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The Earl of Dorset, c. 1697

Charles Sackville, 6th Earl of Dorset and 1st Earl of Middlesex, KG (24 January 1643 – 29 January 1706) was an English poet and courtier.

Early life

Sackville was born on 24 January 1643,[1] 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.[2]


A medal by Lorenz Natter depicting Charles Sackville

During King Charles II's first Parliament, Sackville sat for East Grinstead in Sussex. He had no taste for politics, however, but won a reputation at Whitehall as a courtier and a wit.

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."[2][3]

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.[2]

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.[2] In 1678 he narrowly escaped death at the hands of the deranged Earl of Pembroke, with whom he was engaged in a lawsuit.[4]

Portrait of Sackville by Godfrey Kneller, 1694

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.[5] In 1699 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society[6]

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.[7]


Charles Sackville had two children with his second wife, Mary Compton: Lionel (right) and Mary (left)

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 honour, 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 British poets.[7]

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".


  1. ^ 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)
  2. ^ a b c d Chisholm 1911, p. 433.
  3. ^ Pepys' Diary, p124
  4. ^ Kenyon, J.P. The Popish Plot Phoenix Press reissue 2000 p.306
  5. ^ Chisholm 1911, pp. 433–434.
  6. ^ "Library and Archive catalogue". Royal Society. Retrieved 28 February 2012.
  7. ^ a b Chisholm 1911, p. 434.


External links

8 Annotations

First Reading

Phil  •  Link

The entry for Lord Middlesex in Latham's Index volume suggests this is Charles Sackville. Although the entry for Sackville just describes him as "styled Lord Buckhurst."

Paul Brewster  •  Link

Wheatley footnotes Lord Middlesex as
"Lionel Cranfield, third and last Earl of Middlesex. Died 1674 when the title became extinct.

Linda Smurr  •  Link

Lionel Cranfield was first Earl of Middlesex. The title passed to his son(s?) and the title became extinct upon their death. A grandson, Lionel Cranfield SACKVILLE, became first Earl (Duke?) of Dorcet. The distinction between the two is not made very clear in a number of references, but checking the dates will clear it up.

vicenzo  •  Link

Charles Sackville, 6th Earl of Dorset['74] and 1st Earl of Middlesex[in 74]:
there was Lionel Cranfield who was the first but died in '45.
Richard Sackville, 5th Earl of Sackville b 1621, d. 1667 [1622-1667?] married 1637 Frances Cranfield]
The middlesex connection…
When Titles become extinct then they start again with the new genetic connection. Just to confuse the hoi-poloi- Me-Lord is me laud
Charles got gonged at a later date for one of his poems. At this time in 1660-69 he be just plain Honorable poet.
The first earl's [mdx] daughter Frances married Richard Sackville, 5th earl of Dorset, and their son Charles was created earl of Middlesex in 1675.

Wim van der Meij  •  Link

Warrington has the following on him: "Charles, Lord Bockhurst, eldest son of Richard Sackville, fifth Earl of Dorset; created Lord Cranfield and Earl of Middlesex soon after his uncle's death in 1675, and succeeded his father as Earl of Dorset in 1677. He died 1706."

Second Reading

Bill  •  Link

SACKVILLE, CHARLES, sixth Earl of Dorset and first Earl of Middlesex (1638-1706), poet; son of Richard Sackville, fifth earl of Dorset, and Frances, daughter of Lionel Cranfield, first earl of Middlesex; M.P., East Grinstead, 1660; led life of dissipation with Sir Charles Sedley and others; volunteered in fleet fitted out against Dutch, 1665, and took part in battle of 3 June; created Baron Cranfield and Earl of Middlesex, 1675; withdrew from court during James IIs reign; lord chamberlain of household, 1689-97; received Garter, 1691; thrice acted as regent during William III's absence. His poems appeared with Sedley's in 1701, his best being the song 'To all you ladies now on land,' 1665. Dryden dedicated several poems to him.
---Dictionary of National Biography: Index and Epitome. S. Lee, 1906.

Bill  •  Link

Charles Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, eldest son of Richard, fifth Earl of Dorset, was born January 24th, 1638. He was a volunteer with the fleet in 1665, when he wrote his famous song beginning —

"To all ye ladies now at land
We men at sea indite."

In 1674, by the death of his uncle, Lionel Cranfield, Earl of Middlesex, he came into possession of a considerable property, and in the following year was created Earl of Middlesex. In 1677 he succeeded his father as sixth Earl of Dorset. He was a favourite companion of Charles II. and of William III., and a patron of literary men. He died January 29th, 1707.
---Wheatley, 1899.

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.




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