Robert Sidney, 1st Earl of Leicester


Robert Sidney, 1st Earl of Leicester KG (19 November 1563 – 13 July 1626), second son of Sir Henry Sidney, was a statesman of Elizabethan and Jacobean England. He was also a patron of the arts and a poet. His mother, Mary Sidney née Dudley, was a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth I and a sister of Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, an advisor and favourite of the Queen.

Robert Sidney KG
Robert Sidney, 1st Earl of Leicester from NPG.jpg
Sidney c. 1588. At the top left is inscribed his Latin motto: Inveniam Viam Aut Faciam ("I shall find the way or make it")
Born(1563-11-19)19 November 1563
Died13 July 1626(1626-07-13) (aged 62)
EducationShrewsbury School, Christ Church, Oxford]
Parent(s)Henry Sidney, Mary Dudley
Arms of Sidney: Or, a pheon azure


He was educated at Shrewsbury and Christ Church, Oxford, afterwards travelling on the Continent for some years between 1578 and 1583.[1] In 1585 he was elected member of parliament for Glamorganshire; and in the same year he went with his elder brother, Sir Philip Sidney to the Netherlands, where he served in the war against Spain under Robert Dudley. He was present at the Battle of Zutphen where Sir Philip Sidney was mortally wounded, and remained with his brother.

After visiting Scotland on a diplomatic mission in 1588, and France on a similar errand in 1593, he returned to the Netherlands in 1606, where he rendered distinguished service in the war for the next two years. He had been appointed governor of the cautionary town of Flushing in 1588, and he spent much time there. In 1595 he sent his business manager Rowland Whyte to court to lobby for resources for Flushing, and to send him information about events at court including the latest political gossip. Whyte's letters provide a major resource for historians of the period. Whyte himself regularly complains about the indecipherable handwriting of his employer's replies.[2]

In 1603, on the accession of James I, he returned to England. James raised him at once to the peerage as Baron Sidney of Penshurst, and he was appointed chamberlain to the queen consort, Anne of Denmark. In 1605 he was created Viscount Lisle. He wrote to William Trumbull in September 1614 with news of the queen's illness, she was "much troubled with paines in her legs and feet".[3] In August 1615 he went with Anne of Denmark to Bath, and was joined by his daughter Catherine and her husband Lewis Mansel who travelled from Margam. Catherine came for medical advice in Bath.[4]

In May 1618 he wrote to Sir Thomas Lake, the king's secretary with news of the queen declaration about efforts to reduce household expenses. She had told him that "while she lives she will obey the king in all things ... She therefore desires his majesty to take what order it shall please him, which shall please her also, for being wholly ignorant in household business, she will not any meddle with them".[5]

In July 1618 he became Earl of Leicester. The title had become extinct in 1588 on the death of his uncle Robert Dudley, part of whose property he had inherited. Sidney wrote to his wife that their promotion was due to Anne of Denmark.[6]

He was ill in September 1618 and was attended at Hampton Court by Henry Atkins and Théodore de Mayerne at the request of Anne of Denmark.[7]

Marriage and progenyEdit

Barbara Sidney with six of her children, painted c.1596 by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger (1561–1636), collection of Viscount de Lisle, Penshurst Place
Arms of Gammage of Coity Castle, Glamorgan: Argent, five fusils in bend gules on a chief azure three escallops of the first[8]
Sidney's second wife, Sarah Blount, inscribed: 1599 Aetatis Suae 19 ("1599: in the 19th year of her age")

Sidney married twice:

Firstly to Barbara Gamage, a noted heiress and beauty, the daughter of John Gamage, of Coity Castle, a Glamorgan gentleman. By his first wife he had eleven children.

Secondly to Sarah Blount, daughter of William Blount, and widow of Sir Thomas Smythe.

Music and poetryEdit

Leicester was a man of taste and a patron of literature, whose cultured mode of life at his country seat, Penshurst Place, was celebrated in verse by Ben Jonson. Robert Sidney was a patron of musicians, as is proved by his being the dedicatee of Robert Jones's First Booke of Songes and Ayres (1600) and A Musicall Banquet (1610) compiled by Robert Dowland, son of the composer John Dowland. Sidney had agreed to be godfather to John Dowland's son, and A Musicall Banquet opens with a Galliard by John Dowland entitled Syr Robert Sidney his Galliard.

Engraved portrait of Sidney by Simon de Passe, 1617

Though the brother of one of the most famous poets in the English language, it was not suspected that Robert Sidney had himself been a poet until the 1960s, when his working notebook emerged (in a 19th-century binding) through the dispersal of the Library of Warwick Castle. Subsequent research showed it had been acquired in 1848 after passing through a number of sales beginning with the dispersal of the library at Penshurst in the early 19th century. Sold again at Sotheby's and acquired by the British Library in 1975 (catalogued as Add MS 58435), the autograph is, as its first editor P. J. Croft pointed out, "the largest body of verse to have survived from the Elizabethan period in a text entirely set down by the poet himself". Dating apparently from the latter half of the 1590s when Robert Sidney was governor of Flushing, the collection comprises 66 sonnets, songs, pastorals, elegies and slighter pieces, apparently structured as a kind of reply to Philip Sidney's Astrophel and Stella. They show Robert Sidney as an advocate of the Neo-platonic philosophy of love and adept at a great variety of verse forms. The fact that several of the poems are based on identifiable tunes confirms his interest in music. While he cannot be placed in the first rank of Elizabethan poets, his poems are by no means negligible and of the greatest interest for the working methods and intellectual interests of the period.


Heraldic impression of arms of Robert Sidney in one of 55 books purchased by the Bodleian Library with his donation in 1600 of £100
Quartered arms Sir Robert Sidney, 1st Earl of Leicester, KG

The arms of Robert Sidney, 1st Earl of Leicester showed sixteen quarters as follows:[10]
1. A pheon (Sydney) 2. Barry of ten a lion rampant crowned (Brandon) 3. A lion rampant double queued (Dudley) 4. Two lions passant (Somerie) 5. Barry of six in chief three torteaux a label of three points for difference (Grey, Viscount Lisle) 6. A maunch (Hastings) 7. A wolf's head erased (Lupus, Earl of Chester) 8. Barry of ten as many martlets in orle (de Valence, Earl of Pembroke) 9. A lion rampant (Marshall, Earl of Pembroke) 10. Seven mascles conjoined three and one (Ferrers of Groby) 11. A lion rampant within a bordure engrailed (Talbot) 12. A fess between six crosses crosslet (Beauchamp) 13. Checky, a chevron ermine (Newburgh, Earl of Warwick) 14. A lion statant gardant crowned (Baron de Lisle) 15. A chevron (Tyes) 16. A fess dancetty (West); over-all an inescutcheon of pretence of his wife's paternal arms: quarterly: 1. Five fusils in bend on a chief three escallops (Gamage) 2. Vair (Martel?) 3. Checky, a fess ermine (Turberville of Coity Castle) 4. Three chevrons (Llewellyn)


  1. ^ This article incorporates text from R.J. McNeill, 'Leicester, Robert Sidney, Earl of (1563-1626)' in Encyclopedia Britannica (1911), Vol XVI, p. 392.
  2. ^ Lisle C. John, 'Rowland Whyte, Elizabethan Letter-Writer', Studies in the Renaissance (1961), pp. 217-235.
  3. ^ HMC Downshire, vol. 5 (London, 1988), p. 22 no. 56.
  4. ^ William Shaw & G. Dyfnallt Owen, HMC 77 Viscount De L'Isle Penshurst, vol. 5 (London, 1961), p. 305.
  5. ^ HNC 4th Report (De La Warr) (London, 1874), p. 282.
  6. ^ William Shaw & G. Dyfnallt Owen, HMC 77 Manuscripts of the Viscount De L'Isle, vol. 5 (London, 1962), p. 416.
  7. ^ William Shaw & G. Dyfnallt Owen, HMC 77 Manuscripts of the Viscount De L'Isle, vol. 5 (London, 1962), p. 418.
  8. ^ These were the arms of the heiress Barbara Gammage borne as an escutcheon of pretence by her husband Robert Sidney, 1st Earl of Leicester, as is visible on the imprints of 55 books donated by him to the Bodleian Library. The earlier arms of Gammage found on various rolls of arms omitted the escallops and place the bend fusilly over all
  9. ^ William Shaw & G. Dyfnallt Owen, HMC 77 Viscount De L'Isle Penshurst, vol. 5 (London, 1961), p. 320.
  10. ^ University of Toronto Library
  • The Poems of Robert Sidney, ed. P. J. Croft (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1984)
  •   This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Leicester, Robert Sidney, Earl of". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 16 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 392.

External linksEdit

  • A Manuscript of poems by Robert Sidney
  • Selections from the Poetry of Sir Robert Sidney
  • Poems by Robert Sidney at English Poetry
Peerage of England
New creation Earl of Leicester
Succeeded by
Viscount Lisle