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Sir Henry Sidney’s Funeral Sermon

Alison reads the extracts from the sermon which gives a strong sense of the Protestant legacy which he left for his children and grandchildren

Sir Henry Sidney, the father of the first generation of Sidney writers, died in 1586. We will examine the sermon preached at his funeral in Penshurst Church which gives a strong sense of the Protestant legacy which he left for his children and grandchildren.

Studying the sermon gives us an insight into the differences between traditional Catholic belief and those of the Protestants which began to take hold in Europe following Martin Luther’s 1519 publication of his Nine-Five Theses to reform the church. The Protestant Reformation was established in England in 1532-3 when King Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church, divorced Katherine of Aragon and married Anne Boleyn. In response, the Catholic Church set up the Council of Trent, whose three sessions between 1545 and 1563 clarified and refined its church doctrine as a solid foundation for a Counter-Reformation. By the time the Sidneys were writing, the Catholic church, especially the Jesuits, were making strong efforts to reconvert England to Catholicism.

Sir Henry Sidney’s funeral sermon broadcasts the Sidney family’s commitment – past and present – to Protestant values. As it was delivered, Sir Philip Sidney was demonstrating that commitment through his military defence of Protestant interests in the Netherlands against the Spanish Catholics. The sermon was delivered by Sir Thomas White, and published as “A Godly Sermon preached the 21 day of June 1586 at Penshurst in Kent at the burial of the late Right Honourable Sir Henry Sidney, Knight of the Noble order of the Garter, Lord President of Wales and of her Majesty’s most honourable privy council” (London, 1586).

Watch the video in which Alison reads the extracts from the sermon. You may like to follow the script below.

As you listen, see if you can pick out phrases from the funeral sermon that demonstrate:

  • Protestant beliefs in the Word and faith in the Providence or certainty of God’s will to save.
  • Catholic beliefs and White’s attitude to them.
  • religious struggles between Protestants and Catholics.

What does it tell us about religious beliefs at the time?


What should I stand to play the Orator or the painter in this place? I know it is not looked for at my hands, but yet to tell the truth it shall give glory unto God. And seeing he hath sowed the fruit of his wisdom in peace, it shall yield unto himself a worthy Fame, and to his Seed a certain print or mark of their father’s steps, who was a treasure of the commonwealth and a common good of his country….
And here I intended to have spoken in few words to his noble issue(1) but it shall now suffice that I pray for him, that he which must succeed him in his family may, if it be possible, exceed him in his virtues, or at the least imitate them, that God may gird him with his father’s girdle, & fasten the nail of his tent in a sure place, that he may be the glory of his father’s house… And, as this day especially requireth, let vs beseech the Lord to maintain our peace at home and his wars abroad, together with the excellent and honourable persons employed that ways, that all the enemy Papists may know that there is a God of Israel which is able to give the victory to his own name…
[Faith and good works]
The certainty of faith is greater than of any sense, because of the promise,(2) from the which faith may no more be parted than the house may be separated from his foundation and stand. And the reason that causeth all the faithful to be so bold? is because that, that which might alter the case, cannot fall in the nature of God, with whom is no change, nor shadow of change, neither in will, nor power, both which are as firm and constant as himself. And therefore he that will distrust the Lord, let him believe nothing. In this pickle they [Catholics] stand, or rather in this puddle they sink, who wickedly trust unto their works, and foolishly believe that there are three sorts of places for resort of souls after death: namely, Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory, and to which of these the soul doth pass, Popery cannot tell, which is a warm comfort to a soul departing. As if a man were cast into the Sea and coming to the land were, returned back again: perhaps he might sink, and perhaps he might swim. But we thank the Lord and his Christ we are better dealt withal than so. We know we shall live if we believe, because he hath said it, and we know that they that do not belieue are so sure of death as that they are judged already. Wherefore, in the mean season, hope serveth to nourish our faith and patience to possess our souls ….For we shal see him as he is, which words do send us unto Christ as he now sitteth at the right hand of God his father…. We must not therefore basely think of Christ, as apish Papists dream, because he is full glorified in himself. He was born in a manger, he did live poorly upon earth, he died miserably on the cross, he was crowned, but with thorns, mocked, and scorned in all the anxiety of his soul, and in the anguish of his death he was forced to yield forth strong cries in the days of his flesh, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? It was so because it became Christ so to suffer, but now it is nothing so, but otherwise, and, we shall see him as he is, and not as he was.

(1). i.e. Sir Philip Sidney. These words would have been preached to Henry’s widow Mary Dudley, who was to die on 9 August 1586, their second son Robert Sidney and youngest son Robert and their daughter Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke. His eldest son, Sir Philip Sidney, who is referred to here, was not present because he was fighting in the Netherlands where he was to die shortly after his father on 17 October 1586.
(2). promise – i.e. the promise of salvation

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Penshurst Place and the Sidney Family of Writers

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