Sir Phillip SIDNEY, Knight

Born: 29 Nov 1554, Penshurst, Kent, England

Died: 17 Oct 1586, Arnheim, Netherlands

Buried: 16 Feb 1587, St. Paul Cathedral, London, Middlesex, England

Father: Henry SIDNEY (Sir Knight)

Mother: Mary DUDLEY

Married: Frances WALSINGHAM (C. Essex) autumn 1583

Children:

1. Elizabeth SIDNEY (C. Rutland)


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Phillip was born at Penshurst on 30 Nov 1554. Named after, and godson of, Felipe II of Spain, husband of Mary I, despite the family's association with Lady Jane Grey only the previous year.

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At the age of 10 Phillip attended Shrewsbury school where he met Fulke Greville who was to become his lifelong friend and biographer. He went to Christ Church college, Oxford in 1568 where he made many influential friends such as Walter Raleigh and Richard Hakluyt. He left in 1571 without gaining any qualifications - possibly due to an outbreak of the plague in Oxford.

Phillip continued his education briefly at Cambridge and then by traveling for three years in Europe. He learnt Latin, French and Italian and became acquainted with many leading European statesmen. During his travels in France with Sir Francis Walsingham he witnessed the St. Bartholomew's day massacre in Paris on 24th Aug 1572 when thousands of protestants died under a Catholic monarchy. He also visited Germany, Austria (where he stayed with his tutor, Hubert Languet), Hungary, Italy, Poland and Holland before returning to England as somewhat of an expert on European affairs - both courtly and political.

In 1576 Phillip succeeded his father, Sir Henry Sidney, as Cupbearer to Queen Elizabeth, a purely ceremonial duty. Also in this year he traveled to Ireland to take part in the campaign with his father, Henry, and Walter Devereux, Earl of Essex. A year later, aged just 22, the Queen finally gave him a diplomatic mission. He was to travel to the German Emperor, Rudolf II and Louis VI, Prince of Orange to present Elizabeth's condolences on the death of their fathers. He was also to sound out their attitude to the formation of a Protestant alliance against Felipe's Catholic Spain.

At that time Spain controlled the Netherlands and much of the new world and posed a serious threat to Britain's security. Phillip brought back an enthusiastic report of his mission but the Queen was not convinced and sent other representatives who were much less optimistic than Phillip. His first diplomatic mission was not quite the success he had hoped for.

Despite his failure to impress the Queen, Phillip continued in politics and spent much time corresponding with, as well as entertaining, foreign visitors and diplomats. The French envoy Phillippe de Mornay and Prince Casimir of the Palitinate visited him at Penshurst as well as chemists, scientists, artists, scholars and poets. Phillip was able to discuss all of these subjects as well as politics, law, religion, history and military matters. He also supported and was patron to many poets including Edmund Spenser and Abraham Fraunce.

He also took an interest in the newly discovered Americas and knew many of those involved with the exploration of the new world, Martin Frobisher, Walter Raleigh and Richard Hakluyt, and he very nearly succeeded on accompanying Sir Francis Drake on his circumnavigation of the world in 1577. Hakluyt's first book, Divers voyages, touching the discoverie of America was dedicated to Phillip - as were nearly 40 other works of the time. One piece of work that was dedicated to Phillip was The School of Abuse (1579) a satirical prose written by Stephen Gosson (1554 - 1624) which was not to Phillip's liking. He wrote his literary criticism An Apology for Poetrie supposedly in response; although many of the ideas had already been discussed within Phillip's poetic circle of friends.

In 1579 Phillip wrote a letter to Queen Elizabeth opposing her intended marriage to the Catholic Henri, Duke of Anjou (Henri III of France). Although the Queen was reported to have wept when she read Phillip's letter he was severely reprimanded by her - he was, after all, just a commoner. He also argued at court with Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, who held opposing views at court to Phillip's uncle, Leicester. Chiefly by way of Fulke Grevilleís account, the story of the tennis-court quarrel between Sidney and the Earl of Oxford is well known, though apart from Grevilleís tale there has been little confirmation. There is also a letter extant from Sidney to Vice-Chamberlain Hatton, 28 Aug 1579, in which he refused, for his part, to yield an inch: 'lett him therefore, as hee will, digest itt'. These are the rough lines of the incident, at least as heard from Sidney and his friend. There is, however, still another account of the affair, this one from Oxfordís friends, which though alluded to in the Calendar of State Papers does not appear in the biographies.

In late Aug 1579, the young Earl appeared upon the court while Sidney was at play and commanded him to leave. Sidney answered provokingly, Greville says, whereupon Oxford grew angry and, before the onlooking French marriage-commissioners, denounced him 'by the name of Puppy'. Sidney asked him to repeat it, and he did, this time more loudly, upon which Sidney gave him the lie direct. Then, after a momentís silence, Sidney and his friends strode from the court. Having waited a day in vain for Oxfordís challenge, Sidney sent the Earl a reminder of honourís obligations, and Oxford, thus jostled, responded in honour. The Council, however, had caught wind of the matter and informed the Queen of it. Elizabeth in turn took young Sidney aside and explained to him 'how the gentlemanís neglect of the nobility taught the peasant to insult upon both'. So the duel was taken up; Oxford, Greville says, was only too glad to have it settled without him. The Aug quarrel itself was symptomatic of the factional tension between these Catholics, who were solidly allied to Burghleyís and the Earl of Sussexís support of the Duke of Anjouís marriage suit to the Queen, and the Leicester-Walsingham party (that is, Sidneyís party), which was solidly opposed to the marriage but which for various reasons was in eclipse during that summer. Phillip retired from court for a year and stayed with his sister, Mary Sidney, wife of the 2nd Earl of Pembroke at her home at Wilton.

He wrote the prose romance Arcadia at his sister's house, Wilton 1579-81 (originally called The countess of Pembroke's Arcadia - the title refers to his sister), author of Apologie for Poetrie 1581, the earliest work of English literary criticism.

Jan 1581 saw Phillip as Member of Parliament for Kent - a position he also held in 1584 - 85. His brother, Robert, also held this position from 1585. At about this time his aunt, the Countess of Huntingdon, brought her Ward, Penelope Devereux to court. She was the daughter of Walter Devereux, Earl of Essex (with whom Phillip had served in Ireland) and was to marry the young Lord Rich later that year. Phillip soon fell deeply in love with her and during the following year he wrote another great work, the sonnet cycle Astrophil and Stella (Star and Star Lover) based on his experiences and feelings during this time from the first stirrings of passion to his acceptance of an impossible situation.

Fortune began to change for Phillip's as he was restored to the Queen's favor in 1583. He was also knighted although not for any great act on his part. His friend Prince Casimir was to be installed as a Garter Knight but was unable to attend the ceremony. Phillip was knighted so as to take part in the ceremony as his stand-in. Another ceremony later in the year saw him married to Frances Walsingham, the daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham, Secretary of State. The Queen opposed the match perhaps wanting the marriage to be more useful to her politically. Francis paid off 1500 pounds of Phillip's debts and, to save money, the couple moved in with him.

Phillip had several opportunities for influential marriages before this. The Earl of Essex was keen for him to marry his daughter, Penelope - a marriage that would have saved Phillip much heartache later. The marriage would have also been a link between the two dominant (but opposing) forces at court - Essex and Leicester. Another proposed marriage was with the daughter of William of Orange, Marie of Nassau. This would have made him Lord of Holland (and helped his financial crisis) but would have drawn the Dudley family into the conflict with Spain. The Queen, no doubt, could not allow such a marriage.

Phillip died, needlessly, in the service of his beloved Queen after being wounded at Zutphen in the Netherlands, 22 Sep 1586. He was serving under his Uncle, Robert Dudley in the war against Catholic Spain having eventually been permitted the chance to serve his Queen in a military campaign. Having lent his leg-armour to a friend who had none, he was hit in the thigh by a musket ball during an attack on a heavily guarded supply train. His wound was serious but he rode a mile back to his camp arriving weak from loss of blood. When he was offered water he saw another wounded soldier and passed the bottle to him first with the words; "Thy necessity is yet greater than mine".

It was thought that his wound would heal and he was taken to Arnhem to recover but it festered and Phillip suffered for a further 26 days before his death on 17th Oct. The court went into official mourning and his body was returned to England in a boat with black sails. Both Oxford and Cambridge universities issued memorial Latin volumes in his honour and English poets composed versus in his praise.

State funeral at St.Paul's Cathedral, first commoner to receive such a tribute, not to be repeated until the death of Nelson and, later, Churchill (who was a descendant of Sir Phillip's brother, Robert).

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Phillip was extremely popular, both at court and with the public. He was seen as the epitome of the chivalrous, Elizabethan gentleman having modeled his life on the popular work of Balthasar Castiglione "The Courtier" (published in 1561 but probably known to Phillip during his travels in Europe).

Much of the manner of Phillip's death was embellished by his friend and biographer, Fulke Greville who, although not present, wrote the "official" account of the event some years later in what became known as "The life of the renowned Sir Phillip Sidney".

"Calmly and steadily he awaited the approach of death. His prayers were long and fervent; his bearing was indeed that of a Christian hero."

But not every account of Phillip's death was as kind. According to John Aubrey writing 100 years after Phillip Sidney's death, Phillip (on his deathbed) appears to have acted completely out of character when visited by his wife, Frances.

"...he would not forbear his carnal knowledge of her, which cost him his life; upon which occasion there were some roguish verses made" 

Fulke Greville, not surprisingly, did not mention this episode.

None of Phillip's works were published in his lifetime as he wrote for his own amusement and that of his friends and family. It was not seen as gentlemanly to make profit from such an amusement. Even on his deathbed Phillip order the Arcadia manuscripts to be destroyed. Despite this much of his poetry was distributed in manuscript form and much of his works were widely know. His sister Mary, Countess of Pembroke, continued to support and patronize many of Phillip literary friends after his death.

"They are never alone that are accompanied with noble thoughts".

Phillip Sidney

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Frances Wlsingham, countess of Essex, widow of Sir Phillip Sidney

miniature by Isaac Oliver

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Frances Wlsingham, countess of Essex, and her son Robert, later the third Earl of Essex

by Robert Peake the elder, 1594

In 1590 Phillip's widow, Frances, secretly married Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex. Essex had served with Phillip at Zutphen and may have (unsuccessfully) modeled his life on Phillip's. He was executed after a revolt against the Queen in 1601. 

From the time Sidney died through the late seventeenth century, biographical books and articles kept appearing, none of which mentioned Penelope, Lady Rich. These included an inspiring account of Sidney's last days, written by George Gifford, a clergyman who attended at his bedside. Gifford wrote that Sidney was insufficiently sure of salvation, but then God delivered him: "There came to my remembrance a vanity wherein I had taken delight, whereof I had not rid myself. But I rid myself of it, and presently my joy and comfort returned within a few hours". In 1964, Jean Robertson found a manuscript version of Gifford's memoir, and discovered that between these two sentences was a third which had been deleted from the published versions: "It was my lady Rich".

Memorial to Sir Phillip in ArnhemIn 1638 Anne Bradstreet of Massachusetts, a distant cousin of Sidney's, wrote a poem in his praise which was published in London in 1650. The poem mentions their kinship, describes Stella and mildly condemns her, but insists that her love for Sidney was not adulterous. Bradstreet died in 1677, and her poems were republished in Boston in 1678; the reference to kinship to Sidney had been removed as had been the attack on Stella. The revised version cites Spenser's claim that Stella was Sidney's wife.

To find out more about Sir Phillip Sidney's works visit the OldArcadia and Luminarium web sites

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