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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Mary Sidney

b. 1561, Bewdley, Worcestershire, England; d. 1621, London

A poet, translator, patron of writers, and salon hostess, Mary Sidney was a pivotal figure in the cultural life of England during the Elizabethan era. As a girl, she received a comprehensive humanist education, becoming fluent in French, Italian, and Latin, skilled in rhetoric, and well-versed in the classics. Elizabeth I, a close friend of her mother, brought Mary to the court in 1575 as her special project. In 1577, she made a brilliant marriage to Henry Herbert, earl of Pembroke, one of the wealthiest men in England. Her home at Wilton became a center of literary activities; in fact, it seems that everyone in the Wilton household wrote poetry, including tutors, secretaries, and the family physician. Among her literary contributions is a translation of the Book of Psalms, now known as the Sidneian Psalms. Her poetry, now recognized as canonical, inspired the work of many contemporaries, including Edmund Spenser and William Shakespeare.