Daniel Defoe was born in London in 1660, the son of a successful butcher. His family were nonconformists and he attended Morton’s Academy with the intention of going into the church, however at eighteen he left school and became a merchant trading in hosiery, wool and wine. He married Mary Tuffley in 1684 and they had six surviving children.

He was always interested in social and political issues and held strong views. As a religious dissenter he was part of a persecuted minority living in an age of religious and political uncertainty. In 1685 he took part in the Monmouth Rebellion, which attempted to overthrow the Catholic James II. The rebellion failed however, and Defoe escaped with a pardon.

Defoe in the pillory by James Charles Armitage

After the Glorious Revolution of 1688, William II took the throne and Daniel Defoe became a favourite of the King, particularly after the publication of his poem The True Born Englishman in 1701. His political activities increased and he began writing increasingly controversial pamphlets, in particular The Shortest Way with the Dissenters in 1702, which angered many in the establishment. William II died in the same year and was replaced by Queen Anne who acted harshly against nonconformists. Defoe was arrested, put on trial at the Old Bailey, found guilty of seditious libel and put in a pillory on 31st July 1703. According to legend, he was pelted with flowers instead of harmful substances, due to the influence of his poem Hymn to the Pillory, although the authenticity of this story is contested.

After his release from prison, Defoe continued to write both political and non-political works and set up a periodical, A Review of the Affairs of France in 1704 and a newspaper The Review, which was published between 1704 and 1713. He published Robinson Crusoe on 25th April 1719 and the novel was an incredible success. By the end of the nineteenth century it had been made into over 700 alternative versions, including foreign language translations and versions designed for children. The book arguably marked the beginning of the realistic genre of literature.

Daniel Defoe died on 24 April 1731 and was buried at Bunhill Fields, London.