Henley was born in Gloucester, the eldest of six children, where his father was a bookseller.
He attended the Crypt school where he was influenced by the Manx poet, T E Brown. Henley
suffered from tuberculosis of the bone, however, and, at age 19, suffered amputation of
his lower left leg; and, a few years later, was obliged to undergo extensive hospital
care over three years in order to prevent amputation of his right foot.
He, nonetheless, established a reputation as a journalist and editor of several literary
magazines to which he contributed numerous poems of his own which he had been writing since
1872. As an influential editor he was able to make the acquaintance of numerous literary
figures of the day who were instrumental in publishing several volumes of his work during
his lifetime. Several of his poems were set to music by George Butterworth.
Henley married Hannah Johnson Boyle in 1878. Their daughter, Margaret, became the inspiration
for Wendy in J M Barrie's Peter Pan but she died aged only 5 years.
Henley died of tuberculosis at his home in Woking.