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Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke

Posted in English Literature, Literature on Thursday, 31 March 2011

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Fulke Greville (1554 – 1628) came from a noble Warwickshire family and was sent to Shrewsbury School where he met his dear friend Philip Sidney. After going up to Jesus College, Cambridge Greville was given an influential post in the Welsh Marches through the good offices of Sidney’s father, but both he and Philip were keen to succeed at court and went there as soon as possible with every hope of advancement and finding favour with Elizabeth I.

Greville, picture, image, illustration

Fulke Greville, biographer of Sir Philip Sidney

In fact the Queen was greatly taken by Greville, whose seriousness and intellectual cast of mind was very much to her taste, notwithstanding her sense of humour. Both young courtiers hoped to go with Sir Francis Drake to the Spanish West Indies, but this she forbade. It was only later that Greville saw some military action in a brief career on the continent under Henry of Navarre. Sir Philip Sidney, as all the world would soon know, went to fight the Catholics under the command of his uncle, Robert Dudley, and met his untimely death at Zutphen. It was this tragic end to a fearless life and dazzling literary career which moved Fulke Greville to write the biography of his beloved friend, The Life of the Renowned Sir Philip Sidney, which though written around 1610-15 was not published until 1652. Greville was given more responsibilities by the Queen, and he continued to flourish under James I with promotion to high office including the Chancellorship of the Exchequer. He was rewarded with the gift of Warwick Castle, on which he was rumoured to have spent the vast sum of £20,000 in restoration, as well as the Barony of Brooke, a title languishing idle among his father’s forbears. Apart from his famous biography of Sidney, Greville wrote several plays and, tantalisingly, destroyed one on the subject of Anthony and Cleopatra; this would have been interesting to scholars, since some believe him to have authored Shakespeare’s plays. He also composed a sequence of sonnets, several philosophical treatises on Learning and War, and other lesser pamphlets. He was a member of the ‘Areopagus’, that exclusive literary fellowship of writers keen to introduce classical poetic metres into Elizabethan poetry. In contrast to his contemporaries, Greville’s tone is dark, his technique refined but also constrained by his fierce intellect, traits which lead some to link him with Donne.  But undoubtedly it is his memorialising of Sidney which has earned him the gratitude of posterity and fame among his equals. His own tragedy was that he was murdered by an avaricious servant in his seventy-fifth year, a cruel and painful end to a noble life.

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