Nothing but extreame necessity shall make me thinke of bearing arms in England, and yet … theare is so few that abstaine from warre for the same reason I doe, that I doe not know wheather in many mens eyes it may not prove dishonourable to me. (J. T. Gilbert, ed., History of the Irish Confederation, 7 vols., 188291, 1.xlviiixlx)Granted leave to return he landed, on 22 June, with Lisle at Chester, where their horses were stolen by royalist marauders. His letter to Orlando Bridgeman threatening to pursue this matter with his father at Oxford was intercepted by the parliamentary committee at Lancaster. The brothers were arrested and taken under guard to London. On 15 April 1644, however, Algernon Sidney was appointed colonel in the earl of Manchester's regiment of horse in the eastern association. His attainment of a parliamentarian command may have been assisted by the king's replacement of Leicester as lord lieutenant (October 1643) with Ormond, while his uncle Northumberland was a leading, if on occasion wavering, parliamentarian peer.
with much gallantry at the head of my lord's regiment of horse, and came off with much honour, though with many wounds, to the grief of my lord, and many others, who is since gone to London for the cure of his wounds. (Ash's Intelligence from the Armies in the North, no. 6)Forty years later he would be depicted in a ballad declaiming: View my Hack'd Limbs, each honourable wound The Pride and Glory of my numerous Scars in Hell's best Cause the old republic Wars (Algernon Sidney's Farewel, 1683). This action was the baptism by fire of what his Paper Delivered to the Sheriffs (1683) would call his adherence to that OLD CAUSE in which I was from my youth engaged, and for which thou hast often and wonderfully declared thyself (Sidney, Paper Delivered to the Sheriffs, in Works, 3940). In April 1645 he declined a command in the New Model Army with extreame unwillingnesse … by reason of my lamenesse (BL, Sloane MS 1519, fol. 112). In May he became governor of Chichester, for which Northumberland had served as an MP in the 1620s: the earl's signature headed his letter of appointment. In December 1645 Sidney became MP for Cardiff. Thereafter his votes in the house allied him with Northumberland and others, including Lord Saye and Sele, Sir John Evelyn, and William Pierrepoint. In September 1646 he and his brother Philip carried a banner at the funeral of the earl of Essex. In February 1647 both returned to Ireland, having been appointed respectively governor of Dublin and lord lieutenant of Ireland. After a brief stay in Munster they returned on 21 April, Lisle having been superseded in his command by Lord Inchiquin, lord president of Munster, Algernon Sidney losing his post to Colonel Michael Jones. Instead, in mid-1648 Sidney was appointed to the strategic governorship of Dover Castle.
First, the King could be tried by noe court; secondly, that noe man could be tried by that court. This being alleged in vaine, and Cromwell using these formall words (I tell you, wee will cut off his head with the crowne upon it) I … immediately went out of the room, and never returned. (Blencowe, 2369)Subsequently in the house he joined Sir Henry Vane jun. and Sir Arthur Hesilrige in speaking against an oath of allegiance which would have approved the judicial proceedings against Charles I. This made Cromwell, Bradshawe, Harrison, Lord Grey and others, my enemys, who did from that time continually oppose me (ibid., 238). It may also have contributed to the rift between Sidney and local army officers which culminated in his replacement as governor of Dover in May 1651. Until late 1651 Sidney's parliamentary attendance was moderate and he served on six or seven committees. The most important was for Irish affairs, in the post conquest settlement of which he played a major role, and upon which by 1653 he was the government's senior authority. For his services in Ireland he was voted £1809 13s. 6d. arrears of pay in October 1649.
[S]uch was the power of wisdom and integrity in those that sat at the helm, and their diligence in choosing men for their merit was blessed with such success, that in two years our fleets grew to be as famous as our land-armies; the reputation and power of our nation rose to a greater height, than when we possessed the better half of France, and the Kings of Scotland and France were our prisoners. All the states, kings and potentates of Europe, most respectfully, not to say submissively, sought our friendship. (Sidney, Discourses, in Works, 24041)Four years of kingless government had turned the Stuart record of military failure on its head.
Since the Parliament hath acknowledged a king, I knowe … I owe him duty and the service that belongs unto a subject, and will pay it. If things are carried in a legall and moderate way, I had rather be in employment, than without any. (ibid., 186)Yet reports of his opinionated republicanism in Scandinavia had reached the English court. This included not only rough behaviour toward the King of Denmark, as also to the King of Sweden, but most damagingly a spirited defence of the regicide. If it were true responded the earl of Leicester, he must not thinke of coming into England, when that acsion was so much abhorred by all men, and by me in particular, that am his father (BL, Add. MS 32680, fols. 910). In addition, while prepared to submitte, Sidney drew the line at acknowledgement of our faults, in having bin against this king, or his father … I shall be better contented with my fortune, when I see theare was noe way of avoiding it, that is not worse than ruine (Blencowe, 1878).
I knowe the titles that are given me of fierce, violent, seditious … turbulent … I know people will say, I straine at knats, and swallow camels; that it is a strange conscience, that lets a man runne violently on, till he is deepe in civill blood, and then stays at a few words and complements … I have enough to answer this in my own minde; I cannot help it if I judge amisse … I walk in the light God hath given me; if it be dimme or uncertaine, I must beare the penalty of my errors: I hope to do it with patience, and that noe burden shall be very grievous to me, except sinne and shame. (ibid., 1948)On 28 July 1660, after the receipt of letters from England, he resolved against return for the time being. Despite his father's advice that he should live in Hamburg he reported: I dislike all the drunken countries of Germany, and the north, and am not much inclined to France. I think I shall choose Italy (ibid., 195). The earl responded what to advise you, truly I knowe not; for you must give me leave to remember, of how little weight my opinions and counsel have been with you … in almost everything (ibid., 23940).
I … live now as a Hermite in a Palace. Nature, Art and Treasure, can hardly make a place more pleasant than this … In theis last Moneths … I have applied myself to studdy, a littel more thaen I have done formerly; and … I find soe much Satisfaction in it, that for the future I shall very unwillingly … put myself into any [other] Way of living. (ibid., 2.71821)Yet his contentment did not last. There was his isolation when I wander as a Vagabond through the World, forsaken of my Friends, poore, and knowne only to be a broken Limbe of a Ship-wrecked Faction (ibid., 2.720). There was the Ruin of my Fortune in England, reducing him to financial dependence upon a father lesse carefull to give me some reliefe, than I hope[d] (Blencowe, 190). This was particularly painful in a Place farre from Home … wheare I am knowne to be of a Quality, which makes all lowe and meane Wayes of living shamefull and detestable (Collins, 2.717). Finally Sidney would complain that although he had hoped that noe man would … disturbe me in a most innocent exile … I was defended from such as [in Rome] designed to assassinate me, only by the charity of strangers (Sidney, Apology, in Works, 3).Apology in the Day of his Death later claimed that this trip was for the care of my private affaires (Sidney, Apology, in Works, 3), Ludlow recorded that Sidney Now thinkes it seasonable to draw toward his Native Country, in Expectation of an Opportunity wherein he might be more Active … [in republican] Service (Ludlow, 977). After presenting his host with a pair of Italian pistols, and thanking the magistrates of Bern for their care of the exiles, he visited the Calvinist academy at the University of Geneva where he inscribed the visitor's book: SIT SANGUINIS ULTOR JUSTORUM (Let there be revenge for the blood of the just; C. Borgeaud, Histoire de l'Université de Genève, 5 vols., 190059, 1.4423). This was the blood not only of the regicides but in particular of Vane, executed in 1662 (noble Vane … thy death gave thee a famous victory and a never perishing Crown; Sidney, Court Maxims, 49). In Brussels in December Sidney sat for the portrait by Justus van Egmont which was later hung at Penshurst. From Brussels he informed Leicester of his thoughts of spending the next summer as a Volunteere in Hungary (Collins, 2.725). His hopes of transporting there a good strong Boddy of the best Officers and Soldiers of our old Army may have connected to another plan closer at hand. In early 1664 in the United Provinces, however, he found the spirits of those who understood seasons farre better than I … not to be fully prepared (Blencowe, 25960). He retreated to Augsburg, where, in April 1665, he was the target of another assassination attempt.
Who will endure that bishops, the greatest incendiaries in the whole world, should now preach the highest meekness? They who said it was better that all the streets in England and Scotland should run with blood than that the power of the clergy be diminished, say now, it is better that England should be dispeopled, and the best men in the nation banished and destroyed, than that their lusts should be resisted … At this day we find none to espouse … [non-resistance] but our Quakers, some few Anabaptists in Holland and Germany, and some … Socinians in Poland. … all christian churches have … made use of the sword … against such princes and their ministers as have governed contrary to law. (ibid., 1013)More broadly the Court Maxims is a systematic assault upon monarchy: as death is the greatest evil that can befall a person, monarchy is the worst evil that can befall a nation (Sidney, Court Maxims, 20). This involves deploying an argument in interest language common to English and Dutch antimonarchism. As monarchy is private interest government and republicanism government in the public interest each is irreconcileably contrary to the other. The maxims of monarchy, in both domestic and international affairs, inevitably oppose the public interest of a nation. [A]ll people grow proud when numerous and rich … The least injury puts them into a fury. But if poor, weak, miserable and few they will be humble and obedient (ibid., 72). On the basis of this analysis, developed from Machiavelli's Discourses, book 2, chapter 1, Sidney asserts an Anglo-Dutch republican unity of interest in extirpat[ing] the two detested families of Stuart and Orange (ibid., 176). Finally to the maxims of princes the Court Maxims opposes the classical republican life of virtuous self-government.
We need seek no other definition of a happy human life in relation to this world than that set down by Aristotle as the end of civil societies, namely, that men may in them enjoy vita beata secundum virtutem (Aristotle, Politics, bk III). For as there is no happiness without liberty, and no man more a slave than he that is overmastered by vicious passions, there is neither liberty, nor happiness, where there is not virtue. (ibid., 24)Crisis, 289). The Discourses praises the readiness of the French nobility to act in the defence and vindication of their violated liberties … [if] the king … do [anything] against their laws (Sidney, Discourses, in Works, 2545). Above all those families listed as having rebelled in the past fifty years … the houses of Conde, Soissons, Montmorency, Guise, Vendome, Angoulesme, Bouillon, Rohan, Longueville, Rochefoucault, Espernon include most of Sidney's own French associates. Rohan had been a friend of the earl of Leicester. Most important to Sidney were de Bouillon, Turenne, and De la Rochefoucauld, principal powers of the south-west and survivors of the noble Fronde (165052).
I have no other businessse heare then to cleare some small contests that are growne between one of my brothers and me concerning that which he hath left me, and [then to] retire from hence … to purchase a convenient habitation in Gascony … where I may in quiet finish thoes days that God hath appointed for me. (ibid.)In the event, in the words of his Apology:
When I prepared myself to return into Guascony … I was hindered by the earl of Leicester my brother, who questioned all that my father had given me for my subsistence; and by a long and tedious suite in chancery, detained me in England, until I was made a prisoner.In fact Robert Sidney's provision for his younger sons Algernon and Henry was punitively generous. Algernon collected £5000 immediately, but was forced to seek a remaining £5000, plus various rents and annuities, through proceedings in chancery. Pending settlement, and as executors of the earl's estate, Henry took up residence at Penshurst, and Algernon at Leicester House in London. It was from there that he became drawn into the gathering political crisis.
At the moment my most intimate liaison is with Mr. Algernon Sidney; he is the man in England who seems to me to have the greatest understanding of affairs; he has great relations with the rest of the Republican party; And nobody in my opinion is more capable of rendering service than him. (Paris, Archives du Ministère des Affaires Étrangères, correspondance politique, Angleterre XLI)After assisting the French-engineered fall of Danby in December 1678 Sidney received a payment of 500 guineas, and another a year later. Over the following three years, through the French ambassadors in England and the United Provinces, he sought to construct an Anglo-Dutch republican alternative to StuartOrange foreign policy. Equally he attempted to convince Barillon that it is an old error to believe that it is against the interest of France to suffer England to become a republic (Dalrymple, 2, appx, 313). Meanwhile Barillon reported Sidney's involvement with the politics of London:
He is in the party of the independents and other sectaries … [who] were masters during the late troubles … they are strong in London … and it is through the intrigues of … Sidney that one of the two sheriffs, named Bethel, has been elected. (TNA: PRO, Baschet correspondence, 147, 4023)In 1679 the post-Danby court was dominated by two nephews of Sidney's, Halifax and Sunderland, and one cousin, Essex. Over the following five years close relationships with the former two gave way to a treasonable partnership with the latter. Until 1681 the other aspect of Sidney's personal political involvement was parliamentary. Despite his earlier promise to the king to steer clear of politics, he stood as a candidate in all three parliamentary elections of this period. His ally in these campaigns was the Quaker William Penn, to whom he may have been introduced by their mutual friend Benjamin Furly. Despite an apparent victory at Amersham in August 1679 described by William Harrington as the most remarkable thing about the[se] elections (Fitzherbert MSS, 19), the result was disputed. A by-election was ordered in December 1680, the result of which was never adjudged by the interrupted Oxford parliament. Accordingly Sidney's influence upon the parliamentary campaign of this period was wielded primarily through his close friendship with the person who emerged as the leader of the House of Commons by late 1680: Sir William Jones. Following the king's dissolution of his last parliament at Oxford in April 1681 A Just and Modest Vindication of the Proceedings of the Two Last Parliaments (1681), called by Burnet the best writ paper in all that time … was at first penned by Sidney … and corrected by Jones (Burnet's History, 2.2767).Vindication appear in Sidney's Discourses Concerning Government, written between 1681 and 1683. Although long and sometimes repetitive the Discourses places Sidney alongside Milton as the master of republican eloquence. It is the power of its prose, as much as any aspect of its content, which helps to account for the work's exceptional subsequent impact in Britain, continental Europe, and America. Polemically a refutation of Sir Robert Filmer's Patriarcha (1680), the practical purpose of the Discourses is again to argue for armed resistance to oppression.
If the laws of God and men are therefore of no effect, when the magistracy is left at liberty to break them, and if the lusts of those, who are too strong for the tribunals of justice, cannot otherwise be restrained, than by seditions, tumults, and war, those seditions, tumults and wars, are justified by the laws of God and man … they who deny this deny all help against an usurping tyrant, or the perfidiousness of a lawfully created magistrate, who adds the crimes of ingratitude and treachery to usurpation. (Sidney, Discourses, in Works, 188, 1934)Beyond this task, which includes the only explicit seventeenth-century defence of rebellion, both word and thing, the Discourses has three notable features. One is the most sustained English development of Machiavelli's republican militarism: when a people multiplies, as they will always do in a good climate under a good government, such an enlargement of their territory, as is necessary for their subsistence, can only be acquired by war (ibid., 1789). The second is its related defence of change.
Changes are … unavoidable … To affirm [otherwise] … is no less than to render the understanding given to men utterly useless … whatever we enjoy, beyond the misery in which our barbarous ancestors lived, is due only to the liberty of correcting what was amiss in their practice, or inventing that which they did not know. (ibid., 3045, 404)The third is its defence of the principles (liberty, reason, and virtue) informing that classical moral philosophy which established the necessity of republican political architecture. Finally the Discourses, like the Court Maxims, was a defence of something going on in Sidney's life in practice. This was that self-defence of protestants, against persecution and popery, in which his ancestors had long been involved, and which had once again become necessary in England following the loyalist reaction.Discourses was discovered in his house and also taken into custody. Alongside an embellished subsequent confession by Howard, the government lacked a second witness to Sidney's treason. There followed several months in the Tower while it attempted to construct a case.
which doth not agree with the Character of gentleman and Christian … Somme say the protestants of Holland, France, or … Piedmont were guilty of treason, in bearing arms against their princes, but [this] is ridiculous … when it is certaine, they sought noe more than the security of their own lives. (E. Sussex RO, Glynde Place MS 794, letter 1, 6 October)They made detailed preparations for any future trial, confident, however, in the absence of a second witness, that such rules being observed as the law requires, it is not possible to bring us into danger, though they could bring Jezabel's witnesses from hell to strengthen the Ld Ho[wa]rds testimony (ibid., letter 7). This confidence disappeared in late October when an application by the prisoners for release under the provisions of the Habeas Corpus Act forced the government to determine its legal strategy. This was, remarkably, to use the manuscript Discourses as the second witness against Sidney: in the famous ruling of Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys: Scribere est agere (to write is to act). I could hardly believe he had said this, recorded Burnet, till I read it in the Printed Tryall (BL, Add. MS 63057, 2.158).
to uphold the Common rights of mankind, the lawes of this land, and the true Protestant religion, against corrupt principles, arbitrary power and Popery … I doe now willingly lay down my life for the same; and having a sure witness within me, that God doth … uphold me … am very littell sollicitous, though man doth condemne me. (Sidney, Apology, in Works)Finally his paper delivered to the sheriffs on the scaffold sensationally owned the principles informing the Discourses. Having given the Apology to his servant Joseph Ducasse for transmission to posterity, he made sure to consign copies of the paper to my friends. Within a few days the Town was full of written copys (BL, Add. MS 63057, 2.1589) and the government was forced to accede to a publication which attracted many replies. Sidney was beheaded on Tower Hill on the morning of 7 December 1683. On the scaffold he explained that he had come not to talk, but die … I have nothing to say to men (Account … of what Passed at Algernon Sidney's Execution, 1683). The following day the king gave permission for his burial in the sepulchar of his family in the parish church at Penshurst (CSP dom., 16834, 138).Discourses (of which there were at least fourteen between 1698 and 1805). That of G. W. Meadley, Memoirs of Algernon Sidney (1813), may be considered the best, and the fullest A. C. Ewald, The Life and Times of Algernon Sidney (2 vols., 1873). From 1885 he disappeared from view until in 1945 and 1947 two American scholars, Zera Fink and Caroline Robbins, laid the basis of twentieth-century interest in his political writings. Since 1985 a dramatic resurgence of work on both his life and thought has yielded six books and many articles, among which Blair Worden's The Commonwealth Kidney of Algernon Sidney (published in the Journal of British Studies, 24, 1985) was the first, and Jonathan Scott's two-volume study is the most comprehensive. With this have come numerous manuscript discoveries including that of the Court Maxims.
A. Sidney, Sydney on government: the works of Algernon Sydney, ed. J. Robertson (1772) [incl. Discourses concerning government; The apology of Algernon Sydney in the day of his death; The arraignment, trial and condemnation of Algernon Sydney; The very copy of a paper delivered to the sheriffs; Letters of Algernon Sydney taken from the Sydney Papers; Letters of Algernon Sydney taken from the state papers of John Thurloe; Letters to Henry Savile jnr] · A. Sidney, Court maxims, ed. H. Blom, E. H. Mulier, and R. Janse (1996) · J. Scott, Algernon Sidney and the English republic, 16231677 (1988) · J. Scott, Algernon Sidney and the Restoration crisis, 16771683 (1991) · H. Sydney and others, Letters and memorials of state, ed. A. Collins, 2 vols. (1746) · Report on the manuscripts of Lord De L'Isle and Dudley, 6 vols., HMC, 77 (192566) · R. Blencowe, ed., Sydney papers (1825) · A. Sidney, letters, 1683, E. Sussex RO, Glynde Place archives, no. 794 · CKS, De Lisle papers · T. Forster, ed., Original letters of Locke, Algernon Sidney, and Anthony Lord Shaftesbury (1830) · Lantiniana, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, Fr MS 23254 · TNA: PRO, Baschet correspondence 31/3, nos.125, 14056 · Bishop Burnets History of his own time: with the suppressed passages of the first volume, ed. M. J. Routh, 6 vols. (1823) · transcript of Burnet's History, BL, Add. MS 63057, 2 vols. · Sidney MSS, BL, Add. MS 32680 · E. Ludlow, A voyce from the watch tower, Bodl. Oxf., MS Eng. hist. c. 487 · A. Sidney, The character of Henry Vane jnr, in V. A. Rowe, Sir Henry Vane the younger: a study in political and administrative history (1970), appx F · J. Dalrymple, Memoirs of Great Britain and Ireland, 3 vols. (17718), vol. 2, appx · Algernon Sidney chancery pleading, TNA: PRO, C7 327/50 · [A. Sidney and W. Jones], A just and modest vindication of the proceedings of the two last parliaments (1681), 4 State tracts of the reign of Charles II (1689), 4, appx 15 · correspondance politique, Angleterre, Archives du Ministère des Affaires Étrangères, Paris · Algernon Sidney to Monsieur Bafoy, Archives Nationales, Paris, R2/82 · B. Whitelocke, Memorials of English affairs, new edn, 4 vols. (1853) · The journal of Edward Mountagu, first earl of Sandwich, admiral and general at sea, 16591665, ed. R. C. Anderson, Navy RS, 64 (1929) · The secret history of the Rye-House plot: and of Monmouth's rebellion (1754) · B. Haydon, Algernon Sidney, 162383, Archaeologia Cantiana, 76 (1961), 11033 · DNB · CSP dom., 16834, 138 · Report on the manuscripts of the earl of Egmont, 2 vols. in 3, HMC, 63 (19059) · The manuscripts of Sir William Fitzherbert … and others, HMC, 32 (1893)
S. Antiquaries, Lond., MS notes · Sevenoaks Library, Kent, MSS | Chatsworth House, Derbyshire, Halifax collection, A.114 · Chatsworth House, Derbyshire, letters to Henry Savile · CKS, letters to his father · CKS, De Lisle MSS · E. Sussex RO, Glynde Place archives, letters to John Hampden, no. 794 · TNA: PRO, chancery court pleadings, C5C10 · Yale U., Beinecke L., letters to Benjamin Furly
I. W., oils, 1647; Sothebys, 14 March 1990 · J. Hoskins, miniature, 1659, FM Cam. · J. Van Egmont, oils, 1663, Penshurst Place, Kent; copy, NPG · G. Bower, silver medal, BM · J. Hoskins, miniatures, Buccleuch estates, Selkirk · attrib. J. Van Egmont, portrait; Christies New York, August 2002 [see illus.] · oils, Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire
estate forfeit to crown upon conviction for treason 1683; last known letter, written between 22 and 25 Nov 1683, enclosed gifts totalling £1883 to an unidentified dear friend and kinsman: Glynde Place archives no. 794, letter 10, E. Sussex RO
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Algernon Sidney (16231683):