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The Duke of Dorset
John Frederick Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset (24 March 1745–19 July 1799) was the only son of Lord John Philip Sackville, second son of Lionel Sackville, 1st Duke of Dorset. He succeeded to the dukedom in 1769 on the death of his uncle, Charles Sackville, 2nd Duke of Dorset.

He is best remembered for his love of cricket. He was both a good player and an important patron, but his interest was sharpened by gambling, cricket being a major attraction for gamblers throughout the 18th century. His other sporting interests included billiards and tennis, while he acquired a reputation as a womaniser.


The young John Sackville was schooled at Westminstermarker, where he first became a noted proponent of cricket. He went on to join Hambledon Cricket Club, based in Hambledon, Hampshiremarker, which was the leading cricket club of the day. He was joined there by Sir Horatio Mann, a Carthusianmarker, and Lord Tankerville of Etonmarker and Surrey, who was his keenest rival.

Dorset gained a reputation as a keen competitor. The Morning Post in 1773 wrote: "The Duke...having run a considerable number of notches from off strokes, the opposing fielders very unpolitely swarmed round his bat so close as to impede his making a full stroke; his Grace gently expostulated with them on this unfair mode, and pointed out their danger, which having no effect, he, with proper spirit made full play at a ball and in so doing brought one of the gentlemen to the ground" .

In the same year, Dorset presented the Vine Cricket Groundmarker, at Knolemarker, Sevenoaksmarker, Kentmarker to the town, at a peppercorn rent, literally. It is one of the oldest cricket grounds in England. The first nationally reported cricket match had taken place here in the 1734 season when "The Gentlemen of Kent" beat "The Gentlemen of Sussex". Sevenoaks Town Council still has the Vine Cricket Club, though the rent doubled to two peppercorns with the pavilion was built in the 19th century. They must also pay the Lord Sackville (if asked) one cricket ball on 21 July each year.

In 1775 a full-scale riot broke out at the Artillery Groundmarker when Dorset's side was not performing too well. In 1782 the Morning Chronicle noted that "His Grace is one of the few noblemen who endeavour to combine the elegance of modern luxury with the more manly sports of the old English times".

Dorset's patronage of cricket was expensive — the Whitehall Evening Post in 1783 noted that the cost to Dorset of maintaining his team, before bets, was £1,000 a year. This was a lot, but less than the amounts some of his contemporaries were spending on racing. The report went to say that Dorset was unrivalled (among noblemen) "at cricket, tennis and billiards" .

Ambassador to France

In 1784 Dorset moved to Parismarker, surprising his critics with newfound public dedication, to serve as ambassador to Francemarker. He continued to promote cricket amongst the locals and British expatriates. In 1786 The Times reported on a cricket match played by some English gentlemen in the Champs-Elyséesmarker:

His Grace of Dorset was, as usual, the most distinguished for skill and activity. The French, however, cannot imitate us in such vigorous exertions of the body, so that we seldom see them enter the lists.

The following year The Times noted that horse-racing was losing popularity in France, with cricket, on Dorset's recommendation, taking its place. In 1789 Dorset planned what might have become the first international cricket tour. His touring side, which included William Yalden, got as far as congregating on 10 August at Dovermarker. But the French Revolution meant that they never got to France, thereby making his tour the first international cricket tour to be cancelled for political reasons. Just as the American Civil War 80 or so years later destroyed the prospect of cricket becoming popular there, so the French Revolution destroyed any footholds the game had in France.

Back in England, Dorset became one of the first members of the Marylebone Cricket Club; his public life continued in the post of Steward of the Royal Household — in which capacity his main role was to keep an eye on the dissolute Prince of Wales, the future George IV.

Personal life

Dorset's best-known mistress was Venetian ballerina Giovanna Zanerini, who was the principal ballerina at the King's Theatre, Haymarketmarker, and used the stage name Giovanna Baccelli. Dorset commissioned a painting of her from Thomas Gainsborough, which is reckoned to be one of Gainsborough's later masterpieces.

The Duke was also known for his affair with the Countess of Derby, born Lady Elizabeth Hamilton, daughter of the 6th Duke of Hamilton and the beauty Elizabeth Gunning. Since her husband refused to divorce her, her child with Dorset was born illegitimate.

In 1790 Dorset married Arabella Diana Cope. They had one son together, George John Frederick, who was born on 15 November 1793. George John Frederick became the 4th Duke of Dorset on his father's death at the family seat, Knole Housemarker, by Sevenoaksmarker, Kentmarker in 1799. Knole was then inherited by his sister the Countess De La Warr, who was created Baroness Buckhurst in her own right (a title later inherited by a younger son who is ancestor of the present Earl). Another line stemming from this lady is that of the Barons Sackville. The 3rd Baron Sackville was father of the writer Vita Sackville-West who created a wonderful garden at Sissinghurstmarker. Knole House and Sissinghurst have both been given to the National Trust.


  1. G B Buckley, Fresh Light on 18th Century Cricket, Cotterell, 1935
  2. G B Buckley, Fresh Light on Pre-Victorian Cricket, Cotterell, 1937

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