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 Philip Sidney

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Philip Sidney

  • Birth 30 Nov 1554
  • Death 17 Oct 1586
  • Burial London, City of London, Greater London, England
  • Plot The Crypt
  • Memorial ID 20266

Author, Courtier, Soldier. A celebrated figure at the court of England's Queen Elizabeth I, he won posthumous fame for his poetry and prose works. Sidney was born in Penshurst, Kent, the son of Sir Henry Sidney and nephew of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. He studied at Oxford from 1568 to 1571 and continued his education on a tour of Europe's capitals. Returning to England in 1575, he assumed his place as a rising star at the Royal Court. Sidney was admired for his intelligence and charm, and as a generous patron of the arts. The poet Edmund Spenser dedicated "The Shepheardes Calender" (1579) to him. Although he was sent on several diplomatic missions to the continent, he failed to secure an important post because of his aggressive political and religious views. An ardent Protestant, he urged war against Spain and lobbied for the creation of a European Protestant League to counter the influence of the Catholic Church. In 1580 Sidney angered the Queen by opposing her proposed marriage to the Duke of Anjou, and was banished from court for three years. He went into temporary retirement at the estate of his sister Mary, Countess of Pembroke, and wrote most of his major works during this period. Elizabeth restored him to favor in 1583 and awarded him a knighthood, though he continued to feel stymied by lack of official appointments. In 1585 he was finally named Governor of Flushing in the Netherlands and accompanied the Earl of Leicester on a military expedition there. During a skirmish with Spanish troops at Zutphen, he was wounded in the thigh by a musket shot and died 22 days later. Legend has it that on his deathbed he gave his canteen to a dying foot soldier, saying, "Thy necessity is greater than mine". His death was greatly mourned and commemorated in a number of poems, among them Spenser's elegy "Astrophel". He was buried at St. Paul's Cathedral in London, which was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. His present memorial is a cenotaph dating from the 1700s. With the exception of two poems, none of Sidney's writings appeared in print in his lifetime. They were circulated in manuscript until the early 1590s, when Fulke Greville arranged for their publication. His masterpiece, "Astrophel and Stella" (1591), is one of the world's great love poems. Consisting of 108 related sonnets and 11 songs, it was inspired by Sidney's unsuccessful courtship of Penelope Devereux, later Lady Rich. The verses also use muted irony to express the poet's resentment at having to meet the expectations the nobility had of him. "Astrophel and Stella" started a vogue for sonnet sequences in England. The long prose romance "Arcadia" (1590) was originally written for the Countess of Pembroke's private amusement. The plot does not form a cohesive narrative, but its vivid descriptions and attempts at psychological characterization make it a notable forerunner of the modern novel. Many critics consider it the finest example of Elizabethan fiction. In the treatise "The Defense of Poesy" (1595), Sidney asserted that poetry was of greater value than history or philosophy because it appealed to the heart as well as the intellect, and could be more instructive to a wider audience. This was the first major literary criticism in English. Sidney was not an innovator, but his imagination and elaborately crafted style set standards in English Literature that were followed for decades. "Arcadia" was deemed required reading for the upper classes and went through a dozen printed editions through 1640. King Charles I, awaiting his execution in 1649, derived comfort from two books, the Bible and "Arcadia". Sidney's lasting reputation as an ideal courtier and gentleman stems largely from the high moral tone of his writing, and from Greville's hero-worshipping biography, "The Life of the Renowned Sir Philip Sidney", published in 1652.

Bio by: Bobb Edwards

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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 12 Feb 2001
  • Find A Grave Memorial 20266
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Philip Sidney (30 Nov 1554–17 Oct 1586), Find A Grave Memorial no. 20266, citing Saint Paul's Cathedral, London, City of London, Greater London, England ; Maintained by Find A Grave .