Saturday, October 13, 2012

On This Day in Elizabethan History: Sir Henry Sidney Gets a Promotion

A detail from a portrait of Sir Henry Sidney by or after Arnold van Bronckorst, 1573. Image public domain through Creative Commons licensing, NPG, London.

On this day in Elizabethan history, 1565 Queen Elizabeth made Sir Henry Sidney Lord Deputy of Ireland. He had proven himself worthy of the position, which called for administrative and military expertise, having previously served in Ireland in 1556. 

The Ulster chieftain Shane O'Neill had become an irritant for England that needed to be suppressed. Sidney was able to effectively control O'Neill, and later his successors, after O'Neill was murdered. After containing the difficult Desmond Rebellions, Sir Henry Sidney returned to England, exhausted, in 1571. By 1575 he was back in Ireland, trying to contain further uprisings. Sidney formed an uneasy alliance with Grace O'Malley, the Irish Sea Queen of Connaught, in 1577. O'Malley offered the Lord Deputy some of her ships and support, on the condition that he would help her son succeed to the title of MacWilliam. Sidney kept his promise to O'Malley. O'Malley made an impression on another member of the Sidney family, as well; she was celebrated in verse by Sir Henry Sidney's son, Philip, who had met her the previous year (Chambers, 36). O'Malley would famously have an audience with Queen Elizabeth in 1593.

The meeting of Grace O'Malley and Queen Elizabeth I. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

In 1578, Sir Henry Sidney was recalled by Queen Elizabeth, who disapproved of the amount of money he was spending in his post. To be fair, being Lord Deputy of Ireland was a necessary but thankless job, and Queen Elizabeth, who held England's purse-strings tightly, always took issue with the expenditures of her Deputies. 

Lord Deputy Sir Henry Sidney sets out with his forces from Dublin Castle. From The Image of Irelande by John Derrick, 1581. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Yet Sidney was generally well-liked by Queen Elizabeth due to his reliability and efficiency, but also because of his marriage to Mary Dudley. Mary was the sister of Robert Dudley, Queen Elizabeth I's enduring favorite, and a personal friend of the Queen as well. The couple had been married in 1551. Just three years prior to Sir Henry's promotion, Queen Elizabeth had fallen ill with smallpox at Hampton Court Palace. Mary Dudley, Lady Sidney, attended to her Queen so selflessly that she herself was stricken with the disease. Mary was very badly scarred as a result, and retired from court life.

A portrait of Mary Dudley, Lady Sidney, attributed to Hans Eworth, circa 1550-1555. Petworth House, The National Trust. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Henry Sidney and Mary Dudley Sidney had three sons and four daughters. One of their sons was the esteemed soldier-poet, Sir Philip Sidney, and one of their daughters was Mary Sidney-Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, an author in her own right.

Chambers, Anne. Granuaile: Ireland's pirate queen Grace O'Malley c. 1530-1603. Dublin: Wolfhound Press. 2003. Print.