Philip Sidney was born, in 1554, into prosperity and with connections. He was the eldest son of Sir Henry Sidney and Lady Mary Dudley – making him a relative of the 1st Duke of Northumberland and the 1st Earl of Leicester, Robert Dudley.
He was educated at Shrewsbury School and Christ Church, Oxford.
If there was a man at Elizabeth’s court who epitomised the qualities of chivalry and courtly behaviour which were prized in the medieval foundations of that age, it was Sir Philip Sidney. In a life that was ended prematurely, he accomplished much, including distinction in the roles of solider, statesman and spy.
He was a favourite of Queen Elizabeth, who made him her Champion of the Lists; otherwise known as jousting, which had been kept alive by Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII, but was largely ceremonial in nature, in an age where guns were taking over the rituals of war. It was, though, a considerable honour and showed the depth of affection in which he was held by the queen.
His life ended prematurely at the age of thirty-two when he was wounded in a skirmish with a group of Spanish soldiers in Zutphen, the Netherlands. Ironically, he shouldn’t have been there. He had been planning, covertly, to join Sir Francis Drake on one of his expeditions, but his intentions were royally uncovered. Elizabeth was reluctant to let him travel too far – a treatment shared with Sir Walter Raleigh and, instead, had him sent to fight the Spanish forces intent on crushing Flemish Protestantism. It is a twist of fate that, had he sailed with Drake, he would likely have been safe, obeying the queen, he died of gangrene from an infected thigh wound. In October 1586, Elizabeth I’s England lost one of its favourite sons.
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