Sidney, Dorothy (1617–1684)

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Sidney, Dorothy (1617–1684)

Countess of Sunderland who was celebrated in poetry. Name variations: Lady Dorothy Sidney; Lady Dorothy Spencer; Lady Sunderland; Sacharissa. Born in 1617 in Scion House in England; baptized on October 5, 1617, in Isleworth, Middlesex; died in 1684 and buried on February 25 at Brington; eldest of eight daughters of Robert Sidney, 2nd earl of Leicester, and Dorothy Percy (daughter of the 9th earl of Northumberland); sister of Lady Lucy Sidney ; married Henry, 3rd Lord Spencer (later created earl of Sunderland), on July 11, 1639 (killed in battle, 1643); married Robert Smythe (a Kentish gentleman), in July 1652; children: (first marriage) Dorothy Spencer (who married George, Viscount Halifax); Robert Spencer; Henry Spencer; Penelope Spencer (died young).

Lady Dorothy Sidney was celebrated as "Sacharissa" in poems of Edmund Waller, though Edmund Lodge in his eponymous Portraits irritably points out that Waller "raised his own fame without rendering justice to hers." Surrounded by suitors before age 16, Sidney spurned them all, including Waller, whom it is said was so severely afflicted by the disappointment that he left the country. In reality, he remained home and took another wife. "The mind that can pour forth its griefs in song will find no great difficulty in recalling a desperate solution," sniffed Lodge.

In 1639, Sidney married Henry, 3rd Lord Spencer, who was soon after created earl of Sunderland. The marriage was brief. After serving 12 months in the army of Charles I, Sunderland was pierced by a cannon ball at the battle of Newbury on September 20, 1643. Soon after, Lady Sunderland gave birth to a daughter. She then retired to their estate in Brington, in Northamptonshire, where she lived for several years and was the benefactor of harassed clergy and Royalists. In 1652, she remarried. Lady Dorothy Sidney died in 1684 and was buried on February 25 at Brington.


Lodge, Edmund. Lodge's Portraits of Illustrious Personages of Great Britain. Vol. VI. London: William Smith, n.d.