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for n second room, which she undertook to furnish out of
her own wardrobe, was not at once granted. Another letter
to Molineux shows that he had made some progress in the
matter, but had not succeeded. Hampton Court, she writes,
however full it may be, has always several spare rooms.
Perhaps there are those who " will be sorry my Lord should
have so sure footing in the Court." Could not Molineux
contrive the loan of a parlour for her husband in the day-
time? Yet, after all, " when the worst is known, old Lord
Harry and his old Moll will do as well as they can in part-
ing, like good friends, the small portion allotted our long-
service in Court." There is something half pathetic and
half comic in the picture thus presented to our minds of
the great Duke of Northumberland's daughter, with her
husband, the Viceroy of Ireland and Wales, dwelling at

v ^J

huo-o-er-muo-o-er in one miserable chamber she well-nio-h

\-J<~J OO O

bedridden, he transacting his business in a corner of it, and
the queen momently expected upon visitations, not always,
we may guess, of friendship or affection. Yet the touch
of homely humour in the last sentence I have quoted from
the noble lady's letter, sheds a pleasant light upon the sor-
did scene.

Studying the details of Court life both in Italy and Eng-
land at this period, we are often led to wonder why noble-
men with spacious palaces and venerable mansions of their
own to dwell in why men of genius whose brilliant gifts
made them acceptable in every cultivated circle should
Lave submitted so complacently to its ignoble conditions.
Even those who seemed unable to breathe outside the sphere


of the Court spoke most bitterly against it. Tasso squan-
dered his health, his talents, nay, his reason, in that servi-
tude. Guarini, after impairing his fortune, and wasting the
l>e>t years of his manhood at Ferrara, retired to a country
villa, and indulged his spleen in venomous invectives against
the vices and the ignominies he had abandoned. Marino,
who flaunted his gay plumage at Turin and Paris, screamed
like a cockatoo with cynical spite whenever the word Court
\va< mentioned. The only wise man of that age in Italy
\\a- the literary bravo Aretino. He, having debauched his
youth in the vilest places of the Roman Courts, resolved to
live a free man henceforth. Therefore he took refuge in
Venice, where he caressed his sensual appetites and levied
blackmail on society. From that retreat, which soon be-
came a sty of luxury, he hurled back upon the Courts the
filth which he had gathered in them. His dialogue on
Court service is one of the most savage and brutally naked
exposures of depravity which satirical literature contains.
In England there was indeed a far higher tone of manliness
and purity and personal independence at the Court than
obtained in Italy. Yet listen to Spenser's memorable lines,
obviously poured forth from the heart and coloured by bit-
terest experience :

"Full little knowest thou, that hast not tried,
What hell it is in suing long to bide:
To lose good days, that might be better spent;
To waste long nights in pensive discontent ;
To speed to-day, to be put back to-morrow ;
To feed on hope, to pine with fear and sorrow ;
To have thy prince's grace, vet want her peers' ;
To have thy asking, yet wait many years ;
To fret thy soul with crosses and with cares ;
To cat thy heart through comfortless despairs;


To fawn, to crouch, to wait, to ride, to run,
To spend, to give, to want, to be undone :
Unhappy wight, born to disastrous end,
That doth his life in so long tendance spend !"

Therefore we return to wondering what it was in Courts


which made gentlefolk convert broad acres into cash thnt
they might shine there, which lured noblemen from their
castles and oak-shaded deer-parks to occupy a stuffy bed-
room in a royal palace, and squires from their moss-grown
manor-houses to jolt along the roads on horseback in at-
tendance on a termagant like Elizabeth or a learned pig
like James I. The real answer to these questionings is
that, in the transition from mediaeval to modern conditions
of life, the Court had become a social necessity for folk of
a certain quality and certain aspirations. It was the only
avenue to public employment; the only sphere in which
a man of ambition, who was neither clerk in orders nor
lawyer, could make his mark ; the only common meeting-
ground for rank, beauty, wealth, and genius. Thus it exer-
cised a splendid fascination, the reflex of which is luminous
in our dramatic literature. After reading those sad and
bitter lines of Spenser, we should turn the pages of Fletch-
er's Valentinian, where the allurements of the Court are
eloquently portrayed in the great scene of Lucina's attempt-
ed seduction. Or better, let us quote the ecstasies of For-
tunatus from the most fanciful of Dekker's plays :

" For still in all the regions I have seen,
I scorned to crowd among the muddy throng
Of the rank multitude, whose thickened breath,
Like to condensed fogs, do choke that beauty
Which else would dwell in every kingdom's cheek.
No, I still boldly stepped into their courts,

For there to live 'tis rare, oh, 'tis divine !


There shall you see faces angelical ;

There shall you see troops of chaste goddesses,

Whose star-like eyes have power (might they still shine)

To make night day, and day more crystalline:

Near these you shall behold great heroes,

White-headed counsellors, and jovial spirits,

Standing like fiery cherubims to guard

The monarch who in god-like glory sits

In midst of these, as if this deity

Had with a look created a new world,

The standers-by being the fair workmanship."

Philip, like so many of his contemporaries, continued to
waver between the irresistible attraction of the Court and
the centrifugal force which urged him to be up and doing,
anywhere, at any occupation, away from its baneful and

degrading idleness. Just now, in the summer of 1578, he
was hankering to join his friend, John Casimir, at Zutphen.
Elizabeth had nominated this prince to her lieutenancy in
the Low Countries, supplying him with money in small
quantities for the levying of troops. When he took the
Ik-Id, Philip burned to accept an invitation sent him by the
prince. But first he had to gain his father's permission.
Sir Henry's answer is the model of kindness and of gentle
unselfishness. He begins by acknowledging the honour
paid his son, and commending Philip's eagerness. But
"when I enter into the consideration of mine own estate,
and call to mind what practices, informations, and wicked
accusations are devised against me, and what an assistance


in the defence of those causes your presence would be unto
me, reposing myself so much both upon your help and judg-
ment. I strive betwixt honour and necessity what allowance
1 may best give of that motion for your going." Then he
- "ii to say that he leaves the consideration of these
x to his son, and will in no wav check his inclination



or refuse his consent. Philip sacrificed bis wishes, and
remained in England to assist his father. This act of filial
compliance cost him, as it happened, nothing; for Casimir's
dealings in the Netherlands brought no credit to himself or

O ^

his companions. None the less should we appreciate the
amiable trait in Sidney's character.


Sir Henry returned in due course to England in the au-
tumn, and tendered his resignation of the Irish Viceroyalty.
He still maintained his post as Lord President of Wales.
On New Year's Day, 1579, presents were exchanged, as
usual, between Elizabeth and her chief courtiers. Poor Sir
Henry, out of pocket as he was, presented her Majesty with
a jewel of gold, diamonds, pearls, and rubies, upon which
was wrought a figure of Diana. She returned a hundred

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and thirty-eight ounces of gold plate. Lady Mary and
Philip offered articles of dress, receiving their equivalent in
plate. Prince Casimir, who had to answer for his malcon-
duct of affairs in the Low Countries, reached London in
the month of January. The queen gave him a gracious
reception. He was nominated to a stall in St. George's
chapel, and entertained with various amusements. Among
other sports, we hear that he shot a stag in Hyde Park.
On the 12th of February he again left England with pres-
ents from the queen. A letter of the day significantly al-
ludes to her unwilling bestowal of money on the prince:
" There hath been somewhat to do to bring her unto it,
and Mr. Secretary Walsingham bare the brunt thereof."

One incident of Casimir's visit must not be omitted.
Hubert Languet, old as he now was, and failing in health,
resolved to set his eyes once more on his beloved Philip.
" I am almost afraid," he wrote in January, " that my
great desire of seeing you may betray me into thinking I
am better than I am, yet I will do my very utmost to be


ready for the journey, even though I should take it at the
peril of my life." lie came and went safely, had the
pleasure of conversing with Philip, and made friends with
the chief members of the Sidney family. A letter written
in the autumn of the next year shows that this experienced
judge of men and cities formed no very favourable opin-
ion of the English Court. " I was pleased last winter to
find you flourishing in favour, and highly esteemed by all
men. Yet, to conceal nothing, it appeared to me that the
manners of your Court are less manly than I could wish ;
and the majority of your great folk struck me as more
eager to gain applause by affected courtesy, than by such
virtues as benefit the commonwealth, and are the chief
ornament of noble minds and high-born personages. It
grieved me then, as also your other friends, that you
should waste the flower of your youth in such trifles. I
began to fear lest your excellent disposition should at last
be blunted, lest you should come by habit to care for
things which soften and emasculate our mind."


\Ve have already seen that Sidney was not otherwise
than himself alive to these dangers, and that he chafed

*j *

continually at the " expense of spirit in a waste" of frivoli-
ties. As a couplet in one of his occasional poems puts it

" Greater was the shepherd's treasure,

Than this false, fine, courtly pleasure."

From the same poem we learn that his friendship for
Fulke Greville and Edward Dyer continued to be his main-
stay at the Court; and when I enter upon the details of
his literary career, it will become apparent that much of
his time had been already spent with these and other cul-
tivated gentlefolk in the prosecution of serious studio.
For the present it seems better not to interrupt the history
of his external life.



THE years 1579 and 1580 are of importance in the bi-
ography of Sidney, owing to the decided part he took in
the discussion of the French match. Elizabeth's former
suitor, d'Alengon, now bore the title of Duke of Anjou,
by his brother Henri's accession to the throne of France.
Time had cast a decent veil over the memory of St. Bar-
tholomew, and Anjou was now posing as the protector of
national liberties in the Low Countries. He thought the
opportunity good for renewing negotiations with the
Queen of England. That the Court of the Valois was
anxious to arrange the marriage admits of no doubt. The
sums of money spent in presents and embassies render
this certain, for Catherine de' Medici and her sons were
always in pecuniary difficulties. They could not afford to
throw gold away on trifles.

Elizabeth showed a strong inclination to accept the
duke's proposal. She treated his envoy, Du Simiers, with
favour, and kept up a brisk correspondence with Paris.
The match, however, was extremely unpopular with the
English people. In the autumn of 1579 there appeared a
pamphlet entitled: "The Discovery of the Gaping Gulf,
whereinto England is like to be swallowed, by a French
marriage, if the Lord forbid not the Banns, by letting her


Majestv see the Sin and Punishment thereof." This suf-
ficed to indicate the temper of the best part of the nation,
the Protestants, who saw their religious and political liber-
ties in danger. Stubbs and Page, the author and the
printer of this " lewd and seditious book," as it was termed
bv royal proclamation, were each condemned to lose the
riu;Iit hand. Stubbs, when the hangman had performed
his office, waved his hat with the left hand, crying " God
save the Queen !" Page pointed to his bloody hand upon
the ground, and said, " There lies the hand of a true Eng-
lishman !"

At Court opinion was divided. Elizabeth's flatterers,
with Oxford at their head, declared themselves loudly in fa-
vour of the match. Leicester opposed it; but Du Simiers'
opportune discovery of the secret marriage with Lady
Essex ruined his credit. The great earl had to retire in
disgrace. Camden relates that the queen banished him
until further notice to Greenwich Castle. Fulke Greville
says " the French faction reigning had cast aspersions upon
his (Sidney's) uncle of Leicester, and made him, like a
wise man (under colour of taking physic) voluntarily be-
come prisoner in his chamber." Whether his retirement
was compulsory or voluntary matters little. For the time
lie lost his influence, and was unable to show his face at
Court. Thus Philip who had already elected to "join
with the w r eaker party and oppose this torrent," found
himself at the moment of his greatest need deprived of
the main support which powerful connections gave him.

Greville has devoted a chapter to his action in this mat-
ter, analysing with much detail the reasons which moved
him to oppose the queen's inclination. It is not necessary
to report his friend's view of the case, since I shall shortly
have to present an abstract of the famous document which


Sidney drew up for Elizabeth's perusal. Yet the exordium
to this chapter may be quoted, as representing in brief It is
position at the close of 1579.

" The next doubtful stage he had to act upon (howsoever it may
seem private) was grounded upon a public and specious proposition
of marriage between the late famous queen and the Duke of Anjou.
With which current, although he saw the great and wise men of the
time suddenly carried down, and every one fishing to catch the queen's
humour in it ; yet when he considered the difference of years, person,
education, state, and religion between them ; and then called to mind
the success of our former alliances with the French ; he found many
reasons to make question whether it would prove poetical or real on
their part. And if real, whether the balance swayed not unequally,
by adding much to them and little to his sovereign. The duke's great-
ness being only name and possibility ; and both these either to wither
or to be maintained at her cost. Her state, again, in hand ; and
though royally sufficient to satisfy that queen's princely and moder-
ate desires or expenses, yet perchance inferior to bear out those
mixed designs into which his ambition or necessities might entice or
draw her."

It came to pass, through Leicester's disgrace, that Philip
stood almost alone at Court as the resolute opponent of
the French faction. The profligate and unscrupulous Earl
of Oxford, now foremost in the queen's favour, was carrying
his head aloft, boastful of his compliance with her wishes,
and counting; doubtless on the highest honours when the

o o

match should be completed. An accident brought the
two champions of the opposed parties into personal col-
lision. One of Languet's letters enables us to fix the date
of the event in September 1579, and Greville's minute ac-
count of the same is so curious that I shall transcribe it
without further comment.

" Thus stood the Court at that time ; and thus stood this ingenuous
spirit in it. If dangerously in men's opinions who are curious of the


present, and in it rather to do craftily than well: yet, I say, that
prineelv heart of hers was a sanctuary unto him ; and as for the peo-
ple, in whom many times the lasting images of worth are preferred
1 1. fore the temporary visions of art or favour, he could not fear to suf-

any thing then-, which would not prove a kind of trophy to him.
... In this freedom of heart, being one day at tennis, a peer of this
; i ilm, lioni great, greater by alliance, and superlative in the prince's
favour, abruptly came into the tennis-court; and, speaking out of

-< tinve paramount authorities, he forgot to entreat that which he
could not legally command. When, by the encounter of a steady ob-

:, finding unrespectiveness in himself (though a great lord) not re-

ted by this princely spirit, he grew to expostulate more roughly.
The returns of which style coming still from an understanding heart,

1 knew what was due to itself and what it ought to others, seemed
(through the mists of my lord's passion, swollen with the wind of this
faetion then reigning) to provoke in yielding. Whereby, the less
amazement or confusion of thoughts he stirred up in Sir Philip, the
more shadows this great lord's own mind was possessed with ; till at
l.i-t with rage (which is ever ill-disciplined) he commands them to de-
part the court. To this Sir Philip temperately answers; that if his
lordship had been pleased to express desire in milder characters, per-
chanee he might have led out those that he should now find would
not be driven out with any scourge of fury. This answer (like a bel-
lows) blowing up the sparks of excess already kindled, made my lord
-ornfully call Sir Philip by the name of ]'j>j>>/. In which progress
"f heat, as the tempest grew more and more vehement within, so did
iheir hearts breathe out their perturbations in a more loud and shrill
accent. The French Commissioners unfortunately had that day au-
dienee in those private galleries whose windows looked into the ten-
nis-court They instantly drew all to this tumult: every sort of quar-
rels -oitiug well with their humours, especially this. Which Sir
Philip peiveiving, and rising with an inward strength by the prospect

i mighty faetion against him, asked my lord with a loud voice that

whieh he heard clearly enough before. Who (like an echo that still

M|/lies by reflexions) repeated this epithet of puppy the second

Sir Philip, resolving in one answer to conclude both the atten-

ive hearers and passionate actor, gave my lord a lie, impossible (as he

i) to be retorted; in respect all the world knows, puppies are

:en by doga and children by men.


" Hereupon these glorious inequalities of fortune in his lordship were
put to a kind of pause by a precious inequality of nature in this gen-
tleman; so that they both stood silent a while, like a dumb show in
a tragedy; till Sir Philip, sensible of his own wrong, the foreign and
factious spirits that attended, and yet even in this question between
him and his superior tender of his country's honour, with some words
of sharp accent led the way abruptly out of the tennis-court ; as if so
unexpected an incident were not n't to be decided in that place.
Whereof the great lord making another sense, continues his play,
without any advantage of reputation, as by the standard of humours
in those times it was conceived."

Thus the Earl of Oxford called Sidney a puppy ; and Sid-
ney gave him the lie. It was judged inevitable that the for-
mer would send a challenge and a duel would ensue. But


Oxford delayed to vindicate his honour. The Lords of the


Council intervened, and persuaded the queen to effect a
reconciliation. She pointed out to Sidney that he owed
deference to a peer of the realm. " He besought her Maj-
esty to consider that although he were a great lord by
birth, alliance, and grace ; yet he was no lord over him."
As free men and gentlemen the earl and himself were
equals, except in the matter of precedency. Moreover, he
reminded Elizabeth that it had been her father's policy to
shield the gentry from the oppression of the grandees, in
the wise opinion that the Crown would gain by using the
former as a balance to the power and ambition of the lat-
ter. But having stated his case, he seems to have deferred
to her wishes. We do not hear that apologies were made
on either side. The matter, however, dropped ; Oxford so
far retaining his resentment that Sidney's friends believed
he entertained a scheme for his assassination.

After reading this passage, we may remember with what
spirit on a former occasion Philip gave the cut direct to
Orrnond. It is also interesting to compare his carriage


upon both occasions with that of his nephew, the Viscount
I'lslc, who bearded James' favourite, James Hay, at that
time Viscount Doncaster, in his own chamber. A detailed
account of this incident, written by Lord 1'Isle in vindica-
tion of his honour, is printed among the Sidney papers.
It casts valuable light upon the manners of the English
Court, and illustrates the sturdy temper of the Sidney

Philip contrived apparently to keep the queen's good-
will until the beginning of 1580; for she accepted his
present of a crystal cup on New Year's Day. But his po-
sition at Court was difficult. Oxford, it was commonly be-
lieved, had planned his murder ; and being an Italianated
Englishman in other words, a devil incarnate he may
well have entertained some project of the sort. As the
avowed champion of the opposition, wielding a pen with
which no man could compete, Sidney thought the time had
now come to bring matters to an issue by plain utterance.
Therefore he drew up a carefully-prepared memorial, set-
ting forth in firm but most respectful language those argu-
ments which seemed to him decisive against the French
match. This he presented to Elizabeth early in 1580.
Immediately after its perusal, she began to show her re-
sentment, and Philip, like his uncle, found it convenient to
leave the Court. His retreat was AVilton, where he re-
mained in privacy for seven months.

I have elsewhere remarked that Sidney showed his pow-
ers as a thinker and prose-writer nowhere more eminently
than in documents, presenting a wide survey of facts, mar-
shalling a series of arguments, combining the prudence of
a >tak'smun and the cunning of an orator. This memorial
to the queen is a gem in its own species of composition.
It well deserves the high praise which has been given it as


" at once the most eloquent and the most courageous piece
of that nature which the age can boast. E\*cry important
view of the subject is comprised in this letter, which is
long, but at the same time so condensed in style and so
skilfully compacted as to matter that it well deserves to
be read entire; and must lose materially either by abridg-
ment or omission." In it Sidney appeals to what Fulke
Greville quaintly calls " that princely heart of hers which
was a sanctuary unto him." He enters the sanctuary with
reverence, and stands alone there, pleading like a servant
before his mistress. He speaks to Elizabeth in the char-
acter of a simple gentleman and loyal subject, relying on
no support of party, nor representing himself as the mouth-
piece of an indignant nation. This independent attitude
gives singular lucidity and beauty to his appeal. It is the
grave but modest warning of a faithful squire to his liege
lady in the hour of danger. Although extracts can do but
scanty justice to the merits of Sidney's oratory, I must
present such specimens as may serve as samples of his
English style and display his method of exposition. He
begins as follows:


To seek out excuses of this my boldness, and to arm the acknowl-
edging of a fault with reasons for it, might better show I knew I did
amiss, than any way diminish the attempt, especially in your judgment;
who being able to discern lively into the nature of the thing done, it
were folly to hope, by laying on better colours, to make it more ac-
ceptable. Therefore, carrying no other olive branch of intercession,
than the laying of myself at your feet; nor no other insinuation, ei-
ther for attention or pardon, but the true vowed sacrifice of unfeigned

Online LibraryJohn MorleyEnglish men of letters (Volume 3) → online text (page 35 of 44)