Herbert, Mary (DNB00)
HERBERT, MARY, Countess of Pembroke (1555?–1621), born probably at Penshurst, Kent, about 1555, was third daughter of Sir Henry Sidney, by Mary, eldest daughter of John Dudley, duke of Northumberland. Sir Philip Sidney was her eldest brother, and of her three sisters none reached womanhood. Mary spent her childhood chiefly at Ludlow Castle, where her father resided as president of Wales, and was carefully educated, acquiring a knowledge of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Her brother Philip was her constant companion in childhood. When her last surviving sister, Ambrosia, died at Ludlow Castle in 1575, Queen Elizabeth kindly suggested to her father that Mary, ‘being of good hope,’ should be removed from the unhealthy climate of Wales, and reside in the royal household. Her uncle, Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, had probably commended her to the queen's notice, and her beauty and grace of manner soon established her position at court. With her mother and brother Philip she seems to have accompanied Elizabeth on a progress through Staffordshire and Worcestershire in the autumn of 1575. In the spring of 1577 Leicester arranged a marriage between her and Henry Herbert, second earl of Pembroke [q. v.] The earl had been twice married already. Her father highly approved the match, although his poverty forced him to ask Leicester to advance a part of her dowry (4 Feb. 1576-7). In June 1577, when the new Lady Pembroke was installed in her husband's beautiful house at Wilton, Wiltshire, Leicester paid her a visit, and in August she entertained there, for the first of many times, her brother Philip. On Newyear's day 1578 she came to court to present a richly embroidered doublet of lawn to the queen. On 8 April 1580 her first child, William [q. v.], was born at Wilton.
From March to August 1580 Philip Sidney, who was in disfavour at court, stayed at Wilton in close attendance on his sister. The most perfect accord characterised their relations with one another, and they spent much time together in literary studies. A library, since dispersed, was first formed at Wilton in her time, and included much Italian literature (Aubrey, Natural Hist. p. 86). In the summer of 1580 they seem to have retired to a small house at Ivy Church, near Wilton, in which (according to Aubrey), the countess ‘much delighted,’ and it was probably there that Sidney, at his sister's desire and suggestion, began his ‘Arcadia.’ When dedicating to her, a year or two later, the completed manuscript—which he entitled ‘The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia’ —he wrote that ‘it is done for you, only to you … being done on loose sheets of paper, most of it in your presence, the rest by sheets sent unto you as fast as they were done.’ At the same time brother and sister laboured at a metrical translation of the Psalms. On 5 May 1586 the countess lost her father, and on 11 Aug. following her mother. But more poignant grief was caused her in the same year by the death of Sir Philip Sidney at Antwerp on 17 Oct. When she recovered from the blow, she applied herself to the literary tasks which he had left unfinished or had contemplated; took under her protection the many men of letters to whom he had acted as patron, and gave pathetic expression to her personal sorrow in a poem published by Spenser with his ‘Astrophel’(1595), and awkwardly named by him ‘The Dolefull Lay of Clorinda.’
The ‘Arcadia,’ which had for some years been circulated in manuscript, was first printed in 1590, 4to, by William Ponsonby without consultation with the author's friends. The edition dissatisfied the countess, and she undertook its revision. She divided the work into five instead of three books, supplied new passages from manuscript copies in her possession, and rewrote some portions. When the corrected edition was issued in 1593 (fol.), the reader was informed in a prefatory address that the countess's ‘honorable labour,’ which had begun ‘in correcting the faults,’ had ‘ended in supplying the defects’ of the original work. In 1598 another edition appeared, under her auspices, with further changes from her pen, together with an appendix of her brother's poems, which she had carefully corrected in the desire of superseding two unauthorised editions which had been issued in 1591. In pursuit of her brother's design, and in accord with her own fervent piety, she completed at Wilton, in May 1590, ‘A Discourse of Life and Death,’ from the French of her brother's friend Plessis du Mornay (London, 1593 and 1600), and in November 1590, while at her husband's house at Ramsbury, rendered into blank verse Robert Garnier's French tragedy of ‘Antonie,’ adding some choral lyrics of her own. It was first published in 1592. The metrical version of the Psalms, which she and her brother had begun, she finished, but did not publish, much to the regret of Sir John Harington and other of her admirers. Her chaplain, Gervase Babington, is said to have assisted her in the undertaking. Many manuscript copies were circulated, and a copy in the Bodleian Library shows that Sidney was responsible for the first forty-three psalms, and the countess for the remainder. Another manuscript copy is among the Additional MSS. at the British Museum (Nos. 12047-8). One psalm (cxxxvii.) was printed by Steele in the ‘Guardian,’ No. 18. Extracts appeared in Harington's ‘Nugæ Antiquæ,’ and in the volume of ‘Sidneiana’ issued by the Roxburghe Club; but the whole was first printed by Robert Triphook in 1823. Lady Pembroke's verse has few poetic qualities, but shows culture and literary feeling. According to Aubrey her ‘genius lay as much towards chymistrie as poetrie’ (Nat. Hist, of Witts, ed. Britton, p. 89).
The countess appears to higher advantage as the generous patron of poets and men of letters, who acknowledged her kind services in glowing eulogies. Meres, in his ‘Palladis Tamia' (1598), compares her to Octavia, Augustus's sister and Virgil's patroness, and describes her as not only being ‘very liberal unto poets,’ but as ‘a most delicate poet,’ worthy of the complimentary lines which Antipater Sidonius addressed to Sappho. Her earliest protégés were her brother's friends. Spenser dedicated to her his ‘Ruines of Time,’ written about 1590, in memory of Sidney (cf. also 11. 316-22). He describes her in ‘Colin Clout's Come Home Again’ (1595), 11. 481-99, under the name of 'Urania, sister unto Astrofell,' as ‘the well of bountie and brave mynd,’ and ‘the ornament of womankind;’ while in ‘Astrophel’ he writes that she closely resembled her brother, ‘both in shape and spright,’ and in a dedicatory sonnet prefixed to the ‘Faerie Queene,’ that ‘his goodly image’ lives ‘in the divine resemblance of your face.’ Abraham Fraunce [q. v.], another literary protégé of Sir Philip Sidney, owed very much to her and her husband. In her honour Fraunce prepared and published ‘The Countess of Pembroke's Ivychurch’ (1591 ; 3rd part 1592) and ' The Countess of Pembroke's Emanuel' (1591). About 1590 the countess invited the poet, Samuel Daniel [q. v.], to take up his residence at Wilton, as tutor to her elder son William. She encouraged Daniel in his literary work, and he describes Wilton as ‘his first school.’ To her he dedicated ‘Delia,’ his earliest volume of poems (1592), and his tragedy of ‘Cleopatra’ (1593). The latter he wrote as a companion to the countess's ‘Antonie.’ Daniel never lost his respect for his patroness, and after they had long separated he rehearsed his obligations to her when dedicating to her the edition of his ‘Civill Warres,’ issued in 1609. To Nicholas Breton [q. v.] the countess was also a very faithful friend. For her he wrote in 1590 ‘The Pilgrimage to Paradise,’ ‘coyned with the Countess of Pembroke's Loue.’ ‘The Countess of Pembroke's Passion,’ a poem on Christ's Passion, which was recently first printed from the British Museum MS. Sloane 1300, has been often attributed to the countess herself. But it is obvious that it was written by Breton. Breton's ‘Auspicante Jehovah,’ in prose (1597), and his ‘Diuine Poem’ (1601) are also dedicated to her in affectionate terms. Thomas Moffatt or Muffet, medical attendant on the earl and author of a poem on the silkworm and other works, was another of her dependents until his death at Wilton in 1605. Many other literary men paid her homage. Shakespeare, who is believed to have addressed his sonnets to her elder son, William [q. v.], doubtless refers to her in the lines (sonnet iii.):
Thou art thy mother's glass and she in thee
Calls back the lovely April of her prime.
Thomas Nashe, in his preface to the 1591 edition of Sidney's ‘Astrophel,’ wrote that ‘artes do adore [her] as a second Minerva, and our poets extol [her] as the patroness of their invention.’ Gabriel Harvey described her translation of Plessis du Mornay as ‘a restorative electuary of gems’ (1593). John Davies of Hereford writes of his indebtedness to her in his ‘Wittes Pilgrimage’ (1611), his ‘Scourge of Folly,’ and his ‘Muses' Sacrifice.’ Donne, in his ‘Poems’ (1635), commended her own and her brother's translations of the Psalms, which Sir John Harington had declared should ‘outlast Wilton walls’ (Nugæ Antiquæ, ii. 6). Ben Jonson's epigram in his ‘Underwoods,’ addressed to ‘the Honoured Countess of * *,’ is almost certainly a panegyric upon her. John Taylor included after her death a sonnet in his ‘Praise of the Needle,’ commending her needlework, elaborate examples of which, he writes, adorned the tapestries at Wilton House (Brydges, Censura Literaria, ii. 370).
The countess's literary interests did not obscure her strong family affections. In 1597 her eldest surviving brother, Robert, was seeking in vain his recall from the Low Countries, and she herself wrote in his behalf to Lord Burghley. In 1599, when her elder son was suffering from headache, she entreated her brother Robert, then in Germany, to send home some of his ‘excellent tobacco,’ which alone gave the boy relief. In 1595 the countess was at court, to present a New-year's gift to the queen, and late in 1599 Elizabeth honoured her with a visit at Wilton. No account of the royal visit is extant; but there appears in Davison's poetical ‘Rhapsody’(1601) a pastoral dialogue in praise of Astrea made by the countess ‘at the Queen's Majesty being at her house.’ In 1601 the earl died. He left her the use of plate, jewels, and household stuff to the value of three thousand marks, the lease of the manor of Ivy Church, and the manor and park of Devizes for life. Rumours of disagreement were current in the later years of their married life, and Chamberlain reports that the earl left her ‘as bare as he could, and bestowing all on the young lord, even to her jewels’ (Chamberlain, Letters, temp. Eliz. p. 100).
Soon after James I's accession she went to Windsor to kiss the hand of James I and Queen Anne of Denmark, and in August 1603 she seems to have been at Wilton, when her son entertained the king and queen there. Between 1609 and 1615 she lived chiefly at Crosby Hall in Bishopsgate Street, which she rented of the Earl of Northampton. In 1615 James granted her for life a royal manor in Bedfordshire, Houghton Conquest, or Dame Ellensbury Park, called also Ampthill Park. There she erected a magnificent mansion, known as Houghton House, and there James I visited her in July 1621. In 1616 she went to Spa to drink the waters, but complained that the treatment rather injured her health than benefited it. Late in life she was much distressed by the disreputable adventures of her second son, Philip, and, according to Osborne, ‘tore her hair’ when she heard that he had been whipped at Croydon races by a Scotchman. She died at Crosby Hall on 25 Sept. 1621, and was buried beside her husband in Salisbury Cathedral. No monument was raised to her memory, but her fame is permanently assured by the fine epitaph—
Underneath this marble hearse
Lies the subject of all verse;
Sidney's sister, Pembroke's mother.
Death! ere thou hast slain another
Wise and fair and good as she,
Time shall throw a dart at thee.
This epitaph, with six additional lines of grotesquely inferior value, was first published with the poems of the countess's son William and Sir Benjamin Rudyerd in 1660. Aubrey about the same time assigned the whole to William Browne (Nat. Hist. of Wilts, ed. Britton, 1842, p. 90), and they are to be found in the manuscript volume of William Browne's poems in the British Museum (Lansd. MS. 777). But although these facts supply strong prima facie evidence in favour of Browne's authorship, internal evidence suggests that the author of the first six was not author of the last six, and that while Browne may well have been responsible for the latter, Whalley's theory, that Ben Jonson was responsible for the former, deserves acceptance. The first six lines appear in all editions of Jonson's works since Whalley's time (1756).
The finest portrait of the countess is that by Gheerardts at Penshurst. It is well reproduced in Lodge's ‘Portraits,’ and in Jusserand's ‘English Novel in the Time of Shakespeare’ (English transl.)(1890). A miniature belongs to Earl Beauchamp. An engraving by Simon Pass, dated 1618, represents her with the Psalms in her hand.[Authorities cited in the text; Gent. Mag. 1845, pt. ii. pp. 129, 254, 364 (three good articles by E. T. R.); Ballard's memoirs of Eminent Ladies, pp. 260-3; Lodge's Portraits,iii. 139-46; Breton's Works, ed. Grosart; Spenser's Works; Sydney Papers; Collier's Bibliographical Cat.; Jusserand's English Novel, translated by E. Lee, 1890; Shakespeare's Sonnets, ed. T. Tyler, 1890, pp. 48-9 ; Fox Bourne's Life of Sir Philip Sidney.]