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HERBERT, MARY SIDNEY, COUNTESS OF PEMBROKE (1561-1621) The daughter of Sir Henry Sidney, sister of Sir Robert Sidney, earl of Leicester, and sister of Sir Philip Sidney, Mary Sidney was born on October 27, 1561, at Ticknall Place, Bewdley, Worcestershire. She was finely educated in Greek, Latin, French, Italian, and music. A favorite of Elizabeth I, Mary was invited to court early, in 1575. In 1577, she married Henry Herbert, earl of Pembroke, with whom she had four children, including Philip, a patron of William Shakespeare. Soon after her marriage, Mary began a literary circle, to which she invited many learned individuals, including Edmund Spenser, Michael Drayton, Samuel Daniel, and Sir John Davies. Widely celebrated for her patronage of the arts, she also achieved a reputation as an author.
After Philip Sidney's death in 1586, Mary Herbert devoted many of her writing projects to his memory, including The Doleful Lay of Clorinda and "To Thee Pure Sprite." She also completed the Sidnean Psalms that Philip had begun before his demise. Mary Herbert was a prolific and skilled translator. For instance, in her translation of Petrarch's The Triumph of Death, she is the first writer to echo Petrarch's terza rima scheme in English. (Terza rima usually consists of tercets in iambic pentameter.) However, when her husband died in 1601, Mary retired from public life and from writing. By the time James VI/I ascended the English throne, Mary's sons had taken over her role as literary patron, and she retired to her estate in Wiltshire. There she commissioned an "architecturally innovative" house, and carried on a flirtation with Sir Matthew Lister. Mary died of smallpox on September 25, 1621, and was buried in Salisbury Cathedral.
Besides her obvious literary patronage, Mary Herbert served as a inspiration for aspiring female writers, including her niece, also Mary Sidney, later Lady Wroth (author of Urania), and Aemilia Lanyer, who dedicated her poem Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (1611) to Mary Herbert. However, she also inspired male poets, such as John Donne and George Herbert, particularly through her skillful renditions of the Psalms.
See also "Even now that Care," "To the Thrice-Sacred Queen Elizabeth."
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