Mary (Sidney) Herbert (1561-1621)

Mary Sidney was born at Ticknall Place, Bewdley, Worcestershire in England on October 27, 1561, daughter of Sir Henry Sidney, thrice Lord Deputy of Ireland and sister of the poets Sir Philip Sidney and Sir Robert Sidney. She was educated at home in French, Italian, Latin and Greek, and music.
Lady Mary was well favored of Elizabeth I who invited her to court in 1575. In 1577 Mary wed Henry Herbert, 2nd Earl of Pembroke—they lived mostly at the Pembroke family estate, Wilton House, near Salisbury, Wiltshire. They had four children, including the two sons, William (later 3rd Earl of Pembroke) and Phillip, to whom Shakespeare's First Folio (1623) was dedicated.
          After her marriage, Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, gathered around her a group of notable poets, musicians, and artists. Among those who praised her patronage of the arts were Edmund Spenser, whose Ruines of Time were dedicated to her, as well as Michael Drayton, Sir John Davies, and Samuel Daniel.2 She was second only to the queen as an Elizabethan femme savante. In 1586 not only Mary's mother and father died, but also her brother Philip, to whose memory she dedicated much of her career. After her husband's death in 1601 she led a private existence, and died in London on 25 September 1621 and was buried in Salisbury Cathedral.
          Her literary works include a composite edition of her brother Philip Sidney's Arcadia, translations of Garnier's tragedy Antoine (1592), Duplessis-Mornay's Discours de la vie et de la mort (1592), and Petrarch's Trionfo della morte (in terza rima), and a few original poems, including dedicatory poems, an elegy for her brother Sir Philip Sidney ("The Dolefull Lay of Clorinda", 1595), and a short pastoral entertainment for Queen Elizabeth. After Philip's death she completed the verse translation of the psalms he had begun, contributing 107 of the 150 psalms. The manuscript was widely circulated and admired, and it influenced many of the great poets of the 17th century, most notably George Herbert and John Donne.


  1. Silver Poets of the Sixteenth Century. Douglas Brooks-Davies, ed.
    Rutland, Vermont: Everyman's Library, 1992. 290.
  2. Encyclopedia Britannia. Online.
  3. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 6th ed. v1.
    New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1993. 1046.

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