Sir Philip Sidney


Duncan-Jones & Van Dorsten

Miscellaneous Prose of Sir Philip Sidney, ed. Katherine Duncan-Jones and Jan Van Dorsten (Oxford, 1973).


The Prose Works of Sir Philip Sidney, ed. Albert Feuillerat, 4 vols (Cambridge, 1912-26; reprinted 1963).

Osborn, Young Philip Sidney

James M. Osborn, Young Philip Sidney 1572-77 (New Haven & London, 1972).


The Poems of Sir Philip Sidney, ed. William A. Ringler, Jr. (Oxford, 1962).


Sir Philip Sidney, The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia (The Old Arcadia), ed. Jean Robertson (Oxford, 1973).


Autograph Literary Manuscripts

Of all Sidney's literary works, only three pieces are preserved in his own handwriting: Certain Sonnets No. 6 (*SiP 31), the prose Defence of the Earl of Leicester (*SiP 172), and part of his prose Discourse on Irish Affairs (*SiP 180).


Sidney's hand is found elsewhere in many surviving letters by him. A considerable number of such letters are preserved in the National Archives, Kew, and in the British Library. A number are in the private muniments of great houses such as Hatfield House, Longleat House, Rousham House, and Sidney's own family seat, Penshurst Place. A number sent to foreign correspondents are in continental archives, and a certain number have been dispersed to various collections in Britain, Europe, and America. One hundred and fifteen of Sidney's letters are edited, chiefly from the originals, in Feuillerat (III, 75-184). Sixteen additional letters, as well as seventy-three letters sent to Sidney by correspondents, are recorded in Charles S. Levy, ‘A Supplementary Inventory of Sir Philip Sidney's Correspondence’, Modern Philology, 67 (1969-70), 177-81. Levy's item ‘M’, a letter in French to Lord Willoughby de Eresby, 14 July 1586, is now in the Lincolnshire Archives Office (6 Ancaster Vol. II/11). Three of the additional letters found in continental archives are printed by Levy in ‘An Unpublished Letter to Sir Philip Sidney’, N&Q, 211 (July 1966), 248-51, and in ‘The Sidney-Hanau Correspondence’, English Literary Renaissance, 2 (1972), 19-28. Another of the additional letters, now at Harvard, is printed in William H. Bond, ‘A Letter from Sir Philip Sidney to Christopher Plantin’, Harvard Library Bulletin, 8 (1954), 233-5. One more letter of Sidney's, written to Edward Denny, is preserved in a transcript now in the Bodleian (MS Don. d. 152). The text is printed by John Buxton, with facsimiles, in ‘An Elizabethan reading-list: An Unpublished Letter from Sir Philip Sidney’, TLS (24 March 1972), pp. 343-4 (and see ensuing correspondence on pp. 366, 394, 421, and 495), and in ‘A New Letter from Sir Philip Sidney’, ELR, 2 (1972), after p. 28; it is also printed in Osborn, Young Philip Sidney, pp. 535-40. The text of some ninety-six letters sent to Sidney by Hubert Languet (1518-81) is to be found in H. Langueti epistolae ad P. Sydnaeum (Frankfurt, 1633; Leiden, 1646). Fifty-three of these letters are translated in The Correspondence of Sir Philip Sidney and Hubert Languet, ed. Steuart A. Pears (London, 1845; reprinted 1971). One other related item, now at Harvard, is transcribed in William H. Bond, ‘A Letter of Languet about Sidney’, Harvard Library Bulletin, 9 (1955), 105-9. Seventy-six additional letters sent to Sidney by various correspondents were sold at Sotheby's, 26 June 1967, lots 741-2. Eleven of those letters, written by Canon Robert Dorsett, are now at Christ Church, Oxford. The remaining sixty-five (formerly constituting Phillipps MS 11762) are in the Osborn Collection at Yale (a microfilm of them is in the British Library, RP 125). They have been discussed and cited by James M. Osborn, in ‘New Light on Sir Philip Sidney’, TLS (30 April 1970), pp. 487-8, and in Young Philip Sidney. No doubt other letters will come to light. An edition of Sidney's letters by Roger Kuin is currently in progress.

Facsimiles of various letters of Sidney are to be found in The Autograph Portfolio: A Collection of Fac-simile Letters from Eminent Persons (London, 1837); in Feuillerat, III, frontispiece; in Facsimiles of Royal, Historical, and Literary Autographs in the British Museum (1899), Plate 19; in Greg, English Literary Autographs, Plate XLI; in The Library, 5th Ser. 21 (1966), after p. 326 (Plate XII); in Frederick G. Netherclift, The Hand-Book of Autographs (London, 1858-62), No. 6; in Lawrence B. Phillipps, The Autographic Album (London, 1866), No. 175; in Ann Morton, Men of Letters, Public Record Office Pamphlets No. 6 (London, 1974), Plate I; in ‘Robert H. Taylor Collection’, PULC, 38 (1977), facing p. 132; in Petti, English Literary Hands, No. 27; in British Literary Manuscripts, Series I, ed. Verlyn Klinkenborg et al. (New York, 1981), Plate 21; and (Sidney's last letter, written on his death-bed) in Sir Henry James, Facsimiles of National Manuscripts from William the Conqueror to Queen Anne, 4 vols (Southampton, 1865-8), III, Plate LXXXVII, and also in Some Stirring Relics of English History (c.1936).

Sidney's letter to Queen Elizabeth on the proposed Anjou marriage is effectively an epistolary political discourse, and was widely circulated as such in manuscripts, perhaps especially from 1625 onwards when Sidney's arguments became relevant again in connection with Charles I's marriage with the French Henrietta Maria. Some forty-two manuscripts of the Letter are currently recorded (SiP 181-215.8). One of Sidney's letters to his brother, effectively an epistolary tract of advice on his travels abroad, was also widely circulated, with some twenty examples currently known (SiP 180.1-180.160). Neither of these two letters is known to survive in their originals.


A number of other miscellaneous documents can be found bearing Sidney's signature. These have not been given entries below, but examples that may be listed briefly include a document of 1577 at Colorado College; one dated 26 January ‘1573’ formerly in the Hyde Collection (Letters, III, 116), a facsimile of which appears in the printed catalogue of the R.B. Adam Library (London & New York, 1929), III, facing p. 221; a letter of credit signed in Venice, 26 July 1574, sold at Christie's (Houghton sale, Part II), lot 428, and now in private hands; a receipt dated 10 May 1576 in the Folger (MS X.d.271); and a receipt dated 13 December 1579 in the Bodleian (MS Montagu d. 1, f. 23) [the last two cited in H.R. Woudhuysen, ‘A “Lost” Sidney Document’, Bodleian Library Record, 13 (1990), 353-9].

One particular document, now at Winchester College (WCM 18285), is of special interest in being the only known example signed by both Sidney and his friend Sir Edward Dyer. 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 Richard White 10 March 1571[/2] and of Parsonage of the same with hereditaments demised by Stempe to Anthony White 17 August 1576. The document is dated 18 August 1582.

Books and Manuscripts Owned or Inscribed by Sidney

Most of Sidney's books were probably destroyed in the fire at Wilton House in the mid-seventeenth century. Besides the Bodmeriana volume (*SiP 222) and a librum amicorum inscribed by Sidney (*SiP 224), only three books once owned by Sidney and bearing his inscriptions can currently be recorded (*SiP 221, *SiP 223, SiP 225). One or two others bearing the letters ‘P S’ have occasionally been attributed to Sidney, but this is only speculative. Some plainly false attributions have been made also: for instance, supposedly autograph verses by Sidney on the flyleaf of an exemplum of Pietro Bembo's Opera (1567), sold at Puttick & Simpson's, 21 June 1850, lot 506. The verses, beginning ‘Tyme tryethe truthe in every case’, are actually by Thomas Tusser (see May EV 26807). No doubt, however, other genuine examples will come to light in due course.

The Canon

The canon of Sidney's verse accepted for present purposes is based on Ringler, including his ‘Poems Possibly by Sidney’ (pp. 343-6) with the addition of three poems that may well have been written by Sidney for the same Accession Day celebration and which appear in the important Ottley Manuscript (SiP 91.6, SiP 91.8). Two of these poems are among the thirty poems classified in Ringler as ‘Wrongly attributed’ (pp. 349-53), which are here otherwise excluded. For an argument that a poem beginning ‘Blushe Phebus blushe thy glorye is forlorne’, found in the Arundel Harington MS (f. 144r), may belong to Astrophil and Stella, see Jean Robertson in Review of English Studies, NS 13 (1962), 403-6.

Duncan-Jones & Van Dorsten reject from the canon (p. 159) the prose essay Valour Anatomized in a Fancie which is attributed to Sidney in Cottoni Posthuma (London, 1651) and which is included in Feuillerat (III, 308-10) as a doubtful work. It is, in fact, more generally attributed to John Donne (see DnJ 4066-4067), the ascription to Sidney of this cynical argument on the value of honour and valour as ploys to seduce women being probably a deliberate satirical device. Neither are two poems inspired by Astrophil and Stella which apparently survive in a single manuscript (SiP 227, SiP 228) — the one headed Sr Philip Sidney to the Lady Penelope Rich, the answer headed The Lady Penelope Rich to Sr. Phillipe Sidney — by Sidney himself. With their accompanying introduction and a series of notes explaining the allusions and who the protagonists were, they are intriguing anonymous persona poems. So, perhaps, is a six-line poem ‘Sr Philip Sidney on himself’, beginning ‘It is not I dy I doe but leave ane Inn’, which occurs in National Library of Scotland, MS Acc 6824, p. 461.


As for Sidney's magnum opus, his ‘trifle’ Arcadia, no example is known of the ‘loose sheets of paper’ which he says he wrote chiefly in his sister's presence, ‘the rest by sheets sent unto you as fast as they were done’ (Robertson, p. 3). At his death Sidney made the Virgilian gesture of ordering the work to be burnt, but it is hardly likely that the loss of his sheets would have been occasioned by the observance of such instructions. Many copies of the work at various stages of completion or revision were made before the posthumous publication of the first edition (1590). The work afterwards achieved considerable popularity in the seventeenth century and is frequently found quoted in miscellanies, even in one compiled by Milton (SiP 233).

Early manuscript copies of Arcadia were evidently circulated in select circles, before reaching a wider audience, as was also later the case with the translation of The Psalms of David, begun by Sidney and completed by his sister Mary, Countess of Pembroke. Astrophil and Stella and the Certain Sonnets were less widely circulated as units until long after their publication in print, when individual poems were copied widely in miscellanies. For the most extensive study of the process of transmission and distribution of Sidney's works — which includes discussion of many of the principal manuscripts recorded here — see H.R. Woudhuysen, Sir Philip Sidney and the Circulation of Manuscripts 1558-1640 (Oxford, 1996).

Besides what is given entries below, various items connected with Arcadia may be found. An exemplum of the edition of 1598 preserved in the Royal Library, Windsor (III. 33. K), is one apparently bound for Queen Elizabeth I, although the title-page bears the signature ‘Charles Plessington’. Numerous quotations from the edition of 1590 appear in John Hoskyns's treatise Directions for Speech and Style exemplified out of Arcadia (see HoJ 339-342). Various exempla of printed editions also bear readers' annotations. Among well-known owners of exempla of Arcadia are Lady Anne Clifford (see CdA 21); William Wordsworth (an exemplum formerly owned by William Ringler Jr, now at the Massachusetts Center for Interdisciplinary Renaissance Studies, in Amherst), and S.T. Coleridge (his briefly annotated exemplum of a German translation published in Frankfurt, 1638, in the British Library, C.126.d.10: see The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Vol. 12, Marginalia V, ed. H.J. Jackson and George Whalley (Princeton, 2000), pp. 46-7.) An exemplum of the 1613 edition (Harvard, fSTC 22544 (B)) has extensive seventeenth-century manuscript annotations which were formerly but no longer ascribed to Gabriel Harvey: see BrW 214.

There also survive other writers' imitations, extensions of, or sequels to, Sidney's unfinished romance. Two ‘supplements’, by William Alexander and James Johnstoun respectively, were published in later issues of the 1613 and 1638 editions of Arcadia. ‘Continuations’ by Gervase Markham (The English Arcadia); by Richard Beling (A Sixth Book to the Countesse of Pembroke's Arcadia); and by Anna Weamys (A Continuation of Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia) were published in 1607-13, 1624, and 1651 respectively. To these works may be added another, apparently unpublished, continuation which survives in manuscript (SiP 168.9).


Fulke Greville's well-known life of Sidney exists in at least three manuscript copies (GrF 24-26), made before its publication in 1652. There are also two recorded manuscripts of The Manner of Sir Philip Sidney's Death, probably written by George Gifford (SiP 229-230). In addition, two biographical tributes to Sidney, one in Latin prose, the other in verse, were made by the physician Thomas Moffett in 1594, perhaps effectively the earliest biographies of Sidney and preserved in manuscript (SiP 231).

A few other miscellaneous items of interest may be mentioned. Sidney's ‘passport’ is at New College, Oxford (MS 328 (II)); the text is edited, with a facsimile, in John Buxton and Bent Juel-Jensen, ‘Sir Philip Sidney's First Passport Rediscovered’, The Library, 5th Ser. 25 (1970), 42-6. Sidney's horoscope is preserved in the Bodleian (MS Ashmole 356, item 5); it is printed and discussed by James M. Osborn in ‘Mica mica parva stella: Sidney's horoscope’, TLS (1 January 1971), pp. 17-18 (and see correspondence, p. 69), and in Young Philip Sidney, pp. 517-22. This last publication also includes the texts (p. 523) of Sidney's patent to bear arms in Italy in 1574 (now in the Venetian Archives) and (pp. 525-8) of the instructions for Sidney's embassy, 7 February 1576/7 (now in the British Library, Harley MS 36, ff. 295r-8r). Records of payments to Sidney made by Queen Elizabeth are recorded in the Privy Seal Warrant Book in the National Archives, Kew (E 403/2559, ff. 190r and 217r). These records, dated 28 June 1581 and 12 July 1584 respectively, are discussed, with facsimiles, in Steven May, ‘Sir Philip Sidney and Queen Elizabeth’, English Manuscript Studies, 2 (1990), 257-67.

A lengthy vellum genealogy of the Sidney family, with 88 coats of arms emblazened in their proper colours, compiled c.1580 (possibly for Sir Henry Sidney) by Robert Cooke, Clarenceux King of Arms, is now in the Bodleian (MS Eng. b. 2152). The Inquisition Post Mortem taken on Sidney's estate, 8 July 1588, is among the Inquisitions in the National Archives, Kew, but an official transcript (a roll of 63 leaves) made in 1607, and now at Yale (Osborn MS fb 109), bears witness to the complex problems of Sidney's estate which continued to vex his heirs during ensuing generations.

Peter Beal