Wilton History Festival: the Countess of Pembroke and her circle

Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke (from a Nicholas Hilliard miniature)

Just a brief post to say I will be speaking at Wilton History Festival on 17 September about the literary circle around Mary Sidney and the power of patronage.

For those who don’t know, Mary Sidney was the younger sister Philip Sidney and is the Countess of Pembroke for whom he wrote the Arcadia. However, she was also a superb poet in her own right, as the translations of the Psalms which she and her brother wrote clearly demonstrate. She completed around two-thirds of the translations after his death, and her work is both technically astonishing and supremely powerful. As a patron, she supported Spenser and Daniel, among many others.

Her sons, Philip and – particularly – William would become powerful and influential patrons themselves. It is no coincidence that both Jonson’s 1616 Workes and Shakespeare’s 1623 First Folio are dedicated to them.

It is one of English literature’s great ironies that the fortune that made this patronage possible was amassed by a man believed by his contemporaries to be functionally illiterate – he is said to have been the last member of the Privy Council who could neither read nor write – and was in any case largely based on property from the destruction of the monasteries.

A link to the festival programme is here. Please do come and say hello! Wilton House itself has so many historic associations, and I’m really looking forward to visiting myself!

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