Philip Sidney was "the ultimate silver-spoon baby". Nephew to the Earls of Leicester and Warwick and son of the Lord Deputy of Ireland, he became a legend if not in his own lifetime, then certainly on his death. Alan Stewart begins Philip Sidney: A Double Life with his funeral and ends with his death but the life in between yields rich pickings. The "double life" ostensibly refers to his role as courtier and poet; it could equally apply to the mythologised biography that sprang up around him even as he breathed his last. When he died aged 31 at Arnhem in 1586 after receiving a wound in battle at Zutphen, he was being spoken of as the next ruler of the Low Countries, having shrugged off the label, Stewart puts it, of being "someone's nephew, someone's son". Certainly he was an excellent European, finding more common intellectual ground on the Continent than in Elizabeth's stifling court, and had he lived he may have been at the forefront of an English Protestant literature and even perhaps European political Protestantism. In fact, the "literary trifles" he wrote whilst away from court--chiefly the prose romance The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia, the literary treatise A Defence of Poetry and the 108 sonnets of "Astrophil and Stella"--were not published in his lifetime (more poetry was published in his life about him than by him), yet within a few years his works were scarcely out of print. Today, you will not find them on the National Curriculum and he is read perhaps less than at any time since then.
Alan Stewart's cogent style is the very essence of modern history. Unflustered and unindulgent, he cuts a commanding swathe through the slippery manoeuvrings of the Elizabethan court and does much to correct the half-truths and rumours surrounding Sidney, unpicking the hagiographic knot by a painstaking trawl through the archives of innumerable European academic institutions. Philip Sidney: A Double Life is a remarkably assured debut by a young historian who brings fresh enlightenment to the Renaissance and does considerable justice to a deserving figure, who "slipt into the title of the poet" and of whom it was written at his death, "the very hope of our age seemeth to be utterly extinguished in him". --David Vincent
"A work of great scholarship." -"The Times"
'A work of great scholarship and fluency, filled with an affection for the subject An excellent biography. ' Peter Ackroyd, The Times
Courtier, poet, soldier, diplomat - Philip Sidney was one of the most promising young men of his age. Son of Elizabeth I's deputy in Ireland, nephew and heir to her favourite, Leicester, he was tipped for high office - and even to inherit the throne. But Sidney soon found himself caught up in the intricate politics of Elizabeth's court and forced to become as Machiavellian as everyone around him if he was to achieve his ambitions. Against a backdrop of Elizabethan intrigue and the battle between Protestant and Catholic for predominance in Europe, Alan Stewart tells the riveting story of Philip Sidney's struggle to suceed. Seeing that his continental allies had a greater sense of his importance that his English contamporaries, Philip turned his attention to Europe. He was made a French baron at seventeen, corresponded with leading foreign scholars, considered marriage proposals from two princesses and, at the time of his tragically early death, was being openly spoken of as the next ruler of the Netherlands.
From the Publisher
Sir Philip Sidney is one of English history's legendary figures--a glittering presence at the court of Elizabeth I, lauded as poet, soldier and statesman. His prose romance The Arcadia and sonnet sequence Astrophil and Stella had a huge and enduring influence on the development of English Literature. It has long been known that the image of Sidney as the perfect Renaissance courtier was part of a myth promoted after his death in battle at the age of 31; in reality Sidney spent most of his life on the margins of court life, often out of favour, never achieving high office. What has remained hidden is the extent of Sidney's prominence in Europe.
Drawing on neglected print sources and manuscripts from archives across Europe, Alan Stewart has written the first biography fully to unearth Philip Sidney's double life. A man of thwarted ambition in England, on the Continent Sidney was a power to be reckoned with: a diplomat who was made a French baron at 17, he corresponded with leading foreign scholars, considered marriage proposals from two princesses and, at the time of his death, was being openly spoken of as the next ruler of the Netherlands. Brilliantly conjuring up a 16th-century Europe in flux and the bitter struggle for power between Protestant and Catholic, this fascinating biography reveals an unfamiliar Philip Sidney--his plans to form a pan-European Protestant army, his secret diplomatic negotiations--throwing new light on his famous writings.
Dr Alan Stewart co-authored Hostage to Fortune: the Troubled Life of Francis Bacon 1561-1626 with Lisa Jardine. He teaches Renaissance Studies at Birkbeck College, London.