and, when a girl of fourteen, won the admiration of Philip, afterwards famous as Sir Philip Sidney. Her father saw in the young man, who was a friend of her brother and some eight years her senior, a promising husband for her. When he lay dying at Dublin in September 1576, he expressed an earnest hope that a treaty of marriage might be arranged. Two months after his death his secretary, Edward Waterhouse, wrote to Philip's father, Sir Henry Sidney, begging him to carry the match through. Its ‘breaking off,’ Waterhouse told Sir Henry, ‘if the default be on your parts, will turn to more dishonour than can be repaired with any other marriage in England’ (Sidney Papers, i. 147). For nearly four years the engagement appears to have remained in suspense. In the interval Lady Penelope saw much of Philip Sidney, who was repeatedly in her brother's company. He called her Stella and himself Astrophel, and sent her sonnets declaring his love for her. But on 10 March 1580–1 her guardian, the Earl of Huntingdon, applied through Lord Burghley for the queen's consent to the girl's union with another suitor. This was Robert, lord Rich, a young man of assured and ample income, whom Huntingdon described as ‘a proper gentleman, and one in years very fit for my lady Penelope Devereux’ (Lansd. MS. 31, f. 105). Rich had just succeeded to the peerage on the death of his father, Robert Rich, second baron Rich of Leighs in Essex. Sidney and his friends represented him as coarse and uneducated, but Leicester, Lady Penelope's stepfather, wrote of him in 1588 as a man greatly respected and loved, ‘a true, faithful servant’ of the queen, and ‘zealous in religion’ (Laughton, Defeat of Spanish Armada, Naval Records Soc. i. 308). The marriage was hurried forward, and probably took place in the spring of 1581. According to a statement put forth many years later in the lady's behalf, she was forced into the marriage, and protested her unwillingness at the wedding ceremony; her wedded life was unhappy from the beginning, and she continued to live with her husband only through the constraint of fear; he not only tormented her, but sought to rob her of her dowry; dread of her powerful brother, Essex, hindered him, however, from offering her any actual violence. How much reliance is to be placed on this description of Rich's marital character is matter for controversy. His own view of the situation is not accessible.
There is no doubt that Lady Penelope had from the first an attenuated regard for the marriage tie. No sooner had she become Lady Rich than she encouraged a renewal of the attentions of her early admirer, Sir Philip Sidney. In a further series of sonnets, which were subsequently collected under the title of ‘Astrophel and Stella’ (1591), Sidney celebrated, within a year of her marriage, his growing affection for her, and his contempt for her husband. He played in his verse on her married name, lamenting that she had ‘no misfortune but that Rich she is,’ and congratulated himself that ‘that rich fool,’ her husband, could never appreciate her worth (see Sonnet xxiv.). Sidney's marriage (in September 1583) does not seem to have interrupted the intimacy. Spenser, in commemorating Sidney's death three years later, asserted that all his thoughts centred to the last in ‘Stella.’
To her he vowed the service of his days;
On her he spent the riches of his wit;
For her he made hymns of immortal praise,
Of only her he sang, he thought, he writ.
Lodowick Bryskett, another of Sidney's friends, gave an exuberant description of Stella's despair on learning of Astrophel's death. Subsequently she marked her appreciation of Philip's devotion by befriending his brother Robert Sidney, in whose behalf she often used her interest at court, and to whose son she stood godmother in January 1595–6 (Sidney Papers, i. 386).
Sidney's passion was more than literary sentiment, and it may well be questioned whether his poetic expressions are consistent with the maintenance of innocent relations between him and Lady Penelope. But it should be remembered that Lady Rich was a lover of literature, and occasionally sought and received not altogether dissimilar homage from other pens. Richard Barnfield dedicated to her his ‘Affectionate Shepherd’ in 1594, and Bartholomew Yonge his ‘Diana of George of Montemayor’ in 1598; while John Davies of Hereford, Henry Constable in ‘Diana’ (Sonnet x.), and others, addressed to her sonnets, in which they referred to her husband with scant respect.
Meanwhile, Lady Penelope was spending her time, to all appearances blamelessly, with her husband at his house at Leighs, Essex, or in London. She became the mother of seven children, and domestic duties frequently occupied her. At the same time she cultivated popularity at court, and contrived to keep on good terms with Sir Robert Cecil, despite his jealousy of her brother (cf. Hatfield MSS. v. 236, 239, 296). But her discontent with her husband did not abate, and she confided her domestic distresses to a new admirer, Charles Blount, eighth lord Mountjoy [q. v.] Before 1595 she became Lord Mountjoy's mistress (cf. Sidney Papers, i.