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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