Charles Sackville, 6th Earl of Dorset

The Earl of Dorset, circa 1697

Charles Sackville, 6th Earl of Dorset and 1st Earl of Middlesex, KG (24 January 1638 29 January 1706) was an English poet and courtier.

Early life

He was son of Richard Sackville, 5th Earl of Dorset (16221677). 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. In King Charles II's first Parliament he sat for East Grinstead in Sussex. He had no taste for politics, however, but won a reputation as courtier and wit at Whitehall.


A medal by Lorenz Natter depicting Charles Sackville

He bore his share in the excesses for which Sir Charles Sedley and Lord Rochester were notorious. In 1662 he 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 Sir Charles Sedley was tried for a gross breach of public decency in Covent Garden, Sackville, who had been one of the offenders, according to Samuel Pepys was 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."[1]

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). Dr Johnson, with the remark that seldom any splendid story is wholly true, says that the Earl of Orrery had told him it was only retouched on that occasion.

In 1667 Pepys laments 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 Nell, 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.

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. He 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 in 16951698 he was one of the Lord Chief Justices of the Realm. In 1699 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society [2]

He was a generous patron of men of letters. When 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 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.


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

He was three times married; he married his first wife Elizabeth 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 (1690–1705). He fathered an illegitimate daughter, also named Mary Sackville (d. 26 Jun 1714). 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.


  1. Pepys' Diary, p124
  2. "Library and Archive catalogue". Royal Society. Retrieved 2012-02-28.

two references give Sackville's birth date as 1643. and Who's correct?


Wikisource has original works written by or about:
Charles Sackville
Parliament of England
Preceded by
Marmaduke Gresham
George Courthope
Member of Parliament for East Grinstead
with George Courthope

Succeeded by
George Courthope
Edward Sackville
Political offices
Preceded by
The Earl of Mulgrave
Lord Chamberlain
Succeeded by
The Earl of Sunderland
Honorary titles
Preceded by
The Earl of Northumberland
Lord Lieutenant of Sussex
jointly with The Earl of Dorset 16701677

Succeeded by
The Viscount Montagu
Preceded by
The Viscount Montagu
Lord Lieutenant of Sussex
Succeeded by
Earl of Hertford
Preceded by
The Viscount Fitzhardinge
Lord Lieutenant of Somerset
jointly with The Marquess of Carmarthen
The Earl of Devonshire

Succeeded by
The Duke of Ormonde
Peerage of England
Preceded by
Richard Sackville
Earl of Dorset
Succeeded by
Lionel Sackville
New creation Earl of Middlesex

External links

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