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


Date
Type
Information
Source
 
c Oct 1617
Born
At Syon House in the Parish of Brentford, London
The Sidneys of Penshurst
 
5th Oct 1617
Christened
At Isleworth in the Parish of Brentford, London
The Sidneys of Penshurst
 
20th Jul 1639
Married
Henry Spencer in the Parish of Penshurst, Kent
www.thepeerage.com
 
1640
Birth of a daughter
Dorothy at Paris in the Country of France
ODNB web site
 
1641
Birth of a son
Robert at Paris in the Country of France
ODNB web site
 
1642
Birth of a daughter
Penelope at Althorp in the County of Northamptonshire
ODNB web site
 
1643
Birth of a son
Harry at Althorp in the County of Northamptonshire
ODNB web site
 
8th Jul 1652
Married
Robert Smythe
www.thepeerage.com
 
5th Feb 1683/84
Died
www.thepeerage.com
 
25th Feb 1683/84
Buried
At Brington Church in the County of Northamptonshire
www.thepeerage.com

The ancestral pedigree of Dorothea "Sacharissa" Smythe [Spencer], Countess of Sunderland
  
2nd marriage William Sydneym: c 1450Thomasine Barrington 
 b: c 1425  b: c 1400 daughter of John Barrington and widow of John Lunsford
  
   
 Lewis Nicholas 
 b: 1450 to 1454 b: 1450 to 1454
d: c 1512
 
      
Great-Great-
Great-Great-
Grandfather record
   
   
   
 Nicholas Sydneym: c 1485Anne Brandon 
 b: 1450 to 1454
d: c 1512
  b: c 1460 daughter of Sir William Brandon
  
      
 Thomasine William Thomas Robert Francis 
 b: c 1490 Penshurst, Kent b: 8th Mar 1501 Penshurst, Kent
d: 10th Feb 1554 Penshurst, Kent
bur: after 10th Feb 1554 St. John the Baptist, Penshurst, Kent
 b: c 1506 Penshurst, Kent b: c 1508 Penshurst, Kent b: c 1510 Penshurst, Kent 
            
Great-
Great-Great-
Grandfather record
   
   
   
 Sir William Sydneym: 28th Jun 1524 Penshurst Place, Penshurst, KentAnne Packenham 
 b: 8th Mar 1501 Penshurst, Kent
d: 10th Feb 1554 Penshurst, Kent
bur: after 10th Feb 1554 St. John the Baptist, Penshurst, Kent
  b: c 1505 daughter of Hugh Packenham
d: 22nd Oct 1543
  
      
 Anne Lucy Mary Henry Frances 
 b: c 1525 Penshurst, Kent b: 28th Aug 1526 Penshurst, Kent
d: 11th Sep 1588 Penshurst, Kent
 b: c 1527 Penshurst, Kent b: 20th Jul 1529 Baynard's Castle, London
d: 5th May 1586 Ludlow Castle, Shropshire
bur: 21st Jun 1586 St. John the Baptist, Penshurst, Kent
 b: 1531 Penshurst, Kent
d: 9th Mar 1589 Bermondsey, London
bur: 15th Apr 1589 St Paul's Chapel, Westminster, London
 
             
Great-Great-
Grandfather record
   
   
   
 Sir Henry Sydney
K. G.
m: 29th Mar 1551 Esher
privatley married followed on Whitsunday, in public, at Ely House, Holborn
Lady Mary Dudley 
 b: 20th Jul 1529 Baynard's Castle, London
d: 5th May 1586 Ludlow Castle, Shropshire
bur: 21st Jun 1586 St. John the Baptist, Penshurst, Kent
  b: 1531 daughter of John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland
d: August 1586 Penshurst, Kent
bur: 11th Aug 1586 St. John the Baptist, Penshurst, Kent
  
        
 Philip Margaret Ambrosia Mary Robert Ambrosia Thomas 
 b: 30th Nov 1554 Penshurst, Kent
d: 17th Oct 1586 Arnheim, Holland
bur: 16th Feb 1587 Old St. Paul's, London
 b: 1556 Penshurst, Kent
d: 1558 Penshurst, Kent
 b: 1560
d: 1576
 b: 27th Oct 1561 Ticknell, Bewdley, Welsh Marches, Wales
d: 25th Sep 1621 Crosby Hall, London
bur: after 25th Sep 1621 Salisbury Cathedral, Wiltshire
 b: 19th Nov 1563 Penshurst, Kent
ch: 28th Nov 1563 St. John the Baptist
d: 13th Jul 1626 Penshurst, Kent
bur: 16th Jul 1626 St. John the Baptist, Penshurst, Kent
 b: 1564
d: 1576 Ludlow
 b: 25th Mar 1569 Penshurst, Kent
d: July 1595
 
                   
Great-
Grandfather record
   
   
   
1st marriage Robert Sydney
1st Earl of Leicester, K. G., Governor of Flushing
m: 23rd Sep 1584Barabara Gamage 
 b: 19th Nov 1563 Penshurst, Kent
ch: 28th Nov 1563 St. John the Baptist
d: 13th Jul 1626 Penshurst, Kent
bur: 16th Jul 1626 St. John the Baptist, Penshurst, Kent
  b: c 1559 daughter of John Gamage
d: May 1621
  
            
Mary  William  Phillippa  Barbara Elizabeth Bridget Alice Vere 
b: c 1586
d: 1621
  b: 10th Nov 1590
d: 3rd Dec 1612
  b: c 1594  b: c 1602
d: 1641
 b: c 1602 b: c 1603 b: c 1605 b: c 1607 
  Catherine Henry Robert          
  b: c 1586
d: 8th May 1610
 b: c 1591 b: 1st Dec 1595 Baynard's Castle, London
ch: 31st Dec 1595
d: 2nd Nov 1677 Penshurst, Kent
bur: 8th Nov 1677 St. John the Baptist, Penshurst, Kent
          
                 
Grandfather record
   
   
   
 Robert Sydney
2nd Earl of Leicester
m: 1615
married in secret
Lady Dorothy Percy 
 b: 1st Dec 1595 Baynard's Castle, London
ch: 31st Dec 1595
d: 2nd Nov 1677 Penshurst, Kent
bur: 8th Nov 1677 St. John the Baptist, Penshurst, Kent
  b: c 1598 daughter of Earl of Northumberland
  
             
Dorothea "Sacharissa"  Algernon  Hanna  Lucy  Isabella Elizabeth Frances Henry 
b: c October 1617 Syon House, Brentford, London
ch: 5th Oct 1617 Isleworth
d: 5th Feb 1683/84
bur: 25th Feb 1683/84 Brington Church, Northamptonshire
  b: 14th Jan 1623 Penshurst, Kent
d: 7th Dec 1683 Tower Hill, London, beheaded
  b: c 1625 Penshurst, Kent
ch: 25th Feb 1627 St Clement Danes, Westminster, London
  b: c 1627 Penshurst, Kent
d: October 1685
bur: 19th Oct 1685
  b: c 1631 Penshurst, Kent b: 1632 Penshurst, Kent
ch: 25th Feb 1632 St Clement Danes, Westminster, London
d: 1650
 b: c 1633 Penshurst, Kent
d: 1651
 b: 1641 Paris, France
d: 8th Apr 1704 St James Square, London, cause of death: smallpox
bur: 18th Apr 1704 St. James's, Piccadilly, London
 
   Philip Mary Robert  Diana        
   b: 10th Jan 1618/19
d: 6th Mar 1697/98
 b: c 1624 Penshurst, Kent
ch: 25th Feb 1632 St Clement Danes, Westminster, London
d: 1648
 b: September 1626 Paris, France
d: August 1668
  b: c 1628 Penshurst, Kent        
                   
Parental record
   
   
   
 Henry Spencer
1st Earl of Sunderland
m: 20th Jul 1639 Penshurst, KentDorothea "Sacharissa" Sydney
Countess of Sunderland
 1st marriage
 b: c October 1620 Althorp, Brington, Northamptonshire, son of William Spencer, 2nd Baron Spencer and Lady Penelope Wriothesley
d: 20th Sep 1643
  b: c October 1617 Syon House, Brentford, London
ch: 5th Oct 1617 Isleworth
d: 5th Feb 1683/84
bur: 25th Feb 1683/84 Brington Church, Northamptonshire
  
     
 Dorothy Robert Penelope Harry 
 b: 1640 Paris, France
d: 16th Dec 1670
 b: 1641 Paris, France
d: 28th Sep 1702
 b: 1642 Althorp, Northamptonshire
d: c 1645
 b: 1643 Althorp, Northamptonshire
d: March 1649 Penshurst, Kent
 
Family record
   
 Robert Smythem: 8th Jul 1652Dorothea "Sacharissa" Spencer 2nd marriage
 b: 1613 b: c October 1617 Syon House, Brentford, London
ch: 5th Oct 1617 Isleworth
d: 5th Feb 1683/84
bur: 25th Feb 1683/84 Brington Church, Northamptonshire

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