Wednesday, September 22, 2021

The Battle of Zutphen and Sir Philip Sidney (and St. Edmund Campion!)

On September 22, 1586, Spanish forces defeated the Anglo-Dutch allies at the Battle of Zutphen in the Spanish Netherlands. (In May of 1591, the Anglo-Dutch allies, led by Maurice of Orange, would besiege the Spaniards and win the city back.) 

During a cavalry charge, Sir Philip Sidney was fatally wounded, as it turned out, because the surgeons could not remove the musket ball from his thigh and he died of gangrene poisoning in the city Arnhem on October 17, 1586. Biographers now, like Alan Stewart, dismiss the legend that Sidney removed a piece of his body armor that would have protected him from this wound because another Englishman did not wear it. Stewart comments that the English generally preferred light armor, so Sidney wouldn't have been wearing it in the first place.  

His body was returned to England and he was buried in the Old St. Paul's Cathedral but his grave and monument were destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. His posthumous reputation as a Renaissance courtier was aided by his biographer Fulke Greville and Edmund Spenser's elegy Astrophel.

The Poetry Foundation notes in its biography of Sidney that he met Edmund Campion in 1577 during his "official mission of extending the queen's condolences to the family of Maximilian II":

In Prague he also visited Edmund Campion, whom he must have known, if only casually, from their days at Oxford. To his tutor in Rome, Campion described Sidney, mistakenly, as "a poor wavering soul" who might be amenable to conversion to the Roman Church. It is clear that his interest in Sidney was opportunistic. Yet Campion's words provide no basis for saying, as John Buxton has, that Sidney was cynically "using all his tact and charm to learn from Campion's own lips how far conversion had led him on the path of disloyalty." Rather, though Sidney held Campion to be in "a full wrong divinity"--as he said of Orpheus, Amphion, and Homer in
The Defence of Poetry--he probably admired the gifted and accomplished Jesuit, as many others did. Sidney genuinely sought "the prayers of all good men" and was happy to assist even Catholics who would ease the suffering of the poor. The catalogue of the long-dispersed library at Penshurst, recently discovered by Germaine Warkentin, lists an edition of the Conference in the Tower with Campion, (1581) published shortly after Campion's execution. If in fact this book belonged to Philip Sidney, perhaps he hoped to find in it evidence that Campion had discovered the true religion in the hours before his death.

Edmund Campion had left Oxford in 1569, the year after Sidney had come to attend Christ Church. The two men shared the patronage of the Earl of Leicester: Sidney because Leicester was his uncle; Campion because of his display of rhetorical brilliance when Elizabeth I visited Oxford in 1566.

Their "tours" of Europe overlap: Sidney from 1572 to 1575; Campion from 1571 to 1580. But they were seeking vastly different goals: Sidney to forge a Protestant alliance; Campion to study for the priesthood and to teach in Prague at the Jesuit College. 

And they both hoped the other would convert: Sidney hoped Campion would return to the Church of England; Campion hoped that Sidney would be reconciled to his ancestral Catholicism.

Image Credit (public domain): The Fatal Wounding of Sir Philip Sidney (1805)by Benjamin West.

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