born at Elstow, near Bedford, the son of a brazier, learned to read and write at the village school and was early set to his father's trade. He was drafted into the parliamentary army and was stationed at Newport Pagnell, 1644–6. In 1649 he married his first wife, who introduced him to Dent's Plain Man's Pathway to Heaven and Bayly's Practice of Piety; these, the Bible, the Prayer Book, and Foxe's Actes and Monuments were his principal reading matter. In 1653 he joined a Nonconformist church in Bedford, preached there, and came into conflict with the Quakers (see Friends, Society of), against whom he published his first writings, Some Gospel Truths Opened (1656) and A Vindication (1657). He married his second wife Elizabeth c.1659, his first having died c.1656 leaving four children. As an itinerant tinker who presented his Puritan mission as apostolic and placed the poor and simple above the mighty and learned, Bunyan was viewed by the Restoration authorities as a militant subversive. Arrested in Nov. 1660 for preaching without a licence, he was derided at his trial as ‘a pestilent fellow’.
Bunyan spent most of the next 12 years in Bedford Gaol. During the first half of this period he wrote nine books, including his spiritual autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1666). After his release in 1672 he was appointed pastor at the same church, but was imprisoned again for a short period in 1677 during which he probably finished the first part of The Pilgrim's Progress, which had partly been written during the latter years of the first imprisonment. The first part was published in 1678, and the second, together with the whole work, in 1684. His other principal works are The Holy City, or the New Jerusalem (1665, inspired by a passage in the Book of Revelation), A Confession of my Faith, and a Reason of my Practice (1672), The Life and Death of Mr Badman (1680), and The Holy War (1682). Bunyan's down‐to‐earth, humorous, and impassioned preaching drew crowds of hundreds, but he was not further molested.