The Weald of Kent, Surrey and Sussex
Ancestry report for Dorothea "Sacharissa" Smythe [Spencer], Countess of Sunderland, daughter of Robert Sydney, 2nd Earl of Leicester and Lady Dorothy Sydney [Percy]

© National Portrait Gallery

It is truly remarkable how the fame of this somewhat over-praised, but talented and beautiful, dame has endured. The verses composed in her honour by a now but little-read bard have served to hand her name and story down to posterity surrounded by a halo of romance, which has won for her imperishable renown. Of all the fair women that graced the Court of Charles I ”Sacharissa” has obtained the most enviable reputation, and has been recognised as the most perfect type of an English lady of the seventeenth century; chaste, witty, handsome, and accomplished. The wife of an illustrious nobleman who died the death of a hero on the battlefield, she became the mother of one great statesman and the mother-in-law of another. How little could her fond admirer, the poet Waller, have reckoned that the memory of the bashful maiden that he had wooed in vain, who preferred the quiet seclusion of a country life to the pomps and vanities of the beau monde, and cared nothing for the adulation and flatteries of those whose hearts her charms had stricken, would live as long in history as his own !

"Sacharissa" was a worthy representative of her race, of a race noted for clever women. To Algernon, her brother, she occupied the same position as a dear sister and sage counsellor as had Lady Pembroke to the creator of the Arcadia. She proved herself also an obedient daughter, a devoted wife, and a fond parent during a long career alternately replete with dazzling triumphs and bitter sorrows, an eventful one from its childhood to its close. Flourishing in stirring times, she moved on terms of intimacy amongst the greatest celebrities of those times. Born in the reign of James I, she lived through that of Charles 1, the Commonwealth, and almost the entire reign of the Merry Monarch. The pride of the Court of Charles I, she survived to hear herself acclaimed one of the few talented and spotless women that graced the Court of the Restoration.

Dorothea Sidney was born at Syon House, Brentford, in September or October, 1617. The exact date of her birth is uncertain, but she was baptised at Isleworth, October 5. She was the eldest child of Robert Sidney, Earl of Leicester, and his wife Dorothy, daughter of the Earl of Northumberland. Her early years were chiefly passed in alternate residence at two lovely houses, Petworth and Penshurst; but on the death of her grandfather, and her father's consequent accession to the title, she remained until her marriage at Penshurst. The eldest of a family of fifteen children, she speedily became distinguished for her grace, wit, and beauty, so that by her sixteenth year the fame of her charms had become common property. It was only natural, therefore, that she should at an early age receive the homage of many admirers, the first of whom seems to have been the poet Waller himself.

Edmund Waller was some twelve years her senior, a young man of ancient family and rich estate, a member of Parliament, and a nephew of John Hampden. Although, like his famous uncle, a native of Buckinghamshire, it was from the immediate neighbourhood that he first proceeded to Penshurst, when staying on a visit to his cousins the Wallers of Groombridge Place, that sweet old moated manor-house, which in the course of its venerable history had for ages been tenanted by Wallers, one of whom in the fifteenth century had rendered it famous by maintaining in honourable captivity therein for the space of twenty years the person of the Duke of Orleans, captured by him at the battle of Agincourt. The poet-politician fell at first sight a victim to the charms of the Lady Dorothy, and quickly evinced signs of laying siege to her heart. Curiously enough, notwithstanding his youth, he was a widower, having married at the age of two-and-twenty the daughter and heiress of an opulent alderman, but who only survived her marriage with him two years. But the widower's hopes of winning Lady Dorothy were doomed to defeat. His fair charmer proclaimed her indifference to his addresses, and though her parents hinted that they would, in good time, not object to an alliance between him and another of their daughters, they would not consent to his marrying their "deare Doll." But, before surrendering to this decree, Waller made a forlorn recourse to his Muse, and composed ode after ode in praise of the "matchless" maiden, whom he dubbed the "Sacharissa" of his verse. But, notwithstanding the beauty of his minstrelsy, he was, once and for all, unsuccessful, and he had to abandon the quest in favour of other less talented rivals.

Dorothy finally chose the man of her heart, the young Lord Spencer, with, it need hardly be said, the full approval of her parents, he being generally considered as virtuous as was the rejected lover dissolute and gay, and being possessed also of an, equally fine patrimony. The happy pair, aged respectively nineteen and twenty one, were eventually married, after a short engagement, at Penshurst, on July 20, 1639. The happy married life of the Sunderlands was not destined to reach longevity, in spite of which the young wife was enabled to give birth to a little family of two sons and two daughters. Her husband, too, won such signal success at Court that he was created Earl of Sunderland, although at the date of his creation being but barely twenty-three years old. The residence of the Earl and his Countess, when free from their attendance at the Court, where the charms of "Sacharissa" sustained as great a triumph as they had in the Kentish weald, was made at Althorp, the seat of the Spencers. To " Sacharissa " the outbreak of the Civil War had fallen as a heavy blow, for it presented to her gaze the sad sight not only of her countrymen, of her friends, divided against one another, but even of her very kindred up in arms against their own flesh and blood. Her husband, with reluctance, declared for King Charles, but her brothers and uncle for the Parliament. From the fiery ordeal of Edgehill Lord Sunderland emerged unscathed (even finding time to pay a visit to his wife during the subsequent campaign); but at Newbury he did not prove so lucky, and, charging in the ranks of the royal troop as a volunteer, fell early in the day.

For nine years she remained a widow residing at Althorp and at Penshurst and in 1652 she married Sir Robert Smythe, a wealthy Kentish squire

She died on 5th February 1683/4 and was buried twenty days later Brington Church at Althorp in Northanptonshire

She is immortalised by Waller's poems of which the most popular is:

Go, lovely Rose!
Tell her that wastes her time and me
That now she knows
When I resemble her to thee
How sweet and fair she seems to be.

Tell her that's young
And shuns to have her graces spy'd,
That hadst thou sprung
In deserts where no men abide,
Thou must have, uncommended, died.

Small is the worth
Of beauty, from the light retired;
Bid her come forth,
Suffer herself to be desired,
And not blush so to be admired.

Then die! that she
The common fate of all things rare
May read in thee,
How small a part of time they share
That are so wondrous sweet and fair.


See also The Sidneys of Penshurst and


Generation No. 1
1. Dorothea "Sacharissa" Smythe [Spencer], Countess of Sunderland was the daughter of (2) Robert Sydney, 2nd Earl of Leicester and (3) Lady Dorothy Sydney [Percy]. She was born c Oct 1617 at Syon House, Brentford, London; christened 5th Oct 1617 at Isleworth, Brentford, London; died 5th Feb 1683/84; buried 25th Feb 1683/84 at Brington Church, Northamptonshire
She married (1) Henry Spencer on 20th Jul 1639 at Penshurst, Kent. He was born c Oct 1620 at Althorp, Brington, Northamptonshire, son of William Spencer, 2nd Baron Spencer and Lady Penelope Wriothesley; died 20th Sep 1643. They had the following children:
iDorothy who was born on 1640 Paris, France; died 16th Dec 1670
iiRobert who was born on 1641 Paris, France; died 28th Sep 1702
iiiPenelope who was born on 1642 Althorp, Northamptonshire; died c 1645
ivHarry who was born on 1643 Althorp, Northamptonshire; died Mar 1649 Penshurst, Kent
She married (2) Robert Smythe on 8th Jul 1652. He was born 1613
 
Generation No. 2
2. Robert Sydney, 2nd Earl of Leicester was the son of (4) Robert Sydney, 1st Earl of Leicester, K. G., Governor of Flushing and (5) Barabara Sydney [Gamage]. He was born 1st Dec 1595 at Baynard's Castle, London; christened 31st Dec 1595; died 2nd Nov 1677 at Penshurst, Kent; buried 8th Nov 1677 at St. John the Baptist, Penshurst, Kent
He married Lady Dorothy Percy on 1615, married in secret. She was born c 1598, daughter of Earl of Northumberland. They had the following children:
iDorothea "Sacharissa" who was born on c Oct 1617 Syon House, Brentford, London; christened 5th Oct 1617 Isleworth, Brentford, London; died 5th Feb 1683/84; buried 25th Feb 1683/84 Brington Church, Northamptonshire
iiPhilip who was born on 10th Jan 1618/19; died 6th Mar 1697/98
iiiAlgernon who was born on 14th Jan 1623 Penshurst, Kent; died 7th Dec 1683 Tower Hill, London, beheaded
ivMary who was born on c 1624 Penshurst, Kent; christened 25th Feb 1632 St Clement Danes, Westminster, London; died 1648
vHanna who was born on c 1625 Penshurst, Kent; christened 25th Feb 1627 St Clement Danes, Westminster, London
viRobert who was born on Sep 1626 Paris, France; died Aug 1668
viiLucy who was born on c 1627 Penshurst, Kent; died Oct 1685; buried 19th Oct 1685
viiiDiana who was born on c 1628 Penshurst, Kent
ixIsabella who was born on c 1631 Penshurst, Kent
xElizabeth who was born on 1632 Penshurst, Kent; christened 25th Feb 1632 St Clement Danes, Westminster, London; died 1650
xiFrances who was born on c 1633 Penshurst, Kent; died 1651
xiiHenry who was born on 1641 Paris, France; died 8th Apr 1704 St James Square, London, cause of death: smallpox; buried 18th Apr 1704 St. James's, Piccadilly, London
 
3. Lady Dorothy Sydney [Percy] She was born c 1598, daughter of Earl of Northumberland
She married Robert Sydney on 1615, married in secret. He was the son of Robert Sydney, 1st Earl of Leicester, K. G., Governor of Flushing and Barabara Sydney [Gamage]. He was born 1st Dec 1595 at Baynard's Castle, London; christened 31st Dec 1595; died 2nd Nov 1677 at Penshurst, Kent; buried 8th Nov 1677 at St. John the Baptist, Penshurst, Kent. They had the following children:
iDorothea "Sacharissa" who was born on c Oct 1617 Syon House, Brentford, London; christened 5th Oct 1617 Isleworth, Brentford, London; died 5th Feb 1683/84; buried 25th Feb 1683/84 Brington Church, Northamptonshire
iiPhilip who was born on 10th Jan 1618/19; died 6th Mar 1697/98
iiiAlgernon who was born on 14th Jan 1623 Penshurst, Kent; died 7th Dec 1683 Tower Hill, London, beheaded
ivMary who was born on c 1624 Penshurst, Kent; christened 25th Feb 1632 St Clement Danes, Westminster, London; died 1648
vHanna who was born on c 1625 Penshurst, Kent; christened 25th Feb 1627 St Clement Danes, Westminster, London
viRobert who was born on Sep 1626 Paris, France; died Aug 1668
viiLucy who was born on c 1627 Penshurst, Kent; died Oct 1685; buried 19th Oct 1685
viiiDiana who was born on c 1628 Penshurst, Kent
ixIsabella who was born on c 1631 Penshurst, Kent
xElizabeth who was born on 1632 Penshurst, Kent; christened 25th Feb 1632 St Clement Danes, Westminster, London; died 1650
xiFrances who was born on c 1633 Penshurst, Kent; died 1651
xiiHenry who was born on 1641 Paris, France; died 8th Apr 1704 St James Square, London, cause of death: smallpox; buried 18th Apr 1704 St. James's, Piccadilly, London
 
Generation No. 3
4. Robert Sydney, 1st Earl of Leicester, K. G., Governor of Flushing was the son of (6) Sir Henry Sydney, K. G. and (7) Lady Mary Sydney [Dudley]. He was born 19th Nov 1563 at Penshurst, Kent; christened 28th Nov 1563 at St. John the Baptist, Penshurst, Kent; died 13th Jul 1626 at Penshurst, Kent; buried 16th Jul 1626 at St. John the Baptist, Penshurst, Kent
He married (1) Barabara Gamage on 23rd Sep 1584. She was born c 1559, daughter of John Gamage; died May 1621. They had the following children:
iMary who was born on c 1586; died 1621
iiCatherine who was born on c 1586; died 8th May 1610
iiiWilliam who was born on 10th Nov 1590; died 3rd Dec 1612
ivHenry who was born on c 1591
vPhillippa who was born on c 1594
viRobert who was born on 1st Dec 1595 Baynard's Castle, London; christened 31st Dec 1595; died 2nd Nov 1677 Penshurst, Kent; buried 8th Nov 1677 St. John the Baptist, Penshurst, Kent
viiBarbara who was born on c 1602; died 1641
viiiElizabeth who was born on c 1602
ixBridget who was born on c 1603
xAlice who was born on c 1605
xiVere who was born on c 1607
He married (2) Sarah Blount on 25th Apr 1625. She was born c 1565, daughter of William Blount; died 1656
 
5. Barabara Sydney [Gamage] She was born c 1559, daughter of John Gamage; died May 1621
She married Robert Sydney on 23rd Sep 1584. He was the son of Sir Henry Sydney, K. G. and Lady Mary Sydney [Dudley]. He was born 19th Nov 1563 at Penshurst, Kent; christened 28th Nov 1563 at St. John the Baptist, Penshurst, Kent; died 13th Jul 1626 at Penshurst, Kent; buried 16th Jul 1626 at St. John the Baptist, Penshurst, Kent. They had the following children:
iMary who was born on c 1586; died 1621
iiCatherine who was born on c 1586; died 8th May 1610
iiiWilliam who was born on 10th Nov 1590; died 3rd Dec 1612
ivHenry who was born on c 1591
vPhillippa who was born on c 1594
viRobert who was born on 1st Dec 1595 Baynard's Castle, London; christened 31st Dec 1595; died 2nd Nov 1677 Penshurst, Kent; buried 8th Nov 1677 St. John the Baptist, Penshurst, Kent
viiBarbara who was born on c 1602; died 1641
viiiElizabeth who was born on c 1602
ixBridget who was born on c 1603
xAlice who was born on c 1605
xiVere who was born on c 1607
 
Generation No. 4
6. Sir Henry Sydney, K. G. was the son of (8) Sir William Sydney and (9) Anne Sydney [Packenham]. He was born 20th Jul 1529 at Baynard's Castle, London; died 5th May 1586 at Ludlow Castle, Shropshire; buried 21st Jun 1586 at St. John the Baptist, Penshurst, Kent
He married Lady Mary Dudley on 29th Mar 1551 at Esher, privatley married followed on Whitsunday, in public, at Ely House, Holborn. She was born 1531, daughter of John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland; died Aug 1586 at Penshurst, Kent; buried 11th Aug 1586 at St. John the Baptist, Penshurst, Kent. They had the following children:
iPhilip who was born on 30th Nov 1554 Penshurst, Kent; died 17th Oct 1586 Arnheim, Holland; buried 16th Feb 1587 Old St. Paul's, London
iiMargaret who was born on 1556 Penshurst, Kent; died 1558 Penshurst, Kent
iiiAmbrosia who was born on 1560; died 1576
ivMary who was born on 27th Oct 1561 Ticknell, Bewdley, Welsh Marches, Wales; died 25th Sep 1621 Crosby Hall, London; buried after 25th Sep 1621 Salisbury Cathedral, Wiltshire
vRobert who was born on 19th Nov 1563 Penshurst, Kent; christened 28th Nov 1563 St. John the Baptist, Penshurst, Kent; died 13th Jul 1626 Penshurst, Kent; buried 16th Jul 1626 St. John the Baptist, Penshurst, Kent
viAmbrosia who was born on 1564; died 1576 Ludlow
viiThomas who was born on 25th Mar 1569 Penshurst, Kent; died Jul 1595
 
7. Lady Mary Sydney [Dudley] She was born 1531, daughter of John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland; died Aug 1586 at Penshurst, Kent; buried 11th Aug 1586 at St. John the Baptist, Penshurst, Kent
She married Sir Henry Sydney on 29th Mar 1551 at Esher, privatley married followed on Whitsunday, in public, at Ely House, Holborn. He was the son of Sir William Sydney and Anne Sydney [Packenham]. He was born 20th Jul 1529 at Baynard's Castle, London; died 5th May 1586 at Ludlow Castle, Shropshire; buried 21st Jun 1586 at St. John the Baptist, Penshurst, Kent. They had the following children:
iPhilip who was born on 30th Nov 1554 Penshurst, Kent; died 17th Oct 1586 Arnheim, Holland; buried 16th Feb 1587 Old St. Paul's, London
iiMargaret who was born on 1556 Penshurst, Kent; died 1558 Penshurst, Kent
iiiAmbrosia who was born on 1560; died 1576
ivMary who was born on 27th Oct 1561 Ticknell, Bewdley, Welsh Marches, Wales; died 25th Sep 1621 Crosby Hall, London; buried after 25th Sep 1621 Salisbury Cathedral, Wiltshire
vRobert who was born on 19th Nov 1563 Penshurst, Kent; christened 28th Nov 1563 St. John the Baptist, Penshurst, Kent; died 13th Jul 1626 Penshurst, Kent; buried 16th Jul 1626 St. John the Baptist, Penshurst, Kent
viAmbrosia who was born on 1564; died 1576 Ludlow
viiThomas who was born on 25th Mar 1569 Penshurst, Kent; died Jul 1595
 
Generation No. 5
8. Sir William Sydney was the son of (10) Nicholas Sydney and (11) Anne Sydney [Brandon]. He was born 8th Mar 1501 at Penshurst, Kent; died 10th Feb 1554 at Penshurst, Kent; buried after 10th Feb 1554 at St. John the Baptist, Penshurst, Kent
He married Anne Packenham on 28th Jun 1524 at Penshurst Place, Penshurst, Kent. She was born c 1505, daughter of Hugh Packenham; died 22nd Oct 1543. They had the following children:
iAnne who was born on c 1525 Penshurst, Kent
iiLucy who was born on 28th Aug 1526 Penshurst, Kent; died 11th Sep 1588 Penshurst, Kent
iiiMary who was born on c 1527 Penshurst, Kent
ivHenry who was born on 20th Jul 1529 Baynard's Castle, London; died 5th May 1586 Ludlow Castle, Shropshire; buried 21st Jun 1586 St. John the Baptist, Penshurst, Kent
vFrances who was born on 1531 Penshurst, Kent; died 9th Mar 1589 Bermondsey, London; buried 15th Apr 1589 St Paul's Chapel, Westminster, London
 
9. Anne Sydney [Packenham] She was born c 1505, daughter of Hugh Packenham; died 22nd Oct 1543
She married Sir William Sydney on 28th Jun 1524 at Penshurst Place, Penshurst, Kent. He was the son of Nicholas Sydney and Anne Sydney [Brandon]. He was born 8th Mar 1501 at Penshurst, Kent; died 10th Feb 1554 at Penshurst, Kent; buried after 10th Feb 1554 at St. John the Baptist, Penshurst, Kent. They had the following children:
iAnne who was born on c 1525 Penshurst, Kent
iiLucy who was born on 28th Aug 1526 Penshurst, Kent; died 11th Sep 1588 Penshurst, Kent
iiiMary who was born on c 1527 Penshurst, Kent
ivHenry who was born on 20th Jul 1529 Baynard's Castle, London; died 5th May 1586 Ludlow Castle, Shropshire; buried 21st Jun 1586 St. John the Baptist, Penshurst, Kent
vFrances who was born on 1531 Penshurst, Kent; died 9th Mar 1589 Bermondsey, London; buried 15th Apr 1589 St Paul's Chapel, Westminster, London
 
Generation No. 6
10. Nicholas Sydney was the son of (12) William Sydney and (13) Thomasine Sydney [Barrington]. He was born 1450 to 1454; died c 1512
He married Anne Brandon on c 1485. She was born c 1460, daughter of Sir William Brandon. They had the following children:
iThomasine who was born on c 1490 Penshurst, Kent
iiWilliam who was born on 8th Mar 1501 Penshurst, Kent; died 10th Feb 1554 Penshurst, Kent; buried after 10th Feb 1554 St. John the Baptist, Penshurst, Kent
iiiThomas who was born on c 1506 Penshurst, Kent
ivRobert who was born on c 1508 Penshurst, Kent
vFrancis who was born on c 1510 Penshurst, Kent
 
11. Anne Sydney [Brandon] She was born c 1460, daughter of Sir William Brandon
She married Nicholas Sydney on c 1485. He was the son of William Sydney and Thomasine Sydney [Barrington]. He was born 1450 to 1454; died c 1512. They had the following children:
iThomasine who was born on c 1490 Penshurst, Kent
iiWilliam who was born on 8th Mar 1501 Penshurst, Kent; died 10th Feb 1554 Penshurst, Kent; buried after 10th Feb 1554 St. John the Baptist, Penshurst, Kent
iiiThomas who was born on c 1506 Penshurst, Kent
ivRobert who was born on c 1508 Penshurst, Kent
vFrancis who was born on c 1510 Penshurst, Kent
 
Generation No. 7
12. William Sydney He was born c 1425
He married (1) Isabella St. John on c 1445. She was born c 1425, daughter of Lord St John. They had the following children:
iWilliam who was born on 1445 to 1450
iiMargaret who was born on 1445 to 1450
iiiElizabeth who was born on 1445 to 1450
He married (2) Thomasine Barrington on c 1450. She was born c 1400, daughter of John Barrington and widow of John Lunsford. They had the following children:
iLewis who was born on 1450 to 1454
iiNicholas who was born on 1450 to 1454; died c 1512
 
13. Thomasine Sydney [Barrington] She was born c 1400, daughter of John Barrington and widow of John Lunsford
She married William Sydney on c 1450. He was born c 1425. They had the following children:
iLewis who was born on 1450 to 1454
iiNicholas who was born on 1450 to 1454; died c 1512
 

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