SACKVILLE, Robert (c.1561-1609), of Bolebrook, Withyham, Suss. and Dorset House, Fleet Street, London

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press



1604 - 19 Apr. 1608

Family and Education

b. c.1561,1 1st s. of Thomas Sackville†, 1st earl of Dorset, ld. treas. 1599-1608, and Cecily, da. of Sir John Baker† of Sissinghurst, Kent.2 educ. privately; Hart Hall, Oxf. 1574, aged 15, BA (New Coll.) 1579, MA 1579; I. Temple 1580.3 m. (1) lic. 4 Feb. 1580, Margaret (d. 19 Aug. 1591), da. of Thomas Howard, 4th duke of Norfolk, 3s. (1 d.v.p.) 4da. (2 d.v.p.); (2) 4 Dec. 1592, Anne (d. 22 Sept. 1618), da. of Sir John Spencer† of Althorp, Northants., wid. of Sir William Stanley†, 3rd Lord Monteagle, and Henry Compton†, 1st Lord Compton, s.p. styled Lord Buckhurst 13 Mar. 1604; suc. fa. as 2nd earl of Dorset 19 Apr. 1608. d. 27 Feb. 1609.4

Offices Held

J.p. Suss. 1591-d., Kent 1592-d.;5 commr. grain, Suss. 1595;6 freeman, Southampton, Hants 1596;7 dep. lt. Suss. 1601-8,8 ld. lt. (jt.) 1608-d.;9 commr. sewers, Pevensey rape, Suss. 1602-5, Kent and Suss. 1602-4, Kent 1603, Suss. 1604, Essex 1607, Lea valley, Essex and Mdx. 1607;10 steward, honour of Eagle, Suss. 1608-d.11

Member, High Commission, Canterbury prov. 1601-at least 1605;12 commr. Union with Scotland 1604.13


The Sackvilles, originally from Sauqueville in Normandy, acquired Buckhurst in the parish of Withyham in East Sussex in the twelfth century, and first produced a knight of the shire in 1361.14 It was Sackville’s grandfather, Sir Richard†, who brought them to national prominence. A cousin of Anne Boleyn, Sir Richard, as chancellor of the Court of Augmentations, was responsible for administering the former monastic estates, and in the process acquired great wealth and the sobriquet ‘fill-sack’. He was appointed a privy councillor by Elizabeth.15

Sackville’s father, ennobled in 1567, became lord treasurer in 1599, and was for many years the most powerful magnate in Sussex, although from the turn of the century his principal residence was at Knole in Kent.16 Sackville himself entered Parliament for Sussex in 1584, and was re-elected for the county to every Parliament from 1593 to his death. He held a patent for the export of artillery, which was perhaps unsurprising as he was belonged to a family with strong interests in the Wealden iron industry, and invested in at least one mercantile or privateering venture in the Mediterranean.17 The Kentish antiquarian, Thomas Milles, described him as ‘a gentleman of singular learning in many sciences and languages’.18

Returned for the fifth time for Sussex in 1604, Sackville was appointed to 22 committees, 16 of them in the first session, but made no recorded speeches. His father was elevated to the earldom of Dorset shortly before the session started, and consequently Sackville was usually referred to in the parliamentary records by the courtesy title, Lord Buckhurst. On 23 Mar. he was appointed to the committees established to consider the grievances raised by Sir Robert Wroth I and Sir Edward Montagu. Four days later he was also among those ordered to consider the problems arising out of the invocation of privilege on behalf of Sir Thomas Shirley I.19 On 2 Apr. he was named to the committee to consider the bills for the restitution of the earls of Arundel, Essex and Southampton, but he was not subsequently appointed to examine a similar measure in favour of his former brother-in-law, Lord William Howard, despite the fact that this bill, which was committed on 15 May, cancelled the effect on his children of their maternal grandfather’s attainder.20 His interest in the trade explains why he was first named to consider a bill to prevent the export of ordnance on 12 April.21

Having been appointed to the High Commission three years earlier, Sackville was an obvious choice for the committee on religion named on 16 April.22 His first wife and his brother Thomas were Catholics, but Sackville himself conformed. However, he may have been apprehensive of the reformist intentions of some of his fellow Protestants. Certainly the Gunpowder plotter Francis Tresham subsequently reported a conversation between Sackville and a Sussex recusant that seems to have taken place in the aftermath of 1604 session. The recusant ‘marvelled that such severe laws were in making against recusants’, and stated that ‘as you punish us so the puritans will in time grow to punish you’. At this Sackville allegedly replied that he had heard ‘some bold speeches in the Parliament threatening such events’.23

On 14 Apr. Sackville was appointed to attend the conference with the Lords on the Union with Scotland, and the same day was among those instructed to carry messages to the Lords about the same subject. He delivered further messages about the Union on 16th and 19 April. On 4 May he was appointed to confer with the Lords about drafting the bill for the Union commission and he was one of the commissioners nominated by the Commons on 12 May.24

Sackville was the first named to consider a bill for the preservation of fish fry on 14 May and eight days later he was appointed to attend the conference with the Lords on wardship.25 On 1 June those who had been instructed to attend the conference were ordered to prepare the Commons’ Form of Apology and Satisfaction. Sackville’s son, Sir Edward*, who was then only 14, would later refer to the Apology when a Member of the Commons himself. He may have heard of this document from his father, which perhaps indicates that Sackville played some part in its drafting.26 On 15 June Sackville acted as teller concerning a bill to revive the Elizabethan Statute of Accountants, which empowered the Crown to recover debts from its servants by extending their land. However, he and the other teller, Sir Edward Hoby, came to different totals and the division was taken again. Eventually it was agreed that a new bill should be drafted, but this fresh measure made no progress.27

During the second session Sackville was named to attend conferences with the Lords on the recusancy laws (6 Feb. 1606) and ecclesiastical grievances (11 April).28 His only legislative committee was for the revived bill for the preservation of fish fry, to which he was named on 3 Apr., along with two Sackville tenants, Sir Barnard Whetstone and (Sir) George Rivers.29 The diarist Robert Bowyer, then Dorset’s secretary, recorded that he accompanied Sackville to a meeting of the committee in the Exchequer chamber on 7 Apr., and then went back with him to the House, ‘where the committees were handling the matter of grievances’.30 Sackville was among those appointed to attend the king with the grievance petition on 14 May.31

Illness may have made Sackville less active in the third session. He attended the Union conference of 25 Nov. 1606, and was the first named to consider a bill intended to extend restrictions on the use of timber in the iron industry in East Sussex and on the border between Sussex and Kent (11 Mar. 1607). He was not named to the committee for the bill to enable his elder son Richard, a minor, to join him in surrendering their reversion to the office of chief butler, which was committed on 28 Mar. 1607 and reported three days later by Sir Henry Hobart.32

In his will Sackville described his first wife as ‘a lady whilst she lived of as great virtue and worthiness ... as is possible for any man to wish or desire to be matched withal’.33 However, by 1607 his relations with his second wife had broken down and she complained to the Privy Council that Sackville refused to provide for her. In response he sought an official separation, subsequently arguing that she was ‘contumacious and worthy of great reprehension, ... rather an exercise of my patience, than a comfort’. Among other faults, he instanced her ‘false and slanderous railings against my loving father, myself, and the residue of my house, and the honourable house wherein I formerly matched’. She carried her own case to Court, forcing the king to keep to his bedchamber to avoid her importunities.34

Sackville attended the Twelfth Night festivities in 1608, reportedly losing £500 at play.35 Shortly afterwards he succeeded to the earldom of Dorset, and with the assistance of his father’s overseers, the earls of Salisbury (Robert Cecil†) and Suffolk, was appointed to his father’s local offices.36 At the end of the year he offered to surrender to his wife ‘all the living she brought to me’ if she would give up her claims to her jointure. If she refused, he would allow her half of what the property she had owned before the marriage had yielded, £800 a year, which he asserted ‘is as much as I received of her living ..., until by my own industry and chargeable suits in law, I advanced it to that which now it is’. With other allowances, this would give her £1,260 a year, more (he thought) than she had any right to expect, as she was ‘a dangerous example to encourage all shrews hereafter’.37

Sackville enjoyed his peerage for less than a year, and had no opportunity to take his seat in the House of Lords. After a ‘long sickness’ he drew up his will on 10 Feb. 1609 in the presence of his ‘faithful and dear friend’ Sir George Rivers, and of Richard Amherst* and William Twyneho*. The three witnesses were all remembered, and legacies were also left to Bowyer and ‘my honest servant Henry Bellingham*’. His wife was given only a life interest in her jewels and plate, with remainder to his stepson Sir Henry Compton*. His daughter was to receive a portion of £4,500 in all. Among lesser bequests to the poor, he entrusted to Rivers and Lord William Howard, his executors, the building and endowment of Sackville College at East Grinstead. Three days before his death his eldest son married celebrated Lady Anne Clifford, the niece of Francis Clifford*, apparently to frustrate the suits of the duke of Lennox and others for his wardship. Dorset died of the ‘distemper’ at his London house on 27 Feb., and was buried at Withyham with his ancestors and near his ‘first dearly beloved wife’. He requested that his funeral should not be that of a nobleman, as they were ‘only good for the heralds and drapers’. He had more regard for sculptors and stonemasons, ordering the expenditure of between £200 and £300 on a suitable memorial. His younger son, Sir Edward, sat for Sussex in 1621 before succeeding to the title on the death of his brother three years later.38

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Alan Davidson / Ben Coates


  • 1. Notes of Post Mortem Inquisitions taken in Suss. ed. E.W.T. Attree (Suss. Rec. Soc. xiv), 72.
  • 2. CP, iv. 422-3.
  • 3. R. Ascham, The Scholemaster or Plaine and Perfite way of Teachyng Children (1570), sig, B.ii.; Al. Ox.; PROB 11/113, f. 14; CITR, i. 303.
  • 4. CP, iv. 423; C.J. Phillips, Hist. Sackville Fam. i. 252.
  • 5. Cal. Assize Recs. Suss. Indictments, Eliz. ed. J.S. Cockburn, 242; Cal. Assize Recs. Kent Indictments Eliz. ed. J.S. Cockburn, 339; SP14/33, ff. 33, 61v.
  • 6. Harl. 703, f. 83.
  • 7. HMC 11th Rep. III, 22.
  • 8. APC, 1600-1, p. 400; SP14/33, f. 3v.
  • 9. Sainty, Lords Lieutenants, 35.
  • 10. C181/1, ff. 27v, 28, 57, 81, 90v, 95v, 96, 108v; 181/2, f. 30v, 50.
  • 11. Duchy of Lancaster Office-Holders ed. R. Somerville, 216.
  • 12. R.G. Usher, Rise and Fall of High Commission, 347, 357.
  • 13. SR, v. 1019.
  • 14. Oxford DNB sub Sackville Fam.
  • 15. Ibid. sub Sackville, Sir Richard.
  • 16. CP, iv. 422-3; A. Fletcher, County Community in Peace and War, 23.
  • 17. H. Cleere and D. Crossley, Iron Industry of the Weald, 149-50, 172; CSP Dom. 1601-3, p. 151.
  • 18. T. Milles, Catalogue of Honour or Tresury of True Nobility (1610), p. 414.
  • 19. CJ, i. 151a, 151b, 155a.
  • 20. Ibid. 162a, 211a; HLRO, HL/PO/PB/1/1603/1J1n39.
  • 21. CJ, i. 169b.
  • 22. Ibid. 173a.
  • 23. Phillips, i. 243; SP14/8/126.
  • 24. CJ, i. 172a, 173b, 178b, 199a, 208b.
  • 25. Ibid. 209a, 222a.
  • 26. Ibid. 230b, 665b.
  • 27. Ibid. 240a.
  • 28. Ibid. 263a, 296b.
  • 29. Ibid. 292b.
  • 30. Bowyer Diary, 106.
  • 31. CJ, i. 309a.
  • 32. HLRO, HL/PO/PB/1/1606/4J1n17; CJ, i. 356a, 351b, 357b.
  • 33. PROB 11/113, f. 181v.
  • 34. SP14/38/65; HMC Hatfield, xix. 341, 361, 364.
  • 35. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 253.
  • 36. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 428.
  • 37. SP14/38/65.
  • 38. PROB 11/113, ff. 181v-5 (there is another copy of the will in PROB 11/114, ff. 2-5); Chamberlain Letters, i. 287; Phillips, i. 249.