ccd-leicesterhead1.jpg (9571 bytes)Dwight Peck's reprint series

Leicester's Commonwealth: The Copy of a Letter Written by a Master of Art of Cambridge (1584) {file 5}

Scanned and reprinted from
Peck, ed., Leicester's Commonwealth (Athens and London: Ohio University Press, 1985).

Leicester's Commonwealth

The Copy of a Letter
Written by a Master of Art of Cambridge to his friend in London, concerning some talk passed of late between two worshipful and grave men about the present state and some proceedings of the Earl of Leicester and his friends in England.

Conceived, spoken and published with most earnest protestation of all dutiful good will and affection towards her most excellent Majesty and the realm, for whose good only it is made common to many.



Sidney's Defense of Leicester

Among the various official responses to Leicester's Commonwealth, there was one important unofficial one. Sometime during the winter of 1584-1585 a copy came into the hands of Sir Philip Sidney, who undertook to reply to the attack against his uncle in his so-called Defense of Leicester.1 The haste with which he worked is obvious both from the state of his drafts, which survive, and from the rather hectic array of often half-completed thoughts in the argument itself. Clearly his efforts were at first intended for publication, but in fact they never saw print, nor were they very much circulated in manuscript. The reasons for this forbearance should not be far to seek. Had Leicester had a chance to see Sidney's tract, he would doubtless have considered its particular strategies more harmful than helpful to his cause, and he would probably have preferred to avoid public debates over the pros and cons of criminal allegations against him. What Leicester needed, and what he got, was a testimony of categorical innocence from the Queen, not vehement rhetoric and thrown gauntlets from his own partisans.

Nevertheless, though obviously among his less distinguished works, Sidney's essay is worthy of more credit than it is usually given. It is customary to fault the Defense on the grounds that it evades direct rebuttal of the substantial allegations about the Earl, and thus "gives no picture of Leicester the man to set against the vivid and detailed characterization of the libeller,"2 and that instead it dwells entirely upon the Earl's noble lineage, which was of course Sidney's own lineage, whereas the charge of "want of gentry" had been an extremely minor part of the Commonwealth's attack. This assessment is largely just, but it requires three qualifications that are not so customarily made. First, vindicating the Earl of specific charges would in most cases have been impossible since the form in which they are often made does not admit of positive evidence to the contrary. All that any defender could have done was merely to assert (not prove) that, however circumstances appeared, the Earl had no malicious intentions and then attempt to impugn whatever evidence had been adduced to show that he had. The first of these Sir Philip does in the only way he can, by formally testifying "that I could never find in the Earl of Leicester any one motion or inclination toward any such pretended conceit," and the second he does too, and very well, by ridiculing the kind of evidence being used by his opponent: "Such a gentlewoman spake of a matter no less than treason; belike she whispered, yet he heard her," and so on.

Second, Sidney, realizing (as we have seen) that he cannot address particular libellous allegations, attempts instead the next best thing, a largely independent counterattack upon libels and libellers in general. It must be acknowledged that he does a good job of this as well. Of libels he reminds us that anything can be said and anyone traduced by an anonymous writer, that virtually anything can by innuendo be made to look suspicious, that the enmity of certain parties can often be a kind of praise.3 Of the Commonwealth in particular he undertakes a critique that makes up as astute a commentary on the book's flaws as has appeared anywhere. His isolation of its implausible kinds of evidence, such as overheard secrets, we have already noticed. He recognizes that the Commonwealth's authors, whatever they protest to the contrary, are being less than candid in their professions of loyalty to the Queen, and he seems to recognize (as had Elizabeth herself) the derogation of the Queen implicit in the allegations about her trusted favorite. Furthermore, Sidney puts his finger squarely upon the weaknesses of the Commonwealth's defamation - that by adopting a rhetoric "all still so upon the superlative," it raises its villain well out of the realm of plausibility, and that by inventing "a whole dictionary of slanders" against him, it creates inconsistencies that cannot easily be resolved, ending with a man who is both potent and abject, well friended and friendless, physically debilitated and luxurious, cowardly and reckless - "the devil's roll of complaints" against all mankind, laid at the door of only one man.

The third qualification to be made concerns Sidney's exposition of the Dudley lineage. The customary appraisal argues that Sir Philip unwisely shifts his defense from the moral allegations to the very minor problem of Leicester's, and Sidney's own, ancestry, but that having done so, he makes a "comparative success" of it. In fact, he does not make very much of a success of it; he is not being entirely straightforward when he dismisses the telling objection that the most impressive Dudley connections accrue only through females, nor is he when he demonstrates at length the ancient nobility of the Suttons of Dudley, since the issue was precisely whether the Dudleys were lawfully related to that house at all. And when at last he considers the point upon which debate had fixed, the status of John Dudley of Atherington, he loftily characterizes the facts as well known to everyone yet calls the man Piers instead of John. But when we imply that Sir Philip shifted his defense to the Dudley lineage merely because Leicester was otherwise indefensible or because his own injured family pride had distracted him, we may partially misunderstand his intentions and do him some disservice. It is true that he defends the Earl in general terms and that he tries to invalidate the effect of the entire libel, but toward the end of his essay he indicates that the matter of ancestry had been his primary topic from the start and that he had undertaken to write, not because Dudley's lineage had been questioned, which incidentally involved his own, but precisely because his own honor had been touched. It is quite possible that he did not set out to exculpate his uncle squarely, then through some peculiar aristocratic sensitivity become sidetracked by an imagined insult to himself; but rather he may have intended from the outset to defend his own family honor, as he may have felt required in honor to do. Characteristically of the young chevalier, he ends his essay with an absurdly inappropriate challenge to a duel.

I have taken the text of Sidney's Defense from photocopies of the holograph drafts in the Pierpont Morgan Library, relying very heavily upon the excellent edition by Katherine Duncan-Jones in Sidney, Miscellaneous Prose of Sir Philip Sidney, pp. 129-41.

Defense of Leicester

Of late there hath been printed a book in form of dialogue to the defaming of the Earl of Leicester, full of the most vile reproaches which a wit used to wicked and filthy thoughts can imagine; in such manner, truly, that if the author had as well feigned new names as he doth new matters, a man might well have thought his only meaning had been to have given a lively picture of the uttermost degree of railing. A thing contemptible in the doer, as proceeding from a base and wretched tongue, and such a tongue as in the speaking dares not speak his own name; odious to all estates, since no man bears a name; of which name, how unfitly soever to the person, by an impudent liar, anything may not be spoken, by all good laws sharply punished, and by all evil companies like a poisonous serpent avoided. But to the Earl himself, in the eyes of any men who with clear judgments can value things, a true and sound honor grows out of these dishonorable falsehoods, since he may justly say as a worthy senator of Rome once in like case did,4 that no man these twenty years hath borne a hateful heart to this estate, but that at the same time he hath showed his enmity to this Earl, testifying thereby that his faith is so linked to her Majesty's service, that who goes about to undermine the one, resolves withal to overthrow the other. For it is not now first that evil contented and evil minded persons, before the occasion be ripe for them to show their hate against the prince, do first vomit it out against his counsellors. Nay, certainly, so stale a device it is as it is to be marvelled that so fine wits, whose inventions a fugitive fortune hath sharpened and the air of Italy perchance purified,5 can light upon no gallanter way than the ordinary pretext of the very clownish6 rebellions. And yet that this is their plot of late, by name first to publish something against the Earl of Leicester, and after when time served against the Queen's Majesty, by some of their own intercepted discourses is made too manifest.7 He himself in some places brings in the example of Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall, Robert Vere, Duke of Ireland, and De la Pole, Duke of Suffolk.8 It is not my purpose to defend them, but I would fain know whether they that persecuted those councillors, when they had had their will in ruining them, whether their rage ceased before they had as well destroyed the kings themselves, Edward and Richard II and Henry VI. The old tale testifieth that the wolves that mean to destroy the flock hate most the truest and valiantest dogs. Therefore, the more the filthy impostume of their wolfish malice breaks forth, the more undoubtedly doth it raise this well deserved glory to the Earl, that who hates England and the Queen must also withal hate the Earl of Leicester.

And as for the libel itself, such is it as neither in respect of the writer nor matter written can move, I think, the lightest wits to give thereto credit to the discredit of so worthy a person. For the writer (whom in truth I know not, and, loth to fail, am not willing to guess at) shows yet well enough of what kennel he is, that dares not testify his own writings with his own name. And which is more base (if anything can be more base than a defamatory libeller) he counterfeits himself in all the treatise a Protestant, when any man which with half an eye may easily see he is of the other party; which filthy dissimulation if few honest men of that religion will use to the helping of themselves, of how many carats of honesty is this man, that useth it as much as his poor power can to the harm of another? And lastly, evident enough it is to any man that reads it what poison he means to her Majesty, in how golden a cup soever he dress it.

For the matter written, so full of horrible villainies as no good heart will think possible to enter into any creature, much less to be likely in so noble and well known a man as he is, only thus accused to be by the railing oratory of a nameless libeller. Perchance he had read the rule of that sycophant, that one should backbite boldly, for though the bite were healed, yet the scar would remain. But sure that schoolmaster of his would more cunningly have carried it, leaving some shadows of good, or at least leaving out some evil, that his treatise might have carried some probable show of it. For as reasonable commendation wins belief, and excessive gets only the praiser the title of a flatterer, so much more in this far worse degree of lying it may well rebound upon himself the vile reproach of a railer, but never can sink into any good mind. The suspicion of any such unspeakable mischiefs, especially it being every man's case even from the meanest to the highest, whereof we daily see odious examples, that even of the great princes the dear riches of good name are sought in such sort to be picked away by such night thieves. For through the whole book, what is it else but such a bundle of railings as if it came from the mouth of some half-drunk scold in a tavern, not regarding, while evil were spoken, what was fit for the person of whom the railing was, so the words were fit for the person of an outrageous railer? Dissimulation, hypocrisy, adultery, falsehood, treachery, poison, rebellion, treason, cowardice, atheism, and what not, and all still so upon the superlative that it was no marvel though the good lawyer he speaks of made many a cross to keep him from such a father of lies. And in many excellent gifts passing all shameless scolds, in one he passeth himself, with an unheard of impudence bringing persons yet alive to speak such things which they are ready to depose upon their salvation never came in their thoughts. Such a gentlewoman spake of a matter no less than treason; belike she whispered, yet he heard her. Such two knights spake together of things not fit to call witnesses to, yet this ass's ears were so long that he heard them.9 And yet see, his good nature all this while would never reveal them till now, for secrecy sake, he puts them forth in print. Certainly, such a quality in a railer as I think never was heard of, to name persons alive as not only can but do disprove his falsehoods, and yet with such familiarity to name them, without he learned it of Pace, the Duke of Norfolk's fool;10 for he when he had used his tongue as this heir of his hath done his pen, of the noblest persons, sometimes of the Duke himself, the next that came fitly in this way, he would say he had told it him of abundance of charity, not only to slander but to make bait.11 What therefore can be said to such a man? Or who lives there, even Christ himself, but that so stinking a breath may blow infamy upon? Who hath a father by whose death the son inherits, but such a nameless historian may say his son poisoned him? Where may two talk together, but such a spirit of revelation may surmise they spake of treason? What need more? Or why so much? As though I doubted that any would build belief upon such a dirty seat. Only when he, to borrow a little of his inkhorn, when he plays the "statist,"12 wringing very unluckily some of Machiavel's axioms to serve his purpose, then indeed he triumphs. Why, then, the Earl of Leicester means and plots to become king himself; but first to rebel from the prince to whom he is most bound and of whom he only dependeth; and then to make the Earl of Huntingdon king; and then to put him down, and then to make himself. Certainly, Sir, you shoot fair. I think no man that hath wit and power to pronounce this word "England" but will pity a sycophant so weak in his own faculty. But of the Earl of Huntingdon, as I think, all indifferent men will clear him from any such foolish and wicked intent of rebellion. So I protest, before the Majesty of God, who will confound all liars, and before the world, to whom effects and events will witness my truth, that I could never find in the Earl of Leicester any one motion or inclination toward any such pretended conceit in the Earl of Huntingdon. I say no whit further. For as for the present, or for drawing it to himself, I think no devil so wicked nor no idiot so simple as to conjecture. And yet, being to him as I am, I think I should have some air of that which this gentle libel-maker doth so particularly and piecemeal understand. And I do know the Earls of Warwick, of Pembroke, my father and all the rest he names there will answer the like. And yet such matters cannot be undertaken without good friends, nor good friends be kept without knowing something. But the Earl's mind hath ever been to serve only, and truly, setting aside all hopes, all fears, his mistress by undoubted right Queen of England, and most worthy to be the queen of her royal excellencies, and most worthy to be his queen, having restored his overthrown house and brought him to this case that curs, for only envy, bark at. And this his mind is not only (though chiefly) for faith, knit in conscience and honor, nor only (though greatly) for gratefulness, where all men know how much he is bound, but even partly for wisdom's sake, knowing by all old lessons and examples that how welcome soever treasons be, traitors to all wise princes are odious, and that, as Matius answered Tully, who wrate to him how he was blamed for showing himself so constant a friend to Caesar, that he doubted not even they that blamed him would rather choose such friends as he was than such as they were.13 For wise princes well know that these violent discontentments grow out of the party's wicked humors, as in sick folk that think with change of places to ease their evil, which indeed is inward, and whom nor this prince nor that prince can satisfy, but such as are led by their fancies; that is to say, who lean to be princes.

But this gentle libel-maker, because he would make an evident proof of an unquenchable malice, desperate impudency, and falsehood which never knew blushing, is not content with a whole dictionary of slanders upon these persons living, but as if he would rake up the bones of the dead, with so apparent falsehoods toucheth their houses as if he had been afeard else he should not have been straight found in that wherein he so greatly labors to excel. First, for Hastings he saith the Lord Hastings conspired the death of his master King Edward's sons. Let any man but read the excellent treatise of Sir Thomas More, compare but his words with this libel-maker's, and then judge him if he who in a thing so long since printed and, as any man may see by other of his allegations, of him diligently read, hath the face to write so directly contrary;14 not caring as it seems though a hundred thousand find his falsehood, so some dozen that never read Sir Thomas More's words may be carried to believe his horrible slanders of a nobleman so long ago dead. I set down the words of both, because by this one lively comparison the face of his falsehood may be the better set forth. And who then can doubt but he that lies in a thing which with one look is found a lie, what he will do where yet there is though as much falsehood yet no so easy disproof?

Now to the Dudleys such is his bounty that when he hath poured out all his flood of scolding eloquence, he saith they are no gentlemen, affirming that John, Duke of Northumberland was not born so.15 In truth, if I should have studied with myself of all points of false invective which a poisonous tongue could have spit out against that Duke, yet would it never have come into my head of all other things that any man would have objected want of gentry unto him. But this fellow doth like him who, when he had shot off all his railing quiver, called one cuckold that was never married, because he would not be in debt to any one evil word.

I am a Dudley in blood, that Duke's daughter's son, and do acknowledge, though in all truth I may justly affirm that I am by my father's side of ancient and always well esteemed and well matched gentry, yet I do acknowledge, I say, that my chiefest honor is to be a Dudley, and truly am glad to have cause to set forth the nobility of that blood whereof I am descended, which but upon so just cause without vainglory could not have been uttered, since no man but this fellow of invincible shamelessness would ever have called so palpable a matter in question. In one place of his book he greatly extolleth the great nobility of the house of Talbot, and truly with good cause, there being as I think not in Europe a subject house which hath joined longer continuance of nobility with men of greater service and loyalty. And yet this Duke's own grandmother, whose blood he makes so base, was a Talbot, daughter and sole heir to the Viscount of Lisle, even he the same man who, when he might have saved himself, chose rather manifest death than to abandon his father, that most noble Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, of whom the histories of that time make so honorable mention.16 The house of Grey is well known; to no house in England in great continuance of honor, and for number of great houses sprung of it, to be matched to none, but by the noble house of Neville. His mother was a right Grey, and a sole inheritrix of that Grey.17 Of the house of Warwick, which ever strave with the great house of Arundel which should be the first earl of England, he was likewise so descended as that justly the honor of the house remained chiefly upon him, being the only heir to the eldest daughter and one of the heirs to that famous Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, that was Regent of France. And although Richard Neville, who married the youngest sister, because she was of the whole blood to him that was called Duke of Warwick, by a point in our law carried away the inheritance, and so also, I know not by what right, the title, yet in law of heraldry and descents, which doth not consider those quiddities of our law, it is most certain that the honor of the blood remained upon him chiefly, who came of the eldest daughter.18 And more undoubtedly is it to be said of the house of Berkeley, which is affirmed to be descended lineally from a king of Denmark, but hath ever been one of the best houses in England. And this Duke19 was the only heir general to that house, which the house of Berkeley doth not deny, howsoever as sometimes it falls out between brothers there be question for land between them.20 Many other houses might herein be mentioned, but I name these, because England can boast of no nobler, and because all these bloods so remained in him that he, as heir, might if he had listed have used their arms and name, as in old time they used in England and do daily both in Spain, France, and Italy. So that I think it would seem as great news as if they came from the Indies, that he who by right of blood, and so accepted, was the ancientest viscount of England, heir in blood and arms to the first or second earl of England, in blood of inheritance a Grey, a Talbot, a Beauchamp, a Berkeley, a Lisle, should be doubted to be a gentleman. But he will say these great honors came to him by his mother. For these, I do not deny they came so, and that the mother being an heir hath been in all ages and countries sufficient to nobilitate is so manifest that even from the Roman time to modern times in such case they might, if they listed, and so often did, use their mother's name; and that Augustus Caesar had both name and empire of Caesar only by his mother's right, and so both mother's. But I will claim no such privilege. Let the singular nobility of his mother nothing avail him, if his father's blood were not in all respects worthy to match with hers, if ancient, undoubted and untouched nobility be worthy to match with the most honorable house that can be. This house, therefore, of Dudley, which in despite of all shamelessness he so doth deprave, is at this day a peer, as we term it, of the realm, a baron, and, as all Englishmen know, a Lord of the Parliament, and so a companion both in marriage, Parliament, and trial to the greatest duke that England can bear. So hath it been ever esteemed, and so in the constitutions of all our laws and ordinances is it always reputed. Dudley house is so to this day and thus it hath been time out of mind. In Harry V's time the Lord Dudley was his Lord Steward, and did that pitiful office in bringing home, as the chief mourner, his victorious master's dead body, as who goes but to Westminster in the church may see.

I think if we consider together the time, which was of England the most flourishing, and the king he served, who of all English kings was most puissant, and the office he bare, which was in effect as great as an English subject could have, it would seem very strange, so that Lord Dudley if he could out of his grave hear this fellow make question whether his lawful posterity from father to son should be gentlemen or no.21 But though he only had been sufficient to erect nobility to his successors, bringing, as the Romans termed it, so noble an image into the house, yet did he but receive his nobility from his ancestors, who had been lords of that very seignory of Dudley Castle many descents before, even from King Richard I['s] time, at which time Sir Richard Sutton married the daughter and heir of the Lord Dudley; since which time, all descended of him, as diverse branches there be, left the name of Sutton and have all been called Dudleys, which is now above four hundred years since, and both those houses of Sutton and Dudley having been before that time of great nobility. And that Sutton was a man of great honor and estimation that very match witnesseth sufficiently, it being a dainty thing in that time that one of Saxon blood, as Sutton's name testifieth he was, should match with such an inheritrix as Dudley was; the like example whereof I remember none but the great house of Raby, who matched with Neville, who of that match, as the Suttons were called Dudleys, so did they ever since take the name of Neville. So as of a house, which these four hundred years have been still owners of one seignory, the very place itself to any that sees it witnessing, such as for any other I know in England none but the noble house of Stafford hath the like, considering the name of the house, the length of time it hath been possessed, the goodliness of the seat, with pleasures and royalties about it, so as I think any that will not swear themselves brothers to a reproachful tongue will judge of his other slander by this, most manifest, since all the world may see he speaks against his own knowledge. For if either the house of Dudley had been great anciently and now extinguished, or now great and not continued from old time, or that they had been unentitled gentlemen, so as men must not needs have taken knowledge of them, yet there might have been cast some veil over his untruth. But in a house now noble, long since noble, with a nobility never interrupted, seated in a place which they have each father and each son continually owned, what should be said but that this fellow desires to be known suitable: having an untrue heart, he will become it with an untrue tongue.

But perchance he will seem to doubt: for what will he not doubt who will affirm that which beyond all doubt is false, whether my great grandfather, Edmund Dudley, were of the Lord Dudley's house or no. Certainly he might in conscience and good manners, if so he did doubt, have made some distinction between the two houses, and not in all places have made so contemptible mention of that name of Dudley, which is borne by another peer of the realm.22 And even of charity sake he should have bestowed some father upon Edmund Dudley, and not leave him not only ungentled but fatherless. A railing writer extant against Octavius Augustus saith his grandfather was a silversmith;23 another Italian, against Hugh Capet, though with most absurd falsehood, saith his father was a butcher. Of divers of the best houses of England there have been such foolish dreams, that one was a farrier's son, another a shoemaker's, another a milliner's, another a fiddler's - foolish lies, and by any that ever tasted any antiquities known to be so. Yet those houses had luck to meet with honester railers, for they were not left fatherless clean, they descended from somebody, but we, as if we were Deucalion's brood new made out of stones, have left us no ancestors from whence we are come. But alas, good railer, you saw the proofs were clear, and therefore even for honesty sake were contented to omit them. For if either there had been difference of name or difference of arms between them, or if, though in name and arms they agreed, yet if there had been many descents fallen since the separating of those branches - as we see in many ancient houses it so falls out as they are uncertain whether came out of other - then, I say, yet a valiant railer may venture upon a thing where, because there is not an absolute certainty, there may be some possibility to escape. But in this case, where not only name and arms, with only that difference which acknowledgeth our house to be of the younger brother, but such nearness of blood as that Edmund Dudley's was no further off than son to the younger brother of the same Lord Dudley, and so as he was to be Lord Dudley if the Lord Dudley had died without heirs, and by the German and Italian manner himself was to have been also called Lord Dudley, that his father being called Piers Dudley, married to the daughter and heir of Bramshot in Sussex, it was the only descent between him and the Lord Dudley who was his grandfather, his great grandfather being that noble Lord Dudley whom before I mentioned.24 And no man need doubt that this writer doth not only know the truths hereof, but the proofs of this truth, this Piers, Edmund's father, being buried at Arundel Castle, who married Bramshot and left that land to Edmund, and so to the Duke in Sussex, which after the Duke sold, by confiscation came to the crown. This tomb any man at Arundel Castle may see. This Bramshot land I name, a thing not in the air, but which any man by the ordinary course of those things may soon know, whether such land did not succeed unto Edmund from his father. So as where is this inheritance of land and monuments in churches and the persons themselves little more than in man's memory, truly this libeller deserves many thanks, that with his impudent falsehood hath given occasion to set down so manifest a truth.

As to the Dudleys, he deals much harder withal, but no whit truer. But therein, I must confess, I cannot allege his uncharitable triumphing upon the calamities fallen to that house; though they might well be challenged of any writer of whom any honesty were to be expected. But God forbid I should find fault with that, since in all his book there is scarce anyone truth else. But our house received such an overthrow, and hath none else in England done? so I will not seek to wash away that dishonor with other honorable tears. I would this island were not so full of such examples. And I think, indeed, this writer, if he were known, might in conscience clear his ancestors of any such disgraces; they were too low in the mud to be so thunderstricken. But this I may justly and boldly affirm: let the last fault of the Duke be buried.25

And in good faith, now I have so far touched there, as any man that list to know a truth - if at least there be any that can doubt thereof - may straight be satisfied, I do not mean to give any man's eyes or ears such a surfeit as by answering to repeat his filthy falsehoods, so contrary to themselves as may well show how ill lies can be built with any uniformity. The same man in the beginning of the book was so potent, to use his term, that the Queen had cause to fear him; the same man in the end thereof so abject as any man might tread on him; the same man so unfriendly as no man could love him; the same man so supported by friends that Court and country were full of them; the same man extremely weak of body, and infinitely luxurious; the same man a dastard to fear anything, the same man so venturous as to undertake, having no more title, such a matter that Hercules himself would be afraid to do, if he were here among us.26 In sum, in one the same man all the faults that in all the most contrary-humoured men in the world can remain, that sure I think he hath read the devil's roll of complaints which he means to put up against mankind, or else he could never have been acquainted with so many wretched mischiefs.

But hard it were, if every goose quill could any way blot the honor of an Earl of Leicester, written in the hearts of so many men through Europe. Neither, for me, shall ever so worthy a man's name be brought to be made a question, where there is only such a nameless and shameless opposer.

But because that thou, the writer hereof, dost most falsely lay want of gentry to my dead ancestors, I have to the world thought good to say a little, which I will assure any that list to seek shall find confirmed, with much more. But to thee I say, thou therein liest in thy throat, which I will be ready to justify upon thee in any place of Europe where thou wilt assign me a free place of coming, as within three months after the publishing hereof I may understand thy mind. And as, till thou hast proved this, in all construction of virtue and honor all the shame thou hast spoken is thine own, the right reward of an evil-tongued schelm,27 as the Germans especially call such people. So again, in any place whereto thou wilt call me, provided that the place be such as a servant of the Queen's may have free access unto, if I do not, having my life and liberty, prove this upon thee, I am content that this lie I have given thee return to my perpetual infamy. And this which I write I would send to thine own hands if I knew thee. But I trust it cannot be intended that he should be ignorant of this, printed in London, who knows the very whisperings of the Privy Chamber. I will make dainty of no baseness in thee, that art indeed the writer of this book.28 And from the date of this writing, imprinted and published, I will three months expect thine answer.


1. There is little doubt that it was to the English edition that Sidney was responding, rather than to the French translation of spring 1585, since the latter's addition levels charges against Sidney himself, about which he is silent and would not have been had he seen them.

2. Katherine Duncan-Jones, in Sidney, Miscellaneous Prose of Sir Philip Sidney, p.127.

3. This last was the main theme of Alberico Gentili's 1585 defense of the Earl, included in his dedication to Sidney of De legationibus tres libri, (2: v).

4. Cicero, Second Philippic, sec. 1 (Philippics, p. 65).

5. Sidney, though he guesses wrongly about Italy, correctly understands his adversaries to be Catholic exiles.

6. "Clownish": rude, awkward, ignorant (O.E.D.).

7. Probably a reference to the invasion plans captured with Fr. Creighton on 4 Sept. 1584, which described "infamous and slanderous libels" already written and ready to be published against Elizabeth herself (Knox, Allen, pp. 428, 430).

8. See Leicester's Commonwealth, notes 283 and 286. As Duncan-Jones points out, conceding an association between Leicester and these villains is probably not very wise of Sidney.

9. Midas's ass's ears were proverbial, from Ovid, Metamorphoses, bk. 11 (lines 194-216 in Golding's 1567 translation).

10. John Pace (d. 1590), a professional jester first with the third Duke of Norfolk (ca.1545), later with Elizabeth's Court.

11. "Make bait": create trouble (literally "to set dogs on") (O.E.D.).

12. "Statist": one skilled in affairs of state. The O.E.D. credits this passage as the first use of the word, but as Sidney indicates, he borrows it from the Commonwealth.

13. Gaius Matius to Cicero, 43 B.C. (Cicero, Letters, 2: 511).

14. In this attempt to impugn the Commonwealth's use of history, Sidney is in error on both counts. The tract does not say that Hastings conspired the death of Edward's sons, only that he helped the Protector eliminate their "friends and kinsmen," which allegation More's History of King Richard III clearly confirms (2: 48a).

15. The Commonwealth had not asserted that the Dudleys were not gentlemen, only that they were lately risen into the peerage.

16. John Talbot, first Earl of Shrewsbury, commander of the army in France, was killed with his younger son, John Viscount Lisle, in 1453.

17. Edward Grey (d. 1492) married the heiress of Viscount Lisle; his daughter and heiress in her issue married Edmund Dudley, Leicester's grandfather.

18. Richard Beauchamp (d. 1439) had three daughters by his first wife, of which Margaret, wife of the forementioned Shrewsbury, was the eldest; his son Henry (d. 1446), by his second wife, succeeded in his title, which then devolved upon Neville, who had married Henry's younger sister.

19. Northumberland, Leicester's father.

20. Sidney alludes to the suits being brought by the Dudleys against the Lord of Berkeley, as charged in the Commonwealth. Thomas, fifth Lord Berkeley, died in 1417, leaving only his daughter, who married the forenamed Richard Beauchamp, and the son of his brother James; from this son, James, first Lord Berkeley, the Elizabethan Berkeleys (who did deny the Dudley claim) were directly descended.

21. Sidney is being disingenuous. No one impugned the nobility of the Suttons of Dudley; the question was whether Leicester's family was indeed connected to that house at all.

22. The main line of the Suttons of Dudley was represented by Edward, the fourth Lord of Dudley Castle, who died in July 1586.

23. Duncan-Jones identifies Lucas Gauricus, De vera nobilitate, Opera omnia (Basel, 1572), 2: 1882.

24. This was precisely the point raised by Leicester's detractors, whether John Dudley (d.1510) of Atherington, Sussex, who married the Bramshot heiress and was father of Edmund, had indeed been a younger son of John Sutton, the first Lord Dudley, as claimed in the Dudley genealogies (e.g., British Library, Lansdowne MS. 775, fol. 1v). It is now generally accepted that he was, though Sidney's mistaking the man's forename may indicate how little was known of him.

25. Sidney is alluding to the failure of Northumberland's coup d'etat. His point seems unfortunately to be that "anybody who is anybody" has been executed for treason.

26. That is, undertake to win the crown for himself.

27. "Schelm": rascal (O.E.D., citing this passage as first use).

28. A gentleman need not ordinarily fight a duel with a common person, but Sidney graciously offers to make an exception.

Appendices with Related Notes
Appendix APrinted and Manuscript Forms of Leicester's Commonwealth
Appendix BThe French Translation, 1585, and its Addition
Appendix CSidney's Defense of Leicester
Appendix DFurther Notes
Appendix ERelated Documents
Appendix FGenealogical Tables
BibliographyBibliography of Printed Works Cited
PDF version, 2006 (2.0 MB)

bookpen.gif (2870 bytes)Please do not reproduce this text in any form for commercial purposes; all other uses are okay, with acknowledgement. This text has been scanned from the printed copy, published by Ohio University Press, 1985 -- this is an imperfect process and if you should want to quote something and have any doubts about you see here, please feel free to ask. Feedback and suggestions are welcome, . Posted 31 August 2004.


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