarterly, volume 48, no. 3, pages 25-37.
  • McDowell N. (2006) 'The Ghost in the Marble: Jeremy Taylor's Liberty of Prophesying (1647) and Its Readers', Scripture and Scholarship in Early Modern England, Ashgate, 176-191.


  • McDowell N. (2005) 'The Stigmatizing of Puritans as Jews in Jacobean England: Ben Jonson, Francis Bacon and the Book of Sports Controversy', Renaissance Studies, volume 19, no. 3.
  • McDowell N. (2005) 'Ideas of Creation in the Writings of Richard Overton the Leveller and Paradise Lost', Journal of the History of Ideas, pages 59-78.
  • McDowell N. (2005) 'Urquhart's Rabelais: Translation, Patronage, and Cultural Politics', English Literary Renaissance, volume 35, no. 2, pages 273-303.


  • McDowell N. (2004) 'Humanism and Heresy in Milton's England', Literature Compass, volume 1, no. 1, DOI:10.1111/j.1741-4113.2004.00099.x.
  • McDowell N. (2004) 'Interpreting Communities: Private Acts and Public Culture in Early Modern England', Criticism: a quarterly for literature and the arts, volume 46, no. 2, pages 281-298.
  • McDowell N. (2004) 'Levelling Language: the Politics of Literacy in the English Radical Tradition, 1640-1830', Critical Quarterly, volume 46, no. 2, pages 39-62.


  • McDowell N. (2003) 'Latin Drama and Leveller Ideas: Pedagogy and Power in the Writings of Richard Overton', The Seventeenth Century, volume 18, no. 2, pages 230-251.
  • McDowell N. (2003) The English Radical Imagination: Culture, Religion, and Revolution, 1630-1660, Oxford University Press.


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External impact and engagement

Contribution to discipline

I'm a contributing editor of Critical Quarterly, on the editorial board of Milton Studies and a founding member of the editorial board of Marvell Studies. I was previously editor of the early modern section of Literature Compass.

I was external examiner of the Masters degree in English (1550-1700) at the University of Oxford from 2012-15, and external examiner of the Masters degree in Early Modern Studies (1300-1700) at Queen Mary, University of London, from 2015-19. From 2021-24, I'm external examiner of Part II of the English Tripos at Cambridge University.

I have examined dissertations and doctorates at Royal Holloway, London (on Marvell and justice), Trinity College Dublin (on Restoration plague literature), University College Cork (on Milton and romance), the University of Leicester (on Marvell and privacy), the University of Oxford (on turncoat poets in the English Revolution), the University of Edinburgh (on religious poetry and state formation in the 17th-century), the University of Oslo (on conversion narratives in Cromwellian England), the University of Sydney (on Marvell and the New World), and the University of East Anglia (Lucy Hutchinson's manuscript writings).

I'm a member of the Peer Review College for the UKRI Talent Scheme, and regularly review book and article manuscripts for a range of publishers.


Professor McDowell has spoken on several occasions on BBC Radio Ulster on the subject of Milton and Ireland (one interview can be accessed here) and an extensive interview with The Guardian about Professor McDowell's career and research can be accessed here. A recent story in The Sunday Telegraph about his new biography of Milton, Poet of Revolution, can be accessed here (behind a pay wall).

Topics on which he is available to provide expertise include the English Civil War; literature, politics and religion in 17th-century Britain; radical ideas in the English Civil War and the origins of liberal democracy; religion and secularism in early modern Britain and its modern legacy; the legacy of 17th-century conflict in modern Ireland; the life and works of John Milton; the Cavalier poets; Northern Irish poetry.

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I was born and brought up in Belfast, where I was educated at a city-centre grammar school, The Royal Belfast Academical Institution. The first in my family to go to university, I read English at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, graduating with a first-class BA degree and the title of Scholar in 1994. I then moved to Oriel College, Oxford, to complete M.Phil. (1996) and D.Phil. degrees (2000), during which time I also held the posiiton of Lecturer in English at St. Anne's College, Oxford (1997-8).

In 1998 I was elected to a stipendiary Research Fellowship of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge. I left this position in 2001 to take up a lectureship in the Department of English at the University of Exeter, where I have since been Senior Lecturer and Associate Professor. I was promoted to a Personal Chair in 2012. 

I have held visiting interdisciplinary research positions at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton (2009-10), where I was the Herodotus Fund Member of the School of Historical Studies, and the Centre for Research into the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities, Cambridge (2010-11), where I was a 'Future University' Visiting Fellow and also a Visiting Fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge.

Among administrative roles, I was Director of Research in the Department of English at Exeter in 2011-13 and 2015-17, in which capacity I oversaw the 2014 REF submission and advised colleagues on all aspects of publication, grant application, and public engagement. I have also advised other English departments in the UK on the development of their research profile. I currently act as a Senior Academic Lead in the Department of English at Exeter.

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