William Godwin was born at Wisbech in 1756. After three years at day school and three years with a private tutor in Norwich, Godwin entered Hoxton Presbyterian College. Godwin left college as a Tory but after five years as a minister he had developed radical political views. While he was a minister in Beaconsfield William Godwin became friendly with the Rational Dissenters, Richard Price and Joseph Priestley.
In 1787 Godwin left the ministry and became a full-time writer. Inspired by the writings of Tom Paine, Godwin published Enquiry into Political Justice in 1793. In the book Godwin argued that as long as people acted rationally, they could live without laws or institutions. The following year Godwin's pioneering novel, The Adventures of Caleb Williams, was published.
In 1797 Godwin married Mary Wollstonecraft but she died soon after their daughter was born. The following year he wrote Memoirs of the Author of a Vindication of the Rights of Women (1798). He also spent several years on the Life of Chaucer (1804).
Godwin's political ideas had a great influence on writers such as Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron. Godwin and Shelley became close friends. However, their relationship was damaged when in 1814, Shelley fell in love and eloped with Mary, Godwin's sixteen-year-old daughter. In later life Godwin concentrated on writing novels, the most popular being Mandeville (1817), Cloudesley (1830) and Deloraine (1833).
William Godwin died in 1836.