George Germain, 1st Viscount Sackville, a British soldier and politician who is Secretary of State for the Colonies in Lord North‘s cabinet during the American Revolutionary War, is born on January 26, 1716. He is styled The Honourable George Sackville until 1720, Lord George Sackville from 1720 to 1770, and Lord George Germain from 1770 to 1782.
Sackville is the third son of Lionel Sackville, 1st Duke of Dorset, and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Lieutenant-General Walter Philip Colyear. Between 1730 and 1737 and again from 1750 to 1755, his father holds the post of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. He is educated at Westminster School in London and graduates from Trinity College Dublin in 1737. While in Dublin he befriends the celebrated writer Jonathan Swift. He also encounters John Ligonier, 1sr Earl Ligonier, who later assists his career in the military.
Sackville then enters the army. He is elected Grandmaster of the Grand Lodge of Ireland in 1751, serving in this post for two years. He marries Diana Sambrooke, daughter of John Sambrooke and Elizabeth Forester, on September 3, 1754. They have two sons and three daughters.
Sackville starts as a captain in the 7th Horse (later the 6th Dragoon Guards). In 1740, he transfers to the Gloucestershire Regiment as a lieutenant colonel. The regiment is sent to Germany to participate in the War of the Austrian Succession. In 1743 he is advanced to brevet colonel. He sees his first battle, leading the charge of the infantry of Prince William, Duke of Cumberland, in the Battle of Fontenoy in 1745. He is wounded, captured and taken to the tent of Louis XV. When he is released and returned home, it is to duty in Scotland as the Colonel of the 20th Foot Regiment.
In 1747 and 1748, Sackville again joins the Duke of Cumberland. He becomes colonel of the 7th Irish horse and serves in Holland. There is a break in his military career between wars (1750-1755) when he serves as first secretary to his father.
During the Seven Years’ War, Sackville returns to active military service. In 1755, he is promoted to major general and returns to active service to oversee ordnance. In 1758, he is given a fourth regiment and joins Charles Spencer, 3rd Duke of Marlborough, as a lieutenant general. He is sworn of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom in January 1758.
In June 1758 Sackville is second in command of a British expedition led by Marlborough which attempts an amphibious Raid on St. Malo. While it fails to take the town as instructed, the raid is still considered to be largely successful as a diversion. Follow-up raids are considered against Le Havre, Caen and other targets in Normandy but no further landings are attempted and the force returns home. Later in 1758 they join the allied forces of Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick in Germany. When Marlborough dies, Sackville becomes Commander of the British contingent of the army, although still under the overall command of the Duke of Brunswick.
In the Battle of Minden on August 1, 1759, British and Hanoverian infantry of the centre make an advance on the French cavalry and artillery in that sector. As the disrupted French begin to fall back on Minden, Ferdinand calls for a British cavalry charge to complete the victory, but Sackville withholds permission for their advance repeatedly. For this action, he is cashiered and sent home. John Manners, Marquess of Granby, replaces him as commander of the British contingent for the remainder of the war.
Sackville refuses to accept responsibility for refusing to obey orders. Back in England, he demands a court-martial, and makes it a large enough issue that he obtains his demand in 1760. The court finds him guilty, and the verdict not only upholds his discharge, but rules that he is “…unfit to serve His Majesty in any military Capacity whatever.” The king has his name struck from the Privy Council rolls.
Sackville is a Member of Parliament at intervals from 1733. He serves terms in both the Dublin and the Westminster bodies, sometimes simultaneously, but does not take sides in political wrangles. Between 1750 and 1755 he serves as Chief Secretary for Ireland, during his father’s second term as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.
On November 10, 1775, Sackville is appointed Secretary of State for the Colonies replacing William Legge, 2nd Earl of Dartmouth in the post. He becomes a target for the opposition, and is eventually persuaded to step down in exchange for a peerage, and in February 1782 he is made Baron Bolebrooke, in the County of Sussex, and Viscount Sackville, of Drayton in the County of Northamptonshire. His political career ends with the fall of the North government in March 1782.
The controversy over Sackville’s handling of the war continues. Some members are opposed to his taking a seat in the House of Lords, an almost unprecedented incident. In spite of this he is admitted to the Lords, where he is staunchly defended by Edward Thurlow, 1st Baron Thurlow, and his declining health soon makes the issue irrelevant. He retires to his country home at Stoneland Lodge and dies there on August 26, 1785. He maintains to his dying day that he had not been a coward at Minden. Following his death, a defence of his reputation, The character of the late Viscount Sackville, is written by Richard Cumberland.
(Pictured: “George Germain,” 1766 painting by George Romney (1734-1802))