Sir Philip Sidney's Funeral Portrayed in Lant’s Roll

The Funeral Procession of Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586), also known as Lant’s Roll, is a remarkable object engraved in 1587 and published in 1588. It consists of 31 oblong plates  (numbered 1 to 30, with an unnumbered plate to close the series), customarily mounted on calico in imitation of a frieze. Putting the plates in sequence would create a 10 metres long roll.

This is an item of extreme rarity designed by Thomas Lant (c.1556-1600) and engraved by Theodor de Bry (1528-1598). The whereabouts of the original drawings, and/or of the copperplates is not known. However, given Lant’s position as herald and draughtsman within the College of Arms since 1588, the above institution might hold more information on the topic. Of the printed copies, there are incomplete copies at the British Library and V&A, and a roll is kept at the Society of Antiquaries of London. The only complete set of engravings in pristine condition and not stuck in a roll appears to be at Christ Church.

So, as we are confronted with a unique item, which so far, has not been available online as a whole, the series has now been fully digitised. To see it, please go to Christ Church Digital Library/Early Printed Books and click on The Funeral Procession of Sir Philip Sidney.

This work is also notable through the quality and originality of its design and printing, which explains why, in terms of provenance, it is part of the Henry Aldrich bequest. The engravings that Aldrich gave to Christ Church number circa 2,000 works. It is the oldest collection of this type in England. Apart from the Lant series, and an impressive collection of English engravings, it also contains numerous French portrait engravers, several Dutch artists, including Rembrandt. Among its star exhibits are also rare pieces by Mantegna and Dürer.

This now exceptionally rare series dedicated to Sir Philip Sidney is not only in illustrious company among Henry Aldrich’s prints, it is also the most reliable record of the poet’s exceptionally grand funeral procession. The engravings illustrate, in an almost cinematic manner, the exceedingly long cortege travelling across an imaginary stage along the streets of London. The viewer’s attention is seamlessly drawn to the sequence and dress of the groups following the poet’s coffin. The procession is headed by the poor, the soldiers and he members of the Sidney household. Next are the friends in order of importance, members of the College of Arms. The high nobility follows on horseback. A notable, and somewhat surprising, group towards the end of the procession is formed by London representatives: its municipality, the Company of Grocers and the Civic Guard. The final group is that of cavalry and infantry, representing the troops over whom Sidney had held command in battle on the continent. He died a hero in the Battle of Zutphen, fighting for the Protestant cause against the Spanish.

Looking at Lant’s series of images, it is easy to see why Sidney’s funeral procession was one of the most elaborate ever staged. There are in all 344 figures represented. In most cases, their names, rank and function are inscribed in the space above them. There are also 3 longer texts, in English and in Latin, which give further information. The English texts are at the beginning, on Plate 1 and Plate 2. The Latin, on the last (not numbered) Plate. Transcriptions of all texts, preceded by a detailed study, are available in Sander Bos, Marianne Lange-Meyers, Jeanine Six, 'Sidney's Funeral, Portrayed', Sir Philip Sidney: 1586 and the Creation of a Legend, edited by Jan van Dorsten, Dominic Baker-Smith, Arthur F. Kinney (Leiden: Published for the Sir Thomas Browne Institute by Brill, 1986), pp. 38-61. For another extensive study on the topic, see Ronald Strickland, 'Pageantry and Poetry as Discourse: The Production of Subjectivity in Sir Philip Sidney's Funeral', ELH, Vol. 57, No. 1 (Spring, 1990), pp. 19-36.

For detailed descriptions, please consult the record in SOLO (Search Oxford Libraries Online).

The fully digitised version of The Funeral Procession of Sir Philip Sidney is now available on the website, in Christ Church Digital Library. Enjoy!
* For more fully digitised items from Christ Church collections, please see Digital Library.
* For other news related to Special Collections, please go the library Exhibitions and Research