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Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603)
‘Thy Necessity is Yet Greater than Mine’ : Elizabethan courtier and soldier Sir Philip Sidney shows that a nobleman can also be a gentleman.
‘Thy Necessity is Yet Greater than Mine’

Abridged from ‘Life of Sir Philip Sidney (1652)’ by Sir Fulke Greville, Baron Brooke (1554-1628).

Writer and courtier Sir Philip Sidney died on October 17th, 1586, from a wound he had suffered while fighting in support of Dutch independence from Spain at the Battle of Zutphen on September 22nd. He was just 31. The account below is by Philip’s devoted friend Fulke Greville, who served James I as Chancellor of the Exchequer.

THE weather being misty, their troops fell fatally within shot of their [the Spanish Army’s] muskets, which were laid in ambush within their own trenches. An unfortunate hand out of those trenches brake the bone of Sir Philip’s thigh with a musket-shot.* The horse he rode upon, was rather furiously choleric, than bravely proud, and so forced him to forsake the field.

Passing along by the rest of the Army, where his uncle the General was,* and being thirsty with excess of bleeding, he called for drink, which was presently brought him; but as he was putting the bottle to his mouth, he saw a poor soldier carried along, who had eaten his last at the same feast, ghastly calling up his eyes at the bottle. Which Sir Philip perceiving, took it from his head, before he drank, and delivered it to the poor man, with these words, Thy necessity is yet greater than mine.* And when he had pledged this poor soldier, he was presently carried to Arnhem.*

* Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester. Robert’s sister Mary married Sir Henry Sidney, and Philip was their son, and Robert’s favourite nephew.

* Greville tells us that Sidney had originally worn armour on his thigh, but seeing other captains were more lightly armoured, took his own protection off.

* Generally remembered as ‘Your need is greater than mine’. For a not dissimilar tale from a slightly later period, see The Price of Treachery.

* At Arnhem, the wound turned gangrenous and Sir Philip died there on October 17th, 1586. He was buried with honours in ‘Old’ St Paul’s Cathedral on February 16th, 1587; however, that church was destroyed in The Great Fire of London in 1666, and nothing of Sidney’s resting place remains.

Abridged from ‘Life of Sir Philip Sidney (1652)’ by Sir Fulke Greville, Baron Brooke (1554-1628).

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Picture: © Gouwenaar, Wikimedia Commons. Licence: Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication. View original
A statue of Sir Philip Sidney in Zutphen, the Netherlands, commemorating his sacrifice for the cause of Dutch independence during the Eighty Years’ War. Dutch Protestants were seeking to break free from rule by the stoutly Roman Catholic King of Spain, Philip II, husband of the late Queen Mary I of England. Mary’s half-sister Elizabeth, now Queen of England (much to Philip’s disgust: he thought he should have been King, even though he had agreed never to claim the crown), understandably sympathised with the rebellious Dutch Protestants against their Roman Catholic master.
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