Unfit to Serve’: Honour, Masculinity and the Fate of Lord George Sackville


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Unfit to Serve’: Honour, Masculinity and the Fate

of Lord George Sackville

‘It is an opinion almost universally received amongst the vulgar, that every man who discovers any symptoms of timidity in an engagement has a turn to the most odious and unmanly vices’.1 Confronting the pride and prejudice that informs this claim, this essay explores the role played by competing and sometimes new definitions of masculinity in the trials of Lord George Sackville. Sackville’s troubles arose because he had been the commander of the allied cavalry at the Battle of Minden, a role in which he signally failed to distinguish himself. At the climax of the battle, the cavalry squadrons under his command appeared reluctant to execute an order to advance. When the cavalry were finally put in motion it was with painful slowness that they advanced. By the time they arrived on the field the infantry who had required their support no longer needed it. The crisis had passed and a great victory gained while Sackville dressed his lines. Sackville’s commanding officer, Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick, even as he dispatched news of his success, made clear his disgust at his subordinate’s waywardness comparing him unfavourably with his peers and speculating vaguely about what might have been achieved had the cavalry arrived in better time. Sackville was thus disgraced. However his reputation as the ‘Coward of Minden’ is unfair, at least in degree, as Piers Mackesy has endeavoured to show. His orders were by no means clear, nor were they delivered in a manner likely to resolve their ambiguity. Equally the cavalry’s slow advance, tedious and fussy as it was, was not without justification.2 Alarmed and angered by what had been alleged, Sackville sought to build a defence, first in letters of vindication and then by demanding a court martial which, despite the possibility of a death sentence, remained the best way to clear his name. His trial was the event of 1760 eclipsing several other capital trials and becoming, in turn, the occasion for a vicious, often inventive pamphlet war. Throughout his ordeal Sackville sought to defend himself not just as a commander who had been given orders too imprecise to follow, but as a gentleman whose honour ought not to be impugned without good cause. It was therefore a bitter blow when the jury passed a sentence which deemed him ‘unfit to serve his Majesty in any military capacity whatsoever’.

Although the minutiae of the legal process is compelling in its recreation of a moment of military confusion, what is striking about the trial and subsequent pamphlet war is the viciousness with which differing ideas of masculinity were brought to bear on a single moment. It is worth accepting here that ‘masculinity’ was not a term much used in the eighteenth century appearing mostly in grammatical and botanical manuals. Nonetheless the term captures the combination of gendered norms which were, by the third quarter of the century, beginning to combine into a prescriptive account of social and sexual behaviour. The widespread acceptance of the so-called ‘two sex’ anatomical model at the beginning of the century appears to have created a pressure to define gender roles more prescriptively. Men were subjected to new calls to conform to appropriate styles of manliness.3 Complaints about delinquent men, men who were too soft, too interested in their dress or the pleasures of fashionable life (including the pursuit of women) rose markedly by the mid century. When Mary Davys’ novel The Accomplish’d Rake; or, the Modern Fine Gentleman was re-printed in the 1750s it was preceded by a new dedication addressed to ‘the Fribbles of Great Britain’. Davys offers mock praise to her audience, commending their habit of elegantly ‘drawing Gold Snuff-boxes instead of Daggers, and writing Billet-doux instead of Challenges’. She even goes so far as to suggest that the ‘soft Nonsense of a Fribble’ is preferable to the ‘Masculine Conversation of Man of Sense’.4 Davys’s adjectival and normative use of ‘masculine’ sharpens her sense that fribbles, a breed she regards as all too commonplace, represent a deviation from an imagined norm. For the most part complainants like Davys wished to return men to a mode which, while it enabled them to behave acceptably in the presence of women, removed them from the taint of effeminacy. Homosexuality was not cited as a particular problem, though prejudices were becoming more clearly defined, as Randolph Trumbach has argued.5

The military and political situation of the Seven Years’ War intensified these anxieties making masculinity a central concern. John Brewer, Linda Colley and Kathleen Wilson have drawn attention to the ever more emphatic demands to re-masculinise the public sphere which characterises politics in the second half of the century. Although this movement only reached its full force during the American and French wars, its pressures were felt strongly before, especially during the Wilkesite agitation.6 Wilson identifies a new and largely middle-class imperial politics, observable from the 1750s onwards, whose predominant mode relied upon repeated ‘injunctions to “manliness” aimed a countering alleged aristocratic, degenerate softness by requiring an assertive, forceful, disciplined and powerful subject to predominate in the public realm’.7 This rhetoric disavowed women and indeed much of the population, but more radically demanded resistance to the menaces of contemporary luxury from a bourgeois public sphere convinced of the degeneracy of the upper classes. The proximity of this general formulation to John Brown’s much quoted assertion that Britain had succumbed to a ‘vain, luxurious, and selfish EFFEMINACY’ will be evident to most scholars of the period.8 Even had Sackville not failed at Minden, he might have fallen foul of these injunctions. Unlike his convivial second in command, the Marquis of Granby, Lord George was not a popular figure, nor did he accommodate himself easily to the new ideal of the military man as man of refined feelings – a role that Granby assumed easily, as did, to grander effect, the fallen General Wolfe.9 Sackville was always an awkward figure in the increasingly hetero-normative regions of eighteenth-century politeness, nor was his widely trusted in the homosocial sphere of the military. Aspersions against his character, especially insinuations of same-sex liaisons, ensured that he fell short of injunctions to manliness.10 That the disputed orders were given to an officer of noble birth (Sackville’s father was the Duke of Dorset) serving under a German commander in a war not always fully supported in Britain added to the tension. There were then several pressures coming to bear on a single debate: British involvement in a European war; British troops under German leadership; aristocratic manners and their association with luxury; and Sackville’s own equivocal character. Sackville’s tragedy, if that it was it was, was to become the figure through which these complicated anxieties could be expressed and mediated.



Sackville’s troubles began well before sentence was passed upon him. Even amidst texts celebrating Minden, there were hints that he had been less than courageous.11 Sackville was quick to recognise the extent of his exposure. On the day after the battle he wrote to Colonel Fitzroy to see if he could limit the nature of the case against him. Sackville was at pains to point out that the orders he had been given had been ambiguous and seemed to ignore the terrain upon which the cavalry were to operate. Fitzroy’s reply was noticeably unhelpful. He refused to vindicate Sackville; though he accepted that the situation had been confused. Sackville nonetheless published the correspondence (though he would later deny his involvement).12 It is a rather dry text, the only flourish comes when Sackville insists that it is ‘impossible to sit silent under such Reproach’ as that implied by Prince Ferdinand’s dispatch. As pressure upon him mounted Sackville published A Short Address from Lord George Sackville to the Public. The main aim of a Short Address was to assure the public that Sackville would make every effort to ‘prevent the ruin of my character’.13 Both texts were confined to specific points. He disputed little beyond the micro-narratives of the orders and the advance of the cavalry towards the plain of Minden. If a strategy can be detected here it is that Sackville sought a military trial, trusting to a combination of detailed explication and faith in his honour. Throughout the controversy Sackville and his supporters offered a deliberately forensic approach, patiently reconstructing the events of the battle, especially the fateful orders. Care was taken to show both their ambiguity and his efforts to resolve that uncertainty. Hints might be made that a deeper cause for the confusion lay in the nature of a combined Anglo-German operation, and especially, in the German command of that operation, but this was kept to a minimum. Sackville did not wish to question the conduct of the war, or risk the charge of disputing George II’s European policy. Where Sackville was more assertive was on the question of his honour. On most occasions Sackville claimed that his that honour was a property or function of his character, a fixed identity which he partly understood as inherited and akin to pedigree, and partly the residue of his past actions, the credit, in effect that he had built up through years of dedicated service. Critically Sackville had to make this case in an arena crowded with alternative accounts of his personality, often supported by (or in the service of) entirely different accounts of public and political entitlement.

In the wake of Minden discussion of Sackville’s character was extensive, and scores of essays, poems and squibs produced. Some of these pamphlets were pro-Sackville (and there is some evidence that they were sponsored by him or his associates); most were hostile. The controversy placed considerable demands on readers who were required to shift and evaluate different kinds of text, and to appreciate their relationship to one another. Many were written as responses; others acquired postscripts and other addendum which adjusted the polemic to respond to the latest turn of the debate. An indication of the nature of the journalism prompted by Sackville’s predicament can be gleaned by noticing the title of just one pamphlet, published by Griffiths in late 1759: Farther Animadversions on the Conduct of a Late Noble Commander promised to contain Reply to a Pamphlet, intitled, An Answer to a Letter to a Late Noble Commander, &c. To which is Annexed an Answer to a Pamphlet, intitled, Colonel Fitzroy’s Letter Considered,...by the Author of the Two Letters to a Late Noble Commander. The title page thus describes a location in the print culture of the period, marking out the text’s status partly as continuation and partly as refutation. Faced with such abundance (something which many contributors remark upon), one writer, styling himself a ‘Blacksmith’, was thoughtful enough to review some sixteen titles. Among the publications described are Letters to and from Sackville; but also to Granby; an examination of True Cause of a Certain General Officer’s Conduct and a poem, The Art of Preserving, which was addressed to Sackville as the ‘Confectioner in Chief’.14 It is a wide and varied array, one that seems beyond the grasp of an individual reader as it seems to require cross referencing and re-reading of a kind that could best occur in a coffee house. The condemnation of Lord Sackville clearly played a role in the formation of the newly aggressive bourgeois public sphere described by Wilson, but it also required the pre-existence of the material institutions of public opinion.

Although publishing activity was opportunistic as well as varied, it is possible to distinguish between the types of writing and the argument both sides produced. As has already been suggested Sackville and his supporters favoured a defense which was limited to the question of his orders and his honour. Their argument essentially was that Sackville’s failing was largely apparent and were guilt did lie, it arose merely from a mistake, indeed from an over-scrupulous attention to his orders. Sackville’s honour, signalised by his willingness to stand trial on these grounds, proved that his conduct, not his character had been remiss.15 His opponents, by contrast, had more scope and were able to deploy both more aggressive forms of satire and more intricate historical forms. Sackville’s assailants drew on Roman precedents, Juvenal and Tacitus most obviously. Though they did not eschew the details of the battle, or the allegedly confusing orders, they strove to read the story of Minden in two supporting ways. First, that Sackville’s conduct revealed his true character (an essentially Tacitean assumption) and, secondly, that his character was itself indicative of the wider delinquency of Britain, especially her most privileged sons. The pamphlet The Conduct of a Noble Lord Scrutinized, for example, overlooked the issue of whether Sackville’s orders had been confusing, focussing instead on the question of whether his conduct represented disobedience and, if so, whether a corrupt personality was the cause. Evidently it was; and in this vindictive spirit the pamphlet opined that an officer ‘who sollicits the command, and betrays, should if possible, suffer a twofold punishment; for he is an officer without resolution, conduct or knowledge, and a man without veracity; and if we may believe history, always an ignorant, assuming, officious, fribbling pretender’. The pamphlet’s gendered rhetoric suggested an unbreachable distinction between those animated rightly by the ‘spirit of a man’ and those for whom neither rank nor fortune could prevent a dereliction of both duty and personality.16 Sackville’s claims to honour were thus thrown aside, replaced by an account of an essentially failed or deviant character. Although pro-Sackville texts such as Seasonable Antidote against the Poison of Popular Censure complained that attacks on Sackville would prevent that necessary spirit of ‘emulation’ which had long fired the sons of the nobility to serve their country, they were usually overwhelmed by the unyielding vituperation of their opponents.17

Among the more pointed and persistent of those writers who joined the campaign against Sackville was the writer of the Farther Animadversions, who began his campaign with A Letter to a Late Noble Commander of the British Forces in Germany. The Letter merits attention because it locates its attack on Sackville more explicitly in the contemporary debates about masculinity than most pamphlets of the period – it is also a work that provoked angry responses from Sackville’s supporters. The move to make the debate gendered occurs early in the text, when the writer chooses to attack Sackville for wasting a terrific opportunity for personal and national glory:

No troops were ever animated with more distinguished Ardour. Commanders among the first rank of Nobility, Volunteers of Fashion and Fortune, all nursed in the downy Lap of Ease, forsook at once the Pomp of a Court, the Joys of new-wedded Love, with all the Pleasures of a luxurious Town; and crowded to the German Shore to experience Hardships, brave Dangers, and stand in the Front of Death.18

The passage rehearses a fairly familiar argument. Luxury is everywhere and has sunk masculinity into softness, here characterised as marriage and fashionable living. Happily, the men sent to Germany were, like the citizens of the ancient world, able to rise away from such depravity regaining, in the process, their masculine fortitude. The chance of not only victory but glory for British arms seemed high. However:

To your Country’s Detriment, and your own Dishonour, the Expectations of the Public are disappointed. We looked for a Commander, and we find a Commentator. We depended on an active Warrior, and we meet with an ideal Disputant: One, who, in the Field of Battle, debates upon Orders with all the Phlegm of an Academic, when he ought to execute them with all the Vigour and Intrepidity of a Hero.19

The pamphleteer is referring here to Sackville’s publication, which he affects to find of only ‘academic’ interest and which confirm the essential effeminacy of Sackville’s position. Sackville indeed is a close reader of texts, not a commander of men.20 What makes a true commander and how he can be judged is crucial to the Letter. For the most part the case is made negatively. What has made Lord George’s conduct so ‘shameful’ is his inactivity, especially when British soldiers were fighting and dying (the writer suggests that Sackville watched them die).21 The Letter made it clear that the public (not the King, strikingly) expected devotion from its officers, using the term to signify not merely obedience, but sacrifice. Good commanders, the argument runs, do not debate orders or allow doubt to intrude, but act regardless of the consequences. The rejection of any distinction between loyal service and a willingness to throw lives away is made emphatically, when the pamphleteer tells Sackville that: ‘you had nothing to lose – but your Honour: For a Soldier’s Life cannot be properly called his own’.22

We should pay attention to the precise terms in which the debate is conducted here, and how is diverges from Sackville’s own. The language of honour provided the vocabulary through which upper-class males, especially army officers determined their identities; it was honour that gave a man character. As Markku Peltonen has argued, honour was defined along an antagonistic horizontal axis. It was self-reflexive in so far as it required a sense of the approval of other men (hence the pressure toward duelling). By the mid eighteenth century this potentially destructive arrangement had replaced the older notion of honour as the reward for service to the monarch (which Peltonen terms honour’s vertical axis).23 At his trial Sackville strove to articulate his honour along both axes; but also insisted that it was more obviously immanent within his person, and not, consequently something that could be questioned by others. The Letter anticipates and rejects that assumption. It is not for Sackville to assert his honour, but rather his to maintain by actions which fulfil public expectations. The emphasis on public expectations, rather the acceptance of his peers, removes honour from the echelons of the nobility, where it had been fostered, and into the more critical realm of public opinion. The writer’s Second Letter continued this argument, insisting that citizens have a right to judge even ‘Persons in exalted stations’. Having established this claim the writer moves to assault Sackville’s Letter to Colonel Fitzroy and his Short Address.24 Sackville had tried to claim that not only were his orders confusing, but that when he sought their clarification he had acted from good intentions. The Second Letter dismisses this argument, asserting that it was not for Sackville to judge the orders, but to follow them. To make the point ancient precedents – real men like Caesar, Alexander and Pompey – are cited, all of whom risked their own lives. From this perspective it mattered little whether the orders were even executable; Sackville’s duty required him to act as he was ordered, not as he thought fit.25 Having established the nature of Sackville’s dereliction, what the two Letters claim, and Farther Animadversions would also elucidate, is that under pressure to advance towards the enemy Sackville simply buckled and the innate flaws of his personality became plain. He had always been on the verge of delinquency these texts imply, but it had taken Minden to confirm it. This had been understood first by those officers near him, such as Fitzroy, but was now evident to the public, as the court martial would undoubtedly confirm.26

Although the rhetoric of the Letters and other anti-Sackville texts is harsh and unforgiving, they nonetheless move between twin accounts of personality. The Letters assume that Sackville’s bad character was always present and only waiting for an opportunity to show itself. Other texts, however, argued that his poor character emerged only as consequence of emergency. By contrast those writing in Sackville’s defense tended to announce that his personality (signalised and literalised by the scars his body bears from earlier engagements) is unchanging and unchanged in its nature.27 The clash between different accounts both of Sackville and the nature of character itself is most evident at his court martial. The trial began in March 1760 when Sackville was formally charged with disobeying orders. This was a broad charge, but one containing subordinate accusations of reluctance, tardiness and ultimately refusal. Specifically, the court investigated Sackville’s conduct in the period immediately prior to the battle; the time and place of his arrival at his station on the morning of the battle (it was suggested he had been late); but most seriously witnesses were asked to describe Sackville’s reaction to the order to advance the cavalry of the right wing. The speed of the cavalry’s advance and the question of whether they could ever have assisted the infantry were also investigated.28 It was not these details which attracted the attention of Thomas Gray, who wrote to a friend that:

Ld G:S: proceeds in his defense. People wonder at (& some there that celebrate) his dexterity, his easy elocution and unembarrassed manner. He told Gen: Cholmondley, one of his Judges, who was asking a Witness some Question, that it was such a question as no Gentleman, or Man of honour, would put, & it was one of his misfortunes, to have him among his Judges, upon which some Persons gave a loud Clap. But I do not find that the court either committed or reprimanded them. Ld Albemarle only contented himself with saying, he was sure, that those Men could be neither Gentlemen, nor Men of Honour.29

Gray’s commentary reveals Sackville’s efforts to assert his honour as a property inherent in his own character, but also his efforts to insist on honourable dealing as something that was required from the court itself. Gray’s account of Sackville's supporters clapping, alongside responses from other members of the court, reveals how this claim was supported or resisted by different parties present at the trial. What all participants seem to share (Gray included) is the notion that character was fixed, men were honourable or not, and the task was to discover which, or at least to notice when their behaviours disclosed their true natures.

This way of understanding the trial, and indeed Sackville’s predicament was however, challenged when Colonel Robert Sloper gave his evidence on the third day of the proceeding. Sloper, who held his commission in the Dragoon Guards, had been stationed ‘on the Right of the right Wing of the Cavalry’, was well-placed to observe Sackville when his orders were delivered to him first by Colonel Ligonier and finally, and most confusingly, by Colonel Fitzroy.30 Sloper was a hostile witness and rarely missed an opportunity to stress lapses in Sackville’s conduct. Sloper’s evidence suggested was a more complex sense of Sackville’s failure, not because the battle revealed his true nature, but because it revealed that personality was arguably more mutable and required much closer reading. Sloper’s most devastating contribution was the account he gave of Sackville’s receipt of his orders. Sloper recollected urging Ligonier: ‘For God’s Sake, Sir, repeat your orders to that Man…that he may not pretend not to understand them…but you see what condition he is in’. Asked to clarify what he meant, Sloper reflected that ‘Lord George Sackville was alarmed to a very great degree’, adding that when ordered to advance ‘he seemed in the utmost confusion’.31 These short sentences recorded in the official Proceedings do scant justice to the explosive nature of Sloper’s charge; he was alleging that Sackville had suffered some calamity of mind: something he glossed as a ‘condition’. On this account Sackville was unmanned by the pressures of battle. Sloper’s testimony went beyond the question of disobedience transforming the trial into a question of Sackville’s shifting personality. The Proceedings omitted Sackville’s outraged reaction to Sloper’s claims, however, the more sympathetic Trial of the Right Honourable Lord George Sackville reported Sackville’s horror: ‘This sort of attack, I never hear before, from any gentleman whatever, excepting from the private insinuations of this gentleman’. Sackville’s words begin to make insinuations of their own (Sloper is an unmannerly gossip), but he was interrupted by the Earl of Albemarle, who objected to the breach of protocol occasioned by his complaint. Sackville was, however, undeterred and asserted himself again:

Lord G. Sackville. Your Lordship may imagine what I must feel upon such an occasion; and it is difficult not to express it instantly.

Lord Albemarle. I am very sensible of what your Lordship must feel, and sorry to interrupt; but the course of proceeding

Lord G. Sackville. I submit to the opinion of the Court, and must beg leave to suppose, for the present, that no such evidence has been given…and shall treat that gentleman…with the contempt he deserves.32

The feelings at issue are those of honour, feelings which Sloper’s evidence had besmirched. Sloper’s evidence was ambiguous in this respect. Honour, however defined was generally assumed to be the public manifestation of an essentially public personality. If the possession of honour was the basis for a public character, Sackville’s ‘condition’ was necessarily its obverse. In some respects Sloper’s account a different kind of character, or rather account of character, in which personality was a question of layers, both public and private. This was a more modern suggestion, one that would find further expression in a number of publications.33 Responding, seemingly sympathetically to Sackville’s plight was an Apologetical Oration. The Oration appeared to refute the notion that Sackville had been in a ‘strange condition’, but an expanded second edition speculated that his cowardice might be constitutional and hence meriting some compassion. Paddy Bullard has argued that the argument lies behind Sterne’s depiction of Uncle Toby in Tristram Shandy. More pressingly, the Oration exposed Sackville to even greater assault as it seemed to confirm his faulty personality, a personality that came increasingly to be seen as effeminate. The Oration was certainly answered in terms which accepted that a dubious private personality was the cause of Sackville’s inability to advance to glory.34

Crucial in this respect was the notion, so luxuriantly displayed by Uncle Toby, was that private character rather than public responsibility determined personality. Sloper’s evidence had certainly hinged on the revelation of a private moment, a revelation that Sackville had sought to contest. The author of Parallel between the Two Trials of Lord George Sackville was particularly exercised by this point. It was not obvious to him that Sloper could know what Sackville felt, and it was certainly improper for him to speculate.35 Other writers were less circumspect. The Consolatory Letter to a Noble Lord seized on Sloper’s evidence and turned it into a subject of mockery. Sloper, the writer suggested, had failed to appreciate how ‘COURAGE, and a soldier’s HONOUR waged war within your breast, against PRUDENCE, TENDERNESS, COMPASSION, HUMANITY, and a hundred other VIRTUES’.36 The effect of the bogus or misdirected generosity of texts like Apologetical Oration and the Consolatory Letter was to feminise Sackville, who is increasingly seen to possess the virtues and inner life of a kindly woman. That ‘feminine’ values of charity, benevolence and compassion were elevated to new and exalted status during the eighteenth century is a commonplace that requires no further elaboration here. However, what occurs in response to Sackville is a far more prejudicial ‘feminisation of discourse’, one that is still ‘bourgeois’ in orientation, but which is directed more explicitly at decrying both the modern culture of luxury that aristocrats were thought to embody. The Letter to a Late Commander and Privy Counsellor went further still; Sloper’s evidence, the pamphlet argued, had revealed Sackville was an ‘improper person’, whose private failings debarred him from all public office. Such dereliction ensured that Sackville merited a rebuke from the nation’s ‘illustrious dead’:

“Learn hence” may say the shade,…”know proud mortal, that publick virtue is of all the virtues the most inestimable. Your effeminate and unmanly life had almost produced an increase of low spirits and nervous disorders, whose natural and unalterable character, is that of fear, while your notion of delicacy like the fashionable world, effectively disqualified you from enduring toils, or facing danger. The debility of your modern honour, makes you, that cannot produce one spark of manly spirit.37

As the passage progresses Sackville’s delinquency is elaborated into a wider failing, such that he stands as the epitome of modernity and its failure, raised to that band eminence by his failure to realise that his honour required sacrifice. The idea that Sackville’s private personality rendered him unfit for the manly activity of war had been anticipated in The Art of Preserving; Sackville, the poet suggested, had a ‘Soul’: ‘Whose Smell’s delicate, we hear,/It can’t the Scent of Powder bear’.38 As Anna Clark has noted the suggestion of same-sex passion allowed Wilkesites to represent Sackville in a number of unpleasant satires, including ‘[Lord Sackville] Who Shew’d his Rear at Minden 1759’ (BM3680). In the print ‘General Pompadour or the Minden Hero, 1759 (BM3682), Sackville’s effeminacy is signified by his complaint that ‘the naughty Guns’ have made his head ache, while his more courageous horse reflects that ‘I had rather be a Dray Horse than carry such a Coward’.39

By far the most thorough going assault on Sackville in this respect was the Letter from a P**m**e in I**l**d, the text with which this essay began. The Letter claimed to be the work of George Stone, the Archbishop of Armagh. Stone and Sackville had been allies in Irish politics during the early part of the decade when Sackville’s father was Lord Lieutenant. Stone’s support for the Dublin Castle had exposed him to a welter of personal attacks which frequently alleged homosexuality. The Archbishop was not therefore an ideal correspondent. The Letter, in common with a number of other texts produced during the controversy notably the Consolatory Letter, claimed to sympathize with Sackville, deploring the way in which his conduct at Minden had been linked to other derelictions. The Letter regretted that this had been the fate of many men before Lord George, citing his own case, that of Admiral Byng and even William III.40 Some pious reflections were made about the nature of the press (‘hireling scribblers’ were condemned) and the credulity of the populace whose acceptance of scandal comparable to their belief in ghosts. Tacitus is even summoned to condemn them. The effect of this charity was to besmirch Sackville more fully with ordure of his private crimes.41 This was nasty stuff but the pamphlet ended more curiously with a comparison between modern Briton and ancient Carthage. Both are great maritime powers, but the British have ‘by a long intercourse with the French acquired so much of their politeness that they no longer resemble the Carthaginians in one respect’: they do not execute their generals when they fail.42 Although this text is striking in its emphasis on North African rectitude (the Romans seem oddly suspect here), it was not unusual for anti-Sackville texts to contrast the ancient world with that of modernity, only to find the latter lacking. The Letter to a Late Noble Commander, for example, appealed to Roman law and especially to ‘Roman severity’ – a move which, eccentrically, installed the Dorset as the ideal reader of his son’s delinquency.43


By the end of 1760 Sackville had preserved his life, but not his reputation. His career as an army officer was over and his seat in the Commons was maintained only by the extent of his family’s patronage. Political rehabilitation came in 1775 when, under the new name of Lord George Germain, he entered Lord North’s cabinet as the Secretary of State for the American Department. He had regained his place, in part, with a series of speeches in which he had argued, without a flicker of irony, for the need for the Americans to be treated with a ‘Roman severity’.44 The year of Sackville’s appointment also saw the first performances of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The Duenna. Sheridan’s comic opera followed the adventures of Antonio and Ferdinand seek to avoid the prescriptions of Ferdinand’s father, Don Jerome, and the mischievous plans of Isaac the Jew in order to woo Clara and Louisa, whom they eventually marry. Sheridan’s work was soon appropriated for more satirical purposes by Israel Pottinger, who produced The Duenna: A Comic Opera the following year. Like other satiric appropriations of Sheridan’s works, the text included a dramatic personae which made plain its scurrilous intentions.45 Pottinger has ‘Don Louis’ partly based on Sheridan’s Louisa but more obviously George III. The role of Don Jerome is assumed by Mac Boot (plainly the Earl of Bute), while ‘Boreas’ (Lord North) appears in Isaac’s role. Sackville appears as ‘Minden’, cast in the character of Clara. ‘Minden’ is clear in its reference, but Pottinger is probably also allowing the name to chime with ‘Maiden’, a name associated on the stage with homosexuality. Even without this echo it is clear that, cast as a woman, Lord George’s sexual orientation as well as his failure in battle will be at issue.46

These political swipes elaborated the suggestion made on Pottinger’s title page; which explained that the work was presented as performed by His Majesty’s Servants. By late 1776, when Pottinger’s text was published, the performance of his Majesty’s Servants appeared lamentable, as the war in America was already stalled. What the mock Duenna does best is provide a comic conflation of the cabinet’s most anti-American members with a set of hasty Spanish lovers; confusions of gender especially as they affect the King and ‘Minden’ add to what is an unrelenting satire which mixes political complaint with lurid accusation. Pottinger shows a deft touch, however, when transforming a love song into an ode to self-interest. Sheridan’s Duenna has Clara sing of the torments of her love for Ferdinand, thus: ‘When sable night, each drooping plant restoring/Wept o’er the flowers her breath did cheer’.47 Pottinger replaces her with Minden, who sings:

When on the German plain each soldier battled.

To the dread music of the drum;

And with terrific looks, their weapons rattled,

I much frightened, long’d for home.48

The satire appears crude: Sackville is clearly the ‘Coward of Minden’. Rather than lead his cavalry in a charge, he had remained stationary; or as he sings here: ‘At Ferdinand’s stern orders/I wish’d me from those borders’. What had been an anxious lover’s lament became a confession of cowardice. At another level the text is more complex. When Clara sings in Sheridan’s Duenna, she is reflecting on her decision not to let Ferdinand steal her from her father’s house; her song reveals her ambiguous response:

Endless faith he swore,

But soon I chid him thence,

For had his fond pretence,

Obtain’d one favour then,

And he had press’d again

I feared my treacherous heart might grant him more.49

In performance, this song (based on the Scots air ‘De’il Take the Wars’) gave Clara a more complex character, as she is caught between duty and desire.50 The parallel offered in Pottinger’s version is intriguing: Minden, facing equally intrusive requests, though from his commanding officer, also hesitates, fearing to commit himself:

Ah! What oaths he swore!

But soon I hied me thence:

For had his mad pretence

Oblig’d me to fight then –

I must have fought again;

And I was well resolved to fight no more.

Conflated with Sheridan’s eager lover, Prince Ferdinand appears rather urgent and Minden’s hesitation becomes oddly more explicable. The unconfident Minden cannot see why ‘foolish folks…wrangle/And cut each others throats for fame’.51 He is clearly feminised, and his relationship with Prince Ferdinand, which had been characterised by miscommunication, becomes one of girlish mistrust. The feminised persona attributed to Sackville nearly twenty years before is thus returned to still more emphatically. It is not an excess of compassion that now baffles him, but a kind of lovesickness. By casting ministers as anxious lovers, Pottinger makes gender work in interesting ways not least because George III becomes the love interest for several scheming but ultimately disappointed suitors.52

Pottinger’s Duenna is a reminder that Sackville’s character could not be redeemed, even after his entrance into government. Pottinger’s image of ‘Minden’ as a man-woman confused by her pushy lover exploited the persistent charges raised against Sackville’s sexual orientation. In 1776 these charges had been renewed in William Jackson’s Sodom and Onan. In his mocking dedication to Samuel Foote, Jackson referred to Sackville as a ‘Hero; who by the strange misrepresentation of unrefin’d Men of Valour, was degraded as a Coward, for turning his back towards his Enemies; of which charge he must now stand acquitted, since it is known he distinguishes his dearest Friends by receiving them in the same Manner’.53 Later the poem represents George III as:

Inveigled by Scotch Insinuation

To pardon Sodomites and damn the Nation.

S_______e, both Coward, and Catamite commands

Department hon’rable, --- and kisses hands,

With lips that oft’ in blandishment obscene

Have been employ’d, yet now, (oh Shame!) he’s seen

An haughty headstrong Minister of State,

Controulling Men of mind’s immaculate.54

As this short but unpleasant extract makes clear, Sodom and Onan is all but obsessed with the idea of same sex desire. It can be truly said of Jackson that he rams his homophobia down the throat of the reader. His text is littered with breathless references to sodomy, sexual misconduct (including the case of Robert Jones) and to tales of young men falling easy prey to the sexual predations of the King’s ministers.55 Sodom and Onan confirms what other texts of the period only hint at, that there was virulent and ultimately homophobic culture of opposition. Edmund Burke’s Thoughts on the Cause of our Present Discontents, it should be noted, sails close to this wind where it talks insinuatingly about closets and backstairs alliances.56

The return of attacks on Sackville in the 1770s appears to confirm the increasingly prescriptive account of gender identity which Dror Wahrman characterises the later eighteenth century. Wahrman’s ambitious claim is that during the last decades of the century identity ceased to being a matter of collective or social formation and became more obviously a matter of individual traits and characteristics that were thought to originate from within the individual.57 In Sackville’s case it is possible to witness this move in terms of his failure to hang onto the social aspects of honour and class, just as his opponents (enabled to no small degree by Sloper’s evidence) focussed attention on the inner workings of his deviant personality. The argument is perhaps too Foucauldian in its sense that there was a sudden inevitable restriction complemented by the simultaneous creation and imposition of new forms of being. There are grounds to be suspicious of such confident arguments, even as they open new possibilities for research. In this particular case a focus on what seems to be a ‘great confinement’ overlooks the political motivations of those making their presence felt in the debate. The wretched homophobia of the pamphlet wars should not entirely obscure the class-based and otherwise progressive politics of many joining the pursuit of Sackville. Many of the pamphlets of 1759 and 1760, especially those attacking Sackville, were keen to rehearse their right to speak on the issue. Even writers who defended Sackville insisted not on deference but discussion. The status and role of the aristocracy was consequently debated, even challenged. That some of the debate is unpleasant, even in the extreme should not obscure the significance of this desire to re-establish and broaden the public sphere. What it should do, however, is lead to a questioning of the cost at which publicity and participation was achieved during the eighteenth century. Sackville’s exclusion might not bother us much today (he seems not to have suffered as much as he might have done), but his fate is a reminder that the idea of public sphere championed during the eighteenth century demanded and often achieved a restrictive account of political selfhood.

Robert W. Jones

University of Leeds

1 Letter from a P**m**e in I**l**d to a Certain Great Man (London: R. Stevens, 1759), p.18. This essay begins a much larger project on honour and its relation to masculine character in the long eighteenth century. I am grateful to Shaun Regan and Kate Dossett for helping me bring to completion this first piece.

2 Piers Mackesy, The Coward of Minden: The Affair of Lord George Sackville (London: Allen Lane, 1979).

3 See G.J. Barker-Benfield, The Culture of Sensibility: Sex and Society in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992); and Philip Carter, Men and the Emergence of Polite Society: 1660-1800 (Harlow: Longman, 2000).

4 Mary Davys, The Accomplish’d Rake; or, the Modern Fine Gentleman (London: A. Stephens, 1756), Dedication.

5 Randolph Trumbach, ‘Sodomy Transformed: Aristocratic Libertinage, Public Reputation and the Gender Revolution of the Eighteenth Century’, Journal of Homosexuality, vol. 19 (1990), 105-24.

6 John Brewer, Party Ideology and Popular Politics at the Accession of George III (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976), pp. 163-200; Linda Colley, Britons: Forging the Nation 1707-1837 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), pp. 237-281; and Kathleen Wilson, The Sense of the People: Politics, Culture and Imperialism in England, 1715-1785 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).

7 Wilson, Sense of the People, p. 202.

8 John Brown, An Estimate of the Manners and Opinions of Our Times (London: L. Davis & C. Reymers, 1757), p. 29.

9 See Carter, Men and the Emergence of Polite Society, pp. 89-92, 108-11.

10 Mackesy, Coward of Minden, pp. 28-34.

11 Ode on the Glorious Victory Obtained by the Allied Army in Germany (London: Dodsley; R. Baldwin; and A. Morley, 1759).

12 Lord George Sackville’s Vindication of Himself in a Letter to Colonel Fitzroy, 2nd edn. (London: R. Stevens, 1759), 11.

13 Short Address from Lord George Sackville to the Public (London: W. Owen, 1759), p. 3.

14 See Black Book or, a Complete Key to the Late Rattle at Minden (London: J. Seymour, 1759).

15 See Mackesy, Coward of Minden, pp. 175-78.

16 The Conduct of a Noble Lord Scrutinized (London: J. Fuller, 1759), pp. 19-20.


 Seasonable Antidote against the Poison of Popular Censure (London: J. Burd and M. Thrush, 1759), p. 18.

18 Letter to a Late Noble Commander of the British Forces in Germany (London: R. Griffiths, 1759), p. 10.

19 Letter, p. 11.

20 Letter, p. 27.

21 Letter, pp. 29-33.

22 Letter, p. 18.

23 Markku Peltonen, The Duel in Early Modern England: Civility, Politeness and Honour (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

24 Second Letter to a Late Noble Commander (London: R. Griffiths, 1759), pp. 3, 25.

25 Second Letter, pp. 36-41, 44-45.


 Letter, pp. 53-55.

27 See Address to the People of England (London: J. Burd, 1759), pp. 24, 27-33; and An Answer to a Letter to a Late Noble Commander (London: W. Owen, 1759), pp. 43-44, 50-3.

28 See Proceedings of a General Court-Martial held at the Horse Guards (London: A. Millar, 1760), pp. 8-10.


 Thomas Gray, ‘To Brown’, 28th March, 1760, Correspondence of Thomas Gray, ed. Paget Toynbee and Leonard Whibley, 3 vols, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1935), vol. II, p. 663.


 Proceedings, p. 30.

31 Proceedings, pp. 32-33.

32 Trial of the Right Honourable Lord George Sackville (London: W. Owen, 1760), pp. 40-41.

33 See Deidre Shauna Lynch, The Economy of Character: Novels, Market Culture, and the Business of Inner Meaning (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1998).

34 Apologetical Oration on an Extraordinary Occasion, 2nd edn. (London: M. Cooper, 1760). See Paddy Bullard, ‘Tristam Shandy, Lord George Sackville and Uncle Toby’s Apologetical Oration’, The Shandean, vol 14 (2003), numbers; and Answer to Asgill’s Apologetical Oration (London: S. Hooper and J. Williams, 1760).

35 Parallel between the Two Trials of Lord George Sackville (London: J. Pridden, 1760), pp. 14-16.


 Consolatory Letter to a Noble Lord (London: S. Hooper J. Williams, 1760), p. 15.


 Letter to a Late Commander and Privy Counsellor (London: J. Pridden, 1760), pp. 17-19, 24.


 Art of Preserving, p. 3.

39 Anna Clark, Scandal: Sexual Politics of the British Constitution (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), pp. 30-31, 233-34.

40 Letter from a P**m**e, pp. 19-20, 24.

41 Letter from a P**m**e, pp. 33-34, 29-30.

42 Letter from a P**m**e, pp. 42-43.

43 Letter, pp. 58-59, 63-64.

44 Proceedings and Debates of the British Parliaments Respecting North America, 1754-1783, ed. R.C. Simmons and P.D.G. Thomas (New York: Kraus International Publishers, 1982-), vol. V, pp. 318-19.


 See David Francis Taylor, “‘The Fate of Empires”: The American War, Political Parody, and Sheridan’s Comedies’, Eighteenth-Century Studies, vol. 42 (2009), 379-95.

46 An effeminate character called Maiden appeared in Thomas Baker’s Tunbridge Wells; or the Yeoman of Kent (1703). See also Laurence Senelick ‘Mollies or Men of Mode? Sodomy and the Eighteenth-Century London Stage’, Journal of the History of Sexuality, vol. 1, (1990), 45-52.

47 Richard Brinsley Sheridan, The Dramatic Works of Richard Brinsley Sheridan ed. Cecil Price, 2 vols, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973), vol. I, p. 241.

48 Israel Pottinger, The Duenna: A Comic Opera (London: E. Johnson, 1776), p. 9.

49 Sheridan, Dramatic Works, vol. I, p. 242.

50 Linda V. Troost, ‘The Characterizing Power of Song in Sheridan’s The Duenna’, Eighteenth-Century Studies, vol. 20 (1986-87), 153-72.

51 Pottinger, Duenna, p. 9.

52 Pottinger, Duenna, pp. 27-28; Sheridan, Dramatic Works, vol. I, p. 259.

53 William Jackson, Sodom and Onan (London: For the Author, 1776), pp. i-ii.


 Jackson, Sodom and Onan, pp. 17-18.

55 Jackson, Sodom and Onan, pp. 14, 18-20, 28.

56 Edmund Burke, The Writings and Speeches of Edmund Burke, Gen. ed. Paul Langford, 8 vols (Oxford: Clarendon, 1981-), vol. II, pp. 258, 261.


 Dror Wahrman, The Making of the Modern Self: Identity and Culture in Eighteenth-Century England (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004).

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