Tag Archives: Penelope Devereux

On this day in 1586 – Sir Philip Sidney died

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.

ArcadiaSir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia

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 .

Sir Philip SidneySir Philip Sidney

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On this day in 1607 – Penelope Rich died

Penelope Devereux was born in January 1563 at Chartley Castle, Staffordshire to Walter Deverux and Lettice Knollys, the granddaughter of Mary Boleyn. In 1572 when Penelope was nine, her father was created Earl of Essex by Queen Elizabeth I.

Just a couple of years later, in 1575, saw the Queen visit Lady Essex as she returned from her stay at Kenilworth where she was entertained by Robert Dudley. The Queen was escorted by Sir Philip Sidney who met the 14 year old Penelope before her father died. The Earl of Essex died within a year of this visit and it is believed that he sent word to Sidney that upon his death he wished for Sidney to marry Penelope. With the death of her father Penelope and two of her siblings were sent to Henry Hastings, 3rd Earl of Huntingdon, who would now act as their guardian.

However, the match was broken two years later when Penelope’s mother married Robert Dudley, the Queen’s favourite, without permission of the Queen. This led to the family being banished from court and with it Penelope’s marriage agreement.

In January 1581, Penelope travelled to court with the Countess of Huntingdon and just two months later a new marriage match was arranged for her with Robert Rich, 3rd Baron Rich. Despite Penelope’s protests the couple were married and went on to have five children.

Although Penelope’s original marriage betrothal with Sir Philip Sidney never transpired into marriage it is widely believed that Penelope was the inspiration behind Sidney’s sonnet sequence Astrophel and Stella. Penelope was considered to be one of the beauties of the Elizabethan court with gold hair and dark eyes, not too dissimilar to Elizabeth considering they were distant cousins. Sidney was only the first to use Penelope as a muse as in 1594 an anonymous poem was published, later to be attributed to Richard Barnfield, entitled The Affectionate Shepherd was dedicated to her and also the future King James I was sent a portrait that had been painted by the Queen’s miniaturist, Nicholas Hilliard.

By 1595 Penelope had begun an affair with Charles Blount, Baron Mountjoy as she had become so unhappy in her marriage to Lord Rich.

In the Essex rebellion of 1601 Penelope was caught up in her brother’s plot with Rich denouncing her as a traitor along with Mountjoy and their children. Despite this the Queen did not take action against either and Penelope was free to have a public relationship with Mountjoy.

Upon the accession of King James I, Penelope was appointed as one of the ladies to escort Anne of Denmark as she entered London in 1603 and later served as Lady of the Bedchamber.

In 1605 Rich finally applied for a divorce to which Penelope publicly admitted adultery with Mountjoy. She had hoped that with the divorce she would be granted permission to marry Mountjoy and legitimise their children. Despite having no permission the couple went ahead and married in a private ceremony held by William Laud on 26th December 1605 at Wanstead House, London. They would be banished from court for this defiance of the King’s wishes.

Mountjoy would die just a few months later; his will would be contested after many arguments regarding his new wife and their children. Penelope was brought before the Star Chamber on charges of fraud and accusations of adultery. The charges were refuted but before a settlement could be reached on 7th July 1607 Penelope died of unknown causes and was buried in an unmarked grave in a London church.

250px-Nicholas_Hilliard_called_Penelope_Lady_RichPenelope Rich painted by Nicholas Hilliard