This essay is a prosopographic study of the group of published poets, born between 1570 and 1610, who were employed as clergymen. It argues that this period saw an important shift in the organization and occupational structure of the church, which helped to produce a generation of university‐educated, high‐status clerics who were also accomplished versifiers. Poets such as George Herbert and John Donne were not anomalies but part of a wider trend that profoundly shaped English verse conventions. The essay thus makes a case for considering institutional history as an important influence on literary history.

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