SIDNEY (SYDNEY), Hon. Henry (1641-1704), of Jermyn Street, Westminster and Elverton, Stone, Kent.
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Family and Education
b. c. Mar. 1641, 4th s. of Robert Sidney, 2nd Earl of Leicester (d.1677) by Lady Dorothy Percy, da. of Henry, 3rd Earl of Northumberland; bro. of Hon. Algernon Sidney and Philip Sidney Visct. Lisle. educ. travelled abroad 1658-64 (Spain, Italy). unm.; 1s. by Grace Worthley. cr. Visct. Sidney of Sheppey 9 Apr. 1689, Earl of Romney 14 May 1694.1
Groom of the bedchumber of the bedchamber to the Duke of York and master of the horse to the Duchess 1665-6; master of the robes 1679-85; envoy to Holland 1679-81, gent. of the bedchamber 1689-1700; PC 14 Feb. 1689-d.; one of the lds. justices [I] 1690; sec. of state (north) 1690-2; ld. lt. [I] 1692-3; master of the Ordnance 1693-1702; one of the lds. justices 1697, 1698; groom of the stole 1700-2.2
Capt. of ft. Holland regt. 1667-78; col. of ft. 1678-9, (Dutch army) Apr. 1688-9, 1 Ft. Gds. (Grenadier Gds.) 1689-90, 1693-d.; lt.-gen. 1694.3
Ld. lt. Kent 1689-92, 1694-d., j.p. and custos rot. 1689-d., v.-adm. 1689-1702, commr. for assessment 1689; ld. warden of the Cinque Ports 1691-d.; gov. Society of Mineral and Battery Works 1696-d.4
Sidney’s ancestors held land in Surrey by the 14th century, and first entered Parliament in 1429. The family rose in the service of the Tudors, and Sidney’s grandfather was raised to the peerage by James I. His father was at Oxford for some time during the Civil War, but his elder brothers were such ardent Parliamentarians that the family escaped the penalties of delinquency. Sidney, the youngest son, was his mother’s favourite, and an estate of £560 p.a. was settled on him. He travelled on the Continent with his nephew and contemporary, the 2nd Earl of Sunderland. ‘The handsomest youth of his time’, and endowed with ‘a sweet and caressing temper’, he was callous and unscrupulous in his sexual relations. He was appointed to the Duke of York’s household, but appears to have confused his functions, and became more familiar with the Duchess’s bedchamber than the Duke’s. He was dismissed from Court and never returned during the Duchess’s life. Obliged to adopt a military career, he was commissioned in the regiment brought over by his third brother, Robert, and while on garrison duty at Carlisle offered himself for election at Appleby. He claimed to be able to do more for the town than any other candidate, but against the dominant interest of Lady Pembroke he did not challenge her grandson, Thomas Tufton, to a poll. He twice received special leave to visit France, on the second occasion, in 1672, carrying a message of condolence from the King to Louis XIV on the death of his daughter. He was given one of the new-raised regiments in 1678, and served with the British expeditionary force in Flanders.5
When Sunderland was appointed secretary of state in 1679, Sidney also joined the group of ‘Williamite exclusionists’ inspired by Sir William Temple. He succeeded Laurence Hyde as master of the robes and was appointed envoy to the States General. Before leaving for The Hague in July, he ‘took some care with William Harbord about the elections’, and was offered the reversion of a seat at Launceston for Temple or himself. Harbord was unable to fulfil his promise, but fortunately Sidney had a second string to his bow, and was returned unopposed for Bramber with the help of his brother-in-law, Sir John Pelham, at a cost of under £280. With William of Orange ‘he entered into such particular confidences ... that he had the highest measure of his trust and favour that any Englishman ever had’. His ‘heroic efforts’ frustrated Louis XIV’s attempt to form an alliance with the Dutch republicans in the opening months of 1680. He returned on leave in September, when Sunderland ‘told me their whole designs, which I approved of extremely’. During the next few weeks he was the minister’s principal intermediary with the Duchess of Portsmouth, who also favoured exclusion, with Lord Halifax (Sir George Savile), and with the opposition careerists, notably Ralph Montagu, Sir William Jones, and even Sir Thomas Armstrong. He was so alarmed at the strength of Monmouth’s supporters that he judged it necessary for William to be in England to uphold his wife’s rights if her father should be excluded from the succession. He was accordingly anxious to return to The Hague without delay, but Sunderland ‘said I could not go till after a week of the Parliament’. Sidney’s diary shows that he duly took his seat, but he was named to no committees, and he was probably silent in debate. His inclusion by Rapin among those Members who spoke for exclusion cannot be confirmed. Another speech, attacking the conduct of the judges, is dated 23 Nov. by Cobbett; but he had been back in The Hague since the beginning of the month, and Sir Leoline Jenkins sent him an account of the debate. He forwarded to the Government a memorial from the States General urging an accommodation with Parliament over exclusion, and, according to his French colleague, despatched 20 copies to his friends in the Commons. For this he was sharply reprimanded by the King.6
Sidney did not stand for re-election, and was replaced as envoy in the following summer. William intended to show his gratitude by giving him the command of the English regiments in Holland, but this appointment was vetoed by Charles II, and with the new reign Sidney also lost his place at Court. He remained in touch with William, and in 1688 became ‘the man in whose hands the conduct of the whole design was chiefly deposited by the prince’s own orders’. He was responsible for securing the signatures to the letter inviting William to invade, and remained in England till August, returning with the prince in November.7
Sidney was returned for Tamworth at the general election of 1689 after a contest. He was not active during his few months in the Lower House of the Convention. He was named to the committee of elections and privileges, and accompanied the Hon. Thomas Wharton with the vote of thanks to Schomberg and his forces. Under the new regime he was called to the Privy Council and given command of the Grenadier Guards and a place in the bedchamber. He was appointed to the committees for drafting the address promising support for the war and for reversing the attainder of Lord Russell (Hon. William Russell). He also served on the joint deputation sent to Hampton Court on 15 Mar. to ask the King to suppress the mutiny. He was raised to the peerage in the coronation honours, and admitted to the Cabinet ‘as one particularly and of long date devoted’ to William’s Service. Burnet considered him about this time:
neither imperious nor insolent, revengeful nor covetous. He has a true judgment in affairs, and all his instincts are noble. He may be too easy to those he loves and trusts, and too much carried away from business to pleasure; but it is a great happiness when all that is to be apprehended in a man of favour is an excess of gentleness and good nature.
His charm, however, was purely superficial; in office, he ‘promised everybody, but did for no one’. He enjoyed his good looks in late middle age, and despite his laziness and incapacity retained William’s favour throughout his reign. Stripped of office on the accession of Anne, he died of smallpox on 8 Apr. 1704 and was buried in St. James Piccadilly. His great-nephew was returned for Brackley as a Whig in 1705.8
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Author: A. M. Mimardière
This biography is based on the DNB, CP and the Sidney Diary.
- 1. Add. 32683, ff. 105, 108; Westminster City Lib., St. James Piccadilly rate bks. 1686-7; CSP Dom. 1657-8, p. 376; Kenyon, Sunderland, 5-7.
- 2. Cal. Treas. Bks. vi. 115, 780; vii. 282; viii. 38.
- 3. Add. 32683, f. 111; Ten Raa, Het Staatsche Leger, vi. 256.
- 4. CSP Dom. 1689-90, pp. 237, 240; BL Loan 16.
- 5. VCH Surr. iii. 78, 91; Add. 32683, f. 43; Reresby, 55; Burnet ed. Routh, iii. 277; Grammont Mems. 274-5, 280-1; Pepys Diary, 9 Jan. 1666; CSP Dom. 1667-8, p. 191; 1668-9, p. 365; Bulstrode, 225.
- 6. Kenyon, 36, 39-40, 62, 70; Rapin, Hist. ii. 717; Cobbett, Parl. Hist. iv. 1227; CSP Dom. 1680-1, p. 312.
- 7. Burnet ed. Routh, iii. 277; Ellis Corresp. ii. 320.
- 8. CJ, x. 16; Foxcroft, Halifax, ii. 236; Burnet Supp. ed. Foxcroft, 284; Macky, Mems. 33-35.