Edmund was born at Plowden Hall, the son of Humphrey and Elizabeth Plowden. After a brief education at Cambridge, he went into law, studying at London's MiddleTemple in 1538. He became arguably the most important lawyer of the Elizabethan period, renowned for his ability and integrity. After studying at Oxford he qualified as a physician and surgeon in 1552.
All of this led to him developing a considerable reputation in the royal court. Upon Mary's accession to the throne in 1553, he was appointed member of the Council of the Marches, and was soon also he was elected as a Member of Parliament (Wallingford, Reading, and Wootton Bassett). However, in 1555, in response to governmental attitudes to religious tolerance, he withdrew from the House on principle.
He nonetheless continued to lecture on law. He was Treasurer of the Middle Temple between 1561 and 1567, overseeing much of the important architectural developments that took place at this time. However, Plowden's comtinued Catholicism under the reign of Elizabeth I prevented further promotion, and placed him under the suspicion of the Privy Council. Queen Elizabeth even went as far as to offer him the Lord Chancellorship if he were to renounce his Catholicism, an offer that he boldly and brazenly refused, given Elizabeth and her government's continuing persecution of those of the Catholic faith.
Many of Plowden’s successes relate to his Catholic faith. He defended several laymen, priests and bishops held on religious charges relating to recusancy. He also wrote 'A Treatise on Succession' , attempting to to disprove the convention that Henry VIII's will excluded the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, from the English throne.
Edmund Plowden died on 6th February 1585. His tomb lies in the TempleChurch, and a bust in the Middle Temple Hall.