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.

Answer the following questions on a sheet of paper

  1. When was she born?
  1. Who invited her to court?
  1. Which family members of hers died in 1586?
  1. What project of her husband’s (Phillip) did she finish? How many did she translate?
  1. What two poets did she inspire?

If Ever Hapless Woman Had a Cause

Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, on the death of her brother, Philip Sidney

If ever hapless woman had a cause

to breath her plaints into the open air,

And never suffer inward grief to pause.

Or seek her sorrow-shaken soul’s repair;

Then I, for I have lost my only brother,5

Whose like this age can scarcely yield another.

Come therefore, mournful Muses, and lament;

Forsake all wanton pleasing motions;

Bedew your cheeks. Still shall my tears be spent,

Yet still increased with inundations.10

For I must wee, since I have lost my brother,

Whose like this age can scarcely yield another.

The cruel hand of murder cloyed with blood

Lewdly deprived him of his mortal life.

Woe the death-attended blades that stood15

In opposition ‘gainst him in the strife

Wherein he fell, and where I lost a brother,

Whose like this age can scarcely yield another.

Then unto Grief let me a temple make,

And, mourning, daily enter Sorrow’s ports,20

Knock on my breast, sweet brother, for they sake,

Nature and love will both be my consorts,

And help meaye to wail my only brother,

Whose like this age can scarcely yield another.

Answer the following questions on a separate piece of paper

  1. Give me your impression of the mood in this lament. Could you feel the author’s loss of her brother? Did you ever have this kind of loss in your life?
  1. Did you notice any lines being repeated in this poem? What were they? Was it an effective tool? Why or why not?
  1. Did you like the way the poem flowed? Did it match the mood of the poem? Why or why not?
  1. What kind of images did the author create in her elegy? Give at least three examples from the poem.