Sir Henry John Newbolt, CH was born on 6th June 1862 in Bilston, Wolverhampton, the son of the vicar of St Mary's Church, the Rev. Henry Francis Newbolt, and his second wife, Emily née Stubbs. After his father's death, in 1866, the family moved to Walsall.
There Newbolt attended Queen Mary's Grammar School, Walsall, and Caistor Grammar School, from where he gained a scholarship to Clifton College, where he was head of the school and editor of the school magazine. Upon graduation from Corpus Christi College, Oxford, he was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn in 1887 and practised until 1899.
He married Margaret Edwina née Duckworth, of the prominent publishing family, and they had two children: Margaret Cecilia (1890) and Arthur Francis (1893).
Behind the steady Edwardian façade lay intimate complications; a ménage à trois. His wife had a long-running affair with her cousin, Laura Isabella 'Ella' Coltman to whom Newbolt had dedicated one of his own poems and was also involved with. Newbolt divided his time between the two women so there was no jealousy. Although it could equally be argued they divided their time.
His first book was a novel, ‘Taken from the Enemy’ (1892), and this was followed in 1895 by a play, the tragedy, ‘Mordred’. But it was with ‘Admirals All’ (1897), that his reputation was set. There followed further volumes of uplifting verse, including ‘The Island Race’ (1898), ‘The Sailing of the Long-ships’ (1902), ‘Songs of the Sea’ (1904) and ‘Songs of the Fleet’ (1910). Among the most stirring and patriotically heroic of his poems are the often anthologised ‘Vitaï Lampada’ and ‘Drake's Drum’.
As well as writing he was also, from October 1900 to September 1904, the editor of the Monthly Review.
In 1914, Newbolt published Aladore, a fantasy novel about a bored, dutiful knight who abandons his estate to pursue his heart's desire and woo a half-fae enchantress.
As the First World War engulfed Europe, Newbolt, and another 20 British writers, were absorbed into the War Propaganda Bureau. Their talents were put to use promoting Britain's interests and to maintain public opinion in favour of the war.
He was knighted in 1915 and became the Controller of Telecommunications at the Foreign Office. Among his war poems was ‘The War Films’, printed in The Times on 14th October 1916, in reference to the shock cinema audiences felt on seeing footage of the Battle of the Somme.
Newbolt was knighted in 1915 and was appointed Companion of Honour in 1922.
In 1921 he authored the government Report ‘The Teaching of English in England’ which helped to establish the foundations for modern English Studies and professionalised the teaching of English Literature. With it he established a canon, and was unequivocal that English must become the linguistic and literary standard throughout the Empire.
Newbolt was also part of an inner advisory circle of Asquith's government and also advised on policy in Ireland.
Sir Henry John Newbolt, CH died at his home in Campden Hill, Kensington, London, on 19th April 1938, at the age of 75. He is buried in the churchyard of St Mary's church on an island in the lake on the Orchardleigh Estate of the Duckworth family in Somerset.