Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Napoleon Out For A Duck?

Cricket Tragic John Frederick Sackville 3rd Duke of Dorset

One of the great things about being a historical romance writer is, of course, the history.

Just like the ad for a prominent genealogy company, one click leads to another and then all of a sudden your historical fact check - just who was the British Ambassador to France in 1790? -  leads you to the fascinating story of the cricket tragic John Frederick Sackville the third Duke of Dorset.

Like his father and grandfather before him, John was cricket mad and made his life's mission to spread the great game to the four corners of the world.

But for the pesky interruption of the American War of Independence and the French Revolution, the world game could very well have been cricket instead of soccer - er sorry, that should be football.

Considered the quintessentially British game, cricket has flourished in just about all of England's former colonies - Canada being the only noted exception.

But long before baseball got a toe hold, cricket was the game to play - and to watch.

Cricket broke down class divides - it might have been played aristocrats but it was watched and enjoyed by people of all social classes who made a day out of hooting, hollering, drinking, betting and admiring the physical prowess of batsman and bowler alike.

But not everyone was appreciative of Sackville's efforts to bring the civilising game to America. In 2010 Christies sold for nearly $22,000 a 1778 a pamphlet criticising Sackville's dedication to the game while England lost the American colonies:

    'Far from the Cannon's Roar, they try at Cricket, Stead of their Country, to secure a Wicket'. The anonymous poet's lines were directed against the Duke of Dorset and Earl of Tankerville as Britain was embroiled in the third year of a disasterous war with her own colonies in North America. A facetious dedication to the two aristocrats expresses dismay at their preparations for a new cricket season. ''Tis said that Nero fiddled whilst Rome was burning. -- The conduct of your Lordships, seems nearly similar. -- for Godsake, fling away your Bats ....' The couplets that follow continue to emphasise how wrong it is for members of the ruling class to participate in a lower class sport which 'beardless Boys with Beggars share'.

Not that such criticism affected Sackville any. His appointment as British Ambassador to France in 1784 was a golden opportunity to introduce the game to France, and it seemed he was having a bit of success, even organising a game along Paris' famous thoroughfare The Champs-Elysees!

The Times reported on one such match in 1786:

    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.

So keen he was on the game, that he was all ready to stage the world's first international test match against France. Leading English cricketers of the day ready to make the trip from Southampton when they received the news on August 10, 1779 that Paris had fallen to Revolutionaries.

There the hopes cricket becoming the world game died.

Elizabeth Ellen Carter isn't that fond of cricket, but she does love her history. Her web site is and her debut Regency historical, Moonstone Obsession set in 1790 will be out later this year with Etopia Press .


Alison Stuart said...

Oh, I loved this post! (As a cricket tragic myself). Sadly I am yet to meet an American who can understand or even comprehend why we would sit for 5 days watching a game that may not even have a result. Great post!

Elizabeth Ellen Carter said...

Thank you Alison!

There's nothing better on a hot steamy afternoon when you're looking for a bit of background noise to pass away the time, to have cricket on in the background.

I find I understand the game better the more gin and tonics I drink. ;-)

Maggi Andersen said...

Great post, Alison! I live around the corner from the Bradman's house and the cricket museum. We are cricket mad here.

Romance Reader said...

Great post, Alison. It was interesting and informative!


Alison Stuart said...

Maggi and Nas- sadly, I can't claim any authorship of this post! I am just a cricket tragic...

EE - you sound like a girl after my own heart. We must share a gin and tonic some time :-)