Who Was Izaak Walton?

Izaak, Isaak or Issac?  There is often a difference of opinion regarding the spelling of the name Izaak Walton.  There are three widely used spellings of his name often seen in print before the turn of the 19th Century: ‘Isaac Walton’, ‘Izaac Walton’ and ‘Isaak Walton’.  Subsequently ‘Izaak Walton’ became the more popular spelling in the late 20th Century.  The original ‘old English’ spelling is deemed to be Isaac Walton and is indicated by his epitaph which you will find shown below.

Isaac Walton, now primarily known as the author of The Compleat Angler was recognised in his lifetime chiefly as a biographer.  Ironically, little information on Isaac Walton´s earlier days (from toddler through upbringing and education) has been discovered.

Baptised at St Mary’s Church, Stafford on the 21st September 1593, Isaac was the son of an alehouse keeper, Jervis Walton.  Jervis died when Isaac was only 4 years old and his wife Anne Walton remarried another inn keeper in Stafford.  By the age of 20, Isaac was serving his apprenticeship in London as a draper to his kinsman, Thomas Grinsell.

In 1618 he was admitted a freeman of the Ironmongers Company and on his wedding licence he was described as ’of the Cittie of London, Ironmonger’.  The importance of Isaac in the company increased until he was elected Warden of the Yeomanry in 1637.  Isaac Walton married in 1626 to his first wife Rachel Floyd who he lost, along with his seven children, by 1640.

Isaac married again in 1646 and had a son and daughter.  Following the death of his second wife he spent many days fishing on the River Dove.  Whilst fishing the river Dove and other rivers nearby, Isaac Walton is known to have stayed in a local 17th Century Guesthouse and this has now become the Izaak Walton Hotel.

Isaac Walton was first noticed in print back in 1619, by an edition of a poem called The Loue of Amos & Laura.  Following his marriage to Rachel Floyd, Sir Henry Wotton wrote to Walton about angling, which may have influenced his first Angling publication.

At the age of 60, Isaac’s book was first published (in 1653) and dedicated to John Offley of Madeley Manor, Staffordshire.  The Compleat Angler was extensively revised by the author in 1655 and again in 1676 drawing on earlier angling writers and incorporating recipes, legends and poems into his text.  Isaac spent much time fishing at his friends, Charles Cotton’s lodge on the River Dove and with approval from Isaac, Charles added a supplement into the 1767 edition on fly–fishing.

Isaac died in 1683 at the age of 90 and is buried in the Prior Silkstead Chapel at Winchester Cathedral.