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Originally appearing in Volume V08, Page 433 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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IST EARL OF DORSET THOMAS SACKVILLE (c. 1530-1608), English statesman and poet, son of Sir Richard Sackville and his wife Winifrede, daughter of Sir John Bruges or Bridges, lord mayor of London, was born at Buckhurst, in the parish of Withyham, Sussex. In his fifteenth or sixteenth year he is said to have been entered at Hart Hall, Oxford; but it was at Cambridge that he completed his studies and took the degree of M.A. He joined the Inner Temple, and was called to the bar. He married at the age of eighteen Cicely, daughter of Sir John Baker of Sissinghurst, Kent; in 1558 he entered parliament as member for Westmorland, in 1559 he sat for East Grinstead, Sussex, and in 1563 for Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire. A visit to the continent in 1565 was in- terrupted by an imprisonment at Rome, caused by a rash declaration of Protestant opinions. The news of his father's death on the 21st of April 1566 recalled him to England. On his return he was knighted in the queen's presence, receiving at the same time the title of baron of Buckhurst. With his mother he lived at the queen's palace of Sheen, where he entertained in 1568 Odet de Coligni, cardinal de Chatillon. In 1571 he was sent to France to congratulate Charles IX. on his marriage with Elizabeth of Austria, and he took part in the negotiations for the projected marriage of Elizabeth with the duke of Anjou. He became a member of the privy council, and acted as a com- missioner at the state trials. In 1572 he was one of the peers who tried Thomas Howard, duke of Norfolk, and in 1586 he was selected to convey the sentence of death to Mary, queen of Scots, a task he is said to have performed with great consideration. He was sent in 1587 as ambassador to the Hague "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."' This task was further complicated by the parsimony and prevarication of ' J. L. Motley, Hist. of the United Netherlands (vol. ii. p. 216, ed. 1867). Elizabeth. Buckhurst carried out under protest the foolish and often contradictory orders he received. His plain speaking on the subject of Leicester's action in the Netherlands displeased the queen still more. She accused him on his return of having followed his instructions too slavishly, and ordered him to keep to his own house for nine months. His disgrace was short, for in 1588 he was presented with the order of the Garter, and was sent again to the Netherlands in 1589 and 1598. He was elected chancellor of the university of Oxford in 1591, and in 1599 he succeeded Lord Burghley as lord high treasurer of England. In 16or as high steward he pronounced sentence on Essex, who had been his rival for the chancellorship and his opponent in politics. James I. confirmed him in the office of lord treasurer, the duties of which he performed with the greatest impartiality. He was created earl of Dorset in 1604, and died suddenly on the 19th of April ,6o8, as he was sitting at the council table at Whitehall. His eldest son, Robert, the 2nd earl (1561–1609), was a member of parliament and a man of great learning. Two other sons were William (c. ,568–1591), a soldier who was killed in the service of Henry IV. of France, and Thomas (1571–1646), also a soldier. It is not by his political career, distinguished as it was, that Sackville is remembered, but by his share in early life in two works, each of which was, in its way, a new departure in English literature. In A Myrroure for Magistrates, printed by Thomas Marshe in 1559, he has sometimes been erroneously credited with the inception of the general plan as well as with the most valuable contributions. But there had been an earlier edition, for the editor, William Baldwin, states in his preface that the work was begun and partly printed " four years agone." He also says that the printer (John Wayland) had designed the work as a continuation of Lydgate's Fall of Princes derived from the narrative of Bochas. Fragments of this early edition are extant, the title page being sometimes found bound up with Lydgate's book. It runs A Memoriall of such princes, as since the tyme of Richard the seconde, have been unfortunate in the realme of England, while the 1559 edition has the running title A briefe memorial of unfortunate Englysh princes. The disconnected poems by various authors were given a certain continuity by the simple device of allowing the ghost of each unfortunate hero " to bewail unto me [Baldwin] his grievous chances, heavy destinies and woefull misfortunes." After a delay caused by an examination by Stephen Gardiner, bishop of Worcester, the book appeared. It contained nineteen tragic legends by six poets, William Baldwin, George Ferrers, " Master " Cavyll, Thomas Chaloner, Thomas Phaer and John Skelton. In 1563 appeared a second edition with eight additional poems by William Baldwin, John Dolman, Sackville, Francis Segar, Thomas Churchyard and Cavyll. Sackville contributed the Complaint of Henry Stafford, duke of Buckingham, to which he prefixed an Induction. This was evidently designed as an introduction to a version of the whole work, and, being arbitrarily transposed (161o) to the beginning by a later editor, Richard Niccols, led to the attribution of the general design to Sackville, an error which was repeated by Thomas Warton. The originators were certainly Baldwin and his " printer." In 1574 Thomas Marshe printed a series of new tragedies by John Higgins as the Firste parte of the Mirour for Magistrates. . . . From tke coming of Brute to the Incarnation. The seventh edition (1578) contained for the first time the two tragedies of Eleanor Cobham and Humphrey duke of Gloucester. In 1587, when the original editor was dead, the two quite separate publications of Baldwin and Higgins were combined. The primary object of this earliest of English miscellanies was didactic. It was to be a kind of text-book of British history, illustrating the evils of ambition. The writers pretended to historical accuracy, but with the notable exceptions of Churchyard and Sackville they paid little attention to form. The book did much to promote interest in English history, and Mr W. J. Courthope has pointed out that the subjects of Marlowe's Edward II., of Shakespeare's Henry VI., Richard II. and Richard III. are already dealt with in the Myrroure. Sackville's Induction opens with a description of the oncoming of winter. The poet meets with Sorrow, who offers to lead him to The Sackville line. the infernal regions that he may see the sad estate of those ruined by their ambition, and thus learn the transient characterof earthly joy. At the approaches of Hell he sees a group of terrible abstractions, Remorse of Conscience, Dread, Misery, Revenge, Care, &c., each vividly described. The last of these was War, on whose shield he saw depicted the great battles of antiquity. Finally, penetrating to the realm of Pluto himself, he is surrounded by the shades, of whom the duke of Buckingham is the first to advance, thus introducing the Complaint. To this induction the epithet " Dantesque " has been frequently applied, but in truth Sackville's models were Gavin Douglas and Virgil. The dignity and artistic quality of the narrative of the fall of Buckingham are in strong contrast to the crude attempts of Ferrers and Baldwin, and make the work one of the most important between the Canterbury Tales and the Faerie Queene. Sackville has also the credit of being part author with Thomas Norton of the first legitimate tragedy in the English language. This was Gorboduc or Ferrex and Porrex, performed as part of the Christmas festivities (1560-1561) by the society of the Inner Temple, and afterwards on the 18th of January 1561 before Elizabeth at Whitehall. The argument is as follows: " Gorboduc, king of Brittaine, devided his Realme in his lyfe time to his Sones, Ferrex and Porrex. The Sonnes fell to dyvision and discention. The yonger kylled the elder. The Mother, that more dearely loved thelder, fr revenge kylled the yonger. The people, moved with the Crueltie of the facte, rose in Rebellion, and Slewe both father and mother. The Nobilitie assembled, and most terribly destroyed the Rebelles. And afterwards for want of Issue of the Prince, wherby the Succession of the Crowne became uncertayne, they fell to Ciuill warre, in whiche both they and many of their Issues were slayne, and the Lande for a Ionge tyme almoste desolate, and myserablye wasted." The argument shows plainly enough the didactic intention of the whole, and points the moral of the evils of civil discord. The story is taken from Book II. chap. xvi. of Geoffrey of Monmouth's history. It was first printed (1565) in an unauthorized edition as The Tragedie of Gorboduc " whereof three Actes were wrytten by Thomas Nortone, and the two laste by Thomas Sackvyle." Norton's share has been generally minimized, and it seems safe to assume that Sackville is responsible for the general design. In 1570 appeared an authentic edition, The Tragedie of Ferrex and Porrex, with a preface from the printer to the reader stating that the authors were " very much displeased that she (the tragedy) so ran abroad without leave." The tragedies of Seneca were now being translated, and the play is conceived on Senecan lines. The plot was no doubt chosen for its accumulated horrors from analogy with the tragic subjects of Oedipus and Thyestes. None of the crimes occur on the stage, but the action is described in lofty language by the characters. The most famous and harrowing scene is that in which Marcello relates the murder of Porrex by his mother (Act IV. sc. ii.). The paucity of action is eked out by a dumb show to precede each act, and the place of the Chorus is supplied by four " ancient and sage men of Britain." In the variety of incident, however, the authors departed from the classical model. The play is written in excellent blank verse, and is the first example of the application of Surrey's innovation to drama. Jasper Heywood in the poetical address prefixed to his translation of the Thyestes alludes to " Sackvylde's Sonnets sweetly sauste," but only one of these has survived. It is pre-fixed to Sir T. Hoby's translation of Castiglione's Courtier. Sackville's poetical preoccupations are sufficiently marked in the subject matter of these two works, which remain,the sole literary productions of an original mind. The best edition of the Mirror for Magistrates is that of Joseph Haslewood (1815). Gorboduc was edited for the Shakespeare Society by W. D. Cooper in 1847; in 1883 by Miss L. Toulmin Smith for C. Vollmoller's Englische Sprach-und Litteraturdenkmale (Heilbronn, 1883). The Works of Sackville were edited by C. Chapple (182o) and by the Hon. and Rev. Reginald Sackville-West (1859). See also A Mirror for Magistrates (1898) by Mr W. F. Trench; an excellent account in Mr W. J. Courthope's History of English Poetry, vol. i. pp. III et seq. ; and an important article by Dr j. W. Cunliffe in the Cambridge History of English Literature, vol. hi.
End of Article: IST EARL OF DORSET THOMAS SACKVILLE (c. 1530-1608)

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