1902 Encyclopedia > Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, First Earl of Dorset

Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, First Earl of Dorset
English statesman, poet and playwright

THOMAS SACKVILLE, LORD BUCKHURST, FIRST EARL OF DORSET, (1536-1608), was born in at Buckhurst in the parish of Withyham in Sussex. His father, Sir Richard Sackville, the friend of Roger Ascham, was connected with theBoleynfamily, andthus distantly with Queen Elizabeth, his mother was Winifrede, daughter of Sir John Bruges or Bridges, of London. In his fifteenth or sixteenth year he was entered at Hart Hall, Oxford ; but it was at Cambridge that he completed his studies and took the degree of master of arts. On leaving the university, where he had already obtained the reputation of a poet, he proceeded to the Inner Temple, and though the statement made by some authori-ties that he became a barrister is not supported by the registers, his connection with the society was not without result. He had already at the age of nineteec married Cicely, daughter of Sir John Baker of Sissinghurst in Kent, and in 1557 he entered public life as member of parliament for Westmoreland. In the following year he sat for East Grinstead in Sussex, and the record of his activity is still to be found in the Journals of the House of Commons. Queen Elizabeth, who had just come to the throne, was attracted by the handsome person, high culture, and evident ability of her young poet-kinsman, who was accordingly, to quote his own words, " selected to a continual private attendance upon her own person," which did not, however, prevent him from appearing again in the Parliament of 1563 as member for Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire. A visit to the Continent in 1565 was interrupted by an unexplained imprisonment at Borne, and terminated by the news of his father's death, which took place on 21st April 1566. On his return he was knighted in the queen's presence, and obtained the title of Lord Buckhurst, by which he continued to be known through the most of his life. Apartments were provided for him in the queen's palace at Shene, where his mother was in charge ; but the simplicity of his mode of life is shown by the fact that, when in 1568 he had to entertain Odet de Coligni, Cardinal de Chátillon, at the queen's command, he failed to satisfy the luxurious desires of his guest, and thus fell under her majesty's dis-pleasure. In 1571 he was sent to France to congratulate Charles IX. on his marriage with Elizabeth of Austria; in 1572 he was one of the peers who tried Thomas Howard, earl of Norfolk; and in 1586 he was employed to convey to Queen Mary of Scotland the sentence of death. A more difficult task was found for him in 1587; as ambassador to the Hague he was expected " to expostulate in favour of peace with a people who knew that their existence depended on war, to reconcile those to delay who felt that delay was death, and to heal animosities between men who were enemies from their cradles to their graves." With what fearlessness, fidelity, and sagacity he discharged his duty, has been told in detail by the historian of The United Netherlands, who asserts that there is not a single line in all the ambassador's correspondence which does not reflect honour on his name. But his expostulations with the queen on her parsimonious policy, and his independent conduct towards the royal favourite Leicester, procured him, on his return to England, instead of approbation and reward for his services, an order confining him to his house for nine or ten months in token of her majesty's displeasure. On the death of the earl, however, he was again received into favour; in 1588 he was presented with the Order of the Garter; in 1591 he was elected chancellor of the university of Oxford, his claims having been supported by a royal letter ; and, in 1599, on the death of Lord Burghley, he succeeded to the office of Lord High Treasurer of England. In the following year he had to pronounce sentence as High Steward on the earl of Essex, who had been his rival for the chancellorship and his opponent in politics. The change of the dynasty which took place in 1603 left his position unimpaired ; his office of Lord Treasurer was confirmed to him by King James, and on 13th of March 1604, he was created earl of Dorset. He died suddenly on April 19th 1608, while sitting at the council table in Whitehall, and left his earldom to his son Robert Sackville.

In the history of English literature Thomas Sackville occupies an honourable position. We no longer possess any of the " sonnets finely sauced " for which, in his student days, he was praisKl by Jasper Heywood, but we may still read the Ferrex and Porrex by which he takes rank as the first writer of genuine English tragedy, the Induction to the Mirror of Magistrates, and the Complaint of Henry Duke of Buckingham. The first was written with the assistance of Thomas Norton, during Sackville's connection with the Inner Temple, was acted before Queen Elizabeth in 1561, appeared without the author's permission in 1565, and again in authorized editions in 1570-1 and 1590. The second is a stately allegorical poem of the kind so much in vogue in the reign of Elizabeth, with elaborate personifications of sorrow, death, old age, &c, intended to stand as preface to a series of poems descriptive of the tragic fates of famous men; and the Complaint was to form the first of the series. They all display a lively fancy, and no small command of pure and sonorous English, but hardly awaken any regret that the author soon laid aside the poet's for the diplomatist's pen.

See Sackville's Works, edited by Reginald W. Sackville-West, 1859 ; and Arber's Reprint of the Induction.

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