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This HTML etext of Sidney's Discourse in Defence of the Earl of Leicester (1584) was created in May 2007 by Anniina Jokinen of Luminarium. The text is unaltered.
    Source text:
    Sidney, Philip. "A Discourse in Defence of the Earl of Leicester, 1584."
    The Miscellaneous Works of Sir Philip Sidney, Knt.
    William Gray, ed. Boston: T. O. H. P. Burnham, 1860.  305-323.
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OF late there hath been printed a book in form of dialogue, to the defaming of the Earl of Leicester, full of the most vile reproaches, which a wit used to wicked and filthy thoughts can imagine. In such manner truly, that if the author had as well feigned new names as he doth new matters, a man might well have thought his only meaning had been, to have given a lively picture of the uttermost degree of railing. A thing contemptible in the doer, as proceeding from a base and wretched tongue, as, in the speaking, dares not speak his own name. Odious to all estates, since no man bears a name, of which name, how unfitly soever to the person, by an impudent liar, anything may not be spoken; by all good laws sharply punished, and by all civil companies like a poisonous serpent avoided. But to the Earl himself, in the eyes of any men, who, with clear judgments, can value things, a true and sound honour grows out of these dishonourable falsehoods. Since he may justly say, as a worthy senator of Rome once in like case did, that no man, these twenty years, hath borne a hateful heart to this estate, but that, at the same time, he hath showed his enmity to this Earl; testifying it hereby, that his faith is so linked to her Majesty's service, that who goes about to undermine the one, resolves withal to overthrow the other. For it is not now, first that evil contented, and evil minded persons, before the occasion be ripe for them, to show their hate against the prince, do first vomit it out against his counsellors; nay certainly, so stale a device it is, as it is to be marvelled, that so fine wits, whose inventions a fugitive fortune hath sharpened, and the air of Italy perchance purified, can light upon no gallanter way, than the ordinary pretext of the very clownish rebellious. And yet that this is their plot of late, by name, first to publish something against the Earl of Leicester, and after, when time served, against the Queen's Majesty, by some of their own intercepted discourses, is made too manifest. He himself, in some places, brings in the examples of Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall, Robert Vere, Duke of Ireland, and Delapool, Duke of Suffolk. It is not my purpose to defend them, but I would fain know, whether they that persecuted those counsellors, when they had had their will in ruining them, whether their rage ceased, before they had as well destroyed the kings themselves, Edward, and Richard the Second, and Henry the Sixth? The old tale testifieth, that the wolves, that mean to destroy the flock, hate most the truest and valiantest dogs. Therefore, the more the filthy imposthume of their wolfish malice breaks forth, the more undoubtedly doth it raise this well-deserved glory to the Earl, that who hates England, and the Queen, must also withal hate the Earl of Leicester.
      And as for the libel itself, such is it, as neither in respect of the writer, nor matter written, can move, I think, the lightest wits to give thereto credit, to the discredit of so worthy a person. For the writer (whom in truth I know not, and, loath to fail, am not willing to guess at) shows yet well enough, of what kennel he is, that dares not testify his own writings with his own name. And which is more base — (if anything can be more base than a defamatory libeller) he counterfeits himself, in all the treatise, a Protestant, when any man, with half an eye, may easily see he is of the other party; which filthy dissimulation, if few honest men of that religion will use, to the helping of themselves, of how many carats of honesty is this man, that useth it (as much as his poor power can) to the harm of another. And lastly, evident enough it is, to any man that reads it, what poison he means to her Majesty, in how golden a cup soever he dress it.
      For the matter written, so full of horrible villainies, as no good heart will think possible to enter into any creature, much less to be likely in so noble and well-known a man as he is, only thus accused to be by the railing oratory of a shameless libeller. Perchance he had read the rule of that sycophant, that one should backbite boldly; for though the bite were healed, yet the scar would remain: but sure that schoolmaster of his would more cunningly have carried it, leaving some shadows of good, or, at least, leaving out some evil, that his treatise might have carried some probable show of it; for as reasonable commendation wins belief, and excessive gets only the praiser the title of a flatterer; so much more in this far worse degree of lying, it may well rebound upon himself, the vile reproach of a railer, but never can sink into any good mind. The suspicion of any such unspeakable mischiefs, especially it being every man's case, even from the meanest to the highest, whereof we daily see odious examples, that even of the great princess, the dear riches of good name are sought in such sort to be picked away by such night thieves. For through the whole book, what is it else, but such a bundle of railings, as if it came from the mouth of some half-drunk scold in a tavern, not regarding while evil were spoken, what was fit for the person of whom the railing was, so the words were fit for the person of an outrageous railer. Dissimulation, hypocrisy, adultery, falsehood, treachery, poison, rebellion, treason, cowardice, atheism, and what not, and all still so upon the superlative, that it was no marvel, though the good lawyer, he speaks of, made many a cross to keep him from such a father of lies, and in many excellent gifts, passing all shameless scolds; in one he passeth himself with an unheard-of impudence, bringing persons, yet alive, to speak such things which they are ready to depose, upon their salvation, never came in their thoughts. Such a gentlewoman spake of a matter no less than treason, belike she whispered, yet he heard her; such two knights spake together of things not fit to call witnesses to, yet this ass's ears were so long that he heard them. And yet see his good nature all this while would never reveal them, till now, for secrecy's sake, he puts them forth in print; certainly such a quality in a railer, as I think never was heard of, to name persons alive, as not only can, but do disprove his falsehoods, and yet with such familiarity to name them. Without he learned it of Pace, the Duke of Norfolk's fool, for he, when he had used his tongue, as this heir of his hath done his pen, of the noblest persons, sometimes of the Duke himself, the next that came fitly in this way, he would say he had told it him, of abundance of charity, not only to slander but to make bate. What, therefore, can be said to such a man? Or who lives there, even Christ himself, but that so stinking a breath may blow infamy upon? Who hath a father, by whose death the son inherits, but such a nameless historian may say his son poisoned him? Where may two talk together, but such a spirit of revelation may surmise they spake of treason? What need more, or why so much? as though I doubted that any would build belief upon such a dirty seat, only when he, to borrow a little of his inkhorn, when he plays the statist, wringing very unluckily some of Machiavel's axioms to serve his purpose, then indeed—then he triumphs.
      Why then the Earl of Leicester means and plots to be king himself, but first to rebel from the prince to whom he is most bound, and of whom he only dependeth, and then to make the Earl of Huntingdon king, and then to put him down, and then to make himself. Certainly, sir, you shoot fair; I think no man, that hath wit and power to pronounce this word England, but will pity a sycophant so weak in his own faculty. But of the Earl of Huntingdon, as I think all indifferent men will clear him from any such foolish and wicked intent of rebellion, so I protest, before the majesty of God, who will confound all liars, and before the world, to whom effects and innocency will witness my truth, that I could never find in the Earl of Leicester any one motion of inclination toward any such pretended conceit in the Earl of Huntingdon. I say no wit future, for as for the present, or for drawing it to himself, I think no devil so wicked, nor no idiot so simple, as to conjecture; and yet, being to him as I am, I think I should have some air of that, which this gentle libel-maker doth so particularly and piecemeal understand, and I do know the Earls of Warwick, of Pembroke, my father, and all the rest he names there, will answer the like. And yet such matters cannot be undertaken without good friends, nor good friends be kept without knowing something; but the Earl's mind hath ever been to serve only and truly, setting aside all hopes, all fears, his mistress by undoubted right Queen of England, and most worthy to be the queen of her royal excellences, and most worthy to be his queen, having restored his overthrown house, and brought him to this case, that curs for only envy bark at.
      And this his mind is not only (though chiefly) for faith knit in conscience and honour, nor only (though greatly) for gratefulness, where all men know how much he is bound, but even partly for wisdom's sake, knowing by all old lessons and examples that how welcome soever treasons be, traitors to all wise princes are odious, and that, as Mucius answered Tully, who wrote to him how he was blamed for showing himself so constant a friend to Caesar, that he doubted not, even they that blamed him would rather choose such friends as he was, than such as they were. For wise princes well know, that these violent discontentments arise out of the parties' wicked humours, as in sick folks, that think, with change of places, to ease their evil, which indeed is inward, and whom nor this prince nor that prince, can satisfy, but such as are led by their fancies, that is to say, who leave to be princes. But this gentle libel-maker, because he would make an evident proof of an unquenchable malice, desperate impudency and falsehood, which never knew blushing, is not content with a whole dictionary of slanders upon these persons living, but as if he would rake up the bones of the dead, with so apparent falsehoods toucheth their houses, as if he had been afraid else he should not have been straight found in that wherein he so greatly labours to excel. First, for Hastings, he saith, the Lord Hastings conspired the death of his master King Edward's sons; Let any man but read the excellent treatise of Sir Thomas More [History of Richard III], compare but his words with this libel-maker's, and then judge him, if he, who in a thing so long since printed, and, as any man may see by other of his allegations, diligently read, hath the face to write so directly contrary, not caring, as it seems, though a hundred thousand find his falsehood, so some dozens, that never read Sir Thomas More's words, may be carried to believe his horrible slanders of a nobleman so long ago dead. I set down the words of both, because, by this only lively comparison, the face of his falsehood may be the better set forth. And who then can doubt, but he that lies in a thing, which, with one look, is found a lie, what he will do, where yet there is though as much falsehood, yet no so easy disproof.
      Now to the Dudleys, such is his bounty, that, when he hath poured out all his flood of scolding eloquence, he saith they are no gentlemen, affirming, that the then Duke of Northumberland was not born so; in truth, if I should have studied with myself of all points of false invections, which a poisonous tongue could have spit out against that duke, yet would it never have come into my head, of all other things, that any man would have objected want of gentry unto him; but this fellow doth like him, who, when he had shot off all his railing quiver, called one cuckold that was never married, because he would not be in debt to any one evil word. I am a Dudley in blood, that duke's daughter's son, and do acknowledge, though in all truth, I may justly affirm, that I am, by my father's side, of ancient, and always well-esteemed and well-matched gentry, yet I do acknowledge, I say, that my chiefest honour is to be a Dudley, and truly am glad to have cause to set forth the nobility of that blood whereof I am descended, which, but upon so just cause, without vainglory, could not have been uttered; since no man, but this fellow of invincible shamelessness, would ever have called so palpable a matter in question. In one place of his book, he greatly extolleth the great nobility of the house of Talbot, and truly with good cause, there being, as I think, not in Europe a subject house which hath joined longer continuance of nobility, with men of greater service and loyalty. And yet this duke's own grandmother, whose blood he makes so base, was a Talbot, daughter and sole heir to the Viscount L'Isle; even he, the same man, who, when he might have saved himself, chose rather manifest death, than to abandon his father, that most noble Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, of whom the histories of that time make so honourable mention. The house of Grey is well known; to no house in England in great continuance of honour, and for number of great houses sprung of it, to be matched by none; but, by the noble house of Neville, his mother was a right Grey, and a sole inheritrix of that Grey of the house of Warwick which ever strave with the great house of Arundel, which should be the first earl of England; he was likewise so descended, as that justly the honour of the house remained chiefly upon him, being the only heir to the eldest daughter, and one of the heirs to that famous Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, that was Regent of France. And although Richard Neville, who married the youngest sister, because she was of the whole blood to him that was called Duke of Warwick, by a point in our law carried away the inheritance, and so also, I know not by what right, the title, yet in law of heraldry and descents, which doth not consider those quiddities of our law, it is most certain that the honor of the blood remained upon him chiefly, who came of the eldest daughter. And more undoubtedly is it to be said of the house of Berkeley, which is affirmed to be descended lineally from a king of Denmark, but hath ever been one of the best houses in England, and this duke was the only heir general to that house, which the house of Berkeley doth not deny, howsoever as sometimes it falls out between brothers, there be question for land between them.
      Many other houses might herein be mentioned, but I name these, because England can boast of no nobler, and because all these bloods so remained in him that he, as heir, might (if he had listed) have used their arms and name, as in old time they used in England and do daily both in Spain, France, and Italy. So that I think it would seem as great news as if they came from the Indies, that he, who by right of blood, and so accepted, was the ancientest viscount of England, heir in blood and arms to the first or second earl of England, in blood of inheritance a Grey, a Talbot, a Beauchamp, a Berkeley, a L'Isle, should be doubted to be a gentleman. But he will say these great honors came to him by his mother. For these, I do not deny they came so, and that the mother being an heir hath been in all ages and countries sufficient to nobilitate is so manifest that even from the Roman time to modern times in such case they might, if they listed, and so often did, use their mother's name; and that Augustus Caesar had both name and empire of Caesar only by his mother's right, and so both moderns. But I will claim no such privilege. Let the singular nobility of his mother nothing avail him, if his father's blood were not in all respects worthy to match with hers, if ancient, undoubted, and untouched nobility be worthy to match with the most honorable house that can be: this house, therefore, of Dudley, which in despite of all shamelessness he so doth deprave, is at this day, a peer, as we term it, of the realm, a baron, and, as all Englishmen know, a lord of the Parliament, and so a companion, both in marriage, Parliament, and trial, to the greatest duke that England can bear; so hath it been ever esteemed, and so, in the constitutions of all our laws and ordinances, it is always reputed. Dudley house is so to this day, and thus it hath been time out of mind; in Harry the Fifth's time, the Lord Dudley was his Lord Steward, and did that pitiful office in bringing home, as the chief mourner, his victorious master's dead body; as who goes but to Westminster in the church may see.
      I think if we consider together the time which was of England the most flourishing, and the king he served, who, of all English kings was most puissant, and the office he bare, which was, in effect, as great as an English subject could have, it would seem very strange; so that Lord Dudley, if he could out of his grave hear this fellow make question, whether his lawful posterity, from father to son, should be gentlemen or no? But though he only had been sufficient to erect nobility to his successors, bringing, as the Romans termed it, so noble an image into the house, yet did he but receive his nobility from his ancestors, who had been lords of that very seignory of Dudley Castle, many descents before, even from King Richard the First's time; at which time Sir Richard Sutton married the daughter and heir of the Lord Dudley; since which time all descended of him, as divers branches there be, left the name of Sutton, and have all been called Dudleys, which is now above four hundred years since; and both those houses of Sutton and Dudley, having been before that time of great nobility; and that Sutton was a man of great honour and estimation, that very match witnesseth sufficiently, it being a dainty thing in that time, that one of Saxon blood, as Sutton's name testifieth he was, should match with such an inheritrix as Dudley was; the like example whereof I remember none, but the great house of Raby, who matched with Neville, who of that match, as the Suttons were called Dudleys, so did they ever since take the name of Neville; so, as of a house, which, these four hundred years, have been still owners of one seignory, the very place itself, to any that sees it, witnessing; such as, for any that I know, in England none, but the noble house of Stafford hath the like, considering the name of the house, the length of time it hath been possessed, the goodliness of the seat, with pleasures and royalties about it; so, as I think, any, that will not swear themselves brothers to a reproachful tongue, will judge of his other slander by this most manifest; since all the world may see he speaks against his own knowledge; for if either the house of Dudley had been great anciently, and now extinguished, or now great, and had not continued from old time, or that they had been unentitled gentlemen, so as men must not needs have taken knowledge of them, yet there might have been cast some veil over his untruth; but in a house now noble, long since noble, with a nobility never interrupted, seated in a place which they have, each father, and each son, continually owned, what should be said, but that this fellow desires to be known; suitable, having an untrue heart, he will become it with an untrue tongue.
      But perchance he will seem to doubt, for what will not he doubt, who will affirm that, which beyond all doubt is false, whether my great-grandfather, Edmond Dudley, were of the Lord Dudley's house, or no. Certainly, he might, in conscience and good manners, if so he did doubt, have made some distinction between the two houses, and not in all places have made so contemptible mention of that name of Dudley, which is borne by another peer of the realm; and even of charity sake he should have bestowed some father upon Edmond Dudley, and not leave him not only ungentled, but fatherless. A railing writer extant, against Octavius Augustus, saith, his grandfather was a silversmith; another Italian, against Hugh Capet, though with most absurd falsehood, saith his father was a butcher. Of divers of the best houses of England, there have been such foolish dreams, that one was a farrier's son, another a shoemaker's, another a milliner's, another a fiddler's; foolish lies, and by any that ever tasted any antiquities, known to be so. Yet those houses had luck to meet with honester railers, for they were not left fatherless clean, they descended from somebody; but we, as if we were of Deucalion's brood, were made out of stones, have left us no ancestors from whence we are come: but, alas! good railer, you saw the proofs were clear, and therefore, for honesty's sake, were contented to omit them; for, if either there had been difference of name, or difference of arms between them; or, if though in name and arms they agreed, yet, if there had been many descents fallen since, the separating of those branches (as we see in many ancient houses, it so falls out, as they are uncertain whether came out of other) then, I say yet, a valiant railer may venture upon a thing, where, because there is not an absolute certainty, there may be some possibility to escape; but, in this case, where not only name and arms, with only that difference which acknowledgeth our house to be of the younger brother, but such nearness of blood, as that Edmond Dudley's was no farther off than son to the younger brother of the same Lord Dudley, and so as he was to be Lord Dudley, if the Lord Dudley had died without heirs; and, by the German and Italian manner, himself was to have been also called Lord Dudley; that his father, being called John Dudley, married to the daughter and heir of Bramshot in Sussex; it was the only descent between him and the Lord Dudley, who was his grandfather; his great-grandfather being that noble Lord Dudley, whom before I mentioned, and no man need doubt that this writer doth not only know the truth hereof, but the proofs of this truth. This John, Edmond's father, being buried at Arundel Castle, who married Bramshot, and left that land to Edmond, and so to the duke in Sussex, which, after the duke sold, by confiscation came to the crown. This tomb any man at Arundel Castle may see. This Bramshot land I name, a thing not in the air, but which any man, by the ordinary course of those things, may soon know whether such land did not succeed unto Edmond from his father. So as where is this inheritance of land, and monuments in churches, and the persons themselves little more than in man's memory; truly this libeller deserves many thanks, that, with his impudent falsehood, hath given occasion to set down so manifest a truth.
      As to the Dudleys, he deals much harder withal, but no whit truer: But therein I must confess, I cannot allege his uncharitable triumphing upon the calamities fallen to that house, though they might well be challenged of a writer, of whom any honesty were to be expected; but God forbid I should find fault with that, since, in all his book, there is scarce any one truth else. But our house received such an overthrow; and hath none else in England done so? I will not seek to wash away that dishonour with other honourable tears. I would this land were not so full of such examples; and I think, indeed, this writer, if he were known, might in conscience clear his ancestors of any such disgraces, they were too low in the mire to be so thunder-stricken; but this I may justly and boldly affirm, let the last fault of the duke be buried.
      And, in good faith, now I have so far touched there, as any man that list to know a truth (if at least there be any that can doubt thereof) may straight be satisfied. I do not mean to give any man's eyes or ears such a surfeit, as by answering to repeat his filthy falsehoods, so contrary to themselves, as may well show how evil lies can be built with any uniformity. The same man in the beginning of the book, was potent, to use his term, in that the Queen had cause to fear him; the same man, in the end thereof, so abject, as any man might tread on him; the same man so unfriendly as no man could love him: the same man so supported by friends, that court and country were full of them; the same man extremely weak of body, and infinitely luxurious, the same man a dastard to fear anything: the same man so venturous, as to undertake, having no more title, such a matter, that Hercules himself would be afraid to do, if he were here among us: in sum, in one the same man, all the faults that in all the most contrary-humoured men in the world can remain; that sure, I think, he hath read the Devil's Roll of Complaints, which he means to put up against mankind, or else he could never have been acquainted with so many wretched mischiefs.
      But hard it were, if every goose quill could any way blot the honour of an Earl of Leicester, written in the hearts of so many men through Europe. Neither for me, shall ever so worthy a man's name be brought to be made a question, where there is only such a nameless and shameless opposer. But because that, though the writer hereof dost most falsely lay want of gentry to my dead ancestors, I have to the world thought good to say a little, which, I will assure any, that list to seek, shall find confirmed with much more.
      But to thee, I say, thou therein liest in thy throat; which I will be ready to justify upon thee, in any place of Europe, where thou wilt assign me a free place of coming, as within three months after the publishing hereof, I may understand thy mind. And, as till thou hast proved this, in all construction of virtue and honour, all the shame thou hast spoken is thine own, the right reward of an evil-tongued shelm, as the Germans especially call such people. So again, in any place, whereto thou wilt call me, provided that the place be such, as a servant of the Queen's majesty have free access unto; if I do not, having my life and liberty, prove this upon thee, I am content that this lie, I have given thee, return to my perpetual infamy. And this which I write I would send to thine own hands, if I knew thee; but I trust it cannot be intended, that he should be ignorant of this printed in London, which knows the very whisperings of the privy-chamber. I will make dainty of no baseness in thee, that art indeed the writer of this book. And, from the date of this writing, imprinted and published, I will three months expect thine answer.

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