Sir Philip Sidney was born on 30th November 1554 at Penshurst Place, Kent to Sir Henry Sidney and his wife Lady Mary Dudley. His uncle was Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester. Sidney was educated at Shrewsbury School and later Christ Church, Oxford.
In 1572 Sidney was elected as Member of Parliament for Shrewsbury and he also travelled to France in the same year as part of the team tasked with negotiating the marriage of Queen Elizabeth I and the Duc D’Alençon. Whilst in France Sidney witnessed the St. Bartholomew’s day massacre in Paris on 24th August 1572. Sidney would spend the next few years travelling around Europe visiting countries like; Germany, Italy, Poland, Hungary and Austria during this time Sidney met many prominent politicians and even visited an exiled Jesuit priest, Edmund Campion. Sidney returned to England in 1575 and he soon met Penelope Devereux, Devereux would go on to inspire Sidney’s sonnet entitled ‘Astophel and Stella.’ Devereux’s father had planned to marry his daughter to Sidney but died before the marriage could take place.
Aged 22 Sidney was sent on a diplomatic mission by the Queen and was sent to Rudolf II, the German Emperor, and Louis VI, Prince of Orange, in order to present the Queen’s condolences on the death of their fathers. Sidney was also tasked with learning whether the Spanish and their control over Europe was a threat to England. Sidney returned and gave the Queen a positive report of his mission, but his age and lack of experience went against him and Elizabeth sent other diplomats to gather information, they returned with a less optimistic view than the one Sidney returned with.
Sidney opposed the Queen’s prospective French marriage which caused some tensions within the political world. He wrote a detailed letter to her in 1579 outlining why she should not marry the Duke of Anjou, although moved by the letter the Queen reprimanded Sidney for speaking out of line as he was still a commoner. Sidney would go on to clash with Edward De Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, regarding the Queen’s marriage. In August 1579 Oxford and Sidney would clash during a performance of play with Oxford insulting Sidney during an exchange between the two Sidney would leave but the following day sent Oxford a reminder of honour’s obligation ad Oxford responded. The Queen and the council heard of the argument and quickly put a stop to it. As a result Sidney retired from the court for the next year and stayed with his younger sister, Mary, in Wilton.
During his time in retirement Sidney wrote ‘Arcadia’ originally entitled ‘The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia’ with the title being a reference to his sister.
In January 1581 Sidney was a Member of Parliament for Kent, a post he also held in 1584. During this time at court he met Penelope Devereux and quickly fell in love with the future Lady Rich. The love could not grow and he wrote ‘Astrophil and Stella’ about his experiences of impossible love, with Penelope being the inspiration.
In 1583 Sidney was restored to the Queen’s favour and was knighted and stood in for Prince Casimir who was being inducted as a Garter Knight. Later in this year Sidney married Frances Walsingham, daughter of Elizabeth’s Secretary of State, Sir Francis Walsingham. The marriage was opposed by the Queen who felt that she could use Walsingham’s daughter for a political marriage. As part of the couple’s marriage Sir Francis paid off £1500 of Sidney’s debt and to allow the couple the chance to save money they moved into the Walsingham family home.
Sidney was sent abroad in the service of the Queen and on 22nd September 1586 he was wounded at Zutphen in the Netherlands. Sidney was serving under his uncle, Robert Dudley, in his first military campaign. He was hit in the thigh with a musket ball after giving his leg armour away to a soldier who had none. Although his wound was serious he was able to ride the mile back to camp where he arrived with a large loss of blood. He was offered water upon arrival but shunned it so another wounded soldier could drink some. It was believed that Sidney would recover from the injury and so was taken to Arnhem to recover. Sidney died 26 days after being shot on 17th October 1586, his body was returned to England in a boat that sailed with black sails and the court went into mourning. A state funeral was held at St. Paul’s Cathedral .