Philip Sidney: A Double Life

Philip Sidney: A Double Life

by Alan Stewart

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Courtier, poet, soldier, diplomat - Philip Sidney was one of the most promising young men of his age. Son of Elizabeth I's deputy in Ireland, nephew and heir to her favourite, Leicester, he was tipped for high office - and even to inherit the throne. But Sidney soon found himself caught up in the intricate politics of Elizabeth's court and forced to become as… See more details below


Courtier, poet, soldier, diplomat - Philip Sidney was one of the most promising young men of his age. Son of Elizabeth I's deputy in Ireland, nephew and heir to her favourite, Leicester, he was tipped for high office - and even to inherit the throne. But Sidney soon found himself caught up in the intricate politics of Elizabeth's court and forced to become as Machiavellian as everyone around him if he was to achieve his ambitions. Against a backdrop of Elizabethan intrigue and the battle between Protestant and Catholic for predominance in Europe, Alan Stewart tells the riveting story of Philip Sidney's struggle to suceed. Seeing that his continental allies had a greater sense of his importance that his English contamporaries, Philip turned his attention to Europe. He was made a French baron at seventeen, corresponded with leading foreign scholars, considered marriage proposals from two princesses and, at the time of his tragically early death, was being openly spoken of as the next ruler of the Netherlands.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Once Sir Philip Sidney died of an infected thigh wound in 1586 at 31, myth-making forces went to work. We know Sidney now as a courtier-poet cut down in his prime in a useless skirmish in the Netherlands and for giving his water to a dying soldier on the battlefield an incident that never happened, says British historian Stewart (coauthor of Hostage to Fortune: The Troubled Life of Francis Bacon). This man, known as the "epitome of Elizabethan chivalry" and "quintessential Englishman," appears here as disappointingly less than his reputation. The subtitular "double life" alludes to the fact that the handsome, talented, well-born Sir Philip was belittled and neglected in England by status-sensitive, conspiracy-minded Queen Elizabeth, while on the continent his poetry and his statesmanship earned him acclaim. Except for the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre of 1572 in Paris, which he most likely witnessed, there was little drama in his life until the small war in which he was mortally wounded. Stewart furnishes a litany of Sidney's frustrations (his connections to noble families under royal suspicion injured his prospects), and examines his literary projects, which, but for the convoluted pastoral epic Arcadia, the lofty Defense of Poesie and the sonnet sequence Astrophil and Stella, remained unfinished. In Stewart's demythologized study, Sidney is the prisoner of his birthright. It is ironic that, because of his death, his less-talented younger brother Robert became Earl of Leicester and built a London mansion (which gave its name to Leicester Square), for which he is more widely remembered than his more accomplished older brother. Scrupulously researched but a bit sluggish in pace, thisbiography will appeal to fans of Elizabethan England. Illus. (Oct. 1) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
This Elizabethan court portrait depicts a promising scholar and politician, Sir Philip Sidney, whose handy relationships included being the son of Sir Henry, lord president of Wales and twice of Ireland; nephew and heir to both Robert, Earl of Leicester (Elizabeth's favorite) and his brother Earl of Warwick; and sister to Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke. Elizabeth's wariness of powerful subjects led to her underusing Sidney's diplomatic talents, but Sidney still left his mark. On a teenage trip abroad, during which his scholarship and family impressed continental Protestants, he developed diplomatic contacts, centered on arch-teacher and mentor Hubert Languet. He married the daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham, principal secretary of state. An ardent advocate of Protestant unity, Sidney got his chance for action against Spanish forces during Leicester's botched Dutch military governorship. Sidney died at 31 from wounds received in a heroic, futile skirmish in the Netherlands in 1586 and was subsequently lionized as a national hero and lost Protestant hope. Stewart (Renaissance studies, Birbeck Coll., London Univ.), who previously coauthored a book on Francis Bacon, has provided a well-executed text. While the book gets off to a slow start and gives too much away in the introduction, readers outside academe would otherwise be entertained by this portrait of an Elizabethan intriguer. Recommended for academic and larger public libraries. Nigel Tappin, MLS, Huntsville, Ont. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A lengthy account of a short life. Stewart (co-author, Hostage to Fortune, 1999; Renaissance Studies/Birkbeck Coll.) paints a detailed portrait of the Elizabethan Age as reflected through the fortunes of the extended Sidney family. Given that poet Philip Sidney's uncle, Robert Dudley, was Queen Elizabeth's paramour, and his father, Henry Sidney, spent years administering both Wales and Ireland for the crown, any account of Philip's life will necessarily provide a wealth of insight into the workings of the court. Stewart has done extensive research and amply sets the stage for Philip's considerable achievements by chronicling his education and youthful travels on the continent. More importantly, Stewart shows how Philip's worldview was shaped by a series of mentors, among them Hubert Languet, who recognized Philip's potential-a potential defined as much by his family tree as by his considerable intellectual gifts. Those seeking a nuanced exposition of Sidney's poetic achievement, however, should look elsewhere: Stewart seems to be more interested in the public than the private man. The focus, therefore, is on how Philip made his way at court, which required connections, tact, and good fortune. Moreover, royal recognition was a mixed blessing. His father, for instance, was dispatched to the backwater of Ireland for several years, and his service to the crown precariously stretched family finances. Philip, too, had to take care lest he fall afoul of the queen. For the most part he succeeded, tempering intellectual curiosity with circumspection, particularly with respect to religion. Before he was killed in battle at 31 during a campaign in the Low Countries, he had not only producedthe poetry for which he is known today, but had shown great potential as a statesman. While the accretion of detail upon detail sometimes slows the narrative flow, Stewart provides a textured insight into the society that shaped the poet. (14 illustrations, 13 b&w plates)

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