Algernon Sydney

Algernon Sydney or Sidney (January 1623 – December 7 1683) was an English politician, political theorist, and opponent of King Charles II of England, who became involved in a plot against the King and was executed for treason.


A son of Robert Sidney, 2nd Earl of Leicester, and the great-nephew of Sir Philip Sidney, he is thought to have been born at Penshurst Place in Kent. All of his life Sydney had been consistent in his support of liberty. He had served in the New Model Army, though he opposed the decision to execute Charles I. He was for a time the lover of Lucy Walter, later the mistress of Charles, Prince of Wales. In the end Oliver Cromwell's absolutism was little better for Sydney than that previously practiced by the king. His dismissal of the Long Parliament in 1653 was the act of a Caesarian dictator, subverting the republic and the constitution. In retirement Sydney was bold enough to outrage the Lord Protector by putting on a performance of Julius Caesar, with himself in the role of Brutus; and Brutus he was to remain.

A republican by deep conviction, he was abroad when the monarchy was restored in 1660, choosing to remain in exile for some years. While writing Court Maxims (1665-6) he was busy negotiating with the Dutch and French for support of a republican invasion of England. He was only to return in 1677, almost immediately becoming involved in opposition to Stuart monarchial absolutism. When Charles dismissed his final Parliament in 1681, saying he would have no more, Sydney united with Shaftesbury and others in plotting against the perceived royal tyranny, of a 'force without authority.' Sydney was later to be implicated in the Rye House Plot, a scheme to assassinate Charles and his brother, though on the evidence of only one witness.

Recognizing that a conviction rested on the testimony of two witnesses, Sidney pled the law and demanded a second witness be produced in court against him; at which juncture his own writings were offered into evidence, as, "false, seditious and traitorous libel". "An argument for the people", said the Solicitor General, "to rise up in arms against the King". In response Sydney said that it was easy to condemn him by quoting his words out of context "If you take the scripture to pieces you will make all the penmen of the scripture blasphemous; you may accuse David of saying there is no God and of the Apostles that they were drunk." But for the court, to write such was to act. The republican aristocrat was found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. Neither denying nor affirming the charge of treason for which he had been condemned, Sydney maintained republican faith to the end, declaring on the scaffold: "We live in an age that makes truth pass for treason."


For Sydney absolute monarchy, in the form practiced by Charles II, was a great political evil. His Discourses Concerning Government (the text for which Sydney lost his life) was written during the Exclusion Crisis, as a response to Robert Filmer's Patriarcia, a defence of divine right monarchy, first published in 1680. Sydney was appalled that a free-born Englishman could ever have compiled such a work, a defence of despotism. It was Filmer's business, he wrote, "to overthrow liberty and truth." Patriarchial government was not 'God's will', as Filmer and others contended, because the "Civil powers are purely human ordinances."

In countering the Hobbesian argument that the coercive power of the monarchy was necessary to prevent the return of the Civil Wars, Sydney invoked Tacitus, the Roman historian, saying that the pax Romana, the Imperial peace, was the 'peace of death.' Rebellion may have dangerous consequences but

They who are already fallen into all that is odious, and shameful and miserable, cannot justify fear... Let the dangers never be so great, there is the possibility of safety while men have life, hands, arms and courage to use them but that people must surely perish who tamely suffer themselves to be oppressed.


Algernon Sidney is one of the namesakes for Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia. The College formerly used the original spelling of Sidney. He was chosen because of the role his ideas played in molding the beliefs of the American Revolutionary thinkers.


  • Literature from and about Algernon Sidney published
  • Sidney, Algernon: "Discourses concerning government, London 1698 u. öfter; deutsch, Leipzig 1794;
  • Sidney, Algernon: "Discourses", hrsg. John Toland, 1698;
  • Sidney, Algernon: "Discourses Concerning Government";
  • Sidney, Algernon: "Apology in the Day of His Death";
  • Sidney, Algernon: "The Administration and the Opposition. Addressed to the Citizens of New-Hampshire", Concord, Jacob B. Moore, 1826, ASIN B000IUQ14Q
  • Sidney, Algernon: "Discourses Concerning Government", ed. Thomas G. West, Indianapolis, 1996, ISBN 0865971420
  • Sidney, Algernon: "Court Maxims (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought)", Cambridge University Press, 1996, ISBN 9780521461757
  • Sidney, Algernon: "Discourses on Government. To Which is Added, An Account of the...", Reprint, The Lawbook Exchange, New York, 2002 ISBN 1584772093


  • Johnson, J.: "The Essence of Algernon Sydney’s Work on Government. To which is annexed, his Essay on Love.", London, 1795.
  • Meadley, George W.: "Memoirs of Algernon Sidney" London, Cradock and Joy, 1813
  • Ewald, A.C.: "Life and times of Algernon Sidney" London, 1872, 2 Bände,
  • Blackburne: "Algernon Sidney" London, 1885
  • Jones, James R.: "The First Whigs: The Politics of the Exclusion Crisis 1678-1683" London, Oxford University Press, 1961, ISBN 9780197131244;
  • Conniff, James: "Reason and History in Early Whig Thought: The Case of Algernon Sidney,” in: "Journal of the History of Ideas"'', No.43 (1982), pp. 397–416,
  • Wordon, Blair: "The Commonwealth Kidney of Algernon Sidney" in: "The Journal of British Studies/The Historical Journal", Vol. 24, No. 1, 1985, S. 1-40, ;
  • Pocock, J. G. A.:"Englands Cato: The virtues and fortunes of Algernon Sidney" in: "The Historical Journal", Vol. 37, No. 4, 1994, S. 915-935 ;
  • Carswell, John:"The porcupine: the life of Algernon Sidney", London, John Murray, 1989, ISBN 0719546842;
  • Scott, Jonathan: "Algernon Sidney and the Restoration Crisis, 1677-1683" Cambridge University Press, 1991, ISBN 9780521352918;
  • Houston, Alan Craig: "Algernon Sidney and the Republican Heritage in England and America", Princeton University Press, 1991, ISBN 0691078602
  • Nelson, Scott A.:`"The discourses of Algernon Sidney", London und Toronto, Associated University Presses, 1993, ISBN 9780838634387;
  • Santvord, George Van: "Life Of Algernon Sidney: With Sketches Of Some Of His Contemporaries And Extracts From His Correspondence And Political Writings", Kessinger Publishing, 2007, ISBN 9781430444497;

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