Lady Mary Sidney

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About Lady Mary Sidney

Mary Sidney ( Dudley) (c. 1530–1535[1] – 9 August 1586) was a lady-in-waiting at the court of Elizabeth I, and the mother of Sir Philip Sidney and Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke. A daughter of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, she was marginally implicated in her father's attempt to place Lady Jane Grey on the English throne and affected by his attainder. Mary Dudley was one of Queen Elizabeth's most intimate confidantes during the early years of her reign. Her duties included nursing the Queen through smallpox in 1563 and acting as her mouthpiece towards diplomats. A sister of Elizabeth's favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, she remained always loyal to her family. She was the mother of seven children and accompanied her husband, Sir Henry Sidney, to Ireland and the Welsh Marches.

Serving Elizabeth I On Elizabeth I's accession in November 1558 Mary Dudley became a Gentlewoman of the Privy Chamber "without wages", an unsalaried position which left her dependent on her husband. Like her brother Lord Robert, the royal favourite, she belonged to the Queen's closest companions. In October 1562, Elizabeth became critically ill with smallpox; Mary Dudley nursed her until she contracted the illness herself, which according to her husband greatly disfigured her beauty. That she took to wearing a mask afterwards is, however, a myth. She continued her court service, unless absent when accompanying her husband to Wales and Ireland. In late 1565 the couple travelled to Ireland, where Sir Henry was to take up his post as Lord Lieutenant. On the passage one of the ships sunk with all Mary Dudley's jewels and fine clothes on board. In 1567 Henry Sidney returned for a few weeks to the English court. His wife stayed behind at Drogheda, which came under rebel attack. Mary Dudley resolutely requested the Mayor of Dublin to relieve the town with troops, which he did. Later in the year Sir Henry sent her back to England because of her ill health, which was apparently caused by the Queen's criticism of his lieutenantship: An unfriendly letter from Elizabeth "so perplexed my dear wife, as she fell most grievously sick upon the same and in that sickness remained once in trance above fifty-two hours". The four Dudley siblings who survived into Elizabeth's reign, Mary, Ambrose, Robert, and their much younger sister Katherine, kept a close bond among themselves,[ while Henry Sidney and Robert Dudley were friends since their common schooldays with Edward VI. Mary Dudley's third child Elizabeth was born at her brother Robert's house at Kew in late 1560. Until 1569 she had four more children, among them the future Countess of Pembroke and poet Mary Herbert, and Robert, who became the first Sidney Earl of Leicester. The death of her nine-year-old daughter Ambrosia in 1575 elicited a letter of condolences from Queen Elizabeth. Henry Sidney being once again in Ireland, in January 1570 Robert Dudley entertained his brother Ambrose as well as "Sister Mary" and "Sister Kate" at Kenilworth. The same castle was the scene of the great festival of 1575, at which the whole Sidney family were guests and Mary Dudley excelled in stag hunting.[ By the 1570s, Sir Henry Sidney and his wife had become somewhat disillusioned and embittered about lacking financial rewards on the Queen's part for their long service. Elizabeth was still attached to her old friend when Mary Dudley left the court in July 1579—because of bad health, or out of solidarity with her brother Robert, Earl of Leicester, who was in disgrace for having married. She joined her husband at Ludlow in 1582, where he was serving his third turn as President of the Council of Wales. A year later her health was in such a state that Henry Sidney believed he would soon have the opportunity to take a second wife. Mary Dudley died on 9 August 1586, three months after her husband, in whose elaborate funeral she had participated. She was buried by his side at Penshurst.

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Lady Mary Sidney's Timeline

November 30, 1554
Penshurst, Kent, England
Kew, Richmond upon Thames, England (United Kingdom)
October 27, 1561
Ticknall Place, Bewdley, Worcestershire, England
November 19, 1563
Penshurst Manor, Kent, England
March 25, 1569
Penshurst, Kent, England, United Kingdom
August 9, 1586
Age 56