Sackville, Thomas (DNB00)
|←Sackville, Robert||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 50
SACKVILLE, THOMAS, first Earl of Dorset and Baron Buckhurst (1536–1608), only son of Sir Richard Sackville [q. v.], was born in 1536 at Buckhurst in the parish of Withyham, Sussex. He seems to have attended the grammar school of Sullington, Sussex, and in 1546 was nominated incumbent of the chantry in the church there, a post from which he derived an income of 3l. 16s. a year. There is no documentary corroboration of the reports that he was a member of Hart Hall at Oxford and of St. John's College, Cambridge. Subsequently he joined the Inner Temple, of which his father was governor, and he was called to the bar (Abbot, Funeral Sermon, 1608). In early youth he mainly devoted himself to literature. About 1557 he planned a poem on the model of Lydgate's ‘Fall of Princes.’ The poet was to describe his descent into the infernal regions after the manner of Virgil and Dante, and to recount the lives of those dwellers there who, having distinguished themselves in English history, had come to untimely ends. Sackville prepared a poetical preface which he called an ‘Induction.’ Here ‘Sorrow’ guides the narrator through Hades, and after the poet has held converse with the shades of the heroes of antiquity he meets the ghost of Henry Stafford, duke of Buckingham, who recites to him his tragic story. Sackville made no further contribution to the design, which he handed over to Richard Baldwin [q. v.] and George Ferrers [q. v.] They completed it—adopting Sackville's seven-line stanzas—under the title of ‘A Myrrovre for Magistrates, wherein may be seen by example of others, with howe grievous plages vices are punished, and howe frayle and unstable worldly prosperity is founde even of those whom fortune seemeth most highly to favour.’ A first volume was issued in 1559, and a second in 1563. Sackville's ‘Induction,’ though obviously designed to introduce the work, appears towards the end of the second volume. It is followed by his ‘Complaint of the Duke of Buckingham.’ These contributions give the volumes almost all their literary value. In dignified, forcible, and melodious expression Sackville's ‘Induction’ has no rival among the poems issued between Chaucer's ‘Canterbury Tales’ and Spenser's ‘Faërie Queene.’ Spenser acknowledged a large indebtedness to the ‘Induction,’ and he prefixed a sonnet to the ‘Faërie Queene’ (1590) commending the author—
Whose learned muse hath writ her own record
Other editions of the ‘Mirror’ are dated 1563, 1571, 1574, 1587, 1610, and 1815 [see art. Baldwyn, William; Blenerhasset, Thomas; Higgins, John; Niccols, Richard]. Of equal importance in literary history, if less interesting from the literary point of view, was Sackville's share in the production of the first English tragedy in blank verse, ‘The Tragedy of Gorboduc.’ It was first acted in the hall of the Inner Temple on Twelfth Night 1560–1. Sackville was alone responsible (according to the title-page of the first edition of 1565) for the last two acts. These are by far the ‘most vital’ parts of the piece, although Sackville's blank verse is invariably ‘stiff and cumbersome.’ There is no valid ground for crediting him with any larger responsibility for the undertaking. The first three acts were from the pen of a fellow student of the law, Thomas Norton [see art. Norton, Thomas, (1532–1584), for bibliography and plot of ‘Gorboduc’]. Sackville's remaining literary work is of comparatively little interest. Commendatory verses by him were prefixed to Sir Thomas Hoby's ‘Courtier,’ a translation of Castiglione's ‘Cortegiano,’ 1561, and he has been credited with a poem issued under the signature ‘M. S.’ in the ‘Paradise of Dainty Devices,’ 1576. That he wrote other poems that have not been identified is clear from Jasper Heywood's reference to ‘Sackvyles Sonnets, sweetly sauste,’ in his preface to his translation of Seneca's ‘Thyestes’ (1560). George Turberville declared him to be, in his opinion, superior to all contemporary poets. In his later years William Lambarde eulogised his literary efforts; and Bacon, when sending him a copy of his ‘Advancement of Learning,’ reminded him of his ‘first love.’ His chaplain, George Abbot, spoke in his funeral sermon of the ‘good tokens’ of his learning ‘in Latine published into the world;’ but the only trace of his latinity survives in a Latin letter prefixed to Bartholomew Clerke's Latin translation of Castiglione's ‘Cortegiano’ (1571). Literature was not the only art in which Sackville delighted. Music equally attracted him. Throughout life he entertained musicians ‘the most curious which anywhere he could have’ (Abbot). Among his other youthful interests was a zeal for freemasonry, and he became in 1561 a grand master of the order, whose headquarters were then at York. He resigned the office in 1567, but while grand master he is stated to have done the fraternity good service by initiating into its innocent secrets some royal officers who were sent to break up the grand lodge at York. Their report to the queen convinced her that the society was harmless, and it was not molested again (Dr. James Anderson, New Book of Constitutions of the Fraternity of Freemasons, 1738, p. 81; Preston, Illustrations of Masonry; Hyneman, Ancient York and London Grand Lodges, 1872, p. 21). Politics, however, proved the real business of Sackville's life. To the parliament of Queen Mary's reign which met on 20 Jan. 1557–8 he was returned both for Westmoreland and East Grinstead, and he elected to serve for Westmoreland. In the first parliament of Queen Elizabeth's reign, meeting on 23 Jan. 1558–9, he represented East Grinstead, and he represented Aylesbury in the parliament of 1563. On 17 March he conveyed a message from the house to the queen. The queen recognised his kinship with her—his father was Anne Boleyn's first cousin—and she showed much liking for him, ordering him to be in continual attendance on her. But extravagant habits led to pecuniary difficulties, and, in order to correct his ‘immoderate courses,’ he made about 1563 a foreign tour, passing through France to Italy. At Rome an unguarded avowal of protestantism involved him in a fourteen days' imprisonment. While still in the city news of his father's death—on 21 April 1566—reached him, and he hurried home to assume control of a vast inheritance.
Rich, cultivated, sagacious, and favoured by the queen, he possessed all the qualifications for playing a prominent part in politics, diplomacy, and court society. He was knighted by the Duke of Norfolk in the queen's presence on 8 June 1567, and was raised to the peerage as Lord Buckhurst on the same day. His admission to the House of Lords was calculated to strengthen the protestant party there. In the spring of 1568 he was sent to France, and, according to Cecil's ‘Diary,’ he persuaded the queen-mother to make ‘a motion for a marriage of Elizabeth with her second son, the Duke of Anjou.’ Later in the year he was directed to entertain the Cardinal Chatillon at the royal palace at Sheen, which he rented of the crown, and where he was residing with his mother. Early in 1571 he paid a second official visit to France to congratulate Charles IX on his marriage with Elizabeth of Austria. He performed his ambassadorial functions with great magnificence (cf. Holinshed, s.a. 1571), and did what he could to forward the negotiations for the queen's marriage with Anjou, privately assuring the queen-mother that Elizabeth was honestly bent on going through with the match (cf. Froude, History, ix. 368–70). Later in the year—in August—he was in attendance on Paul de Foix, a French ambassador who had come to London to continue the discussion of the marriage. On 30 Aug. he accompanied the ambassador from Audley End to Cambridge, where he was created M.A.
Buckhurst joined the privy council, and found constant employment as a commissioner at state trials. Among the many prisoners on whom he sat in judgment were Thomas, duke of Norfolk (15 Jan. 1571–2), Anthony Babington (5 Sept. 1586), and Philip, earl of Arundel (14 April 1589). Although nominated a commissioner for the trial of Mary Queen of Scots, he does not seem to have been present at Fotheringay Castle or at Westminster, where she was condemned; but he was sent to Fotheringay in December 1586 to announce to Mary the sentence of death (cf. Amias Poulet, Letter Book; Froude, xii. 219–21). He performed the painful duty as considerately as was possible, and the unhappy queen presented him with a wood carving of the procession to Calvary, which is still preserved at Knole.
Next year he once again went abroad on political service. Through the autumn of 1586 Leicester's conduct in the Low Countries caused the queen much concern, and Leicester urged that Buckhurst might be sent to investigate his action and to allay the queen's fears that he was committing her to a long and costly expedition. ‘My lord of Buckhurst would be a very fit man,’ Leicester wrote, ‘… he shall never live to do a better service’ (Leycester Correspondence, pp. 304, 378). At the end of the year Leicester came home, and in March 1587 Buckhurst was directed to survey the position of affairs in the Low Countries. His instructions were to tell the States-General that the queen, while she bore them no ill-will, could no longer aid them with men or money, but that she would intercede with Philip of Spain in their behalf. He faithfully obeyed his orders, but the queen, perceiving that it was incumbent on her to continue the war, abruptly recalled him in June. She severely reprimanded him by letter for too literally obeying his instructions. She expressed scorn of his shallow judgment which had spilled the cause, impaired her honour, and shamed himself (Motley, United Netherlands, chaps. xv. and xvi.; Froude, xii. 301). On arriving in London he was directed to confine himself to his house. For nine months the order remained in force, and Buckhurst faithfully respected it, declining to see his wife or children.
On Leicester's death he was fully restored to favour, and for the rest of her reign the queen's confidence in him was undisturbed. In December 1588 he was appointed a commissioner for ecclesiastical causes. On 24 April 1589 he was elected K.G., and was installed at Windsor on 18 Dec. Mean- while he engaged anew in diplomatic business. He went on an embassy to the Low Countries in November 1589, and in 1591 he was one of the commissioners who signed a treaty with France on behalf of the queen. In 1598 he joined with Burghley in a futile attempt to negotiate peace with Spain, and in the same year went abroad, for the last time, to renew a treaty with the united provinces, which relieved the queen of a subsidy of 120,000l. a year.
High office at home finally rewarded his service abroad. He was one of the four commissioners appointed to seal writs during the vacancy in the office of chancellor after the death of Sir Christopher Hatton (20 Nov. 1591) and before the appointment of Puckering on 3 June 1592. In August 1598 Lord-treasurer Burghley died, and court gossip at once nominated Buckhurst to the vacant post (Chamberlain, Letters, pp. 31, 37); but it was not until 19 May 1599 that he was installed in the office of treasurer. He performed his duties with businesslike precision. Every suitor could reckon on a full hearing in his turn, and he held aloof from court factions. His character and position alike recommended him for the appointment in January 1601 of lord high steward, whose duty it was to preside at the trials of the Earl of Essex and his fellow-conspirators.
The accession of James I did not affect his fortunes. On 17 April 1603 he was reappointed lord treasurer for life. He attended Elizabeth's funeral at Westminster on the 28th of that month, and on 2 May met the king at Broxbourne. He was graciously received. He was one of the peers who in November 1603 sat in judgment on Henry, lord Cobham, and Thomas, lord Grey de Wilton, and he was created Earl of Dorset on 13 March 1603–4. In May 1604 he was nominated a commissioner to negotiate a new treaty of peace with Spain, which was finally signed on 18 Aug. The king of Spain showed his appreciation of Dorset's influence in bringing the negotiations to a satisfactory issue by bestowing on him a pension of 1,000l. in the same month, and by presenting him with a gold ring and a richly jewelled chain.
Dorset's wealth and munificence in private life helped to confirm his political position. His landed property—inherited or purchased—was extensive. He resided in early life at Buckhurst, Sussex, where he employed John Thorpe to rebuild the manor-house between 1560 and 1565. In 1569 he obtained from King's College, Cambridge, a grant of the neighbouring manor of Withyham and the advowson of the church there in exchange for the manor and advowson of Sampford-Courtenay in Devonshire. The church of Withyham was the burial-place of his family. He built a house, which was soon burnt down, on part of the site of Lewes Priory, which had been granted to his father. He had been joint lord lieutenant of Sussex as early as 1569, and he somewhat humorously distinguished himself in that capacity in 1586, when, a false alarm having been given that fifty Spanish ships were off the coast, he hastily summoned the muster of the county and watched with them all night between Rottingdean and Brighton, only to discover in the morning that the strangers were innocent Dutchmen driven near the coast by stress of weather.
Meanwhile, in June 1566, the queen granted to him the reversion of the manor of Knole, near Sevenoaks in Kent, subject to a lease granted by the Earl of Leicester, to whom the estate had been presented by the queen in 1561 (Hasted, Kent, i. 342). It was not until 1603 that Dorset came into possession of the property. He at once set to work to rebuild part of the house from plans supplied at an earlier date by John Thorpe. Two hundred workmen were employed on it, and it was completed in 1605 (cf. Archæologia Cantiana, vol. ix. pp. xl et seq.).
Another office of dignity which Dorset long filled was that of chancellor of the university of Oxford. He was elected on 17 Dec. 1591. His competitor was Robert Devereux, earl of Essex, but the queen's influence was thrown decisively on the side of Lord Buckhurst. On 6 Jan. 1591–2 he was incorporated, at his residence in London, M.A. in the university. In September 1592 he visited Oxford, and received the queen there with elaborate ceremony (Nichols, Progresses, iii. 149 seq.). He gave books to Bodley's Library in 1600, and a bust of the founder, which is still extant there, in 1605 (Macray, Annals, pp. 20, 31). In August 1605 he entertained James I at Oxford, keeping open house at New College for a week. The earl sent 20l. and five brace of bucks to those who had disputed or acted before the king, and money and venison to every college and hall (Nichols, Progresses of James I, i. 539 seq.).
One of Dorset's latest acts in his office of lord treasurer was to interview privately the barons of the exchequer (November 1606) while they were sitting in judgment on the great constitutional case of the merchant Bates who had refused to pay the impositions that had been levied by the crown without parliamentary sanction. Dorset had previously assured himself that judgment would be for the crown, but he apparently wished the judges to deliver it without stating their reasons (Gardiner, History, ii. 6–7). He died suddenly at the council-table at Whitehall on 19 April 1608. His body was taken to Dorset House, Fleet Street, and was thence conveyed in state to Westminster Abbey on 26 May. There a funeral sermon was preached by his chaplain, George Abbot [q. v.], dean of Winchester, and afterwards archbishop of Canterbury. In accordance with his will he was buried in the Sackville Chapel, adjoining the parish church of Withyham. His tomb was destroyed by lightning on 16 June 1663, but his coffin remains in the vault beneath.
Dorset is credited by Naunton with strong judgment and self-confidence, but in domestic politics he showed little independence. His main object was to stand well with his sovereign, and in that he succeeded. He was a good speaker, and the numerous letters and state papers extant in his handwriting exhibit an unusual perspicuity. In private life he was considerate to his tenants. By his will, made on 7 Aug. 1607, a very detailed document, he left to his family as heirlooms rings given him by James I and the king of Spain, and a portrait of Queen Elizabeth, cut in agate and set in gold. This had been left him by his sister Ann, lady Dacre. Plate or jewels were bequeathed to his friends, the archbishop of Canterbury, Lord-chancellor Ellesmere, the Earls of Nottingham, Suffolk, Worcester, Northampton, Salisbury, and Dunbar. The Earls of Suffolk and Salisbury were overseers of his will, and his wife and eldest son were joint executors. He left 1,000l. for building a public granary at Lewes, 2,000l. for stocking it with grain in seasons of scarcity, and 1,000l. for building a chapel at Withyham.
He married, in 1554, Cecily, daughter of Sir John Baker of Sissinghurst in Kent; Dorset speaks of her in his will in terms of warm affection and respect. She survived till 1 Oct. 1615. By her he was father of four sons and three daughters: the eldest son was Robert Sackville, second earl of Dorset [q. v.]; William, born about 1568, was knighted in France by Henry IV in October 1589, and was slain fighting against the forces of the league in 1591; Thomas, born on 25 May 1571, distinguished himself in fighting against the Turks in 1595, and died on 28 Aug. 1646. Of the daughters, Anne was wife of Sir Henry Glemham of Glemham in Suffolk (cf. Cal. State Papers 1603–10, pp. 499, 575); Jane was wife of Anthony Browne, first viscount Montague [q. v.]; and Mary married Sir Henry Neville, ultimately Lord Abergavenny.
His poetical works, with some letters and the preamble to his will, were collected and edited in 1859, by the Rev. Reginald W. Sackville West, who prefixed a memoir.
There are portraits of the Earl of Dorset at Knole and Buckhurst (by Marcus Gheeraerts the younger [q. v.] ; while in the picture gallery at Oxford there is a painting of him in the robes of chancellor, with the blue ribbon, George, and treasurer's staff. This was presented by Lionel, duke of Dorset, in 1735. There are engravings by George Vertue, E. Scriven, and W. J. Alais.[Cooper's Athenæ Cantabr. ii. 484–92, supplies the most detailed account of his official career. George Abbot's Funeral Sermon, 1608, dedicated to the widowed countess, gives a contemporary estimate of his career (esp. pp. 13–18). W. D. Cooper's memoir in Shakespeare Society's edition of Gorboduc and Sackville West's memoir in his Collected Works, 1859, are fairly complete. See also Naunton's Fragmenta Regalia, ed. Arber, pp. 55–6; Owen's Epigrams, 1st ser. ii. 65; Strype's Annals; Correspondance Diplomatique de Fénelon, iii. iv. v. vii.; Birch's Queen Elizabeth; Camden's Annals; Doyle's Official Baronage; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1571–1608; Warton's Hist. of English Poetry; Ritson's Bibliographia Anglo-Poetica; Brydges's Memoirs of the Peers of James I.]