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Lord Buckhurst and Earl of Dorset.
BORN 1527-DIED 1608.
In vain I think, right honourable Lord,
By this rude rhyme to memorize thy name,
In golden verse, worthy immortal fame!
Thy gracious sovereign's praises to compile,
(Spenser's Sonnet to Lord Buckhurst,
prefixed to the Faery Queen.)
This very accomplished poet and excellent statesman, though not a native of Kent, yet demands in this place, an ample notice; being the first of an illustrious line, who have for more than two centuries, honoured that county by selecting it as their principal place of residence. He was the son and heir of Sir Richard Sackville, chancellor and sub-treasurer of the exchequer, and born at Buckhurst, in the Parish of Withiam, in Sussex, in the year 1527. From a domestic tuition, says Warton, he was removed to Hart Hall, now Hertford College, Oxford, where he resided some time, but took no degree; he afterwards removed to Cambridge, where, after a short residence, he had the degree of Master of Arts conferred on him. At the
universities he acquired fame as a Latin and English poet. Wood says
“ he was in his younger years poetically inclined; and wrote while he continued at Oxford, several Latin and English poems, which not being published carefully, are now lost or forgotten.”
It was then customary for every young man of fortune, before he commenced his political career, or even began his travels, to pass some time in the study of the law. Sackville, accordingly, removed from College to the Inner Temple for that purpose, and at an early period of his life was called to the bar. During his residence at the Temple, his love of poetry was more conspicuous than his attachment to the severe study of the law, and he wrote in conjunction with Thomas Norton, a tragedy called “ Ferrex and Porrex,” which was acted before Queen Elizabeth, at Whitehall, by the Students of the Inner Temple, in 1561. This tragedy the title of which he afterwards changed for that of Gorboduc, was repeatedly printed in the author's life-time, and has been republished since by Dodsley, in his collection of old plays.
About the year 1557, Dr. Anderson informs us, he formed the plan of the “ Mirror for Magistrates," in which all the illustrious, but unfortunate characters in English history, from the conquest, to the end of the 14th century, were to pass in review before the poét, who descends like Dante, into hell, and is conducted by sorrow. Every personage was to recite his own misfortunes, in a soliloquy. But he had leisure only to finish a poetical preface called an Induction, and one legend, which is the life of Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham.
As he early, continues Dr. Anderson, quitted the study of the law, 'for the flowery paths of poetry, iso the poet was soon lost in the statesman, and negociations and embassies extinguished the milder ambitions of the ingenious muse.
He sat in parliament during the reign of Queen Mary, and was returned one of the members for Buckinghamshire, in the year 1564. Not long after this, he travelled, and was detained some time a prisoner at Rome, in consequence of pecumiary embarrassment. He seems to have contracted at this time, a fondness for magnificence and expence, which probably led him into repeated inconveniences, as it afterwards attracted the attention of his Royal Mistress, by whose admonition he learned to submit his taste to prudential controul. On the death of his father, which happened in 1566, he procured his liberty, and returned to England, to take possession of his ample patrimoiry.
His eminent accomplishments and abilities, secured him the confidence and esteem of Queen Elizabeth. He was knighted in her presence by the Duke of Norfolk, in 1567, and at the same time promoted to the peerage, by the title of Baron Buckhurst.
He went Ambassador to France in 1573, and in the following year, being a member of the Privy Council, he sat as one of the Peers on the trial of Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk. He was nominated a commissioner for the trial of Mary, Queen of Scots, but it does not appear that he was present at her condemnation ; he was however selected to be the bearer of the unjust and arbitrary sentence to the unfortunate queen, and to be present at its execution.
In 1587 he went ambassador to the States-General; but having incurred the displeasure of Leicester and Burleigh, who were then in power, he was recalled, and confined for some months to his house.
On the death of Leicester he recovered the Queen's favour, was made a Knight of the Garter, appointed to sit at the trial of Lord Arundel, and joined with Burleigh in negociating a peace with Spain and Holland. On December 17th, 1591, in consequence of the earnest recommendation of the Queen, he elected Chancellor of the University of Oxford, in opposition to Essex, the object of her capricious passion. On the death of Lord Burleigh, he succeeded him in the office of Lord High Treasurer, and in the next year was joined in the commission with Essex and Sir Thomas Egerton, for negociating an alliance with Denmark. He afterwards presided at the trial of the Earls of Essex and Southampton, officiating or the occasion as Lord High Steward.
At the accession of James the First, his patent of Lord High Treasurer was renewed for life; and in 1603 he was created Earl of Dorset, and appointed one of the Commissioners for executing the office of Earl Marshal. But he did not long enjoy these accumulated honours; on the 19th of April, 1608, he died suddenly while at the council table, in the 81st year of his age. He was interred with great funeral solemnity in Westminster Abbey; his funeral sermon being preached by his chaplain, Dr. Abbott, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury.
The connection of this illustrious man with the County of Kent, commenced in the year 1567, when
Queen Elizabeth granted him the manor and mansionhouse of Knole, which had belonged originally to the See of Canterbury, but having been ceded to the crown, had passed by successive grants, through a series of eminent proprietors, and had lately been in the possession of the Earl of Leicester. This nobleman demised it upon lease, and Lord Buckhurst did not obtain possession until the year 1603. From this time it became the principal residence of him and his
Of the Earl of Dorset as a statesman, the present work does not take cognizance; as a Poet, though he has done but little, yet he is most justly entitled to an eminent rank. A disciple of the same school, and drawing from the same stock, he doubtless led the way for Spenser, whom he almost equals in some of the higher departments of poetry. His language is pure, rich, and dignified. The construction of his stanzas, harmonious and regular. Where he has attempted descriptions of nature, and natural scenery, as in his solemn and beautiful Winter's Evening, and in the fine picture of repose in the Legend of Buckingham, he has shewn the hand and eye of a master, and leaves us to regret that he has done so little in that most delightful walk. But it is in allegory that his chief perfection lies. “ The shadowy inhabitants of hell's gates," says Warton, " are his own, conceived with the vigour of a creative imagination, and described with great force of expression ; they are delineated with that fullness of proportion, that invention of picturesque attributes, distinctness, animation, and amplitude, of which Spenser is commonly supposed to have