Henry Vaughan was born into a middle-class Welsh family in Breconshire. In 1638 he went to Jesus College, Oxford, with his brother Thomas, who later achieved fame as an alchemist. Henry left Oxford in 1640 without taking a degree, and spent two years in London studying law. He was recalled home when the Civil War broke out, and he is thought to have served on the Royalist side in South Wales sometime around 1645.
In 1646 Vaughan married Catherine Wise and published his first book of verse, Poems, with the Tenth Satire of Juvenal Englished. The poems were secular in theme and attracted little attention. They appear uninspired when compared with the religious poetry of Silex Scintillus. In the preface to the second edition of Silex Vaughan attributes the transformation of his life and work to a spiritual awakening brought about by reading the poems of 'the blessed man, Mr. George Herbert'. On the title page of this work, he describes himself as 'Henry Vaughan, Silurist' referring to the ancient British tribe of Silures who once lived in Brecon.
During the 1650s Vaughan began practising medicine. After the death of his first wife he married her sister Elizabeth in about 1655. He had four children by each wife, and in his later years he became involved in legal wrangles with his older children. Though his poetry did not attract much attention for a long time after his death, Vaughan is now established as one of the finest religious poets in the language, and in some respects he surpassed his literary and spiritual master, George Herbert.