Tuesday 3 December 2013

The Eccentric Days of Lord John Sackville

Lord John Sackville (John Philip Sackville, London, England, 22nd June 1713 - Lake Geneva, Switzerland, 3rd December 1765)

We've met quite a few political movers and shakers so far but not too many sporting stars of the Georgian era. Today's post is a man who had a foot in both of those camps as we say howzat to the rakish, cricketing Member of Parliament for Tamworth, Lord John Sackville.

Knole House, the Sackville family seat
Knole House, the Sackville family seat

Sackville was born the son of Elizabeth Colyear and career politician Lionel Sackville, 1st Duke of Dorset. Educated at Westminster and raised to follow his father into politics, the young man developed an abiding love of cricket and in 1734 enjoyed two notable achievements. Firstly he was elected as Member of Parliament for Tamworth and secondly, he captained the Kent team against Sussex at Sevenoaks. 

Sackville's cricket career lasted for almost a decade and he became an iconic figure in Kent, captaining his side to numerous victories including one against an All-England team, where Kent triumphed with just one wicket to spare. We cannot know whether his cricketing or political victories which was the greater source of pride but a quick straw poll of the cricketers in my circle has confirmed that winning political office is no contest for opening the batting in a county match.

Sackville's personal life was as eventful as his cricket career and he was known as a rake of highly questionable reputation, indulging his love for girls and gambling at every opportunity. Perhaps inevitably, this somewhat knockabout approach eventually resulted in a child and when Lady Frances Leveson-Gower , daughter of Earl Gower, gave birth to Sackville's son in 1744, the couple were married. The scandal caused a considerable rift between the bride and groom and their families, resulting in a drastic cut to Sackville's allowance.

However, the scandalous sportsman had a valuable ally in Frederick, Prince of Wales. The prince installed his friend as Lord of the Bedchamber and proved himself more than generous, topping up Sackville's salary to ensure that he suffered no embarrassment from the cut to his income.

For all his prowess at the wicket, Sackville proved a less than dynamic politician and prevaricated in the Chamber, happy to take his lead from his brother-in-law, Viscount Weymouth. Sackville's political career did not fly as high as his father's, outside interests and a mercurial personality too often distracting him from the business of government. In fact, Sackville was to prove more than eccentric and in his early 30s was confined in a private asylum, travelling to Lausanne for the good of his health upon his release. He remained in Switzerland until the end of his life and became a curious figure amongst the English community there, dishevelled and troubled yet always ready with a story or anecdote.

As the years wore on Sackville's mental and physical health deteriorated still further, leading some who knew him to speculate that he had become insane. He never returned to England and died at the age of 52, leaving his son to follow in his rakish, cricketing footsteps.

Do gad across to this follow up post for more about Sackville!


Anonymous said...

very interesting post ♥

Catherine Curzon said...

Thank you, sir!