Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry: British, Irish, & Commonwealth Poets)
Sir Thomas Sackville, first earl of Dorset, was born in 1536 into a noble family. One ancestor had come to England with William the Conqueror, and a more recent ancestor was also a forebear of Queen Elizabeth. Sackville received, in all probability, a thorough and progressive education—for his father was a friend of the humanist educational reformer Roger Ascham, tutor to Queen Elizabeth and author of The Scholemaster (1570, which Ascham in fact wrote at Sackville’s father’s request for the poet’s son). He attended Oxford University and then the Inner Temple, one of the Inns of Court, where, as a law student, he produced Gorboduc in 1561. Sometime between 1554 and 1559, when the first edition of A Mirror for Magistrates came out, Sackville had completed his two pieces for that work, although they were not included until the second edition, 1563. The poet’s writings were encouraged by his humanistic studies in letters, complemented by an exposure at one of the Inns of Court to affairs and important personages. Sackville’s travels to Rome and France (1563-1566), during which he was given the first of many diplomatic assignments by the Queen, then filled out the traditional education of an Elizabethan gentleman.
In his formal education and travels, as in his writings, Sackville always aimed at a public career. In 1558, he first sat as a member of parliament, at twenty-two years of age. On his father’s death in 1566,...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
The overused term “Renaissance man” once had specific validity, signifying the zeal, energy, and virtu of an era as well as designating those scholars, statesmen, and poets of one of histories most glorious and adventuresome periods, especially in Great Britain. Virtu represented a concept of doing many things well, of strength and excellence and of an appreciation for the arts equally matched by martial capabilities. What today is thought of as “virtue” was, at its root meaning, that for which the complete courtier strove. Such was the Englishman Thomas Sackville, first earl of Dorset.
Born in 1536, Sackville was related to Queen Elizabeth I—for whom he served in national affairs for most his life—through Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn, a cousin to Sackville’s father, Sir Richard. It seems appropriate that Thomas, whose life represented the Renaissance spirit of virtu, would come into a world associated with political intrigues and the vagaries of fame and infamy at court by being related by blood to the mother of England’s greatest queen. When Boleyn was condemned to be executed by Henry VIII, Sackville, according to some sources, announced her death sentence to Mary, Queen of Scots, cousin and perceived threat to Queen Elizabeth. In further service to the queen, he negotiated the potential—though unrealized—marriage of Elizabeth to the duke of Anjou of France and traveled to France and Italy on...
(The entire section is 1347 words.)