English poet and playwright, was the third son of Henry Percy, 8th Earl of Northumberland
Henry Percy, 8th Earl of Northumberland, 2nd Baron Percy was an English aristocrat and conspirator.-Life:He was born at Newburn Manor about 1532, was second of the two sons of Sir Thomas Percy, who was executed in 1537 as a chief actor in the Pilgrimage of Grace, and Eleanor Harbottle...
(c.1532–1585), and his wife Katharine Neville (1545/6–1596). He was probably born in Tynemouth
Tynemouth is a town and a historic borough in Tyne and Wear, England, at the mouth of the River Tyne, between North Shields and Cullercoats . It is administered as part of the borough of North Tyneside, but until 1974 was an independent county borough in its own right...
. His elder brother Henry
Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland KG was an English aristocrat. He was a grandee and one of the wealthiest peers of the court of Elizabeth I. Under James I, Henry was a long-term prisoner in the Tower of London. He is known for the circles he moved in as well as for his own achievements...
was a significant figure in English cultural and scientific circles in the late 16th - early 17th century.
Percy attended Oxford university where although he studied Italian and Latin his growing interest was contemporary English literature, including the works of Gabriel Harvey
Gabriel Harvey was an English writer. Harvey was a notable scholar, though his reputation suffered from his quarrel with Thomas Nashe...
Sir Philip Sidney was an English poet, courtier and soldier, and is remembered as one of the most prominent figures of the Elizabethan Age...
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...
At Oxford Percy belonged to a literary coterie which included Barnabe Barnes
Barnabe Barnes , was an English poet. He is known for his Petrarchan love sonnets and for his combative personality, involving feuds with other writers and culminating in an alleged attempted murder.-Early life:...
, whose Parthenophil and Parthenope
was dedicated ‘To the right noble and virtuous gentleman’ William Percy ‘his dearest friend’. A year later Percy published his own collection, Sonnets to the Fairest Coelia
. In the preface he claimed publication was forced on him because, having lent the manuscripts to a friend, he found they were about to be printed without his consent. He therefore added an epistle to the reader in which he described the sonnets as mere 'toyes', promising that ‘ere long I will impart unto the world another Poem which shall be both more fruitfull and ponderous’. He included a sonnet dedicated to Barnes, referred to by the name 'Parthenophil'.
Although Percy was not a very talented poet his circle included better writers such as Charles Fitzgeoffrey
-Early life and education:Fitzgeoffrey was born in Cornwall, the son of a Protestant clergyman named Alexander Fitzgeoffrey , who was Rector of the parish of St. Fimbarrus, Fowey...
who, in his collection of Latin epigrams Affaniae
praises Percy's skills. Others in the same group were the Mychelbourne brothers, Edward, Lawrence, and Thomas, all of whom feature in Percy's poems. A later member was Thomas Campion
Thomas Campion was an English composer, poet and physician. He wrote over a hundred lute songs; masques for dancing, and an authoritative technical treatise on music.-Life:...
who praises Percy in his Epigrammatum II
(1619) for his wit.
Percy also wrote plays, six of which survive. The Faery Pastoral, or, Forest of Elves
was written for the visit of James I to Syon House (London home of Percy's brother the Earl) on 8 June 1603. Mostly however Percy seems to have written his plays with the intention they should be performed by either one or both of London's children's companies. Arabia sitiens, or, A Dreame of a Drye Yeare: a Tragaecomodye
(1601), A Country Tragaedye in Vacunium
(1602), and The Aphrodysial, or, Sea Feast: a Marinall
(1602) are dedicated ‘unto the children of the Revells and of Poules’. His last play, Necromantes, or, The Two Supposed Heds: a Comicall Invention
(1632) is designated ‘For Actors onely’. Although none of his plays have attracted praise for literary merit Arabia sitiens
, more recently known by the title Mahomet and his Heaven
, is of interest because it gives some insight into contemporary English attitudes to Islam.
Like his elder brother Henry, William Percy seems to have been imprisoned at points in his life; but in his case mostly for debt. He finally settled in Oxford where, according to Anthony Wood
Anthony Wood or Anthony à Wood was an English antiquary.-Early life:Anthony Wood was the fourth son of Thomas Wood , BCL of Oxford, where Anthony was born...
, he died in reduced circumstances: ‘an aged Bachelor, in Penny Farthing St.... after he had lived a melancholy and retired life many years; and was buried in the Cathedral of Christ Church, near to the grave of Sir Henry Gage, the 28th of May 1648’