Sidney, Algernon (DNB00)
SIDNEY or SYDNEY, ALGERNON (1622–1683), republican, second surviving son of Robert Sidney, second earl of Leicester [q. v.], by Dorothy, daughter of Henry Percy, ninth earl of Northumberland, was born in 1622 (Collins, Sidney Papers, i. 149; Ewald, Life of Algernon Sydney, i. 28). Philip Sidney, third earl of Leicester [q. v.], was his eldest brother, and Dorothy Spencer, countess of Sunderland [q. v.], Waller's ‘Saccharissa,’ was his sister. Algernon was educated at home, and accompanied his father on his embassy to Denmark in 1632, and also to Paris in 1636. His intelligence early attracted the notice of his father's friends. ‘All who come from Paris,’ wrote the Countess of Leicester on 10 Nov. 1636, ‘commend Algernon for a huge deal of wit and much sweetness of nature’ (ib. ii. 445). In 1642 the Earl of Leicester, being then lord deputy of Ireland, raised and equipped a regiment of horse, under the command of his son, Lord Lisle [see Sidney, Philip, third Earl of Leicester], for the suppression of the Irish rebellion. Algernon was captain of a troop of horse in the regiment, and probably landed in Ireland with his brother in April 1642 (Carte, Ormonde, ii. 255; Coxe, Hibernia Anglicana, ii. 87). Nothing is known of his services except a general statement that Lord Lisle and his brother Algernon behaved with great spirit and resolution (Ewald, i. 76). On 18 June 1643, when Ormonde was negotiating with the Irish leaders for a cessation of arms, Sidney wrote to his mother for leave to return to England. Fighting was over, and if he remained he would run into debt. ‘If I had well known how to dispose of myself, I must confess I should not have been patient here so long. I am not likely to seek after those employments many others receive with greediness. Nothing but extreme necessity shall make me bear arms in England, and yet it is the only way of living well for those that have not estates. And, besides, there is so few abstain from war for the same reason that I do, that I do not know whether in many men's eyes it may not prove dishonourable to me. If I could procure any employment abroad, I should think myself extremely happy’ (Gilbert, History of Confederation and War in Ireland, vol. ii. p. xlix). The Earl of Leicester, by license dated 22 June 1643, gave Sidney leave to return to England (Collins, i. 150).
He landed in Lancashire in the following August with his brother and Sir Richard Grenville; but the parliamentary committee at Manchester suspected him of intending to join the king, on the ground of an intercepted letter to the royalist governor of Chester. All three were therefore arrested by order of parliament (31 Aug.), and sent up to London under a guard (Commons' Journals, iii. 223; Tanner MSS. Bodleian Library, lxii. 287). In spite of the views expressed in his letter to his mother, Algernon was soon persuaded to take up arms against the king. His motives were doubtless those set forth in his ‘Apology,’ in which he says ‘From my youth I endeavoured to uphold the common rights of mankind, the laws of this land, and the true protestant religion, against corrupt principles, arbitrary power, and popery’ (The Apology of A. Sydney in the Day of his Death, ed. 1772, p. 1). On 10 May 1644 the commons voted that the 400l. due to Colonel Sidney for his service in Ireland should be paid as soon as possible, in order to enable him to equip himself for service in the Earl of Manchester's army (Commons' Journals, iii. 507). His commission as a captain in Manchester's horse regiment is dated the same day (Collins, i. 151). At Marston Moor a few weeks later ‘Colonel Sidney charged with much gallantry in the head of my Lord Manchester's regiment of horse, and came off with many wounds, the true badges of his honour’ (Vicars, God's Ark, p. 273; Ewald, i. 90). For the cure of these wounds Sidney went to London, and he was still disabled a year later. On 2 April 1645 Fairfax commissioned him colonel of horse in the new model; but on 14 May following (Sloane MS. 1519, f. 112) he resigned it on the plea of ill-health. ‘I have not left the army,’ he wrote to Fairfax, ‘without extreme unwillingness, and would not persuade myself to it by any other reason than that by reason of my lameness, I am not able to do the parliament and you the service that would be expected of me’ (Ewald, i. 102; Fairfax Correspondence, iii. 213). He accepted, however, the government of Chichester, which was conferred upon him on 10 May 1645 (Lords' Journals, vii. 365). On 17 July 1646 he was returned to the Long parliament for the borough of Cardiff. Next year Sidney was sufficiently recovered from his wounds again to undertake active service. Lord Lisle had been appointed lord lieutenant of Ireland, and desired to take his brother with him. On 4 Jan. 1647 Sidney was voted 2,000l., and on 11 Jan. the House of Commons gave him leave of absence (Commons' Journals, v. 41, 49). He held the rank of lieutenant-general of the horse. Lisle landed in Munster, but effected nothing, and his commission terminated on 15 April, and was not renewed. Before he left, Sidney, as lieutenant-general of the horse, and Sir Hardress Waller [q. v.], as major-general of the foot, made a claim to the command of the army during Lisle's absence, which was naturally contested by Lord Inchiquin, the president of Munster [see O'Brien, Murrough]. The council attempted to compromise the matter by vesting the control of the forces in a commission of four, including Inchiquin and Lord Broghil, as well as Sidney and Waller. Inchiquin, however, declined to acquiesce in this solution, and the adherents of the two parties nearly came to blows in the streets of Cork. In the end, as the majority of the officers declared for Inchiquin, Sidney left Ireland with his brother in April 1647 (Carte, Ormonde, iii. 324; Report on the Duke of Portland's MSS. i. 419; Gilbert, Confederation, iv. 19–25). Lord Lisle had also given Sidney a commission as governor of Dublin, but on 8 April the House of Commons voted Colonel Michael Jones [q. v.] governor in his place, although Jones had actually accepted the post of deputy-governor to Sidney. In defence of this somewhat hard treatment Sir Henry Vane the elder [q. v.] alleged ‘that since the house had thought fit to recall the Lord Lisle, it was not good to let his brother remain governor of so important a place as Dublin;’ but the house at the same time voted that the merits and services of Colonel Sidney should in due time be taken into consideration (Blencowe, Sydney Papers, p. 16; Commons' Journals, v. 136). His arrears of pay for his Irish employment, which amounted to 1,809l. 13s. 8d., were not voted him till October 1649 (ib. vi. 302).
As some compensation, Sidney was appointed governor and afterwards (13 Oct. 1648) lieutenant of Dover (Lords' Journals, x. 546). He held that post till the end of 1650. In that year various charges against him, the nature of which is unknown, were presented to the council of state; and though the council of war to which they were referred judged him a fit person to be continued in his trust, further charges were preferred which led to his retirement (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1650, pp. 101, 393, 399, 435). On the petition of Sidney himself the Long parliament appointed a committee to examine into his complaints, but it never seems to have reported (Commons' Journals, vi. 523, 526, 554).
On 4 Jan. 1649 Sidney was appointed one of the commissioners for the trial of Charles I, and attended three of the preliminary meetings of the court, but neither took any part in the trial itself nor signed the warrant (Nalson, Trial of Charles I, 1682, pp. 14, 15, 22). His own account of the matter is as follows: ‘I was at Penshurst when the act for the trial passed, and, coming up to town, I heard my name was put in, and that those that were nominated for judges were then in the Painted Chamber. I presently went thither, heard the act read, and found my own name with others. A debate was raised how they should proceed upon it, and, after having been some time silent to hear what those would say who had the directing of that business, I did positively oppose Cromwell, Bradshaw, and others, who would have the trial to go on, and drew my reasons from these two points: first, the king could be tried by no court; secondly, that no man could be tried by that court. This being alleged in vain, and Cromwell using these formal words, “I tell you we will cut off his head, with the crown upon it,” I replied, “You may take your own course, I cannot stop you, but I will keep myself clean from having any hand in this business,” immediately went out of the room and never returned’ (Blencowe, p. 237). To this narrative, contained in a letter written to his father in 1660, Sidney adds: ‘I had an intention which is not very fit for a letter.’ It has been conjectured that his scheme was an agreement of the two houses for the deposition of the king, and it is certain that the absence of the assent of the lords to the ordinance for the king's trial was one of his chief reasons for objecting to its validity (ib. p. 282; cf. Sidney's letter to the Earl of Leicester, 10 Jan. 1648, printed by Toland). Sidney also opposed in parliament the engagement proposed to be required from the council of state, which bound those taking it to declare their approval of the king's execution and the abolition of monarchy and the House of Lords, alleging ‘that such a test would prove a snare to many an honest man, but every knave would slip through it’ (Blencowe, p. 238; cf. Gardiner, History of the Commonwealth and Protectorate, i. 5). By these scruples he incurred, he says, the enmity of Cromwell, Bradshaw, and others, and for that or for other reasons took very little part in public affairs during the first three years of the Commonwealth. On 25 Nov. 1652, however, Sidney was elected a member of the council of state for the next year, receiving fifty-three votes (Commons' Journals, vii. 220). Ludlow suggested Sidney to Cromwell as a fit person to be second in command in Ireland, but his ‘relation to some who were in the king's interest’ was regarded as a sufficient objection (Ludlow, Memoirs, i. 247). During the four and a half months which elapsed before the council was dissolved by Cromwell, he attended eighty-two meetings, and was very busy on the committee for foreign affairs (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1652–3, p. 2).
Sidney was present in the House of Commons on 20 April 1653, when Cromwell forcibly put an end to its sittings, and his account of the general's conduct is embodied in the Earl of Leicester's journal. He was sitting on the right hand of the speaker, and refused to move until Colonel Harrison and Lieutenant-colonel Worsley ‘put their hands on his shoulder as if they would force him to go out’ (Blencowe, p. 141). Henceforth Sidney regarded the Protector as ‘a tyrant and a violent one,’ but took no part either in the republican plots against him or in the opposition in parliament (Trial, ed. 1772, p. 32). He contented himself with his protest. Some letters among Thurloe's papers written during a visit of Sidney to Holland in 1654 prove that the government thought it necessary to keep an eye upon his correspondence (ii. 501, 522, 649). He showed his dislike of the protectorate by standing aloof. In 1656, however, he caused to be performed at Penshurst a play which was construed as a public affront to Cromwell, and gave great offence to Lord Lisle, who was anxious to stand well with the government. Sidney himself took the chief part, and was much applauded. Tradition asserts that the play was ‘Julius Cæsar,’ and that Sidney played the part of Brutus; but there seems to be no evidence for this assertion (Blencowe, p. 269; Ewald, i. 198).
When the army restored the Long parliament, Sidney returned to his place in the house, which at once elected him one of the council of state (14 May 1659). As before, his main employment was in foreign affairs. On 9 June 1659 four commissioners were appointed to be sent to mediate between the kings of Denmark and Sweden, viz. Sidney, Admiral Edward Montagu (afterwards first Earl of Sandwich) [q. v.], Sir Robert Honeywood, and Thomas Boone (Commons' Journals, vii. 677, 698, 700). They arrived at Elsinore on 21 July, and had several interviews with the king of Sweden. Sidney, who describes Charles Gustavus as extremely able but extremely choleric, acted as spokesman for his colleagues, and replied with dignity and firmness to the explosion of wrath with which the king received the terms of settlement the English and Dutch ambassadors endeavoured to impose. ‘Even the enemies of this government,’ wrote the French ambassador in England, ‘praise the high-spirited manner in which Colonel Sidney answered him’ (Blencowe, p. 166; Collins, ii. 683; Thurloe, vii. 732; Guizot, Richard Cromwell, i. 160; Ludlow, Memoirs, ii. 117). Nevertheless the negotiations dragged. Sidney distrusted his Dutch colleagues; the unauthorised return of Montagu and the fleet to England robbed his words of weight; while the ambition of the king of Sweden and the weakness of the king of Denmark were almost insurmountable obstacles to peace. His own government left him without instructions and without information of the revolutions of public affairs in England. Sidney watched with anxious eyes the breach between the parliament and the army in October 1659, condemning, in his letters to his friends, the stiffness and severity of the former (Blencowe, pp. 169, 182). He was given liberty to return if he chose, but the interests of England seemed to him to require his stay till peace was concluded, and his personal sympathy with the Swedish cause worked in the same direction. At last, in May 1660, largely, as Sidney persuaded himself, in consequence of his efforts, the treaty was brought to a conclusion (ib. pp. 171, 179, 218; Collins, ii. 687–95).
The restoration of Charles II, although Sidney was not excepted by the act of indemnity, obliged him to remain an exile. Since parliament had acknowledged a king, he was willing to submit to him, and, if trusted, to serve him faithfully. But he was not willing to live in England under suspicion and in constant danger of arrest, nor would he purchase pardon and favour by protestations of penitence. ‘When I call to remembrance,’ he wrote to his father, ‘all my actions relating to our civil distempers, I cannot find one that I can look upon as a breach of the rules of justice or honour; this is my strength, and, I thank God, by this I enjoy very serene thoughts. If I lose this by vile and unworthy submissions, acknowledgment of errors, asking of pardon, or the like, I shall from that moment be the miserablest man alive, and the scorn of all men. … I had rather be a vagabond all my life than buy my being in my own country at so dear a rate.’ To the argument that his scruples were extravagant and overstrained, he answered: ‘I cannot help it if I judge amiss. I walk in the light God hath given me; if it be dim or uncertain, I must bear the penalty of my errors; I hope to do it with patience, and that no burden shall be very grievous to me except sin and shame’ (Blencowe, pp. 188, 195, 233). His father, who was anxious for Sidney's return to England (which Monck had promised to further), complained that his son's ostentatious justification of the execution of Charles I, and the contemptuous things he had said of the royal family, placed an insurmountable barrier in his way. Sidney replied by disowning the words attributed to him by report, though admitting that he had publicly justified the king's death, and avowing that when asked to write his autograph in the album of the university of Copenhagen, he had chosen as his motto the famous words, ‘Manus hæc inimica tyrannis.’
In July 1660 Sidney left Denmark, his negotiations being ended, and the hostility of the Danish court rendering his stay there somewhat dangerous. The question whether he should be handed over to Charles II as a regicide was already being debated, and he had been grossly affronted by the queen (ib. pp. 205–27; Collins, ii. 695). Travelling through Hamburg and Augsburg, he made his way first to Venice, and in November 1660 to Rome. There he was received with unexpected favour by Roman society. Cardinals Azzolini, Barberini, and others treated him with great courtesy, and he was an honoured spectator at many of the festivals of the church. In the summer of 1661 Prince Pamphili, the pope's nephew, lent him a villa at Frascati, and he gave himself up to study. ‘I find so much satisfaction in it,’ he wrote, ‘that for the future I shall very unwillingly put myself into any way of living that shall deprive me of that entertainment. Whatsoever hath been formerly the objects of my thoughts and desires, I have now intention of seeking very little more than quietness and retirement’ (Collins, ii. 719). The chief drawback to his happiness was want of money; he had incurred heavy expenses on his embassy, and had spent large sums of money in the endeavour to settle the affairs of his sister, Lady Strangford. Neither of these debts was repaid, and his father was far from liberal; but at Rome he found he could live on five shillings a day (Collins, ii. 717). Political hatreds, however, drove him from Rome. ‘I was defended,’ he says, ‘from such as those designed to assassinate me only by the charity of strangers’ (Apology, p. 1). In the summer of 1663 he stayed for three weeks at Vevey with Ludlow and other exiled regicides (Ludlow, Memoirs, ii. 346, 486). In December following he was at Brussels, meditating a scheme for serving the emperor in the war in Hungary. He proposed to raise a regiment or two of Cromwell's old soldiers, believing that, although the government might be disinclined to grant him any favour, it would assent in order to get rid of them. But leave was refused, and his attempts to obtain foreign military employment were frustrated by the influence of the English court (Collins, ii. 725; Apology, p. 2).
For some little time Sidney lived in Germany, apparently at Augsburg, whither a party of ruffians was sent to assassinate him (ib. p. 1; Ludlow, ii. 382). The war between England and the united provinces emboldened the exiled republicans to dream of a rising in Holland, whither Sidney removed in June 1665. Embittered by the repeated attempts on his life, he abandoned his resolution to remain quiet, and thought it a duty to seize the opportunity. ‘In the end,’ he wrote, ‘I found it an ill-grounded peace that I enjoyed, and could have no rest in my own spirit, because I lived only to myself, and was in no ways useful to God's people, my country, and the world. This consideration, joined with those dispensations of providence which I observed and judged favourable to the designs of good people, brought me out of my retirement’ (Blencowe, p. 259; Lister, Life of Clarendon, iii. 384, 388). After France declared war against England, Sidney obtained, by the mediation of John de Witt, a passport enabling him to go to Paris in order to negotiate with the French government (March 1666). He applied to Louis XIV for one hundred thousand crowns in order to raise a revolt in England, but the king thought the sum too high, and offered him only twenty thousand, promising to send all necessary help to the rebels when a rising took place (Œuvres de Louis XIV, ii. 203; Guizot, Portraits Politiques, ed. 1874, p. 87; Pontalis, Jean de Witt, i. 376; Ludlow, Memoirs, ii. 391–393). When the war ended, Sidney, who had obtained leave to live in French territory, retired to Languedoc. In the summer of 1670 he was in Paris, and Charles II, in answer to the inquiries of the French government, declared ‘that he did not care where Sidney lived provided he did not return to England, where his pernicious sentiments, supported with so great parts and courage, might do much hurt.’ But a few weeks later the king changed his mind, saying that he would be better in Languedoc and could not be too far from England. According to Colbert's despatches, Charles spoke of Sidney as ‘un homme de cœur et d'esprit,’ and it is clear that he was regarded as the ablest man among the exiles (Dalrymple, Memoirs, ed. 1790, vol. i., App. p. 122; Temple, Works, ed. 1754, iii. 70).
Sidney returned to England about September 1677. He asked the king's leave to do so in order to settle his private affairs, and obtained it through the intervention of Henry Savile [q. v.], the English envoy at Paris, and by the influence of the Earl of Sunderland, who was the son of his sister Dorothy. He intended to stay three months and then to return to Gascony. Six weeks after his arrival in England his father died, leaving him 5,100l., which he resolved to spend in buying an estate near Bordeaux (Collins, i. 153; Sidney, Letters to Savile, ed. Holles, p. 57; Forster, Algernon Sidney, &c., 1847, p. 3). The new Earl of Leicester declined to pay the legacy, and a chancery suit took place, which, though ultimately decided in Sidney's favour, detained him in England till 1680 (Berry, Life and Letters of Rachel, Lady Russell, &c., 1819, p. 122).
The excitement caused by the exclusion struggle was too great for Sidney to keep aloof from English politics, whatever his intentions on coming to England may have been, especially as he seems to have been under no pledge to abstain. Four times he made unsuccessful attempts to obtain a seat in the House of Commons. In December 1678 he stood for Guildford, but was defeated by a courtier named Dalmahoy. In August 1679 he became a candidate for Bramber, but withdrew when he was opposed by his brother Henry. He was returned for the borough of Agmondesham, but his election was declared void on 11 Dec. 1680. He contested Agmondesham again in February 1681, but, owing to the partiality of the returning officer, was not declared elected, though he obtained a majority of the lawful votes (Collins, i. 153, 155; Letters to Savile, pp. i. 50; Grey, Debates, viii. 127; Report on the MSS. of Sir William Fitzherbert, p. 19; Diary and Correspondence of Henry Sidney, i. 88, 103, 115, 70). Outside parliament, however, Sidney exercised considerable influence. Soon after the discovery of the ‘popish plot’ he was accused of being head of a great nonconformist plot, but succeeded in vindicating himself of the charge in a personal interview with the king (Apology, p. 4). His close friendship with Penn, who helped him in his election contests, excited some comments, and another quaker, Benjamin Furley, was among his most trusted correspondents (Collins, i. 153; Berry, Life and Letters of Lady Russell, p. 134). With the Commonwealthsmen, as the republicans were termed, Sidney was intimately connected; Major Wildman was his friend, and Slingsby Bethell's election as sheriff of London was attributed to his influence (ib. pp. 131–2; Dalrymple, i. 357; Ferguson, Life of Robert Ferguson, p. 434). With Shaftesbury, however, his relations seem to have been far from cordial. In 1680 Shaftesbury was reported to have said that Sidney was a French pensioner and a spy of Lord Sunderland; a violent quarrel followed and after that their communications were carried on through the younger Hampden (Berry, pp. 128, 136). Sidney's letters to Henry Savile are very cautiously written, and throw little light on his actions. They show his sympathy for the nonconformists and the oppressed Scots, and his hatred of bishops and papists (pp. 18, 29, 41, 44, 45, 48, 54).
Sidney's reputation deservedly suffers from the part which he took in the intrigues of the opposition with the French ambassador, and the fact that he received from Barillon one thousand guineas for his services (Dalrymple, i. 381, 383; cf. Towers, An Examination into the Charges brought against A. Sidney by Sir J. Dalrymple, 1773, 8vo). There is no good reason to suspect the truth of Barillon's statement. It is doubtless true that Sidney used the money for public not for personal objects; but this is an insufficient excuse for his conduct. Barillon describes his character to Louis XIV in the following terms: ‘Mr. Sidney has been of great use to me on many occasions. He is a man who was in the first wars, and who is naturally an enemy to the court. He has for some time been suspected of being gained by Lord Sunderland, but he always appeared to me to have the same sentiment, and not to have changed maxims. He has a great deal of credit amongst the independents, and is also intimate with those who are most opposed to the court in parliament. … I gave him only what your majesty permitted me. He would willingly have had more, and if a new gratification was given him it would be easy to engage him entirely. … I believe he is a man who would be very useful if the affairs of England should be brought to extremities.’ In a second letter he describes him as ‘a man of great views and high designs, which tend to the establishment of a republic’ (Dalrymple, i. 339, 357). Sidney endeavoured to convince Louis XIV, through Barillon, that the establishment of a republic in England would be far less prejudicial to French interests than the elevation of the Prince of Orange to the English throne, and that it was therefore the interest of France to maintain the rights and privileges of the English nation. Louis XIV returned satisfactory professions of his resolve to maintain English liberties (ib. i. 353, 379). Sidney was doubtless well aware of the hollowness of that king's professions, as the references to the despotism of Louis XIV in his ‘Discourses concerning Government’ prove. But he hoped to utilise Barillon and his master, if not for the establishment of an English republic, at least for the maintenance of the rights of parliament, and laughed at Barillon's pretensions to direct the opposition (Letters to Savile, p. 46). On some foreign questions the interests of France and those of the parliament seemed to coincide. Sidney was eager to frustrate the treaty guaranteeing the peace of Nimeguen proposed by Charles to William of Orange in 1679, because he thought a close union between the houses of Orange and Stuart would be dangerous to English liberty (ib. pp. 29, 46, 51; Dalrymple, i. 339; Klopp, Der Fall des Hauses Stuart, ii. 217; Meadley, Life of Sidney, p. 357). In 1680 he similarly opposed a league with Spain and other European powers for the same object, because he regarded the policy as intended to divert parliament from the exclusion bill (Dalrymple, i. 355; Klopp, ii. 275). In both cases what determined his conduct was the domestic constitutional question which blinded him to the danger of assisting the European schemes of Louis XIV.
After the dissolution of the Oxford parliament in March 1681, Sidney's political action becomes difficult to trace. Burnet states that he drafted the answer to the king's declaration of his reasons for dissolving that assembly, and that it was afterwards revised by Somers and Sir William Jones. Its authorship was also claimed by Robert Ferguson (Just and Modest Vindication of the Proceedings of the two last Parliaments; Burnet, Own Time, ed. 1833, ii. 283; Ferguson, Life of Robert Ferguson, 1887, p. 57). According to Hepworth Dixon, Sidney also assisted William Penn in drawing up the Pennsylvanian constitution; but, though accepted by recent biographers of Sidney, this statement also appears to be erroneous (Dixon, Life of Penn, p. 233, ed. 1851; Winsor, Narrative and Critical History of America, iii. 506; Ewald, ii. 197).
Sidney also appears to have taken no part in the preparations for armed resistance initiated by Shaftesbury in August 1682; at least his name does not appear in the accounts of the deliberations of the conspirators. On his trial he declared that he had not seen Shaftesbury's face for the last two years (Trial, p. 28), and had only spoken with Monmouth three times in his life. After Shaftesbury's death, however, he undoubtedly discussed the question of insurrection with Russell, Essex, and a few other whig leaders forming what was termed the ‘council of six.’ These meetings took place in January 1683. If Lord Grey's statements can be trusted, Sidney was specially forward in discussing the preparations for a rising and the nature of the declaration to be made by those taking up arms, and his complicity is further shown by the confession of Carstares and by Ferguson's narrative (Forde, Lord Grey, Secret History of the Rye House Plot, 1754, pp. 42–61; Sprat, True Account of the Rye House Plot, 1696, App. p. 186; Ferguson, Life of Ferguson, p. 434).
Sidney was arrested on 26 June 1683, immediately after the discovery of the Rye House plot, and sent at once to the Tower. His trial in the king's bench court, before Chief-justice Jeffreys, began on 7 Nov. Three overt acts of treason were alleged against him. The first was holding consultations which amounted to a conspiracy to levy war against the king; the second, that he had sent a certain Aaron Smith to Scotland to invite the co-operation of certain Scots with the conspirators; the third, that he had written a treasonable libel, affirming the subjection of the king to parliament and the lawfulness of deposing kings. The only witness to the first head of the charge (excepting persons who spoke from hearsay) was Lord Howard, a man discredited by his character, his complicity, and his contradictory statements. The second head was clearly not proven. On the third point conclusive evidence as to Sidney's authorship of the incriminating paper was brought forward, but nothing to show that it was even intended to be published. Sidney defended himself with great acuteness and pertinacity. He raised objections to the indictment, brought witnesses to discredit Howard's evidence, and showed that the paper in question was simply an answer to the political speculations of Filmer. The point on which he principally relied was that only one witness, instead of the two demanded by law, was produced to prove the conspiracy alleged against him. Jeffreys, who wrangled with the prisoner and browbeat him in his usual fashion, told the jury that there was scarce a line in the book but was the rankest treason, and suggested that it was a sort of manifesto intended to justify the proposed rebellion, and therefore to be regarded as evidence of the conspiracy. As to the two witnesses, he asserted that if there was one witness to prove a direct treason, and another to a circumstance that contributed to that treason, that made the two witnesses the law required. After the sentence was delivered Sidney passionately besought God not to impute the shedding of his blood to the country, but to let the guilt of it fall upon his malicious persecutors. Jeffreys replied with cool brutality: ‘I pray God work in you a temper fit to go into the other world, for I see you are not fit for this’ (the trial is reprinted with Sidney's Works, ed. 1772; for comments see Hallam, Constitutional History, ch. xii.; Stephen, History of the Criminal Law, i. 409; North, Examen, pp. 406–11; the comments of Sir John Hawles are printed in State Tracts, temp. William III, ii. 45; State Trials, ix. 818).
Sidney was sentenced on 26 Nov. 1683, and executed on 7 Dec. He drew up a petition to Charles II, setting forth the illegality of his trial, and praying to be admitted to the king's presence to prove that it was for his majesty's honour and interest to grant him redress. He also petitioned, by the advice of his friends, who made great efforts to save his life, that his sentence might be commuted into perpetual banishment (Ewald, ii. 300, 312). Both petitions were unavailing. ‘Algernon Sidney,’ the Duke of York joyfully announced to the Prince of Orange, ‘is to be beheaded on Friday next on Tower Hill, which, besides the doing justice on so ill a man, will give the lie to the whigs, who reported he was not to suffer’ (Dalrymple, ii. 115). Evelyn praises Sidney's behaviour in his last moments. ‘When he came on the scaffold, instead of a speech, he told them only that he had made his peace with God, that he came not thither to talk, but to die; put a paper into the sheriffs' hand, and another into a friend's, said one prayer as short as a grace, laid down his neck, and bid the executioner do his office’ (Diary, ed. Wheatley, ii. 424). A bishop, however, asserted that he ‘died with the same surliness wherewith he lived;’ ‘very resolutely, and like a true rebel and republican,’ was the Duke of York's description (Dalrymple, ii. 116; Hatton Correspondence, ii. 41; cf. Burnet, ii. 410, ed. 1833).
Sidney's body, as to the disposal of which he had scornfully refused to make any requests of the king, was given to his family, and buried at Penshurst (Ewald, ii. 319; North, Examen, p. 411). The paper which he gave to the sheriffs consisted of a denunciation of the injustice of his trial and a vindication of his political principles. It concluded by thanking God that he was suffered to die for the old cause in which he was from his youth engaged. The government, which had been at first inclined to suppress it as treasonable, allowed it to be printed, in the hope that it would show the world that he and his friends were confessedly seeking to restore a republic (Dalrymple, il. 17). It called forth numerous answers (Animadversions and Remarks upon Colonel Sidney's Paper; Reflections upon Colonel Sidney's Arcadia and the Good Old Cause, &c.). Several pieces of verse on his death also appeared: ‘Colonel Sidney's Overthrow’ (Roxburghe Ballads, iv. 12); ‘Algernon Sidney's Farewell;’ ‘An Elegy upon the Death of Algernon Sidney.’ The last two are reprinted in T. B. Hollis's ‘Life of Thomas Hollis,’ pp. 780, 782. An admiring epitaph is printed in ‘Poems upon State Affairs’ (i. 175).
Burnet's account of Sidney's character is substantially just: ‘a man of most extraordinary courage, a steady man even to obstinacy, sincere, but of a rough and boisterous temper, that could not bear contradiction.’ Whitelocke also speaks of the ‘overruling temper and height of Colonel Sidney’ (Memorials, iv. 351). Burnet goes on to describe him as seeming to be a Christian, ‘but in a particular form of his own; he thought it was to be like a divine philosophy in the mind; but he was against all public worship, and everything that looked like a church’ (Own Time, ii. 351). His writings show that he hated popery and intolerance, but give no positive information about his religious views (but see Life of Thomas Hollis, pp. 188, 537).
Sidney was painted as a child by Vandyck in a group with his brothers Philip and Robert. This picture is at Penshurst, together with a portrait of Sidney, by Van Egmont, painted in 1663. Another, by the latter artist, is in the National Portrait Gallery. An engraving is given in Lodge's ‘Portraits.’ A portrait by Lely belongs to Earl Spencer. A fancy portrait by Cipriani, said to be from a seal by Thomas Simon, is the frontispiece to the edition of Sidney's ‘Works’ published in 1763 and 1772 (Hollis, pp. 168, 182, 533).Sidney's chief work, the ‘Discourses concerning Government,’ was first printed by Toland or Littlebury in 1698. This is an answer to Filmer's ‘Patriarcha,’ which was first published in 1680; and the few allusions to contemporary politics in Sidney's book show that a great part of it was written about that year. Though tedious from its extreme length and from following too closely in Filmer's footsteps, it contains much vigorous writing, and shows wide reading. Criticisms of it are to be found in Ranke's ‘History of England’ (iv. 123) and Hallam's ‘Literature of Europe’ (iv. 201, ed. 1869); an analysis is in the last chapter of Ewald's ‘Life of Sidney.’ It was reprinted in folio in 1740 and 1751. An edition, in 2 vols. 8vo, was printed at Edinburgh in 1750, and four French translations in 1702 and 1794. An edition, containing also his letters (including those addressed to Henry Savile, and published separately in 1742), report of his trial, and his apology ‘in the day of his death,’ was published in 1763, edited by Thomas Hollis, and was reprinted in 1772, with additions and corrections by J. Robertson (Life of Hollis, pp. 158, 167, 190, 446). Hollis inserted ‘A General View of Government in Europe’ (first published in 1744 in the ‘Use and Abuse of Parliaments’ by James Ralph), but doubts the justice of attributing it to Sidney. ‘The very Copy of a Paper delivered to the Sheriffs’ by Sidney appeared in 1683, fol. An essay entitled ‘Of Love’ was printed from the manuscript at Penshurst in the first series of the ‘Somers Tracts’ in 1748 (ed. Scott, viii. 612). It was reprinted in the ‘Nineteenth Century,’ January 1884. Some letters by Sidney figure in Thurloe's ‘State Papers,’ and in Arthur Collins's ‘Sydney Papers,’ 1746, Blencowe's ‘Sydney Papers,’ 1825, and in T. Forster's ‘Original Letters of John Locke, Algernon Sidney,’ &c., privately printed, 1830 and 1847. [A biography of Sidney is given in the Memoirs of the Sidney family prefixed to the Collection of Sydney Papers edited by Arthur Collins in 1746. Lives are contained in the edition of his Discourses concerning Government published by Toland in 1698, and in the collection of his works published by Hollis in 1772. Other biographies are: Life of Algernon Sidney, 1794, the first volume of a series of Political Classics; Memoirs of Algernon Sidney, by G. W. Meadley, 1813, 8vo; Brief Memoirs of Algernon Sidney, by R. Chase Sidney, 1835; Life of Algernon Sidney, with Sketches of some of his Contemporaries, by G. V. Santvoord, New York, 1851, 12mo; Life and Times of Algernon Sidney, by A. C. Ewald, 2 vols., 1873; Algernon Sidney: a Review by G. M. Blackburne, 1885. The edition of Sidney's Works and Letters to Savile referred to in this article is that of 1772.]