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29 October 2014

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You are in: Shropshire > History > Great Salopians > Elizabethan poet with a Shropshire connection

Sir Philip Sidney

Elizabethan poet with a Shropshire connection

Sir Philip Sidney was a courtier whose poetry influenced none other than William Shakespeare. He was an epic hero, a statesman, a soldier and favourite of Elizabeth I. He was also reputed to be the worthiest knight that ever lived.

A former pupil of Shrewsbury School, Sir Philip Sidney was born on 30 November 1554 in Kent. He was ten years old when he came to Shrewsbury and he began school on the same day as Fulke Greville another leading Elizabethan writer.

Greville and Sydney quickly became friends and it's largely thanks to Greville that we know so much about Sir Philip Sidney's life as he was later to become his biographer.

Sydney was a courtier at the court of Elizabeth I and actively encouraged such authors as Edward Dyer, Fulke Greville, and most importantly, Edmund Spenser, who dedicated The Shepheards Calender to him.

At some uncertain date, he composed a major piece of critical prose that was published after his death under two titles, The Defence of Poesy and An Apology for Poetry.

Sidney's Astrophil and Stella (Starlover and Star) is the first of the great Elizabethan sonnet cycles, which relied heavily on the conventions established by the much revered Italian poet Petrarch. Sidney's collection has 108 sonnets and eleven songs.

In 1585 he made a covert attempt to join Drake's expedition to Cadiz. Elizabeth summoned Sidney to court, and appointed him governor of Flushing in the Netherlands.

The next year Sidney took part in a skirmish against the Spanish at Zutphen and was wounded of a musket shot that shattered his thighbone.

Some 22 days later, at the age of 32, Sidney died of the unhealed wound. He was greatly mourned in England as the Queen and her subjects grieved for the man who had come to exemplify the ideal courtier.

It is said that Londoners who came out to see the funeral progression cried, "Farewell, the worthiest knight that lived."

Legend has it that on his death bed, though prey to a burning thirst, he refused a cup of water that was brought to him, sending it instead to a dying soldier who lay nearby, with the words, "Thy need is greater than mine".

Astrophel and Stella Sonnet 1 by Sir Philip Sydney

Loving in trueth, and fayne in verse my love to show,
That she, deare Shee, might take som pleasure of my paine,
Pleasure might cause her reade, reading might make her know,
Knowledge might pittie winne, and pity grace obtaine,
I sought fit wordes to paint the blackest face of woe;
Studying inventions fine, her wits to entertaine,
Oft turning others leaves, to see if thence would flow
Some fresh and fruitfull showers upon my sun-burnd brain.
But words came halting forth, wanting Inventions stay;
Invention, Natures childe, fledde step-dame Studies blowes;
And others feet still seemde but strangers in my way.
Thus, great with childe to speak, and helplesse in my throwes,
Biting my trewand pen, beating myselfe for spite,
Fool, said my Muse to me, looke in thy heart, and write.

last updated: 15/05/2008 at 11:27
created: 29/11/2006

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