John Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset

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The Duke of Dorset

John Frederick Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset KG (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 was the British Ambassador to France between 1783 and 1789 in the lead up to the French Revolution.

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 Westminster, where he first became a noted proponent of cricket. He went on to join Hambledon Cricket Club, based in Hambledon, Hampshire, which was the leading cricket club of the day. He was joined there by Sir Horatio Mann, a Carthusian, and Lord Tankerville of Eton 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".[1]

In the same year, Dorset presented the Vine Cricket Ground, at Knole, Sevenoaks, Kent, 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 after 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 Ground 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".[2]

Ambassador to France[edit]

In 1784 Dorset moved to Paris, surprising his critics with newfound public dedication, to serve as ambassador to France. 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-Elysées:

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, William Bedster and Lumpy Stevens, got as far as congregating on 10 August at Dover. 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[edit]

Dorset was a notorious womanizer. His best-known and most enduring mistress was the Venetian ballerina Giovanna Zanerini (1753–1801), who was the principal ballerina at the King's Theatre, Haymarket, and used the stage name Giovanna Baccelli.[3] Dorset commissioned a painting of her in 1780–81 from Thomas Gainsborough, which is reckoned to be one of Gainsborough's later masterpieces. He also commissioned a painting by Joshua Reynolds and a sculpture showing her nude and prone on a divan and cushions; this is still to be found at Knole. When made Ambassador to France, Dorset even took her to Paris with him, and she danced at the Opera by invitation. (When he was made Knight of the Garter (KG), she wore the blue ribbon of the Garter while dancing)[4] Dorset and Giovanna had a son together: John Philip Sackville, R.N. (1779–1793), who was raised by his father at Paris and Knole after the couple parted in 1789.[5]

The Duke was also known for his affair (ca. 1777–1779) with the Countess of Derby, and briefly (ca. 1784) with Lady Elizabeth Foster, daughter of Frederick Hervey, 4th Earl of Bristol and mistress of William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire. The first affair was notable because it did not lead to a divorce. The Countess of Derby was born Lady Elizabeth Hamilton, the only daughter of the 6th Duke of Hamilton and the beauty Elizabeth Gunning.[6] However, the Earl of Derby refused to divorce his errant wife. This meant that Lady Derby was ostracized for the remainder of her life,[7] and Dorset soon lost interest and abandoned his lover. He was received back into society, and even received by his former mistress's betrayed husband Lord Derby!

Marriage and descendants[edit]

In 1790, after returning from France, Dorset married twenty-three-year-old Arabella Diana Cope (1767-1825), daughter and co-heiress of Sir Charles Cope, 2nd Baronet, and stepdaughter of Charles Jenkinson, 1st Earl of Liverpool.[8] They had one son together, George John Frederick, who was born on 15 November 1793, and two daughters, Lady Mary Sackville, born on 30 July 1792, and Lady Elizabeth Sackville, born on 11 August 1795. The Duke died 1799, aged 54, and left a life interest in his estates and free disposition thereof (in case of the death of their son) to his wife Arabella Diana. At his death, Arabella, Duchess of Dorset was thus a very wealthy heiress. (She remarried 1801 Charles Whitworth, who became 1st Earl of Whitworth, but had no further issue). From 1799 until her death in 1825, Arabella Duchess of Dorset (as she preferred to be known) controlled the Sackville estates and wealth; at her death, Knole went to her elder daughter the Countess of Plymouth, and Buckhurst and the Middlesex lands (of the Cranfield family) went to her younger daughter the Countess De La Warr.

Lady Mary Sackville married firstly Other Windsor, 6th Earl of Plymouth (1789-1833) on 5 August 1811 and secondly her first husband's stepfather William Amherst, 1st Earl Amherst on 25 May 1839. She died childless on 20 July 1864, leaving her estates to younger sons of her sister and their heirs male, following the remainder of the barony Buckhurst.

George John Frederick became the 4th Duke of Dorset on his father's death at the family seat, Knole House, by Sevenoaks, Kent, in 1799 aged 6. He spent the rest of his life under the legal and financial control of his mother and stepfather. The 4th Duke died in a riding accident in Ireland, aged 21. At his death, he had just become engaged to Lady Elizabeth Thynne (b. 1795), elder daughter of Thomas Thynne, 2nd Marquess of Bath. (She went on to marry October 1816 Lord Cawdor and have many children).

Knole was then inherited after Duchess Arabella's death (1825) by his elder sister Mary, Countess of Plymouth, whose second husband William Amherst, 1st Earl Amherst died at Knole in 1857. She died childless in 1864, and the estate passed to the Countess De La Warr, who was created Baroness Buckhurst in her own right (a title later inherited by a younger son Reginald who is ancestor of the present Earl De La Warr). Another line stemming from this lady is that of the Barons Sackville, a title created in compensation for losing the Buckhurst title. The 1st Baron Sackville inherited Knole, according to the will of Mary, Countess of Plymouth. (He died unmarried, as did his brother the 2nd Baron). Their nephew, the 3rd Baron Sackville, was father of the writer Vita Sackville-West who created a wonderful garden at Sissinghurst. Knole House, still lived in by the Sackville-West family, and Sissinghurst, the family home of Lord Carnock 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.
  3. ^ Giovanna Baccelli (1753-1801): Born Giovanna Francesca Antonia Giuseppe Zanerini. a.k.a. La Baccelli, Jannette.
  4. ^ Jeremy Black. British Diplomats and Diplomacy: 1688-1800 University of Exeter Press, 2001 - 244 pages p. 107
  5. ^ This illegitimate son himself fathered an illegitimate son Sackville Sackville who died without issue. Giovanna herself had a relationship with Henry Herbert, 10th Earl of Pembroke (d. 1794) until his death, and finally with a Mr. James Carey, with whom she remained until her death in 1801. This French blog claims that she married Carey, and that Dorset made her an annuity of 400 pounds.
  6. ^ The young Duke of Dorset, who had just inherited his title, had courted her in 1770 but failed to follow through to a betrothal. In fact, he left for France with his then-mistress Mrs Nancy Horton (Nancy Maynard), formerly mistress of the newly re-married Duke of Grafton. Her mother, now Duchess of Argyll, persuaded her to choose another suitor Edward Smith-Stanley, 12th Earl of Derby who would make a better husband. The couple who married in 1774 produced two children, a son and heir (b. 1775) and a daughter Charlotte (ca 1776-1805). By 1777, Dorset had returned from the Continent and the relationship was revived via Lady Derby's participation in the first women's cricket match. At this time, the Earl of Derby began courting the beautiful actress Eliza Farren (later his second wife in 1798), and perhaps this combined with Dorset's personal attractions convinced Lady Betty to succumb to Dorset. Her second daughter Elizabeth Henrietta (born ca 1778–1857) was popularly supposed to be fathered by Dorset; the Earl acknowledged the child, but Lady Derby slipped off to the up-and-coming resort Brighthelmstone which was conveniently near Knole. By 1779, Dorset and the pregnant Lady Derby eloped.
  7. ^ Georgian (18th century) social mores were less rigid than Regency or Victorian social mores. Only the Court and the most rigid families refused to receive women who had been divorced and had subsequently married respectably. By 1804, this was beginning to change, when the new Lady Holland was not received after she was divorced and remarried to her lover Lord Holland. However, fashionable men and a few ladies still visited Holland House.
  8. ^ By his first marriage 1769 to the Anglo-Indian heiress Amelia Watts, he was father of the Prime Minister Lord Liverpool. Her half-brother Charles Jenkinson, 3rd Earl of Liverpool (1784-1851)is the ancestor via his daughter Lady Selina Foljambe and her eldest son of the present Earl of Liverpool

Further reading[edit]



Political offices
Preceded by
The Viscount Falmouth
Captain of the Yeomen of the Guard
Succeeded by
The Earl of Cholmondeley
Preceded by
The Duke of Chandos
Lord Steward
Succeeded by
The Earl of Leicester
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
The Duke of Manchester
British Ambassador to France
Succeeded by
Earl Gower
Honorary titles
Preceded by
The Duke of Dorset
Lord Lieutenant of Kent
Succeeded by
The Earl of Romney
Peerage of Great Britain
Preceded by
Charles Sackville
Duke of Dorset
Succeeded by
George Sackville