Robert Graves (1895-1985), once described as England's "greatest living poet", was born exactly 117 years ago this week at his parents’ home in No 1 Lauriston Road, Wimbledon.

A prolific writer who produced more than 140 works in his 90 years – including 55  collections of poetry, 15 novels, 10 translations, and over 40 works of non-fiction, autobiography, and literary essays - he was especially known for his classical translations and interpretations of Greek and Latin mythology and history.

His books “I Claudius!” and “Claudius the God” were dramatized for a hugely successful TV series in the 1970s.

He was also the only surviving First World War poet to be included when a stone was unveiled at Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey on 11 November 1985, commemorating that generation of war writers. He died three weeks later.

Born on 24 July 1895, Graves was the third of five children. His father was a school inspector and his mother came from a well-to-do German family.

He did not enjoy his Wimbledon childhood and nearly died of pneumonia age seven.

He went to King’s College School among other places before winning a scholarship to Charterhouse School in Godalming.

There he began to write poetry, sang in the choir and - surprisingly for a poet - became a champion boxer. In his final year he won entry to St John’s Oxford but this was delayed until after the First World War.


Enlisting in August 1914, he was commissioned in the Royal Welch Fusiliers and nearly killed on the Somme but recovered in England.

He published his first volume of poems in 1916, an early description of the reality of frontline conflict.

Like his close friend, the poet Siegfried Sassoon, he suffered from shell shock but returned to the front. Wilfred Owen, another poet friend, attended Graves’ wedding before returning to be killed as the war was ending. Graves himself nearly died yet again, this time of Spanish flu in 1918.

He finally took his place at Oxford in October 1919, studying language and literature as well as classics while his wife Nancy had their four children.

His most notable Oxford companion was Lawrence of Arabia. T.E.Lawrence was a  Fellow of All Souls at the time and Graves published his extraordinary biography in 1927.

By that time he had broken up with Nancy and moved to Majorca with an  American poetess, Laura Riding. In 1929 he alienated many people with his autobiography Good-Bye to All That in which he criticized not just the war in the trenches but also social conventions in Britain and his own family background. It was not kind to middle class Wimbledon.


He left Majorca during the Spanish Civil War, moved to the US and then returned to Britain during the Second World War where he began a relationship with Beryl, the wife of a colleague.

They married and in 1946 returned to Majorca where Graves had four more children and spent the rest of his life apart from a period from 1961-66 when he was Professor of Poetry at Oxford.

In 1962, it was the poet W H. Auden who described him as England's "greatest living poet".

In 1968, he received the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry. He died on 7 December 1985 and was buried near his Majorca home. Beryl died in 2003 and their house is now a museum.

An English Heritage blue plaque was unveiled by two of his children, Lucia and William Graves, at 1 Lauriston Road on 12 July 1995 to mark his centenary. They were accompanied by local dignitaries and supporters.

A message was read out from the Queen and a reception held in Queens Road near Wimbledon town centre.


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