Wordsworth was born as the second of five children in Cockermouth, Cumberland part of the scenic region called the Lake District in northwest England. With the death of his mother in 1778, his father sent him to Hawkshead Grammar School. But in 1783, his father, a lawyer, died leaving little to his offspring (the Earl of Lonsdale owed his attorney £4500, but, despite a judgment against him, did not pay it. His son, however, paid a substantial portion of it in 1802).
Wordsworth began attending St John's College, Cambridge in 1787. In 1790, he visited Revolutionary France and supported the Republican movement. The following year, he graduated from Cambridge without distinction. In November, he returned to France and took a walking tour of Europe that included the Alps and Italy. He fell in love with a French woman, Annette Vallon and in 1792 she gave birth to their child, Caroline. For a lack of money, he returned alone to England that year and would support his lover and daughter as best he could in his life. The Reign of Terror disenchanted the ideals he held for the Republicans and war between France and Britain prevented him from seeing Annette and Caroline again for several years.
1793 saw Wordsworth's first published poetry with the collections An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches. He received a legacy of £900 from Raisley Calvert in 1795 so that he could pursue writing poetry. That year, he also met Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Somerset. The two poets quickly developed a close friendship. In 1797, Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy, moved to Somerset, just a few miles away from Coleridge's home in Nether Stowey. Together, Wordsworth and Coleridge (with insights from Dorothy) produced Lyrical Ballads (1798), an important work in the English Romantic movement. One of Wordsworth's most famous poems, "Tintern Abbey" was published in the work along with Coleridge's "Ancient Mariner".
Wordsworth, Dorothy, and Coleridge then traveled to Germany. During the winter of 1798-1799, Wordsworth lived in Goslar and began work on an autobiographical piece later titled The Prelude. He and his sister moved back to England, now to Grasmere, once again in the Lake District and this time with fellow poet Robert Southey nearby. Wordsworth, Southey, and Coleridge would be called the "Lake Poets" for their physical and poetic proximity.
In 1802, he and Dorothy traveled to France to visit Annette and Caroline. Later that year, he married a childhood friend, Mary Hutchinson. Dorothy did not appreciate the marriage at first, but lived with the couple and would later grow close to Mary. The following year, Mary gave birth to the first of five children, John.
Both Coleridge's health and his relationship to Wordsworth began showing signs of decay in 1804. That year Wordsworth befriended Robert Southey. With Napoleon's rise as emperor of France, Wordsworth's last wisp of liberalism fell, from then on identifying himself as a conservative. Extensive work in 1804 led to the completion of The Prelude in 1805, but it would be continually revised before it was published after his death. The death of his brother, John in that year had a strong influence on him.
In 1807, his Poems in Two Volumes was published, including "Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood". For a time, Wordsworth and Coleridge disassociated over the latter's opium addiction in 1810.
Two of his children, John and Catherine, died in 1812. The following year, he moved to Rydal Mount, Ambleside where he would spend the rest of his life. He published The Excursion in 1814 as the second part of an intended three-part work. Modern critics popularly recognize a decline in his works beginning around the mid-1810s. But, by 1820 he enjoyed the success accompanying a reversal in the contemporary critical opinion of his earlier works.
Dorothy suffered from a severe illness in 1829 that rendered her an invalid for the remainder of her life. In 1835, Wordsworth gave Annette and Caroline the money they needed for support. The government awarded him with a civil list pension amounting to £300 a year in 1842.
With the 1843 death of Robert Southey, Wordsworth became the Poet Laureate. When his daughter, Dora, died in 1847, his production of poetry came to a standstill. William Wordsworth died in Rydal Mount in 1850 and was buried at St Oswald's Church in Grasmere. Mary published his lengthy autobiographical poem as The Prelude several months after his death.