Female and Male Voices in Early Modern England: An Anthology of Renaissance Writing

By Betty S. Travitsky; Anne Lake Prescott | Go to book overview

3
Mary Sidney Herbert,
countess of Pembroke (1561–1621)
Henry Vaughan (1622–1695)

Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, Mourns her Brother

Daughter of Mary Dudley Sidney and Sir Henry Sidney, Mary Sidney Herbert (1561–1621) received a fine (if not profound) education at the hands of private tutors, served briefly in the court of Elizabeth I, and was married in 1576, at fifteen, to the forty-two-year-old Henry Herbert, earl of Pembroke. While raising four children, she also made her home, Wilton House, a mecca for poetic lights, including her illustrious brother, Sir Philip, with whom she collaborated in translating the Psalter into verse. Philip completed the first 43 psalms before his death in 1586; Mary did the remaining 107. All these, often revised by the countess, circulated widely in manuscript. A number of her other works, including revisions of Sidney's Arcadia, saw print, an unusual course for the writings of any woman, particularly for a woman of her rank. A lament for her brother, the “doleful lay” of Clorinda, reproduced here, appeared in Edmund Spenser's Colin Clouts Come Home Again (1595) as a conclusion to his “Astrophel,” an elegy for the dead Philip Sidney (“Clorinda,” in Spenser's myth, is the dead hero's sister). The authorship is debated, but Herbert's modern editor, Margaret Hannay, ascribes it to the countess. Since it is traditional not to modernize Spenser's own English, we retain the original spelling, although not the punctuation. We base our text on the edition by J. C. Smith and E. de Selincourt (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1912).

-23-

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