462px-Charles Sackville, 6th Earl of Dorset by Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt (2)

Charles Sackville, 6th Earl of Dorset (1638-1706). Portrait by Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723), 1694. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

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



Sackville was one of the dissolute and witty courtiers of Charles II, and a friend of Sir C. Sedley, in whose orgies he participated. He was, however, a patron of literature, and a benefactor of Dryden in his later and less prosperous years. He wrote a few satires and songs, among the latter being the well-known, "To all you Ladies now on Land." As might be expected, his writings are characterised by the prevailing indelicacy of the time.[1]


Sackville was the son of Richard Sackville, 5th earl (1622–1677), and Frances, daughter of Lionel Cranfield, 1st earl of Middlesex. Owing, perhaps, to the confusion of the times in his youth, he received his education from a private tutor, and, as Lord Buckhurst, travelled in Italy at an early age.[2]


Charles Sackville, 6th Earl of Dorset

Charles Sackville, 6th Earl of Dorset

Returning at the Restoration, he was in 1660 elected to parliament for East Grinstead, but "turned his parts," says the courtly Prior, "rather to books and conversation than to politics." In other words he became a courtier, a wit, and a man about town, and for some years seems to have led a very dissipated life.[2]

In February 1662, he, his brother Edward, and 3 other gentlemen were apprehended and indicted for killing and robbing a tanner named Hoppy. The defense was that they took him for a highwayman, and his money for stolen property; and either the prosecution was dropped or the parties were acquitted. In 1663 he was mixed up in the disgraceful frolic of Sir Charles Sedley at "Oxford Kate's," and, according to Wood and Johnson, was indicted along with him, but this seems to be negatived by the contemporary report of Pepys (1 July 1663).[2]

He found better employment in 1665, volunteering in the fleet fitted out against the Dutch, and taking an honorable part in the great naval battle of 3 June 1665. On this occasion he composed that masterpiece of sprightly elegance, the song, "To all you ladies now at land," which, according to Matthew Prior, he wrote (but according to the more probable version of Lord Orrery, only retouched) on the night before the engagement.[3]

Prior claims for him a yet higher honor, as the Eugenius of Dryden's Dialogue on Dramatic Poesy. Dryden, however, gives no hint of this in his dedication of the piece to Sackville himself; and if it is really the case, he committed an extraordinary oversight in fixing his dialogue on the very day of the battle, when Sackville could not possibly have taken part in the conference.[3]

For some time after his return Buckhurst seems to have continued his wild course of life. Pepys, at all events, in October 1668 classes him along with Sedley as a pattern rake, "running up and down all the night, almost naked, through the streets; and at last fighting, and being beat by the watch and clapped up all night; and the king takes their parts; and the Lord-chief-justice Keeling hath laid the constable by the heels to answer it next sessions; which is a horrid shame."[3]

He had a short time previously taken Nell Gwynne under his protection, to the additional scandal of Mr. Pepys, not on moral grounds, but because the stage was thus deprived of a favourite actress. The latter is said to have called him her Charles I. He and Nell "kept merry house at Epsom" during 1667, but about Michaelmas 1668 Nell became the king's mistress, and Sackville was sent to France on a complimentary mission (or, as Dryden called it, "on a sleeveless errand") to get him out of the way.[3]

Earl of DorsetEdit

From this time we hear little of his follies, but much of his munificence to men of letters and of the position generally accorded him as an arbiter of taste. When Prior was employed as a boy in his uncle's tavern (about 1680) Sackville discovered his promise, helped to defray his schooling at Westminster School, and aided him with his influence.[3]

He befriended Dryden, Butler, Wycherley, and many more; he was consulted, if we may believe Prior, by Waller for verse, by Sprat for prose, and by Charles II touching the merits of the portraits of Sir Peter Lely. He inherited 2 considerable estates — that of his maternal uncle, Lionel Cranfield, 3rd earl of Middlesex, in 1674; and that of his father in 1677, when he succeeded to the title. He had previously, on 4 April 1675, been created Baron Cranfield and Earl of Middlesex.[3]

He preserved Charles's favour throughout the whole of his reign; but neither his gaiety nor his patriotism was a recommendation to Charles's successor, whose mistress, Lady Dorchester, he had moreover bitterly satirised. Dorset withdrew from court, publicly manifested his sympathy with the 7 bishops, and concurred in the invitation to the Prince of Orange. His active part in the revolution was limited to escorting the Princess Anne to Nottingham.[3]

Having no inclination for political life, he took no part in public affairs under William, but accepted the office of lord chamberlain of the household, which he held from 1689 to 1697, and was assiduous in his attendance on the king's person, being on one occasion tossed for 22 hours in his company in an open boat off the coast of Holland. When obliged in his official capacity to withdraw Dryden's pension as poet laureate, he allowed him an equivalent out of his own estate. Dryden in a measure repaid the obligation by addressing his Essay on Satire to Dorset. Dorset was thrice one of the regents during the king's absence.[3]

In his old age he grew very fat, and, according to Swift, extremely dull. He died at Bath on 29 Jan. 1706, and was interred in the family vault at Withyham, Sussex.[3]

His 1st wife, Mary, widow of Charles Berkeley, earl of Falmouth, having died without issue, he married in 1685 Mary, daughter of James Compton, 3rd earl of Northampton, celebrated alike for beauty and understanding. His 2nd wife was a lady of the bedchamber to Queen Mary; she died on 6 Aug. 1691.[3]

The earl married, 3rdly, on 27 Aug. 1704, Anne (Roche), a "woman of obscure connections."[3]

His only son, Lionel Cranfield Sackville, succeeded to the title, and afterwards became 1st Duke of Dorset.[3]

Walpole wrote of Dorset with discernment that he was the finest gentleman of the voluptuous court of Charles II. "He had as much wit as his master, or his contemporaries Buckingham and Rochester, without the royal want of feeling, the duke's want of principle, or the earl's want of thought" (Noble Authors, ii. 96).[3]

Despite the excesses of his early life, and the probably malicious innuendoes of the Earl of Mulgrave in his Essay upon Satyr, Sackville's character was not unamiable. His munificence to men of letters speaks for itself, and tempts us to accept in the main the favourable estimate of Prior, overcolored as it is by the writer's propensity to elegant compliment, his confessed obligations to Dorset, and its occurrence in a dedication to his son.[3]


Prior's eulogiums on Dorset's native strength of understanding, though it is impossible that they should be entirely confirmed, are in no way contradicted by the few occasional poems which are all that he has left us. Not one of them is destitute of merit, and some are admirable as "the effusions of a man of wit" (in Johnson's word's), "gay, vigorous, and airy." "To all you Ladies" is an admitted masterpiece; and the literary application of the Shakespearian phrase "alacrity in sinking" comes from the satirical epistle to the Hon. Edward Howard.[4]

Dorset's poems, together with those of Sir Charles Sedley, appeared in A New Miscellany in 1701, and in vol. i. of The Works of the most celebrated Minor Poets in 1749. They are included in the collection of the Poets by Johnson, Anderson, Chalmers, and Sanford.[4]

Critical introductionEdit

by Edmund Gosse

It is recorded of Lord Dorset that he refused all offers of political preferment in early life that he might give his mind more thoroughly to study. He was the friend and patron of almost all the poets from Waller to Pope; Dryden adored him in one generation, and Prior in the next: nor was the courtesy that produced this affection mere idle complaisance, for no one was more fierce than he in denouncing mediocrity and literary pretension. Of all the poetical noblemen of the Restoration, Lord Dorset alone reached old age, yet with all these opportunities and all this bias towards the art, the actual verse he has left behind him is miserably small. A splendid piece of society verse, a few songs, some extremely foul and violent satires, these are all that have survived to justify in the eyes of posterity the boundless reputation of Lord Dorset.

The famous song was written in 1665, when the author, at the age of twenty-eight, had volunteered under the Duke of York in the first Dutch war. It was composed at sea the night before the critical engagement in which the Dutch admiral Opdam was blown up, and thirty ships destroyed or taken. It may be considered as inaugurating the epoch of vers-de-société, as it has flourished from Prior down to Austin Dobson.[5]


Dorset received the Garter in 1691.[3]

His poems are included in Anderson's and other collections of the British poets.

8 of Sackville's pieces are included in Musa Proterva, 1889, edited by A.H. Bullen, who calls him one of the lightest and happiest of the Restoration lyrists.[4]

His "Song (To all you ladies now at land)" was included in the Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900.[6]

An anonymous portrait of Dorset belonged in 1867 to the Countess De la Warr 9cfr. Cat. Second Loan Exhib. No. 110).[3]



  • Poetical Works. Edinburgh: Mundell, 1793.
  • Poems of the Earl of Dorset. London: Johnson, 1810.
  • Poems of Charles Sackville, sixth Earl of Dorset (edited by Brice Harris). New York: Garland, 1979.


  • The Works of the Most Celebrated Minor Poets: Volume the first. London: F. Cogan, 1749.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[7]

Sea Song

Sea Song

See alsoEdit


  • PD-icon.svg Garnett, Richard (1897) "Sackville, Charles (1638-1706)" in Lee, Sidney Dictionary of National Biography 50 London: Smith, Elder, pp. 86-88 


  1. John William Cousin, "Dorset, Charles Sackville, 6th Earl of," A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature, 1910, 119. Web, Jan. 5, 2018.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Garnett, 86.
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 Garnett, 87.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Garnett, 88.
  5. from Edmund W. Gosse, "Critical Introduction: Charles Sackville, Earl of Dorset (1638–1706)," The English Poets: Selections with critical introductions (edited by Thomas Humphry Ward). New York & London: Macmillan, 1880-1918. Web, Feb. 16, 2016.
  6. "Song (To all you ladies now at land", Oxford Book of English Verse 1250-1900 (edited by Arthur Quiller-Couch). Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1919)., Web, May 4, 2012.
  7. Search results = au:Charles Sackville Dorset, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Feb. 16, 2016.

External linksEdit

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