« AnteriorContinuar »
WAS the second surviving son of Robert, earl of Leicester, by his wife Dorothy, eldest daughter of Henry Percy, earl of Northumberland. He was born about the year 1621-2. His father, when ambassador successively to the courts of Denmark and France, took young Sidney with him, though a mere youth, to give him every opportunity of improvement.
On the breaking out of the rebellion in Ireland, 1641, he obtained a commission for a troop of horse in his father's regiment, who was then lord lieutenant of Ireland; and in 1643, had the king's permission to return to England with his brother, the lord Lisle, but with express orders, on their allegiance, to repair to his majesty at Oxford. The parliament, how
ever, getting intelligence of this arrangement, caused them to be taken into custody on their landing in Lancashire. The king suspecting this to be a concerted scheme, was greatly incensed; from which they took occasion to join the parliament, under which Algernon accepted a command. This was at first a captaincy of a troop of horse in the regiment of the earl of Manchester. On the following year, Fair fax, the commander in chief, made him colonel of a regiment of horse. His other appointments and services it is unnecessary to mention. He was nominated one of the judges of Charles I. though he did not appear.
Algernon Sidney was a republican upon principle; and when Oliver Cromwell had usurped the government, he refused to act under him or his son who succeeded him in the protectorship; but as soon as the long parliament was restored, he became one of the council of state. On the restoration of Charles II. he was abroad, with others, with a view to mediate a peace between Denmark and Sweden; and as his principles were decided and well known, he could not with safety return to his own country. He employed himself therefore in moving about from one part of Europe
to another; but the Argus-eyes of the English government were upon him, and it is said, that a plan was laid to assassinate him at Augsburg, and which he escaped only by being at the time in Holland. Thus he continued during seventeen years, sometimes in danger of his life, wandering from place to place in indigence, because (says he) it was known I could not be corrupted. But at length his father, the earl of Leicester, was anxious to see him before his death, and the son obtained leave of Charles II. to return, as also his pardon. But associating afterwards with the duke of Monmouth, he was considered as one of the accomplices in the presbyterian plot, was arrested for high treason, and sent to the Tower. Being arraigned to the bar of the court of King's Bench, the only admissible evidence against him was lord Howard of Esrick, a man of an abandoned character, "whose deposition was very rhetorical, and nothing at all to the purpose." In aid therefore of this lame evidence, his Discourses on Government were produced, and affirmed to be "A Seditious and Traitorous Libel;" their design being "to persuade the people of England, that it is lawful, nay, that they have a right to set
aside their prince, in case it appear to them that he hath broken the trust laid upon him by the people." Upon this plea (for it is blasphemy to reason to call it evidence) he was. convicted of high treason, and beheaded on the 7th of December, 1683. His attainder, however, was reversed at the revolution. Sidney had proposed to himself Marcus Brutus as a pattern, and met death with dauntless fortitude.
At his execution he delivered a paper to the sheriffs, containing a statement of the injustice of his sentence. It began-" Men, bréthren, and fathers; friends, countrymen, and strangers."-And after displaying the hardship of his case, and the insufficiency of the evidence against him, he concluded in these words:" But I was long since told that I must die, or the plot must die. Lest the means of destroying the best protestants in England should fail, the bench must be filled with such as had been blemishes to the bar. None but such as these would have advised with the king's council of the means of bringing a man to death; suffered a jury to be packed by the king's solicitors and the undersheriff; admit of jurymen, who are not free
holders; receive such evidence as is abovementioned; refuse a copy of an indictment, or to suffer the statute of 46 Edward III. to be read, that doth expressly enact, it should in no case be denied unto any man upon any occasion whatsoever; over-rule the most important points of law, without hearing. And whereas the statute 25 Edward III. upon which they said I should be tried, doth reserve unto the parliament all constructions to be made in points of treason, they could assume unto themselves not only a power to make constructions, but such constructions as neither agree with law, reason, or common sense. By these means I am brought to this place. The Lord forgive these practices, and avert the evils that threaten the nation from them. The Lord sanctify these my sufferings unto me; and though I fall as a sacrifice unto idols, suffer not idolatry to be established in this land. Bless thy people and save them, Defend thy own cause, and defend those that defend it. Stir up such as are faint; direct those that are willing; confirm those that waver; give wisdom and integrity unto all. Order all things so as may most redound unto thine own glory. Grant that I may die glorifying thee for all thy mer