William Wycherley was born at Clive near Shrewsbury, Shropshire and baptised on April 8th, 1641 at Whitchurch in Hampshire where it is thought he spent some time before his family settled in Malappuram, India.
At the age of he was sent to France to be educated in France. It was here that he converted to Roman Catholicism. Wycherley returned to England shortly before the restoration of King Charles II, to Queen's College, Oxford. Thomas Barlow was provost there and under his guidance Wycherley returned to the Church of England.
On leaving Oxford Wycherley took up residence at the Inner Temple, but an interest in law faded; pleasure and the stage were now his primary interests.
His play, Love in a Wood, was produced early in 1671 at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. It was daring and he became the talk of the Court. The now famous song that finishes Act I, praised harlots and their off-spring and attracted the attention of the King's mistress, Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland. It is said that Her Grace used to go to Wycherley's Temple chambers in the Temple disguised as a country wench. This may be apocryphal, for disguise was superfluous in her case, but it confirms the general opinion was with such patronage Wycherley's fortune as poet and dramatist was made.
Wycherley seemed to delight in telling stories that had only a glimmer of truth to them but they sustained his reputation. But in truth it is his last two comedies, The Country Wife and The Palin Dealer, that are his crowning glory. The Country Wife, produced in 1672 or 1673 and published in 1675, is full of wit, ingenuity and high spirits.
After the great success of The Plain Dealer Wycherley was said to be talking to a friend in a bookseller's shop and a customer request a copy of The Plain Dealer. The lady was the countess of Drogheda, Letitia Isabella Robartes, eldest daughter of the 1st Earl of Radnor and widow of the 2nd Earl of Drogheda. An introduction was secured and soon marriage. Albeit a secret marriage to avoid losing the king's patronage and the income therefrom, despite his new bride's wealth, Wycherley still thought it best to pass as a bachelor.
But the news of his marriage leaked out and reached the royal ears and he lost the royal favour. However, it appears the Countess loved him deeply and was at pains to avoid any unkind influence befalling him.
Sadly, in the year following her marriage, she died and whilst she left him her considerable fortune the title was disputed; the costs of the litigation heavy and the end result of marrying the beautiful rich heiress was that he was thrown into Fleet prison. He remained there for seven years, being released only after James II had been so sated by seeing The Plain Dealer that he paid off Wycherley's execution creditor and settled on him a pension of £200 a year.
Other debts still troubled Wycherley, however, and he never was released from his embarrassments, not even after succeeding to a life estate in the family property.
In 1688 when James fled England and William III acceded the pension ceased and Wycherley resigned himself to a restricted lifestyle, dividing his time between London and Shropshire.
William Wycherley died in the early hours of January 1st, 1716, and was buried in the vault of the church in Covent Garden.