Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Sidney, Henry (1529-1586)
SIDNEY, Sir HENRY (1529–1586), lord deputy of Ireland, eldest and only surviving son and heir of Sir William Sidney by Anne, daughter of Sir Hugh Pagenham, widow of Thomas Fitzwilliam, elder brother of William Fitzwilliam, earl of Southampton [q. v.], was born probably at Baynard's Castle, London, on 20 July 1529.
His father, Sir William Sidney (1482?–1554), was eldest son of Nicholas Sidney, by Anne, sister of Sir William Brandon, father of Charles, duke of Suffolk [q. v.] His ancestor, one Sir William Sidney, was chamberlain to Henry II, with whom he came from Anjou. In 1511 he accompanied Thomas, lord Darcy [q. v.], into Spain as a volunteer against the Moors, and when Darcy, finding his assistance not required, returned almost immediately to England, Sidney and several of his companions remained behind in order to see Madrid. He was hospitably entertained by Ferdinand, but declined the honour of knighthood from him; and shortly afterwards, having gratified his curiosity, returned home through France. As captain of the ‘Great Bark’ he took part in the naval operations before Brest in April 1513, and later in the year commanded the right wing of the English army at the battle of Flodden. He was knighted for his services, and on 23 March 1514 obtained a grant in tail male of the lordship of Kingston-upon-Hull and the manor of Myton forfeited by the attainder of Edmund de la Pole [q. v.] In October he accompanied his cousin, the Duke of Suffolk, and the Marquis of Dorset to Paris, to witness the coronation on 5 Nov. of the Princess Mary as consort of Louis XII, and took a prominent part in the subsequent jousts and festivities. In the following summer he again repaired to France, charged with the delicate task of announcing the approaching marriage of the Princess Mary to the Duke of Suffolk. He was appointed a squire of the body to Henry VIII, and married in 1517. He accompanied the king to the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520, and in 1523, during the war with France, took part in the expedition commanded by the Duke of Suffolk. In March 1538 he was appointed tutor and steward of the household to Prince Edward. In 1539 he received a large grant of lands in Kent and Sussex in exchange for those held by him in York and Lincoln. His wife died on 22 Oct. 1543, and on 25 April 1552 Edward added to his estates in Kent the manor of Penshurst. He died at Penshurst on 10 Feb. 1553–4, and was buried in the parish church, where, in the chancel, is a raised tomb with a memorial tablet, on the sides of which are engraven the escutcheons of his four daughters and their husbands, viz. Mary, the eldest, who married Sir William Dormer of Ayscot, Buckinghamshire; Lucy, wife of Sir James Harrington of Exton, Rutland; Anne, wife of Sir William Fitzwilliam [q. v.] of Milton, Northamptonshire, some time lord deputy of Ireland; and Frances, wife of Thomas Radcliffe, third earl of Sussex [q. v.]
Henry's boyhood was passed at court in the constant companionship of Prince Edward, with whom (he wrote), ‘as he grew in years and discretion, so grew I in favour and liking of him.’ Shortly after Edward's accession he was constituted one of the four principal gentlemen of his privy chamber. He was knighted on 11 Oct. 1550 in company with William Cecil (afterwards Lord Burghley), his senior by nine years, and among the minor offices bestowed on him about this time by his royal patron were those of chief cupbearer for life. The esteem in which he was held by Edward rendered him an influential personage at court, and in order to attach him more firmly to his interests, John Dudley, earl of Warwick (afterwards Duke of Northumberland), in pursuance of his ambitious projects, gave him his eldest daughter Mary to wife. The marriage was celebrated privately on 29 March 1551, in consequence of his being obliged to accompany the Marquis of Northampton to France in connection with the proposed marriage between Edward and Elizabeth, daughter of Henry II; but on his return it was ‘afterwards most publicly and honourably solemnised in Ely Place, Holborn, in the Whitsun holidays next following.’ He was the bearer in the following year of an offer from Edward VI to the king of France to mediate ‘for composing the warres between the latter and the emperor’ (Instructions in Harl. MS. 353, f. 127).
In anticipation of Edward's death, and with the object presumably of supporting Northumberland's coup d'état, he was on 18 May 1553 licensed to retain, over and above his menial servants, fifty persons, gentlemen and yeomen, wearing his cognisance. He attached his name to the will settling the crown on Lady Jane Grey, and only four days before his death Edward, who breathed his last in his arms, made him a grant of the manor and borough of Wotton Bassett in Wiltshire.
Sidney was one of the first to forsake the cause of his father-in-law, and having the day following Queen Mary's proclamation given in his adhesion to her, he managed to escape the fate that befell his wife's family and to retain his position at court, though ‘neither liking nor liked as he had been.’ He apparently accompanied John Russell, earl of Bedford, and other noblemen to Spain in April 1554, for the purpose of obtaining a ratification of the marriage articles between Philip and Mary, but also with the ulterior object of enlisting the sympathy of the former on behalf of his brothers-in-law, the Dudleys. His prudent behaviour was rewarded on 8 Nov. by a confirmation of all the grants made to him and his father by Edward; and on the birth of his eldest son, on 30 Nov., the king, in order to show him greater honour, stood godfather to the child, bestowing on him the name of Philip.
In the following spring his youngest sister, Frances, became the second wife of Thomas Radcliffe, third earl of Sussex; and when the latter, having been appointed lord deputy of Ireland, sailed for Dublin in May 1556, Sidney, at his own solicitation, accompanied him in the capacity of vice-treasurer and member of the Irish council. He took part in Sussex's expedition that summer against the Scots settlers in Antrim, and boasted of killing in single combat one of their most redoubtable champions, a certain ‘James Mack O'Nell,’ as he calls him, but not to be confounded with James MacDonnell, elder brother of Sorley Boy, the head of the clan. In the following April he was despatched to court for fresh supplies of money and ammunition, returning to Ireland at the beginning of July, in time to assist in a second expedition into Ulster, in the course of which he effected a landing in Rathlin Island, and ‘spoiled the same, all mankind, corn, and cattle on it.’ On 4 Dec. 1557 Sussex repaired to England, and next day Sidney and Archbishop Curwen were created lords justices during his absence. But by a fresh commission, dated 18 Jan. 1558, Sidney was on 6 Feb. sworn sole lord justice. During the winter, in pursuance of Sussex's policy of reducing the central districts, he invaded Ferical, expelled its chief, O'Molloy—a supporter of Donough O'Conor, the head of the confederacy—cut passes through his country, and destroyed whatever had escaped destruction on former raids. Lack of money prevented him from taking such steps as he regarded necessary for the safety of the country; but profiting by the example of Sir Anthony St. Leger [q. v.], he managed, by cessing the Pale and forbidding the exportation of corn from it, to provision the forts of Philipstown and Maryborough; and when, on 27 April, he surrendered the sword to Sussex, he certainly left the government in no worse condition than he had received it. In June and July he attended the deputy through the west parts; and when Sussex, in September, embarked on his expedition against the Hebridean Scots, Sidney was constituted lord justice till his return in November. But the news of Queen Mary's death recalled the deputy to England in December, and Sidney was again entrusted with the sword during his absence (Cal. Carew MSS. i. 278–9). He was confirmed in his office by Elizabeth. Shortly afterwards, in consequence of the death of Con O'Neill, earl of Tyrone [q. v.], Shane O'Neill openly assumed the title of the O'Neill, as he had long practically possessed the power. Sidney displayed great tact in holding him in check until Elizabeth determined whether or not to recognise him as Con's legitimate successor. Sussex, who preferred to remain at court, urged Sidney's appointment as viceroy; but the arrangement did not meet with Elizabeth's approval, and in August 1559 Sussex returned to Ireland. In the meantime Sidney was appointed lord president of the marches of Wales. Accordingly he surrendered the vice-treasurership to his brother-in-law, Sir William Fitzwilliam [q. v.], and left the country. During his tenure of the vice-treasurership he had done excellent service by taking efficient steps for the better preservation of the Irish records.
As president of Wales Sidney fixed his residence at Ludlow Castle in Shropshire, but, his duties being light, he contrived to spend much of his time at court. He held the office without interruption till the end of his life, and towards the close of it, when reviewing his government, he was able to say with pride that ‘a better people to govern than the Welsh, Europe holdeth not.’
Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, when aspiring to the hand of Queen Elizabeth, found a staunch ally in his brother-in-law, Sidney. On the opposite side stood Sir William Cecil, the advocate of an alliance with the Archduke Charles of Austria, and when, in the spring of 1561, the suspicious death of Leicester's wife threw a cloud over Leicester's prospects, Cecil seized the opportunity to remove Sidney from court, under a pretext that his presence was required in Wales. But his seclusion was of short duration. In April 1562 Sidney was despatched on a diplomatic mission to the court of France, with the object of mediating between the contending factions of Guise and Condé. Failing to accomplish this, he was, on his return to England, sent to Scotland to plead his failure as an excuse for postponing the proposed interview between Elizabeth and Mary Queen of Scots ‘till the ensuing year, or till the wars of France were ended.’
Sidney's opinion on Irish affairs carried weight in opposition to Sussex, and his inclination to favour the Earl of Desmond in his dispute with the Earl of Ormonde over the prize-moneys of Youghal and Kinsale sowed the seeds of undying hatred between himself and Ormonde [see Fitzgerald, Gerald, fifteenth Earl of Desmond; Butler, Thomas, tenth Earl of Ormonde]. Meanwhile, though Sussex's government of Ireland may have been far from satisfactory, it could hardly be said that, since he quitted the country in the spring of 1564, things had gone much better with his successor, Sir Nicholas Arnold. It was only natural that Elizabeth, apart from her desire to try a cheaper government, should turn to Sussex's critic, Sidney, whom she had on 14 May invested with the order of the Garter. As for Sidney, he was willing enough to undertake the task, provided certain stipulations affecting him in his private and public capacity were complied with. His commission, with the title of lord deputy, was finally sealed on 13 Oct. 1565.
On 13 Jan. 1566, after numberless delays owing to the tempestuous weather, Sidney arrived in Dublin; the prospect before him was disheartening in the extreme. The Pale itself, wasted by continual invasion, harassed by an insolent and dissolute mob that disgraced the name of soldiers, and swarming with beggars, could hardly boast two gentlemen able to lend twenty pounds. In Munster, parts of which had formerly been as well inhabited as many shires in England, a man might now ride twenty miles without meeting a human habitation. The state of Connaught was little better. Only in Ulster, where the rebellious Shane O'Neill, ‘the only strong and rich man in Ireland,’ ruled with a rod of iron, were any signs of prosperity visible. To him, therefore, as the cause of most of the misery that met his gaze, Sidney at once addressed himself. Shane was in no compliant mood. Sidney, finding diplomacy useless, turned to Elizabeth for the necessary means to coerce him. Despite some cavilling on the part of Sussex, Elizabeth, after listening to Sir Francis Knollys's impartial corroboration of Sidney's view of the situation, acquiesced in the inevitable. On 6 Sept. Colonel Edward Randolph (d 1566) [q. v.] sailed from Bristol with an auxiliary force of one thousand men. Sidney, who during the month of August had been occupied in guarding the northern frontier of the Pale, hearing of Randolph's arrival in Lough Foyle, at once pushed forward with the army into Tyrone. Nothing was seen of Shane, who contented himself with watching the progress of the invaders, and skirmishing occasionally with the rear-guard at a safe distance. Sidney effected a junction with Randolph and restored Calvagh O'Donnell [q. v.] to his own. He then turned his steps southward through Connaught to Athlone, where he had to swim the Shannon. Consequently he took steps for the erection of a strong bridge there, which ‘greatly benefited the country.’ Between the end of November and the following Lent he made several unsuccessful inroads into Tyrone, though sometimes so close upon Shane's heels that his ‘vauntcurrers felt his couch warm where he lay last night.’ Nevertheless the plan of restoring O'Donnell and planting a garrison at Derry bore fruit at last, and early in June 1567 Sidney had the satisfaction of announcing to Elizabeth that the rebel who had so long disputed her authority had been assassinated by his personal foemen, the Macdonnells.
To Sidney, Shane's death was a piece of good luck. In another respect he was not so fortunate. From the first he had declined to move in the dispute between Ormonde and Desmond without proper legal assistance. He knew that, however partial he showed himself towards Ormonde, he could satisfy neither him nor Elizabeth. But he was at last obliged, in consequence of Ormonde's complaints, ‘to address himself southward against Desmond.’ Accordingly quitting Kilmainham on 27 Jan., and proceeding through Leix, he came to Kilkenny, where a sessions was held, several malefactors executed, and Piers Butler, Ormonde's younger brother, committed for gaol-breaking, but, on account of his youth and submissive behaviour, pardoned. In Tipperary Sidney spent fifteen days ‘endevoringe myself to the uttermoste of my power for the reformacion of the infinite disorders which there I founde.’ At Fethard he caused Ormonde's brother Edward to be arraigned for treason, and, though the jury refused to convict, he considered that the fact that he had been tried would produce a beneficial result. From Tipperary he proceeded to Waterford, and finding ‘that countie to be muche molested by certain disordered persons … wounte to depende upon the Lord Power,’ he caused him to be arrested and locked up for a time in Dublin Castle. Proceeding on his journey by way of Dungarvan to Youghal, he was there joined by the Earl of Desmond, and entering at once ‘into the debatinge of the causes between him and the Erle of Ormounde,’ gave his decision in the latter's favour. Thereupon Desmond fell ‘into some disallowable heates and passions,’ and Sidney, though he could not blame him for being ‘somewhat quicke at the matter,’ laid him by the heels and carried him back with him to Dublin, leaving the government to his brother Sir John of Desmond. Continuing his journey through Limerick to Galway, where he seized the Earl of Clanricarde's sons, he returned by way of Athlone to Kilmainham on 16 April. He had been absent exactly eleven weeks. Subsequently he again repaired to the borders of Ulster to receive the submission of Shane's successor, Turlough Luineach O'Neill [q. v.], and took measures to guard against the inroads of the Scots by establishing garrisons at Carrickfergus, Belfast, and Glenarm.
On his return to Dublin, he ‘caused the old ruinous castle there to be re-edified.’ But the hard service he had undergone and his indifference to his health were beginning to tell on his constitution. Procuring his revocation, he entrusted the government to Sir William Fitzwilliam and Lord-chancellor Weston [q. v.], and early in October 1567 repaired to England, accompanied by O'Conor Sligo, O'Carrol, the Baron of Dungannon, and other Irish chiefs. At Chester he had to undergo a painful operation for stone in the bladder. When he reached the court the negotiations for the marriage of Elizabeth to the Archduke Charles seemed, under Sussex's management, likely to be brought to a successful issue, and Sidney was mortified at the coldness of his reception and the indifference with which his service against Shane O'Neill was regarded. Not only, moreover, were his settlement of the dispute between Ormonde and Desmond and the appointment of Sir John of Desmond to the government of Munster severely criticised, but the whole arrangement was set aside by the arrest of Sir John himself and his incarceration, along with Desmond, in the Tower. This proceeding, Sidney afterwards pointed out, was the cause of all the mischief that subsequently happened in Munster. Sidney left the court in chagrin for Penshurst. But with the failure of Sussex's marriage scheme Leicester's star rose again in the ascendant; and Sidney, so far from being deprived, as had been confidently expected, of his office of president of Wales, found himself in the spring of 1568 once more at court. Moreover he was now on excellent terms with Sir William Cecil, in whom on Irish topics he found a warm ally. But for himself he had no desire to return to Ireland, and it was with the greatest reluctance that he finally consented to resume the deputyship.
Landing at Carrickfergus on 6 Sept., he had an interview with Turlough Luineach, who impressed him favourably. After inspecting the garrisons which he had already planted there, he converted the district of Clandeboye and the Ardes into the county of Carrickfergus. On proceeding to Dublin he wrote frankly to Cecil. If Ulster was to be permanently tranquillised, colonists must be imported, towns and bridges built, and the natives of Tyrone created freeholders. Connaught must be provided with a president, and the Earl of Ormonde be compelled to reside in Ireland and to use his personal influence to suppress the disorders caused in Munster by his own brothers, in league with James Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald (d. 1579) [q. v.] Sidney, having proclaimed Fitzmaurice, paid a visit to Kilkenny, where, and also at Waterford, he caused execution to be done upon a great number of the Butlers' followers, though his recognition of Sir Peter Carew's claim to the barony of Idrone hardly conduced to peace. On 17 Jan. 1569 parliament was opened by him in great state, and the struggle between the old and new settlers found vent in the House of Commons. Sir Edmund Butler, the leader of the former, was publicly reprimanded for his violence by Sidney in the council-chamber, and departed home vowing vengeance against him. Nevertheless, before the parliament was prorogued on 16 March a number of acts, including one for the attainder of Shane O'Neill, had been added to the statute-book. The acts of the Irish parliament were now for the first time, by Sidney's order, printed by John Vowell alias Hooker [q. v.] (license in Carew MSS. i. 387). During the summer the state of affairs in the south went rapidly from bad to worse, and in July Sidney, leaving Fitzwilliam and Kildare to hold the O'Neills in check and Sir Barnaby Fitzpatrick to guard the Pale on the south side, set out with six hundred men to try if possible to restore order there. Passing through Kilkenny into Tipperary, he fixed his camp at Clonmel, but his proclamation of pardon failed to have any effect on the rebels. Sir Edmund attributed to Leicester and Sidney the design of making themselves respectively kings of England and Ireland. Attempts at conciliation proving fruitless, Sidney carried the castle of Fitzmaurice by assault, though he failed to capture either its owner or Sir Edmund Butler. At Kilkenny, however, a few months later, he caused above sixty persons, ‘many of them the stoutest of the Butlers' gallowglas,’ to be executed. His energy and severity produced a salutary effect not only on the country but also on parliament, which, on reassembling on 26 May 1570, passed an act for the attainder of Clancar, Fitzmaurice, Ormonde's three brothers, and other Butlers of less note, a proceeding which Ormonde never forgave. An act was secured for the erection of a free school in every diocese under an English master, and another for restraining monopolies. The encouragement which Sidney gave at the same time to ‘above forty families of the reformed churches of the Low Countries, flying thence for religion's sake,’ to settle in the ruined town of Swords, was not among the least valuable of his efforts to promote the welfare of the country. But vexed at the scanty support given him by Elizabeth and her readiness to listen to Ormonde's complaints, he insisted on laying down his ‘thankless charge.’ Accordingly, having seen Sir John Perrot [q. v.] installed as president of Munster and taken order with the O'Farrells for shiring their country by the name of county Longford, of which he constituted them freeholders, he took shipping at Dublin on 25 March 1571, leaving the government to his brother-in-law, Fitzwilliam.
Arriving at court, he found ‘more acceptation’ than he had expected, though some there were who insinuated that the Butlers' war might have been avoided, and ‘that else there was nothing done.’ The next four years were spent partly at court, partly in attendance to his duties as president of Wales, where he reformed abuses that had crept in during his absence in Ireland. In the spring of 1572 there was a rumour that he was to be created a baron, but the offer being unaccompanied by any additional source of revenue to sustain it, Burghley, at Lady Sidney's earnest request, nipped it in the bud. As time went on, the merits of his Irish administration became more and more unmistakable, notwithstanding the ability displayed by Fitzwilliam in coping with difficulties for which he was not responsible. A rumour of Sidney's return to Ireland, ‘with as great honour as ever deputy had,’ obtained currency in the summer of 1574; but owing to his reluctance to go with bound hands, and Elizabeth's unwillingness to concede the terms on which he was willing to serve, a year and more passed away before the rumour was confirmed by his actual appointment in August 1575.
This time, however, he was to be virtually his own master, and in return for 20,000l. per annum, paid beforehand in quarterly instalments, he undertook to govern without further demands on the queen's exchequer. So far as the crown was concerned, it was an excellent bargain, for under Fitzwilliam the expenses of government had annually exceeded the Irish revenue by much more than double. Landing, after a stormy passage, on 14 Sept., as near to Dublin as he could, on account of the plague that was raging in the city, he had no sooner received the sword from Fitzwilliam at Drogheda than he repaired northwards to Carrickfergus. Things had changed for the worse since his last visit, in consequence of the turmoil caused by Sir Thomas Smith's and Essex's abortive efforts to colonise the Ardes and Clandeboye. Nevertheless, the mischief done was not, he thought, irreparable, or a ‘peaceable reformacion’ impossible if, Rathlin Island being abandoned, and Chatterton's and Malby's grants revoked, the MacQuillins were confirmed in their possession of the Route, Sorley Boy MacDonnell expelled, Magennis created a baron, and Turlough Luineach gratified with a title on condition of renouncing his claims over Maguire and MacMahon. Sidney wished it to be understood that he was still personally in favour of ‘forceable subjection,’ on the understanding that it was ‘no subject's enterprise,’ but one which demanded a ‘prince's purse and power.’ Ulster being temporarily pacified, he returned to Dublin, closely inspecting the country as he passed through it, and laying plans for the future. ‘Albeit it was the depth of winter,’ he at once set out on a similar tour of inspection through the south, holding sessions here and there on his way. At Kilkenny he was honourably entertained by the Earl of Ormonde, who ‘very courteously’ accompanied him to Waterford. From Waterford he proceeded to Cork, where he spent Christmas, and stayed till Candlemas. At Limerick, on 4 Feb., he was ‘received with far greater pompe than either I my selfe have heretofore had, or seene yeelded to any other in this lande.’ The earls of Ormonde and Thomond and the principal gentry of the district repaired to him, and he stayed at Limerick three weeks, more and more convinced by what he saw of the necessity of having a resident governor both in Munster and Connaught. Leaving Limerick on 27 Feb. for Galway, he took stringent measures for the prevention in the future of the mutual spoils of the Earl of Thomond and Teige Mac Murrough O'Brien. After executing divers malefactors, he annexed Thomond to Connaught under the name of county Clare, at the same time dividing the province itself into the four shires of Sligo, Mayo, Galway, and Roscommon. Galway itself he found much decayed owing to the ‘horible spoyle’ of the Earl of Clanricarde's two sons, whom he committed to the custody of the marshal, and, having spent three weeks there, he departed for Athlone. Passing through Athenry, which he found a heap of ashes, he took measures to rebuild it by levying a tax on the surrounding district, making the Earl of Clanricarde responsible for the execution of his orders. At Athlone he was gratified by good reports of the state of affairs in the new county of Longford. He returned to Dublin on 13 April. Shortly afterwards he, very unwisely as it proved, allowed Clanricarde's sons to return home. The news that they had revolted reached him on 23 June as he was on his way into Munster. Altering his course without a moment's delay, he took the rebels completely by surprise, and, though the two principal offenders escaped, he made sure of their father. Captains Le Strange and Collier, with fifty horse and one hundred foot, were left at Loughrea to keep the peace as well as might be pending the appointment of Nicholas Malby [q. v.] as president of Connaught. Sidney pushed on to Limerick, intending, after placing Sir William Drury [q. v.] in the presidency of Munster, to revisit Carrickfergus before Michaelmas. In this, however, he was disappointed. The Burkes, aided by a body of Scots mercenaries, proved too much for Le Strange and Collier, and Sidney was again in September obliged to take the field against them. But after driving them across the Moy, and beginning a bridge across the Suck, he left the enterprise to Malby and returned to Dublin on 13 Oct.
Meanwhile, in his efforts to raise a permanent revenue, he had fallen foul of the gentry of the Pale on the matter of cess, which, according to his own interpretation, was ‘nothinge ells but a prerogatyve of the prince and an agreement and consent, by the nobilitie and counsell, to impose vpon the countrie a certeine proporcion of victuall of all kindes, to be delyvered and issued at a reasonable rate.’ His endeavour to commute the cess levied on the Pale for an annual sum of 2,000l. brought matters to a crisis, and the principal gentry, headed by Lords Delvin [see Nugent, Sir Christopher, fourteenth Baron Delvin], Howth, and Trimleston, having taken up the position that cess in itself was unconstitutional, the question was referred for decision to the privy council. In England the complainants' agents or ‘commonwealth men,’ as they called themselves, met with scant consideration, being promptly clapped in the Fleet for impugning the queen's prerogative, while Sidney pursued a similar course in regard to the principals in Ireland. Elizabeth was annoyed at the question having been raised; but it was more than Sidney's proud spirit could brook to be told that he was ever ‘a costly servant, and had alienated her Highness her good subjects' hearts.’ He retorted that, had it not been for the breaking out of that ‘base varlet Rory Oge O'More’ [q. v.], he ‘would have left the sword and gone over without leave.’ As it was, he found a warm defender at court in his son Philip, though perhaps a more judicious one in his wife. During the summer of 1577, while the quarrel was still at its height, he scoured the country after the new disturber of the public peace. Rory Oge by a lucky chance managed to entrap the deputy's nephew, Harry Harrington, whom he refused to release except on ‘such conditions as I would not,’ said Sidney, ‘have enlarged Philip my son.’ A heavy price was put on the rebel's head, but it was not till the last day of June 1578 that he was run to death by Sidney's ‘sworn brother,’ Barnaby Fitzpatrick, baron of Upper Ossory [q. v.] Meanwhile, though deeply wounded by what he considered the queen's ingratitude, Sidney kept an anxious eye on every part of the kingdom. Visiting Newry in August, he was gratified by Turlough's loyal demeanour, ‘as many hours as I could get him sober,’ and about Christmas time, being apprehensive that the Earl of Desmond was meditating rebellion, he sent for him and his countess to repair to Kilkenny, where finally, ‘though with much ado,’ he effected ‘a sound pacification of all quarrels’ between him and Drury, president of Munster. Christmas over, he held a sessions there, and, though greatly thwarted by ‘the Ormondists,’ he caused many residents in that county to be indicted in an orderly fashion and executed for abetting and aiding Rory Oge.
But his failure to govern as economically as Elizabeth had expected, though he protested against the construction placed by her on the 20,000l. agreement, deprived him of the little favour he still retained at court, and in January 1578 Walsingham privately bade him put his affairs in order, as it was likely an excuse would shortly be found to recall him. The letter of revocation actually arrived on 23 April; but acting on Philip's advice not to give his enemies the satisfaction of thinking that they had driven him from his post, Sidney, though ‘he loathed to tarry any longer,’ successfully pleaded the necessity of a short delay. Rory Oge was still at large, and a recent outbreak on the part of the MacMahons called for chastisement, so that the excuse was not unreasonable. But at last, on 12 Sept., he surrendered the sword to Drury, and taking with him the Earl of Clanricarde and the earl's son William, he sailed for England for the last time. At Chester he became so seriously ill that for a time he was unable to proceed further. His reception at court was not what he either expected or deserved. But after a brief visit to Ludlow he returned to Hampton Court for Christmas. On new year's day 1579 he presented Elizabeth with a costly gold ornament, and a few days later he was sent as far as Canterbury to escort Prince John Casimir to London. Retiring afterwards to Ludlow, he busied himself in repairing it and adding to it the great portal, and apparently also the stone bridge which serves the place of a drawbridge. During the early part of 1580 he was a frequent visitor at Wilton, the seat of Arthur Grey, fourteenth lord Grey de Wilton [q. v.], who, having been nominated for the post of lord deputy of Ireland, was anxious to profit by his experience. But his visits were distasteful to Elizabeth, and he was sharply ordered to remain at his post. A month or two later she censured him for his laxity in carrying out her instructions ‘for the reformation of the recusants and obstinate persons in religion within Wales.’ ‘Your Lordship,’ added Walsingham, in a friendly note of warning, ‘had neade to walk warily, for your doings are narrowely observed, and her Majestie is apt to geve eare to any that shall yll you.’
As time went on, he seems to have regained some of the queen's favour. In 1582 there was some talk of reappointing him to the government of Ireland, and he was willing enough to undertake the post, provided Elizabeth would admit that his former services had been acceptable, that she would mark her appreciation of them by a title and grant of land to sustain it, and give him the rank of lord lieutenant instead of deputy; but chiefly that Philip would accompany him thither, and bear the office after he had resigned it. Worn out, however, with toil and stricken with disease, he died prematurely old at Ludlow Castle on 5 May 1586. His body was by the queen's orders removed to Penshurst, and buried with great solemnity in the chancel of the parish church there on 21 June, but his heart was interred at Ludlow.
Probate of his will, dated 8 Jan. 1581–2, was granted on 25 May 1586. His wife Mary, eldest daughter of John Dudley, duke of Northumberland—‘a full, fair lady,’ in her husband's eyes—was endowed with all womanly and wifely virtues, but lost her good looks while nursing Queen Elizabeth through the smallpox, and thereafter ‘chose rather to hide herself from the curious eyes of a delicate time than come upon the stage of the world with any manner of disparagement.’ She did not long survive her husband, and was laid by his side in Penshurst church on 11 Aug. 1586. By her Sidney had three sons—Sir Philip [q. v.], Robert, first earl of Leicester [q. v.], and Sir Thomas—and four daughters, two of whom died in infancy, and a third, Ambrozia, at the age of twenty, unmarried. Mary [q. v.], the only surviving daughter, married Henry Herbert, earl of Pembroke [q. v.], and is separately noticed.
By far the ablest of the many able men that governed Ireland under Elizabeth, Sidney was throughout his career hampered by his relationship to Leicester. Though unrewarded by the sovereign to whose service he devoted his life, his death was bitterly bemoaned by all those who had the interests of good government at heart, and posterity has done him ample justice. Of a somewhat sanguine complexion, a naturally healthy constitution, a pleasant disposition and merry conversation, delighting in scientific and literary topics, interested especially in naval matters, an excellent speaker, a lover of good society and hospitality, he sacrificed both health and pleasure in the execution of the trust reposed in him.
An anonymous life-size portrait of Sidney in a black doublet and blue ribbon is at Penshurst; another portrait, also anonymous, belongs to Mrs. Lamb (Tudor Exhibition Catalogue, Nos. 265, 329); there is an engraved portrait in the ‘Heroωlogia’ (cf. Bromley, Cat. p. 30).