William Drummond was born at Hawthornden Manor into a wealthy Scots family. He attended Edinburgh University and went on to study law in France. When his father died in 1610 he became laird of Hawthornden and settled into the life of a wealthy man of letters, in the manor he was to occupy until his death.
He was engaged to marry Mary Cunningham of Barns, but she died in 1615, shortly before the wedding was due to take place. In his Poems, published the following year, he included several laments for her death. Drummond was the first significant Scottish poet to write in English rather than Scots. His library was well stocked with continental literature and he was an able translator of French, Italian and Spanish poetry. His fondness for foreign poetry can be seen in his introduction of the canzone, an Italian form, to English verse.
Ben Jonson's visit to Hawthornden in 1618-19 is documented in the notes Drummond took on their conversation. These notes provide a fascinating insight into Jonson's opinions, and they are the only detailed record we have of a poet's views on his fellow writers from this period. Jonson admired Drummond's poems but felt that they 'smelled too much of the Schools, and were not after the fancy of the time'.
Drummond was a keen supporter of the monarchy, writing poems on the occasion of James I's visit to Edinburgh in 1617, and for the Scottish coronation of Charles I in 1633. His royalist sympathies are evident in his historical writings as well as in his political pamphlets, and his death in 1649 is said to have been hastened by grief for the execution of King Charles.