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Mary Sidney

Mary Sidney

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Mary Herbert Countess of Pembroke (27 October 1561 – 25 September 1621), was one of the first English
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 women to achieve a major reputation for her literary works, poetry, poetic translation
Translation
Translation is the communication of the meaning of a source-language text by means of an equivalent target-language text. Whereas interpreting undoubtedly antedates writing, translation began only after the appearance of written literature; there exist partial translations of the Sumerian Epic of...

s and literary patronage.

Family


Mary Sidney was born at Tickenhill Palace
Tickenhill Palace
Tickenhill Palace is a historic building in Bewdley, Worcestershire, England. It is a grade II* listed building....

, Bewdley
Bewdley
Bewdley is a town and civil parish in the Wyre Forest District of Worcestershire, England, along the Severn Valley a few miles to the west of Kidderminster...

 in Worcestershire on 27 October 1561. She was one of four daughters of Sir Henry Sidney
Henry Sidney
Sir Henry Sidney , Lord Deputy of Ireland was the eldest son of Sir William Sidney of Penshurst, a prominent politician and courtier during the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI, from both of whom he received extensive grants of land, including the manor of Penshurst in Kent, which became the...

 and Mary Dudley
Mary Dudley, Lady Sidney
Mary Sidney , Lady Sidney was an English lady-in-waiting at the court of Elizabeth I, and the mother of the courtier and poet Sir Philip Sidney...

, the daughter of John Dudley
John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland
John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland, KG was an English general, admiral, and politician, who led the government of the young King Edward VI from 1550 until 1553, and unsuccessfully tried to install Lady Jane Grey on the English throne after the King's death...

, Duke of Northumberland. Mary was mainly brought up at Ludlow Castle
Ludlow Castle
Ludlow Castle is a large, partly ruined, non-inhabited castle which dominates the town of Ludlow in Shropshire, England. It stands on a high point overlooking the River Teme...

, the seat of the President of the Welsh Marches, a role her father held until 1586. Like her brother, Sir Philip Sidney
Philip Sidney
Sir Philip Sidney was an English poet, courtier and soldier, and is remembered as one of the most prominent figures of the Elizabethan Age...

, she received a Calvinist education, which included classics, French, Italian, Hebrew, music and needlework.

Following the death of her youngest sister, Ambrosia Sidney in 1575, Mary was summoned to London to attend Queen Elizabeth I. In 1577, her mother's brother, Robert Dudley
Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester
Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, KG was an English nobleman and the favourite and close friend of Elizabeth I from her first year on the throne until his death...

, helped Sir Henry Sidney
Henry Sidney
Sir Henry Sidney , Lord Deputy of Ireland was the eldest son of Sir William Sidney of Penshurst, a prominent politician and courtier during the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI, from both of whom he received extensive grants of land, including the manor of Penshurst in Kent, which became the...

 to arrange her marriage to their close ally, Henry Herbert, 2nd Earl of Pembroke
Henry Herbert, 2nd Earl of Pembroke
Henry Herbert, 2nd Earl of Pembroke KG was an English peer of the Elizabethan era.-Life:He was the son of William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke and Anne Parr. His aunt was queen consort Catherine Parr, last wife of King Henry VIII. Herbert was responsible for the costly restoration of Cardiff Castle...

, then in his mid-forties. As Countess of Pembroke, Mary was responsible for a number of estates including Ramsbury, Ivychurch
Ivychurch Priory
Ivychurch Priory was a priory in Alderbury, near Salisbury, Wiltshire, England. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries it became a private house and estate in the Herbert family.-Priory foundation:...

 (Alderbury, Wilts), Wilton House
Wilton House
Wilton House is an English country house situated at Wilton near Salisbury in Wiltshire. It has been the country seat of the Earls of Pembroke for over 400 years....

 and Baynards Castle, London where it is known that they entertained Queen Elizabeth to dinner. She bore Pembroke four children, the first of whom, William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke
William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke
William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, KG, PC was the son of Henry Herbert, 2nd Earl of Pembroke and his third wife Mary Sidney. Chancellor of the University of Oxford, he founded Pembroke College, Oxford with King James. He was warden of the Forest of Dean, and constable of St Briavels from 1608...

 (1580–1630) may be the young man described in Shakespeare's Sonnets. Their other surviving child, Philip
Philip Herbert, 4th Earl of Pembroke
Philip Herbert, 4th Earl of Pembroke and 1st Earl of Montgomery KG was an English courtier and politician active during the reigns of James I and Charles I...

, became the 4th Earl of Pembroke on his brother's death in 1630. These sons are the "Incomparable Pair" to whom William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

's First Folio
First Folio
Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies. is the 1623 published collection of William Shakespeare's plays. Modern scholars commonly refer to it as the First Folio....

 is dedicated. At different times, both were patrons of the King's Men
King's Men (playing company)
The King's Men was the company of actors to which William Shakespeare belonged through most of his career. Formerly known as The Lord Chamberlain's Men during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, it became The King's Men in 1603 when King James ascended the throne and became the company's patron.The...

.
Her daughter, Dorothy (born 1586 - died 1615 in Gravesend, Kent, ENG) married Sir Richard Devereaux Gilliam (born 1583 - died 1651 in Norfolk, Virginia, USA), the elder son of Walter, Viscount Hereford of Herefordshire, England.

Life and work


Mary Sidney was highly educated in the humanist tradition. In the 16th century, noblewomen were educated to enable them to have a good understanding of theological issues and the classics, to interpret original texts and, if necessary, to deputize for their husbands. Her education enabled her to translate Petrarch
Petrarch
Francesco Petrarca , known in English as Petrarch, was an Italian scholar, poet and one of the earliest humanists. Petrarch is often called the "Father of Humanism"...

's "Triumph of Death" and several other European works. She had a keen interest in chemistry and set up a chemistry laboratory at Wilton House
Wilton House
Wilton House is an English country house situated at Wilton near Salisbury in Wiltshire. It has been the country seat of the Earls of Pembroke for over 400 years....

, run by Walter Raleigh
Walter Raleigh
Sir Walter Raleigh was an English aristocrat, writer, poet, soldier, courtier, spy, and explorer. He is also well known for popularising tobacco in England....

's half-brother. She also had an interest in making medicines.

She was interested in musical codes and invisible ink. She turned Wilton into a "paradise for poets", known as "The Wilton Circle" which included Edmund Spenser
Edmund Spenser
Edmund Spenser was an English poet best known for The Faerie Queene, an epic poem and fantastical allegory celebrating the Tudor dynasty and Elizabeth I. He is recognised as one of the premier craftsmen of Modern English verse in its infancy, and one of the greatest poets in the English...

, Michael Drayton
Michael Drayton
Michael Drayton was an English poet who came to prominence in the Elizabethan era.-Early life:He was born at Hartshill, near Nuneaton, Warwickshire, England. Almost nothing is known about his early life, beyond the fact that in 1580 he was in the service of Thomas Goodere of Collingham,...

, Sir John Davies and Samuel Daniel
Samuel Daniel
Samuel Daniel was an English poet and historian.-Early life:Daniel was born near Taunton in Somerset, the son of a music-master. He was the brother of lutenist and composer John Danyel. Their sister Rosa was Edmund Spenser's model for Rosalind in his The Shepherd's Calendar; she eventually married...

, a salon-type literary group sustained by the Countess's hospitality. Her aim shared with her brother Sir Philip Sidney
Philip Sidney
Sir Philip Sidney was an English poet, courtier and soldier, and is remembered as one of the most prominent figures of the Elizabethan Age...

 was to strengthen and classicise the English language and to support "true" religion, which, in their view, combined Calvinism, the principles of Castiglione
Castiglione
-Places:Towns in Italy, many of which were simply called Castiglione prior to the unification of Italy in the 19th century:* Castiglion Fibocchi, in the province of Arezzo* Castiglion Fiorentino, in the province of Arezzo...

, and acts of charity. She was herself a Calvinist theologian and her public persona (at least) was pious, virtuous and learned. She was regarded a muse by Samuel Daniel
Samuel Daniel
Samuel Daniel was an English poet and historian.-Early life:Daniel was born near Taunton in Somerset, the son of a music-master. He was the brother of lutenist and composer John Danyel. Their sister Rosa was Edmund Spenser's model for Rosalind in his The Shepherd's Calendar; she eventually married...

 in his poem "Delia" (an anagram for ideal).

Mary Sidney was said to inspire creativity in all those around her, including her circle, relatives and servants. Philip Sidney
Philip Sidney
Sir Philip Sidney was an English poet, courtier and soldier, and is remembered as one of the most prominent figures of the Elizabethan Age...

 wrote much of his "Arcadia" for her, and in her presence, at Wilton House. Before his death, Philip Sidney
Philip Sidney
Sir Philip Sidney was an English poet, courtier and soldier, and is remembered as one of the most prominent figures of the Elizabethan Age...

 was engaged in preparing a new English version of the Book of Psalms
Psalms
The Book of Psalms , commonly referred to simply as Psalms, is a book of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible...

 (because the translations under Edward VI were deficient). He had completed 43 of the 150 Psalms at the time of his death during a military campaign against the Spanish in the Netherlands
Netherlands
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

 in 1586. She finished Philip's translation of the Psalms, composing Psalms 44-150 in a dazzling array of verse forms, using the 1560 Geneva Bible
Geneva Bible
The Geneva Bible is one of the most historically significant translations of the Bible into the English language, preceding the King James translation by 51 years. It was the primary Bible of the 16th century Protestant movement and was the Bible used by William Shakespeare, Oliver Cromwell, John...

 and commentaries by John Calvin
John Calvin
John Calvin was an influential French theologian and pastor during the Protestant Reformation. He was a principal figure in the development of the system of Christian theology later called Calvinism. Originally trained as a humanist lawyer, he broke from the Roman Catholic Church around 1530...

 and Theodore Beza
Theodore Beza
Theodore Beza was a French Protestant Christian theologian and scholar who played an important role in the Reformation...

. As a competent theologian, she was unafraid to disagree with Calvin on minor points. A copy of the completed Psalms was presented to Elizabeth I of England in 1599. This work is usually referred to as "The Sidney Psalms" or "The Sidneian Psalms" and is regarded as an important influence on the development of English poetry in the late 16th and early 17th century. John Donne
John Donne
John Donne 31 March 1631), English poet, satirist, lawyer, and priest, is now considered the preeminent representative of the metaphysical poets. His works are notable for their strong and sensual style and include sonnets, love poetry, religious poems, Latin translations, epigrams, elegies, songs,...

 wrote a poem celebrating them. The Psalms were drawn from previous English translations rather than original Hebrew texts and are therefore properly called "metaphrase
Metaphrase
Metaphrase is a translation term referring to literal translation, i.e., "word by word and line by line" translation. In everyday usage, metaphrase means literalism; however, metaphrase is also the translation of poetry into prose...

s" rather than translations. Like Philip's, Mary Sidney's versions display a vivid imagination and vigorous phrasing. Mary also took on the task of editing and publishing Philip Sidney's "Arcadia
Arcadia
Arcadia is one of the regional units of Greece. It is part of the administrative region of Peloponnese. It is situated in the central and eastern part of the Peloponnese peninsula. It takes its name from the mythological character Arcas. In Greek mythology, it was the home of the god Pan...

" as The Countesse of Pembroke's Arcadia, one of the most widely read books in English for the next 200 years.

Mary's husband died in 1600 leaving her, John Aubrey
John Aubrey
John Aubrey FRS, was an English antiquary, natural philosopher and writer. He is perhaps best known as the author of the collection of short biographical pieces usually referred to as Brief Lives...

 reported, with less financial support than she might have expected (through views on its adequacy vary). Her husband's will required that she did not remarry. Thereafter, her time was spent managing Wilton and the other Pembroke estates, on behalf of her son, William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke
William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke
William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, KG, PC was the son of Henry Herbert, 2nd Earl of Pembroke and his third wife Mary Sidney. Chancellor of the University of Oxford, he founded Pembroke College, Oxford with King James. He was warden of the Forest of Dean, and constable of St Briavels from 1608...

, who entirely took over her role of literary patronage. After James I
James I of England
James VI and I was King of Scots as James VI from 24 July 1567 and King of England and Ireland as James I from the union of the English and Scottish crowns on 24 March 1603...

 visited her at Wilton in 1603 and was entertained by Shakespeare's company "The King's Men", Mary moved out of Wilton as Dowager Countess and rented homes in London. Though it is certain that the King's Men attended Wilton, whether William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

 was with them remains unconfirmed. However, it is reported that there was at Wilton at one time, a letter in which the Mary Sidney urged her son to attend Wilton, as "we have the man Shakespeare with us".

From 1609 to 1615 she was probably based at Crosby Hall
Crosby Hall
Crosby Hall is a historic building in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, London, England. It is a Grade II* listed building.Part of the buildings architectural features are from the Great Hall, which is the only surviving part of the mansion of Crosby Hall, Bishopsgate which was built in 1466 by the wool...

, now relocated as a private residence relocated to Chelsea, London
Chelsea, London
Chelsea is an area of West London, England, bounded to the south by the River Thames, where its frontage runs from Chelsea Bridge along the Chelsea Embankment, Cheyne Walk, Lots Road and Chelsea Harbour. Its eastern boundary was once defined by the River Westbourne, which is now in a pipe above...

. She may have secretly married her doctor, Sir Matthew Lister, and she travelled to Spa
Spa
The term spa is associated with water treatment which is also known as balneotherapy. Spa towns or spa resorts typically offer various health treatments. The belief in the curative powers of mineral waters goes back to prehistoric times. Such practices have been popular worldwide, but are...

 on the Continent with him, where she relaxed by shooting pistols and played cards. She built a Bedfordshire hunting lodge with fine vistas, Houghton House
Houghton House
Houghton House is a ruined house located near Houghton Conquest in Bedfordshire, on the ridge just north of Ampthill, and about 8 miles south of Bedford. It is a Grade I listed building....

, now ruined near Milton Keynes
Milton Keynes
Milton Keynes , sometimes abbreviated MK, is a large town in Buckinghamshire, in the south east of England, about north-west of London. It is the administrative centre of the Borough of Milton Keynes...

), which John Bunyan
John Bunyan
John Bunyan was an English Christian writer and preacher, famous for writing The Pilgrim's Progress. Though he was a Reformed Baptist, in the Church of England he is remembered with a Lesser Festival on 30 August, and on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church on 29 August.-Life:In 1628,...

 refers to in his works, as the "House Beautiful".

She died of smallpox
Smallpox
Smallpox was an infectious disease unique to humans, caused by either of two virus variants, Variola major and Variola minor. The disease is also known by the Latin names Variola or Variola vera, which is a derivative of the Latin varius, meaning "spotted", or varus, meaning "pimple"...

 at her house in Aldersgate Street, London, shortly after King James I visited her at Houghton Hall. After a grand funeral in St Paul's Cathedral
St Paul's Cathedral
St Paul's Cathedral, London, is a Church of England cathedral and seat of the Bishop of London. Its dedication to Paul the Apostle dates back to the original church on this site, founded in AD 604. St Paul's sits at the top of Ludgate Hill, the highest point in the City of London, and is the mother...

, her body was buried next to that of the Earl, in the family vault, under the steps leading to the choirstalls in Salisbury Cathedral
Salisbury Cathedral
Salisbury Cathedral, formally known as the Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is an Anglican cathedral in Salisbury, England, considered one of the leading examples of Early English architecture....

. A plaque on the wall nearby remembers her.

Assessment


Sidney's style emphasises ardour. For example in the death scenes in her closet drama
Closet drama
A closet drama is a play that is not intended to be performed onstage, but read by a solitary reader or, sometimes, out loud in a small group. A related form, the "closet screenplay," developed during the 20th century.-Form:...

 The Tragedy of Antonie (1592), a translation of the French play Marc-Antoine (1578) by Robert Garnier
Robert Garnier
Robert Garnier was a French tragic poet. He published his first work while still a law-student at Toulouse, where he won a prize in the Académie des Jeux Floraux. It was a collection of lyrical pieces, now lost, entitled Plaintes amoureuses de Robert Garnier...

; it was completed in 1590 and first published in 1592. William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

 may have used it as source material for his Antony and Cleopatra
Antony and Cleopatra
Antony and Cleopatra is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written sometime between 1603 and 1607. It was first printed in the First Folio of 1623. The plot is based on Thomas North's translation of Plutarch's Lives and follows the relationship between Cleopatra and Mark Antony...

(1607). In "The Psalms of David", she describes the pain of an earthly existence in the light of the divine grace. She probably considered the Psalms her literary legacy, although they were not published during in her lifetime. An engraving of her in later years shows her holding them.

Her influence—through literary patronage, through publishing her brother's works and through her own verse forms, dramas, translations and theology (e.g. she translated Philippe de Mornay
Philippe de Mornay
Philippe de Mornay , seigneur du Plessis Marly, usually known as Du-Plessis-Mornay or Mornay Du Plessis, was a French Protestant writer and member of the Monarchomaques .- Biography :...

's Discourse of Life and Death —cannot be easily quantified.

Her poetic epitaph
Epitaph
An epitaph is a short text honoring a deceased person, strictly speaking that is inscribed on their tombstone or plaque, but also used figuratively. Some are specified by the dead person beforehand, others chosen by those responsible for the burial...

, which is ascribed to Ben Jonson
Ben Jonson
Benjamin Jonson was an English Renaissance dramatist, poet and actor. A contemporary of William Shakespeare, he is best known for his satirical plays, particularly Volpone, The Alchemist, and Bartholomew Fair, which are considered his best, and his lyric poems...

 but which is more likely to have been written in an earlier form by poets William Browne and William Herbert
William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke
William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, KG, PC was the son of Henry Herbert, 2nd Earl of Pembroke and his third wife Mary Sidney. Chancellor of the University of Oxford, he founded Pembroke College, Oxford with King James. He was warden of the Forest of Dean, and constable of St Briavels from 1608...

 (Mary's son), summarizes how she was regarded in her own day:
Underneath this sable hearse,

Lies the subject of all verse,

Sidney's sister, Pembroke's mother.

Death, ere thou hast slain another

Fair and learned and good as she,

Time shall throw a dart at thee.



Mary, Countess of Pembroke is regarded as one of the most gifted women writers of the English Renaissance
English Renaissance
The English Renaissance was a cultural and artistic movement in England dating from the late 15th and early 16th centuries to the early 17th century. It is associated with the pan-European Renaissance that is usually regarded as beginning in Italy in the late 14th century; like most of northern...

, much praised on her death by many, including the poetess Aemilia Lanier
Emilia Lanier
Emilia Lanier, also spelled Lanyer, was the first Englishwoman to assert herself as a professional poet through her single volume of poems, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum...

. She was the aunt of the poetess Lady Mary Wroth (the daughter of her brother, Robert Sidney, Earl of Leicester). She also influenced the religious writing of the poet George Herbert
George Herbert
George Herbert was a Welsh born English poet, orator and Anglican priest.Being born into an artistic and wealthy family, he received a good education that led to his holding prominent positions at Cambridge University and Parliament. As a student at Trinity College, Cambridge, Herbert excelled in...

 (her sons' first cousin).

2010 Discovery of Additional Work


June and Paul Schlueter published an article in The Times Literary Supplement of July 23, 2010, in which they described a manuscript of newly discovered work by Mary Sidney.

William Shakespeare


It has been theorised that Mary Sidney wrote the works of William Shakespeare.

Sources

  • Introduction to The Collected Works of Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, Vols 1 & 2, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1998
  • Mary Sidney and Sir Philip Sidney - The Sidney Psalms. Edited by R. E. Pritchard, Carcanet, Manchester, 1992.
  • Margaret P. Hannay - Philip's Phoenix: Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.
  • Margaret Patterson Hannay - "Herbert [Sidney], Mary, countess of Pembroke (1561–1621)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 8 April 2007
  • Gary Waller - Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke: A Critical Study of Her Writings and Literary Milieu. Salzburg: University of Salzburg Press, 1979.

External links