Visitors to Penshurst Place can’t fail to notice the Sidney family’s connection to the porcupine. After all, the new café carries the name of ‘The Porcupine Pantry’, there’s a large metal sculpture in the garden and this little chap sits outside the private entrance to the Sidney family chapel but the reason behind the connection is more obscure.
Long before they became the owners of Penshurst Place, the Sidney family were closely connected to royalty and it was the second William Sidney who claimed the porcupine emblem for his family crest.
Having distinguished himself both as a naval Captain and the Commander of the right wing of the British Army at the battle of Flodden, Sir William gained the favourable attention of the King Henry VIII. The elevated status brought by his knighthood in March 1514, gave him the privileges and responsibility of a courtier and when Princess Mary, King Henry VIII’s sister, travelled to marry Louis XII of France, Sir William was sent with the royal party. In the trusted position of ‘jousting ambassador’, Sir William travelled alongside his cousin, Charles Brandon, whose future would shortly be changed forever, and Sir Henry Guildford.
Less than three months after the wedding, while the jousting team were still in France, King Louis XII died at the age of fifty two and the widowed Princess Mary married Charles Brandon in secret. King Henry VIII was furious but despite Sir William’s close proximity to the events surrounding the new royal couple, he remained in favour and was later sent back to France to officially announce Princess Mary’s second marriage. It can’t have been an easy task and the Sidney family believe it was following the first eventful trip that Sir William added King Louis XII’s personal emblem – the porcupine – to the family crest.
But why would he have wanted to? The porcupine isn’t exactly a large intimidating beast is it? It’s a vegetarian, tree climbing, nest builder and not, one would assume, a first choice of emblem. Look a little closer into its traits, however, and you discover that, when under attack, this unusual animal reverses into its enemy in an attempt to impale it with its long, detachable quills. So, despite first impressions, the porcupine is actually a formidable foe which shows courage and tenacity in times of adversity. Now that is something to admire.
I am extremely grateful to Philip Sidney, 2nd Viscount De L’Isle MBE and Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant of Kent for granting me permission to reproduce his family crest within this post and for clarifying the source of the emblem’s addition.
I would also like to thank Abbie Voice, the estate’s Marketing Executive, and Lord De L’Isle’s personal secretary for their assistance with this blog.
Penshurst Place in Kent has been described as “the grandest and most perfectly preserved example of a fortified manor house in all England” and is well worth a visit.
Young families are well catered for with a variety of events, great children’s playground and lots of space to let off steam. Some parts of the garden are wheelchair and buggy friendly in all weathers and I can personally vouch for the cakes.