Ludlow Palmers
helping to conserve the fabric and treasures of St Laurence's
Ambrosia Sidney

Ambrosia Sidney, 4th daughter of Sir Henry Sidney died in 1574 aged 9. Her tomb is dated 1580 and stands on the south side of chancel. Elaborate monuments to children at this time were uncommon, unless they were heirs or heiresses, and, although Henry commissioned monuments to two of her older sisters, this seems an extraordinary display of parental love.

Her father gave instructions to his secretary about its construction, referring to an ‘oratory’ and ‘kneeling place’, which suggests that the tradition of a family chapel, with a tombchest resembling a small altar, was still current forty years after the Reformation. The small tombchest without an effigy is set back into the wall, leaving seating space on either side.

Thomas Churchyard's long 1589 poem, The Worthiness of Wales mentions ‘a closet fair … where lords may sit in stately solemn wise … ’ and to ‘the top of fair touchstone’. This refers to the use of the black polished stone, often called marble, which was imported from the Netherlands for high class tombs. The rest of the monument is of oolitic limestone. The simple carved details with sunburst motif are classical, but pride of place goes to the heraldic features, although these have been repainted and differ from descriptions in antiquarian records.

As a female child, Ambrosia had no arms other than her father's. These are displayed at the top of the monument within a lozenge form, the traditional heraldic form for women. The arms are enriched by the Order of the Garter, which Henry had received in 1564, and include the family motto quo fata vacant ‘where destiny falls’. On the right are the arms of her uncle and godfather Ambrose Dudley, 3rd Earl of Warwick, from whom she derived her name. On the left are those of her mother, Mary Sidney née Dudley: her husband Henry's arms impaled with the Dudley arms and the initials M.S. The chest below repeats the three shields but with Ambrose Dudley's in the centre — perhaps a reflection of his probable role as godfather.

The Sidneys were a very well connected family. Henry Sidney was President of the Council of the Marches — effectively the Government of Wales — from 1560 to 1586 and served two terms as Lord President of Ireland. His wife Mary Dudley was a daughter of the 2nd Earl of Warwick and brother of Elizabeth I's favourite Robert Dudley. She served as lady-in-waiting to the Queen. Ambrosia's elder brother Philip Sidney, the poet and scholar, was another favourite of the Queen. Her sister Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, was a remarkable poet and lady of letters. Her brother Robert was a statesman who was made Earl of Leicester in 1618.

Sir Henry Sidney died in 1586 and was buried at his own request at the family seat of Penshurst in Sussex, but his heart was buried in Ambrosia's tomb at Ludlow in a lead heart coffin which is now in the British Museum. This could be interpreted as Sidney's devotion to his daughter, loyalty to Ludlow, where he had lived and worked so long, or perhaps a deliberate echo of the supposed heart burial at Ludlow of Prince Arthur, an earlier head of the Council. Sir Henry's proposed heraldic tomb at Penshurst was never built so perhaps Ambrosia's can in a way be regarded as a monument to this extraordinary family as a whole.

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