William Cowper

In St George's chapel in Westminster Abbey is a two light stained glass window in memory of poets William Cowper and George Herbert. The glass is by J.R. Clayton and Alfred Bell. A figure of Cowper is shown holding a medallion portrait in his hand, with two female figures, the spire of Olney church in the background and some hares at his feet. The inscription comes from On Receipt of My Mother's Picture:

O that those lips had language. Life has passed with me but roughly since I heard thee last. Voice only fails else how distinct they say 'Grieve not my child, chase all thy fears away

At the top of the window an angel holds coats of arms. Those for Cowper show "argent three martlets gules, on a chief engrailed of the last three annulets or". The window was a gift from a friend of Dean Stanley and below on the wall is a Latin inscription which can be translated "Given by George William Childs, American citizen, 1876".

He was born on 15th November 1731 at Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire, a child of the Reverend John Cowper (pronounced Cooper) and his first wife Ann (Donne). His grandfather was Spencer Cowper, the politician. In 1742 he entered Westminster School and then took up a legal career, which he hated. At the start of his literary career he wrote essays for The Connoisseur. He was not allowed to marry his sweetheart and he suffered depression and attempted suicide before he was suddenly converted. His first book of poems appeared in 1782. The best known is The Task. His hymn "God moves in a mysterious way" is still popular.

He died on 25th April 1800 and was buried at St Nicholas church, East Dereham, Norfolk (where there is a monument and window to him).

Further reading

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004


15th November 1731


25th April 1800




St George's Chapel

Memorial Type


Material Type


William Cowper
William Cowper by Lemuel Francis Abbott

© National Portrait Gallery, London [Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 3.0]

William Cowper
William Cowper window

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2024 Dean and Chapter of Westminster