DONNE'S FAMILY AND
MUCH LESS IS known about the paternal side of Donne's family, because the lineage of John Donne the elder is not yet clear. Apparently descended from the Carmarthenshire Dwns, he may have come from a branch of the family that settled near Chester. He had a cousin, Alice, who served in the Donne household; and a sister, Grace, who was married to Robert Dawson of Oxford. The Dawsons operated an inn suspected as a Catholic house: one of their lodgers was a former New College don who had been expelled for popery. 1 Other than these few details about the elder Donne's family, we know only that they apprenticed him sometime during the reign of Queen Mary to Thomas Lewen, a hardware merchant, alderman, and Sheriff of London.
This choice of a master is significant for the student of Donne the poet, for it suggests the flavor of determined Catholicism that permeated both the life of Donne's father and the neighborhood where Donne himself spent his earliest years. Lewen's household, which included the apprentice Donne, was situated in the most staunchly Catholic district of London, the parish of St. Nicholas Olave, where the death of Edward VI had been observed by a peremptory return to singing the Latin mass. (St. Nicholas Olave was actually the second parish in London to take this step, the first having been the adjacent parish of St. Nicholas Cole Abbey.) 2 The death of King Edward brought Lewen an opportunity to return to prominence in the City administration and in the Ironmongers Company. Under Edward, his Catholicism had made it impossible for him to continue in office as Sheriff. 3 Donne served out his apprenticeship