SACKVILLE, Thomas (1535/6-1608), of Buckhurst, nr. East Grinstead, Suss. and Sackville House (later Dorset House), Fleet Street, London.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. 1535/6, prob. 1st s. of Sir Richard Sackville by Winifred, da. of Sir John Brydges of London. educ. Sullington (?Lullington) g.s.; ?Hart Hall, Oxf., ?St. John’s, Camb.; I. Temple 1555, called; Camb. MA 1571; Oxf. incorp. 1592. m. Cecily (d.1615), da. of Sir John Baker, of London and Sissinghurst, Kent, 4s. inc. Robert 3da.; ?1s. illegit. suc. fa. Apr. 1566. Kntd. and cr. Baron of Buckhurst 8 June 1567; KG 1589; Earl of Dorset 1604.

Offices Held

J.p. Kent, Suss. from 1559; feodary, duchy of Lancaster lands in Suss. 1561; jt. ld. lt. Suss. 1569; commr. trial Duke of Norfolk 1572; ambassador to France 1571-2, 1591, to Netherlands 1587, 1598; trier of petitions in the Lords, Parlts. of 1572, 1584, 1586, 1589,1593, 1597; custos rot. Suss. c.1573-d.; PC 1586; commr. trial Mary Queen of Scots 1586; high steward, Winchester c.1590; chief butler, England 1590; jt. commr. of great seal Nov. 1591-May 1592; chancellor, Oxf. Univ. 1591; ld. treasurer 1599; ld. high steward for trial of the Earl of Essex Feb. 1601; jt. commr. for office of earl marshal 1601.1


Sackville was returned to Elizabeth’s first Parliament for his family’s local borough and in 1563 for Aylesbury, probably through the intervention of his relation Thomas Smythe I. He made no known contribution to the business of the House, and soon after the end of the 1563 session he went to France and Italy. At Rome he was first imprisoned, then received in audience by Pope Pius IV, an obscure episode open to conflicting interpretation. He was back in England early in 1566, when his departure for Vienna on government business was delayed by his father’s illness and death. He succeeded to estates in Essex, Kent, Oxfordshire, Sussex and Yorkshire, and was granted the reversion to Knole, though he had to wait nearly 40 years for possession. However, just over a year after his father’s death, after being knighted by the Duke of Norfolk in the Queen’s presence at Westminster, he was, on the same day, made a peer, the first of only two really new peerages to be granted in the reign, the other being Secretary Cecil’s four years later. Thenceforth Buckhurst was frequently a trier of petitions in the Lords, exercised parliamentary patronage at Arundel, Lewes and Steyning, and from his eponymous seat in Sussex he held sway as lord lieutenant, while remaining above all a courtier and diplomat. The most important of his embassies was the so-called ‘expostulatory mission’ to the Low Countries from March to July 1587, after Leicester’s return to England. Though close to Burghley, Buckhurst was not, it appears, against Leicester until, in the Netherlands, he saw the result of Leicester’s ‘might’, ‘malice’ and ‘intolerable errors’, as Buckhurst put it to the Queen. But this frankness now resulted in his own recall and banishment from court. He had still not been allowed back in February 1588, but Leicester’s death in the following September altered the balance of power: Buckhurst was restored to favour and soon afterwards made KG. It was he who signed the treaty of peace with Henri IV of France in 1591. In 1598 he joined Burghley in an unsuccessful attempt to achieve peace with Spain, and went again to the Netherlands to make a new treaty. There are frequent references of his entertainment of foreign ambassadors in England.

He was made lord treasurer by Elizabeth in May 1599 in succession to Burghley, and re-appointed by James I. The problems that were to ruin his two successors did not come to a head in Buckhurst’s time, and, created Earl of Dorset in 1604, his last years were devoted to this office, to the membership of the commission which finally signed the peace with Spain, and to Knole. He died on 19 Apr. 1608, and was buried at Withyham. The large bequests to his wife were

a true token and testimony of my unspeakable love, affection, estimation, and reverence, long since fixed and settled in my heart and soul towards her.

Members of his family were to have the rings he had been given by James I and the King of Spain, and his jewelled portrait of Queen Elizabeth. Provision was made to build a public granary at Lewes, with £2,000 to stock it when grain was scarce.

As a young man Sackville had some reputation as a poet. He received an honorary MA from Cambridge in 1571 and from Oxford 21 years later, after he had been made chancellor of the university in preference to the Earl of Essex.2

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: P. W. Hasler


  • 1. CP; DNB; C142/145/11; Vis. Suss. (Harl. Soc. lxxxix), 95; Harl. 1776, f. 48; DL41/23; SP12/59, f. 200 seq.; Somerville, Duchy, i. 619; Hants RO, Winchester 1st bk. of ordinances; Leycester Corresp. (Cam. Soc. xxvii), 364, 378; LJ, i. 703; ii. 62, 113, 145, 168, 191; CSP Dom. 1581-90, p. 702; Howell, State Trials, i. col. 1333; Nichols, Progresses Eliz. iii. 149-167.
  • 2. LJ, i. 703; ii. 62, 113, 145, 168, 191; CSP Rome, 1558-71, p. 163; CSP Span. 1558-67, p. 390; CPR, 1560-3, pp. 575-6; C142/145/11; Hasted, Kent, iii. 70-1; HMC Foljambe, 25; Leycester Corresp. (Cam. Soc. xxvii); N. M. Sutherland, Massacre of St. Bartholomew, 141, 159, 160; Motley, United Neths. (1860), p. 216 seq.; C. Wilson, Eliz and the Revolt of the Netherlands; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 318; I. Temple, Petyt ms 538/10, ff. 51-77; HMC Hatfield, iii. 136-7, 280, 283; PCC 1 Dorset. This biography was written before the appearance of C. H. Wilson. 'Thomas Sackville: an Elizabethan poet as citizen', Ten Studies in Anglo-Dutch Relations (Pbls. Sir Thomas Browne Inst. Leiden, gen. ser. v), 3-50.