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Sir Philip Sidney

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Sir Philip Sidney



Sir Philip Sidney died, at the age of just thirty-one, after being wounded in a skirmish at Zutphen in the Low Countries. At the time of his death, he was fighting with the English forces led by his uncle, the earl of Leicester, against the Spanish occupation of the Netherlands. During his lifetime, Sidney was known as a courtier and ambassador, but it was only after his death that he would reach true fame.His premature death was mourned in a huge funeral in London; and his writings, which had previously circulated only in manuscript, were published within a few years.Within a decade he had become the quintessential English poet-courtier-soldier, an image that has endured for centuries.



Crispijn van de Passe. Sydney Philippus ... Engraving, 17th century

The Funeral: "A Martial 'Vale'"

 

The funeral of Sir Philip Sidney was one of the great Londonevents of 1587. After lying in state in the Minorites church justoutside the city, the procession made its way through the capital’sstreets to St. Paul’s, where Sidney was buried to the sound of adouble volley, to “give unto his famous life and death a martial‘Vale’ [farewell].” Sidney’s father-in-law Sir Francis Walsinghamhad “spared not any cost to have this funeral well performed.’

 

The streets “were so thronged with people that the mourners hadscarcely room to pass; the houses likewise were as full as theymight be, of which great multitude there were few or none thatshed not some tears as the corpse passed by them.”Every detail was preserved on a roll made up of twenty-eightplates, seven and three-quarter inches wide, and over thirty-eightfeet long, scripted by Thomas Lant, and engraved by Theodor deBry. Many years later, John Aubrey remembered seeing this scrollat the age of nine, in the parlor of a Gloucester alderman namedSingleton. Singleton had the large sheets of paper pasted togetherso that the procession “in length was, I believe, the length of theroom at least.” But John became truly fascinated when Singleton“contrived it to be turned upon two pins, that turning one ofthem made the figures march all in order. It did make such astrong impression on my tender phantasy,” he recalled in his lastyears, “that I remember it as if it were but yesterday.”

 


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