Sir Philip Sidney Additional Biography


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Sir Philip Sidney was born into one of England’s leading aristocratic families. His father was one of Elizabeth I’s most loyal civil servants, serving as Lord President of Wales and Lord Deputy of Ireland. On his mother’s side, Sidney was related to the influential Leicester family, one of the major Protestant powers in the country. He was educated under the stern Calvinist Thomas Ashton at Shrewsbury School, along with his lifetime friend and biographer Fulke Greville; in 1568, he went to Oxford, but he left without a degree in 1571. In 1572, he went on a Grand Tour through Europe, where he was introduced to and widely admired by major European scholars and statesmen, especially by leading Huguenot and German Protestants. In 1575, he returned to England and joined Elizabeth’s court. He contributed a masque, The Lady of May, to one of the royal entertainments in 1578 and was employed by the queen in a number of minor matters. Unfortunately, he alienated Elizabeth, partly because he was so forthright in his support of European and English Protestant ideals and partly because of his own personal charisma. In a stormy career at court, he alternated between periods of willing service and periods of retirement to his sister’s house at Wilton, near Salisbury, where an increasing number of Elizabethan poets, intellectuals, and thinkers were gathering—almost as an alternative to the queen’s court. In 1580, he quarreled with the earl of Oxford over...

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111201584-Sidney.jpg Sir Philip Sidney Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Penshurst Castle in the southern English county of Kent was the setting for Philip Sidney’s birth on November 30, 1554. His circumstances were privileged ones; not only had his father, Sir Henry Sidney, served as gentleman of the Privy Chamber to Edward VI, but his mother, Lady Mary Sidney, claimed membership in an aristocratic family—her father, John Dudley, having been created duke of Northumberland in 1551. Upon the accession of Queen Elizabeth I in 1558, Sir Henry was appointed to a series of important political posts. As his tenth birthday approached, Philip Sidney was enrolled in Shrewsbury Grammar School; matriculation at Oxford followed in 1568. A particularly promising young man who was expected to inherit the title of earl of Leicester from his uncle, Sidney was sent after his graduation on a three-year Grand Tour of the Continent to prepare him for a life of leadership by allowing him to mingle with influential people and learn the art of politics at first hand. At some point upon his return, he came to know Walter Devereaux, earl of Essex, who wished to promote a marriage between young Sidney and his daughter Penelope. Although this union never materialized, Penelope became the Stella of the first great sonnet sequence in English, Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella (1591).

In 1577, Mary, Sidney’s younger sister, married Henry Herbert, earl of Pembroke, and went to live at Pembroke’s Wiltshire mansion, Wilton House. Thereafter, Sidney often visited there, and later that year at Wilton began to write a long romance that he called Arcadia (1590, 1593, 1598; originally titled The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia). During this period, Sidney performed minor diplomatic missions for the queen but was often bored by inactivity. The first public evidence of his writing ability, however, are his Discourse on Irish Affairs (1577), a defense of his father’s regime as lord deputy of Ireland, of which only a...

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Sir Philip Sidney may be England’s finest example of the Renaissance man. Along with Edmund Spenser, he not only did more than anyone else to inaugurate the great age of English Renaissance poetry, but also displayed diverse talents as writer, diplomat, administrator, and soldier. Few writers have excelled at fiction, poetry, and criticism, but Sidney, in Arcadia, Astrophel and Stella, and Defence of Poesie, made lasting contributions to each of these genres despite the fact that his were pioneering attempts in English literature. Both the sonnets and his treatise on poetry continue to be essential items for students of Elizabethan literature.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Philip Sidney’s father, Sir Henry Sidney, was a member of a highborn family, and most of his near relatives were titled, but Sidney was poor throughout his life. He was a man of steadfast character, and his influence on English literature was that of a chivalrous, courtly poet, critic, and patron.

Sydney entered Shrewsbury School, near Ludlow Castle, in 1564 and from there was sent to Oxford in 1568; he also studied at Cambridge. Throughout his life Sidney was intensely interested in learning, and in 1572 he capped his formal education with an extended tour of Europe. By his peers he was generally recognized as a young man of charm, intelligence, and good judgment.

After his return to England in 1575 he remained at court until he was sent to Austria and Germany in 1577. While in England, he labored sedulously to defend his father’s policies and position. By 1578 he was becoming known in the world of letters. In that year he wrote The Lady of May, a masque performed before Queen Elizabeth I, but his success at court was short-lived; he was forced to share the disgrace of the earl of Leicester, in whose affairs he had become involved. His virtual banishment to the home of his sister, the countess of Pembroke, may well have been a blessing, for it was there that he began writing Arcadia for his sister’s amusement. This work, begun in 1580, was later revised and expanded.

After being permitted to return to...

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