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Charles Sackville, 6th Earl of Dorset and 1st Earl of Middlesex, KG (24 January 1643 – 29 January 1706) was an English poet and courtier.
Sackville was born on 24 January 1643, son of Richard Sackville, 5th Earl of Dorset (1622–1677). His mother was the former Lady Frances Cranfield, sister and heiress of the 3rd Earl of Middlesex, to whose estates he succeeded in 1674, being created Baron Cranfield, of Cranfield in the County of Middlesex, and Earl of Middlesex in 1675. He succeeded to his father's estates and title in August 1677. He was educated privately, and spent some time abroad with a private tutor, returning to England shortly before the Restoration.
He bore his share in the excesses for which Sir Charles Sedley and Lord Rochester were notorious. In 1662, Sackville and his brother Edward, with three other gentlemen, were indicted for the robbery and murder of a tanner named Hoppy. The defence was that they were in pursuit of thieves, and mistook Hoppy for a highwayman. They appear to have been acquitted, for when, in 1663, Sedley was tried for a gross breach of public decency in Covent Garden, Sackville, who had been one of the offenders, was (according to Samuel Pepys) asked by the Lord Chief Justice "whether he had so soon forgot his deliverance at that time, and that it would have more become him to have been at his prayers begging God's forgiveness than now running into such courses again."
Something in his character made his follies less obnoxious to the citizens than those of the other rakes, for he was never altogether unpopular, and Rochester is said to have told Charles II that "he did not know how it was, my Lord Dorset might do anything, yet was never to blame". In 1665 he volunteered to serve under the Duke of York in the Second Anglo-Dutch War. His famous song, "To All You Ladies Now at Land", was written, according to Prior, on the night before the victory gained over foggy Opdam off Harwich (3 June 1665). Samuel Johnson, with the remark that seldom any splendid story is wholly true, said that the Earl of Orrery had told him it was only retouched on that occasion.
In 1667, Pepys lamented that Sackville had lured Nell Gwyn away from the theatre, and that with Sedley the two kept merry house at Epsom. Next year the king was paying court to Gwyn, and her Charles the Second, as she called him (Charles Hart, a former lover, being her Charles the First), was sent on a "sleeveless errand" into France to be out of the way. In 1678 he narrowly escaped death at the hands of the deranged Earl of Pembroke, with whom he was engaged in a lawsuit.
His gaiety and wit secured the continued favour of Charles II, but did not especially recommend him to James II, who could not, moreover, forgive Dorset's lampoons on his mistress, Catherine Sedley, Countess of Dorchester. On James's accession, therefore, he retired from court. Sackville concurred in the invitation to William of Orange, who made him a Privy Counsellor, Lord Chamberlain (1689), and Knight of the Garter (1692). During William's absences between 1695 and 1698, Sackville was one of the Lords Justices of the Realm. In 1699 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society
He was a generous patron of men of letters. When John Dryden was dismissed from the laureateship, he made him an equivalent pension from his own purse. Matthew Prior, in dedicating his Poems on Several Occasions (1709) to Dorset's son, affirms that his opinion was consulted by Edmund Waller; that the Duke of Buckingham deferred the publication of his Rehearsal until he was assured that Dorset would not rehearse upon him again; and that Samuel Butler and William Wycherley both owed their first recognition to him. Prior's praise of Dorset is no doubt extravagant, but when his youthful follies were over he appears to have developed sterling qualities, and although the poems he has left are very few, none of them are devoid of merit. Dryden's Essay on Satire and the dedication of the Essay of Dramatick Poesie are addressed to him. Walpole (Catalogue of Noble Authors, iv.) says that he had as much wit as his first master, or his contemporaries Buckingham and Rochester, without the royal want of feeling, the duke's want of principles or the earl's want of thought; and Congreve reported of him when he was dying that he slabbered more wit than other people had in their best health.
Sackville was three times married; he married his first wife Mary Bagot, widow of Charles Berkeley, Earl of Falmouth and daughter of Hervey Bagot and Dorothy Arden, in June 1674. He married his second wife, Mary Compton, daughter of James Compton, 3rd Earl of Northampton and Hon. Mary Noel, on 7 March 1685; they had two children together, Lionel Cranfield Sackville, 1st Duke of Dorset and Mary Sackville (1689–1705). He fathered two illegitimate daughters, one named Mary Sackville (died 26 June 1714), and the other with actress Alice Lee, named Anne Lee Sackville (1667–1738). He died at Bath in 1706.
The fourth act of Pompey the Great, a tragedy translated out of French by certain persons of honor, is by Dorset. The satires for which Pope classed him with the masters in that kind seem to have been short lampoons, with the exception of A faithful catalogue of our most eminent ninnies (reprinted in Bibliotheca Curiosa, ed. Goldsmid, 1885). The Works of the Earls of Rochester, Roscommon and Dorset, the Dukes of Devonshire, Buckinghamshire, &c., with Memoirs of their Lives (1731) is catalogued (No. 20841) by H. G. Bohn in 1841. His poems are included in Anderson's and other collections of the British poets.
Portrayal in film
Sackville is portrayed by Johnny Vegas as the invariable companion of fellow author and wit George Etherege (Tom Hollander) in the 2004 film The Libertine, an adaptation of Stephen Jeffreys' play of the same name, which depicts the Earl of Rochester and the orbit of the "Merry Gang".
- Sackville, Charles, sixth earl of Dorset and first earl of Middlesex (1643–1706), poet and politician by Harold Love. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 23 December 2016. (subscription required)
- Chisholm 1911, p. 433.
- Pepys' Diary, p124
- Kenyon, J.P. The Popish Plot Phoenix Press reissue 2000 p.306
- Chisholm 1911, pp. 433–434.
- "Library and Archive catalogue". Royal Society. Retrieved 28 February 2012.
- Chisholm 1911, p. 434.
- Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. .
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Dorset, Earls, Marquesses and Dukes of". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 8 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 431–434.