Philip Sidney was an English poet, one of the intellectual lights of Elizabeth I’s court. His works include Astrophel and Stella, The Defence of Poesy (also known as The Defence of Poesie or An Apology for Poetrie), a sonnet sequence, and a pastoral romance, The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia.
Sidney was the son of two people close to Elizabeth herself: Mary Dudley and Henry Sidney. Mary Dudley of course was the daughter of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland. (who tried to mastermind a coup to put Jane Grey on the throne instead of Mary I…which failed after nine days). Mary Dudley was also the sister of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (Elizabeth I’s favorite), who made Sidney his sole heir until he had his own (illegitimate) son. So Philip was perfectly positioned to shine even before he proved to hold amazing literary talent.
Philip fell in love with Penelope Devereux, the inspiration for Stella in Astrophel and Stella, and it is not clear why they did not marry. We know Penelope’s father wanted the match, but after Walter Devereux died, Penelope’s widowed mother, Lettice, married Robert Dudley and the marriage plans went away. Instead, Sidney married Frances Walsingham, the daughter of Elizabeth’s spymaster (establishing a Dudley/Walsingham power bloc by the way).
In 1586, England sent troops to the Netherlands to help them fight against Spain, Robert Dudley led the expedition, taking Philip with him (and, let’s be real, half the court). Philip was shot in the thigh at the Battle of Zutphen, and unfortunately was not wearing his thigh armor (he thought it would be dishonorable for him to be better armored than his men). Then, while lying wounded, he gave his water to another wounded soldier (“Thy necessity is yet greater than mine”). He died of gangrene 26 days later.
RIP Philip Sidney.
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