The Last Word
Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke
The Countess of Pembroke (1561–1621) remaine…idney throughout her married and widowed life. Letters from her were signed 'M. Pembroke', but they were sealed with the Sidney heraldic arrowhead or pheon.1 When in 1604 another Mary became her daughter-in- law, and took over her title and signature, she started to sign herself plain 'Pembroke'; i…etter of 1607 the name was surrounded with a device of esses, which, as used by Pembroke and her niece and goddaughter Mary Wroth, seem to combine 'S' for Sidney with the arrowhead; the seal wa…evice of her married initials 'MH' formed from two interlocking Sidney pheons.2 She decorated her new home of Houghton House with that same device, combining her Herbert and Sidney identities.3 Henry Peacham commented on Mary Wroth's use of the pheon, placing her in the category of those 'borne Ladies; who though they be marryed to Knights, yet they are commonly stiled and called after the Sirname of their fathers … for the greater Honour must ever extinguish the lesse'.4 This makes sense in Wroth's case: when she was married to Sir Robert Wroth in 1604 her father had recently been mad…aron; by the time Peacham wrote he was an earl. But Wroth's aunt Mary Sidney was the daughter o…night who married an earl; her surname and identity should have become, and remained, that of a Herbert.
1 See Works, 1.289–96 (letter…nd 8, to Cecil, 1597; letter 9, to the Queen, 1601; letter 10, to Cecil, 1602; letters 11 and 12, to Sir Julius Caesar, 1603; letter 15, to the Shrewsburys, 1604). Since the publication of Works two more letters have come to light: see Steven W. May, 'Two Unpublished Letters by Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke', in English Manuscript Studies…2000), 88–97.
2Works, 1.297 (letter 16, to Cecil, 1607) and Hannay, 193 and (on the Wroth analogue) 273 n. 123.
3 Hannay, xi and 193.
4The Compleat Gentleman (1622), Y1r.