Who was Fulke Greville?
There is probably more evidence about the life of the soldier, courtier, statesman and poet, Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke (1554-1628), than about the life of any other English writer of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
These records show that the Stratford poet was one of the most extraordinary men of his age. A man who went everywhere and knew everything, Greville was one of those rare people who are superlative in everything they do.
He was the son of Sir Fulke Greville, de jure 4th Lord Willoughby de Broke, of Beauchamps Court, the family seat situated a few miles from Stratford-upon-Avon. Physically, Greville is reported to have been a thin, athletic and extremely handsome man.
He was a great womaniser who ‘lived and died a constant courtier of the ladies’ (Naunton), but he is most famous for his legendary friendship with Sir Philip Sidney and his long and tempestuous love affair with Sidney’s sister, Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke.
Greville was much loved by Queen Elizabeth and, according to his close friend Sir Robert Naunton, he ‘had the longest lease, and the smoothest time without rub, of any of Elizabeth’s Favourites.’ Aubrey (Brief Lives) reported that Greville ‘was a good wit’ which suggests that the secret of his success with the Queen was his ability to make her laugh.
Greville is generally regarded by historians of the period as ‘the very prototype of the gentle courtier (Nieves Mathews); a man who treated ‘all classes of men’ with respect and courtesy. He is described as a brave, affable, charming, humorous and generous man of intellectual and artistic genius who possessed such elegant speech that Bishop Corbett, who knew him well, claimed that his ‘every word was wine and music.’
In his long life, the Recorder of Stratford-upon-Avon played many parts. After being educated at Shrewsbury (where he met his lifelong friend Philip Sidney), and Jesus College, Cambridge, he was successfully (and in many cases simultaneously): an ‘intelligencer’ who traveled all over Europe and recruited spies for Walsingham and Essex (Marlowe, Gwinne and Coke); a soldier (he was captain of a hundred lancers and fought for Henry of Navarre at the Battle of Coutras in 1586); a sailor (master and commander of the Foresight, 1580 and, in 1599, Rear-Admiral commanding The Triumph, the largest ship in the British Navy). He was a renowned horseman and a ‘famous Champion of the tiltyard’.
He was a lawyer (Middle Temple and Gray’s Inn) and represented the Somervilles in the ‘Somerville Suicide Case’; a judge (Recorder of Stratford and Warwick); a statesman (Secretary to the Council of Wales, 1581, Treasurer of the Navy, 1598-1604, and Chancellor of the Exchequer, 1614-1621). During his long career the Recorder of Stratford-upon-Avon managed to repair his family estates and ‘died reputed to be the richest man in England’.
Greville never married and spent much of his great fortune on many diverse interests. He was an art collector (the Warwick Collection, particularly the tapestries). A builder (rebuilding the ruined Warwick Castle), and an early patron of Inigo Jones (Brooke House, Holborn and The Banqueting House, Whitehall).
He designed three of the most famous gardens in England, (Warwick Castle, Brooke House, Holborn, and Kings Place, Hackney). He was a great promoter of America (The Virginia Company), and, with Philip Sidney and Francis Drake, he planned ‘The Invasion of America’ in 1585.
Greville’s lasting fame is as a patron to men of literature (including three Poets Laureate, Samuel Daniel, Edmund Spencer and Ben Jonson); history (William Camden, Dorislaus); trade (the East India Company); science (Giordano Bruno and John Speed); politics (Francis Bacon and Sir John Coke); and the Church (Bishops Andrews and Overall).
Greville’s literary reputation rests upon: Caelica (1633), a sequence of songs and sonnets containing love poems as well as religious and philosophical verses. Mustapha (piratically published in 1609), and Alaham (1633), two Senecan closet dramas in verse, with choruses on the Greek model, intended to be read rather than acted. Four verse treatises: A Treatise upon Fame and Honour (1633); A Treatise of Warres (1633); A Treatise of Monarchy (1670); A Treatise of Religion, (1670). A Letter to an Honourable Lady, (1633) and A Letter of Travell (1633). Greville is most famous for his biography, The Life of Sir Philip Sidney (1652).
Fulke Greville had a remarkable personality and intelligence. He is one of the most complex and interesting characters of his period.
Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke, Joan Rees
Fulke Greville’s ability to combine the roles of writer, courtier, government official, builder of an estate and patron made him almost a type of the Renaissance man
The Life of Fulke Greville, Ronald A. Rebholz Clarendon, (1971), pp. xxv, xxiii.
After he left the University he traveled, and at his return, being well accomplished, was introduced into the Court by his uncle Robert Grevil a servant to Q. Elizabeth, where he was esteemed a most ingenious person, and had in favour by all such that were lovers of Arts and Sciences
Athenae Oxonienses Anthony A Wood (1691)
Sir Fulke Greville had much and private access to Queen Elizabeth which he used honourably and did many men good
Apophthegmes New and Old, Sir Francis Bacon (1625).
Sir Fulke Greville, the friend of Sir Philip Sidney and the very prototype of the gentle courtier.
Francis Bacon, Nieves Mathews, p. 291.
Sir William Pickering was like to have gained the Queen’s bed by studying, Sir Philip Sidney had her heart for writing, and Sir Fulke Greville had her favour for both ... others ministered to Queen Elizabeth’s government, this gentleman to her recreation and pleasure … his mornings were devoted to his books, his afternoons to his knowing friends, his nights for his debonair acquaintance … his affableness endeared him to the popularity … sweet was his disposition, winning his converse, fluent his discourse
Statesmen and Favourites of England David Lloyd (1665).
… every word he spake
Was wine and music
Iter Boreale, Richard Corbett (1647)