Robert Sidney 1595-1677

From Book Owners Online

Robert SIDNEY, 2nd Earl of Leicester 1595-1677

Biographical Note

Son of Robert Sidney, 1st Earl of Leicester, of Penshurst. Educated at Christ Church, Oxford, he was extensively involved in diplomacy in Europe in the 1630s and spent three difficult years as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in the early 1640s; he retired to Penshurst thereafter and was little involved in national affairs. His later years were marred by disputes with his son Philip, who was with his father during many of his ambassadorial years, and as a supporter of Oliver Cromwell was involved in politics and Irish affairs during the 1640s and 50s. After his death the earldom passed in quick succession through the next two generations.


The Sidney family library at Penshurst began to be developed in the 16th century but was substantially built up by the 1st and 2nd Earls. We do not know the size of the library by the time of the 1st Earl’s death, but a series of commonplace books demonstrate a wide range of reading, and a few books of his, some in handsome bindings, survive in various libraries. A catalogue of the Penshurst library compiled by Gilbert Spencer in the 1650s/60s lists ca.4800 volumes, showing the extent of its growth under the 2nd Earl. The published account of the library by Warkentin and others, which includes speculation as to how it might have been housed, comments on the breadth and eclecticism of the library, with up to date publications in various European languages, on many subjects.

After the 2nd Earl’s death it was less augmented by later family members. The whole collection was sold by the 7th Earl in 1743 to the London bookseller Thomas Osborne, who promptly dispersed it via a series of sales for which no catalogues survive. Only a small number can be traced today, in various libraries around the world. Examples: Bodleian J-J Sidney 183, Gough, Chetham’s Library DD4 28 18124.

Characteristic markings

Many of the books acquired at Penshurst during the 17th century were not inscribed or otherwise marked, which is why so few can be traced today. A number of books with armorial stamps associated with the 1st Earl are recorded in the Armorials Database (some of these relate to the books bought for Oxford); the 5th Earl had a bookplate made dated 1704 (Franks 28696-7, *41, *56).