Sir Robert Sidney Biography


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

During his life and after, Sir Robert Sidney was overshadowed by the brilliance of his elder brother Philip. He was a dutiful son of a family that was ambitious but relatively new to the power struggles of the Elizabethan aristocracy. In his early life, Robert had none of the prestige or flamboyance of Philip. He dutifully went on his Grand Tour of Europe, pursued by letters of advice from his brother as to his reading, chivalric bearing, acquaintances, and finances. In 1585, he accompanied Philip, who had been appointed governor of Flushing, to the Low Countries, and was present at the Battle of Zutphen, where Philip was mortally wounded. Philip’s death seemed to represent the death of an entire age. From the late 1580’s, Elizabethans became increasingly bewildered and disillusioned, as the Armada victory turned sour, court infighting grew more and more frenetic, and the queen cultivated the trappings of high Neoplatonism to hold in check the corruption and confusion beneath the surface of the court.

In the shadow of his brother, Robert had undergone the usual initiation of the Elizabethan courtier. In 1584, he married Barbara Gamage, a young Welsh heiress—after some rather sordid negotiations. Their letters later show them to have grown into a most loving couple. He constantly addresses her as “sweet heart” or “dear heart,” and the letters are full of sadness at his absence from her. In 1594, he wrote that “there is no desyre in me so...

(The entire section is 551 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Sir Robert Sidney was the fifth of six children born to Sir Henry Sidney, of whom only three survived. The children’s father was lord deputy of Ireland, and their uncle was Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, who may have given his name to his nephew. His older brother, Sir Philip (1554-1586), and sister, Mary, countess of Pembroke (1561-1621), both distinguished themselves in letters and politics. The fertile ground that led to this productive mix was the family home at Penshurst Place.

Robert grew up with his father away much of the time attending to business in Ireland. He followed his elder brother to Christ Church, Oxford, where he studied classics, letters, mathematics, and sciences. After graduating, he traveled throughout Europe, again following Philip’s lead. In each of these cases, the younger brother was the focused target of his brother’s developing interest in education and the promotion of Protestantism. During his time at Oxford, Robert, along with all the Sidneys, made regular trips to the court of Queen Elizabeth I. The elder brother’s politics became too extreme for the queen and had a moderately negative effect on the reception of both siblings at court for a time.

Robert Sidney married Barbara Gamage in 1584. The marriage was a largely strategic affair, much like that of his younger sister, Mary, who at fifteen married Henry Herbert, earl of Pembroke, who was then forty. Both marriages were seen as positive moves for the family. In Robert’s case, this involved twelve children, all but two of whom survived. One of his daughters, Lady Mary Wroth, continued the family tradition of...

(The entire section is 666 words.)