Sir John Vanbrugh, an English dramatist, born probably in London in 1666, died there, March 26, 1726. He was of Flemish extraction, and received a liberal education, which was completed in France. He entered the army as an ensign, attained the rank of captain, and afterward became an architect. In 1695 he was appointed secretary to the commission for endowing Greenwich hospital, and two years later produced at Drury Lane theatre his first play, "The Relapse," which was very successful. "The Provoked Wife " (1697) had if possible a greater run; and in the next year the author, alarmed at the charges of indecency and profanity brought against him in Jeremy Collier's "Short View of the Immorality and Profaneuess of the English Stage," presented the public with a moral lecture, in the form of a comedy entitled "Aesop." An adaptation of Fletcher's "Pilgrim," produced in 1700, was well received. In 1702 he made his first architectural design of celebrity, that of Castle Howard in Yorkshire, the seat of the earl of Carlisle. His next enterprise was the construction of a large theatre in the Haymarket, which he undertook to manage in conjunction with Congreve. The building was found' to be incurably defective in acoustic properties, and Vanbrugh, after producing with indifferent success "Confederacy" (1705), and adaptations of three of Moliere's comedies, retired from the enterprise, and devoted himself to the structure of Blenheim, voted by parliament to the duke of Marlborough. Before the completion of the work he became involved in a quarrel with the duchess, who after the duke's decease dismissed the architect and refused to pay him £2,000 which he had advanced to the workmen.
By the aid of Sir Robert Walpole he finally got the money. Vanbrugh erected other buildings of less note, was knighted and made comptroller of the royal works in 1714, and in 1716 surveyor of the works at Greenwich hospital. He left an unfinished comedy, "The Journey to London," which was completed by Colley Cibber. His plays are smoothly written, and present amusing pictures of contemporary manners, but their grossness has gradually banished them from the stage. The best recent edition is that of Moxon (8vo, London, 1849, containing also the works of Congreve, Wycherly, and Farquhar), with a biographical notice by Leigh Hunt.