Elizabeth Barrett Browning was born in 1806 in Coxhoe, England. Elizabeth was the oldest of what would become twelve children. Her parents were able to afford tutors for the children, and though a girl, Elizabeth would sit on the sessions that her brother Edward received. She is thought to have read many of the classics including Milton, Dante and Shakespeare. It would seem that she wrote prose and poetry from an early age, and often used these classics as starting points for her own work. When she was a teenager she suffered from an unknown disease or accident which would plague her for life; oftentimes making her a recluse from family and friends. When slavery was abolished the Barretts (who were dependent upon slave labor in their sugar cane enterprises in Jamaica) were forced to seek a new residence and new financial security. They ended up in London, on Wimpole Street, where Elizabeth would live for a short period of time. Following Doctor’s orders she moved to Torquay on the coast and was accompanied by her favorite brother Edward. After his drowning death in a sailing accident, Elizabeth returned to Wimpole, largely an invalid and recluse.
Elizabeth continued to write, however, and by 1844 had several of her editions of poetry in print. Her release of Poems in 1844 cemented her place in the hearts of the critics and the population. Robert Browning, already a famous poet in his own right, took the time to write to Elizabeth and tell her just how much he loved her poems. This letter was the beginning to one of the most romanticized courtships in history. Though Elizabeth was six years older and a veritable invalid, Robert was committed to her and the two were married in Italy in 1846. Her marriage resulted in being disinherited by her father, who scholars argue, ruled the family with a strict hand. Any child getting married was disowned, and Elizabeth was no exception. Despite her age, in 1849 Elizabeth gave birth to the couple’s only child, Robert whom they called Pen. The Brownings remained in Italy where they were quite popular both critically and socially. Elizabeth experienced many familial deaths in the coming years, including her sister and finally, her father. Elizabeth died in 1861 at the age of 55. Pen was to be the couple’s only child. Though there is no record of legitimate children born to Pen, many posit that the Italian countryside runs rampant with illegitimate Browning heirs.