Sir Edward Dyer


May, Courtier Poets

Steven W. May, The Elizabethan Courtier Poets (Columbia, Missouri, 1991).


Ralph M. Sargent, The Life and Lyrics of Sir Edward Dyer (Oxford, 1935 [as At the Court of Queen Elizabeth]; reprinted 1968).

Wagner (1935)

Bernard M. Wagner, ‘New Poems by Sir Edward Dyer’, Review of English Studies, 11 (1935), 466-71.


The courtier and poet Sir Edward Dyer is perhaps best remembered as protégé of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and friend of Sir Philip Sidney, as well as of Sir Fulke Greville. The three of them shared a common interest in poetry and evidently exchanged verse as well as perhaps inspiration. As with so many aristocratic poets of their period they wrote for a private or select coterie and, so far as we know, made no attempt to publish poems in their lifetime. If Dyer's poems survive, it is, nevertheless, because manuscript copies of individual poems did have some circulation. Some of his lyrics are indeed among the most popular of the period, recopied in commonplace books and miscellanies over a period of many years.

The Canon

Any canon of Dyer's poems is dependent on early attributions, not all of which are reliable. For present purposes the canon accepted here is an amalgam of that established (sometimes provisionally) in Sargent's edition; in Wagner (1935) (except for his second item); and in May, Courtier Poets.

At least three other poems ascribed to Dyer in manuscript sources are also ascribed to Sir Walter Ralegh (RaW 383), to Sir Arthur Gorges (GgA 118-121) and to the Earl of Oxford (OxE 25).

Letters and Documents

The only known examples of Dyer's handwriting are the numerous letters he wrote, and documents he signed, principally during the course of his political life, though sometimes reflecting his intellectual interests. Examples of his letters (too numerous to be given separate entries here) are to be found in repositories including the National Archives, Kew; the British Library; Lambeth Palace (Talbot papers); and the Folger Shakespeare Library. Some of his letters have been sold at auction over the years, including Sotheby's, 29 October 1975, lot 58; 25 July 1978, lot 390; 21 July 1983, lot 5, to Nelson, with a facsimile in the sale catalogue; and 10 July 1986, lot 4. Photocopies of letters sold and exported are in the British Library, RP 339, 2621, and 3390.

Documents signed include items sold at Sotheby's, 17 July 1997, lot 11, and Phillips, 14 November 1991, lot 223. One particular document, now at Winchester College (WCM 18285), is of special interest in being the only known example signed by both Dyer and his friend Philip Sidney. It is a surrender by Sidney to the college Warden Thomas Bilson of his interest in the site of the manor of Sydling and other lands demised by Warden Stempe to Rychard White 10 March 1571[/2] and of Parsonage of the same with hereditaments demised by Stempe to Anthony White 17 August 1576, the document dated 18 August 1582.

Books and Manuscripts Owned by Dyer

At present a single printed book from Dyer's library can be recorded: a book on navigation by John Dee (DyE 99). There are at least two manuscript volumes that were dedicated to Dyer: works by John Florio and Abraham Fraunce (British Library, Add. MS 15214 and British Library, Add. MS 34361). More of such volumes may well come to light.

Peter Beal