The word "Cavalier" was first used as a political term to refer to those who supported the monarchy and King Charles I. These poets, also known as "Royalists", were opposed by the "Roundheads". The "Roundheads", nicknamed this for their closely cropped hair, were Puritans who opposed Charles I and supported a Puritan-dominated Parliament. .
The Royalists and Puritans were pitted against each other in the English Civil War. The English Civil War ended with the execution of Charles I and the establishment of the Commonwealth, ruled by Oliver Cromwell.
Cavalier Poetry is noted for its three prominant charateristics. These characteristics are regular rythmic patterns, carefully constructed stanzas, and simple yet eloquent language. .
Cavalier poetry is also noted for its themes. Love and loyalty, Carpe diem, and occasional sarcastic comments of the purpose of coy beauties are the three most common themes utilized by the Cavalier poets.
Sir John Suckling utilizes the love and loyalty theme in a sarcastic manner in his poem "The Constant Lover". In "The Constant Lover", the speaker has been "in love" for three days. He anticipates that he may extend his love for three more days, if conditions remain favorable. The speaker claims that no other lover is as constant as he. This claim is ironic because three days is a very short time and because he is unable to promise future fidelity.
In the poem "To Althea, from Prison", the poet uses the theme of love and loyalty in a different manner. The speaker feels that physical imprisonment does not necesarily mean emotional imprisonment. The only freedom he feels he needs are in his love and in his soul. There are several situations associated with freedom in stanzas one through three. Being with Althea, tasting life's pleasures, and singing praises to his king make the speaker feel free because they represent the basic liberties of a free man. The main focus of the poem is imprisonment may deprive a person of political freedom but does not affect freedoms of the spirit.