He was born near Taunton, Somerset and educated at Eton College and Cambridge. He was called to the Bar in 1837, and built up a thriving legal practice, which in 1856 he abandoned in order to devote himself to literature and public life.
His first literary venture had been Eothen, a very popular work of Eastern travel, published in 1844; but his magnum opus was his Invasion of the Crimea, in 8 volumes, published from 1863 to 1887, one of the most effective works of its class. It has been accused of being too favourable to Lord Raglan, and unduly hostile to Napoleon III, for whom the author had an extreme aversion.
The town of Kinglake in Victoria, Australia, and the adjacent National Park is named after him.