Four hundred years ago, on 17 October 1586, Sir Philip Sidney died at the age of 31 of a wound sustained in a skirmish at Zutphen, where his forces had fought for the Dutch cause against Spanish domination of the Netherlands. It was one of the great deaths of English history. His early biographers - or hagiographers - wrought a tale of battlefield heroism and deathbed stoicism that helped the myth of Sidney to become more powerful than the man had ever been. The funeral procession in London, arranged at the crippling expense of his father-in-law Sir Francis Walsingham, Secretary of State to Queen Elizabeth, and preserved in the public imagination by Thomas Lant's pictorial roll, was the grandest accorded to an English subject before Nelson: a determined show of strength by the forward Protestant party to which Sidney had belonged and in whose cause he became a martyr. Poets wrote elegies which answered to a widespread sense of waste and desolation. They were to be echoed a quarter of a century later upon a no less memorable early death, that of Henry Prince of Wales, the heir not only to the throne but to Sidney's role of lost Protestant leader.
LRB 3 July 1986 | PDF Download