Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Herbert, Thomas (1656-1733)

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652595Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 26 — Herbert, Thomas (1656-1733)1891John Knox Laughton

HERBERT, THOMAS, eighth Earl of Pembroke (1656–1733), third son of Philip Herbert, fifth earl of Pembroke [see under Herbert, Philip, fourth Earl], was entered as a nobleman at Christ Church, Oxford, in 1672. By the death of his elder brothers, the sixth and seventh earls, he succeeded to the title on 29 Aug. 1683, and was appointed lord-lieutenant of Wiltshire. He raised the militia of the county against the Duke of Monmouth in 1685. In 1687, on refusing to assist in ‘regulating’ the municipal corporations, he was summarily dismissed from the office, but was reappointed to it after the revolution, to which he early gave in his adhesion, and carried the sword of justice at the coronation of William and Mary. In 1690 he was appointed first lord of the admiralty, and after the battle of Beachy Head was one of the commissioners sent down to the fleet to inquire into the circumstances of the action [see Herbert, Arthur, Earl of Torrington]. He was also one of the council of nine appointed to advise the queen as regent during the king's absence in Ireland. In 1692 he resigned his seat at the admiralty on being nominated lord privy seal. After the death of the queen he was one of the lords justices entrusted with the regency in the absence of the king. He became prominent by his opposition to the execution of Sir John Fenwick (1645?-1697) [q. v.], his opposition to the Resumption Bill in 1700, and his defence of the second Partition Treaty in 1701. In 1697 he was first plenipotentiary at the treaty of Ryswick. In 1700 he was installed as a knight of the Garter. In January 1701-2 he was appointed lord high admiral, in consequence (according to Burnet) of the factious disputes at the board and of its secrets having been ill-kept. He was neither seaman nor soldier, and his determination to take command of the fleet himself excited some dismay among his fellow-ministers, but the difficulty was got over by inducing him to nominate Byng as his secretary and first captain (see Byng, George, Viscount Torrington; Memoirs relating to the Lord Torrington, Camden Soc., p. 80). But before they got to sea the king died, and as Anne wished to appoint Prince George as lord high admiral, Pembroke was removed, ‘with the offer of a great pension, which he very generously refused, though the state of his affairs and family seemed to require it’ (Burnet). At the coronation of Queen Anne he again carried the sword; he was then appointed lord-lieutenant of Wiltshire, Monmouth,and South Wales; and in July to be president of the council. In 1706-7 he was one of the commissioners for the union; and in 1707 was appointed lord-lieutenant of Ireland. After the death of Prince George he was again appointed (29 Nov. 1708) lord high admiral, when he was succeeded as president of the council by Lord Somers, and as lord-lieutenant of Ireland by the Earl of Wharton. Towards the end of 1709 he resigned the admiralty as too ‘heavy a load’ (ib.) and the office was accordingly put in commission, the Earl of Orford succeeding as first lord (8 Nov.) On the death of the queen Pembroke was nominated one of the lords justices till the arrival of George I, at whose coronation he, for the third time, carried the sword, as again, for a fourth time, at the coronation of George II. During both reigns he continued lord-lieutenant of Wiltshire, Monmouth, and South Wales, till his death on 22 Jan. 1732-3. He was three times married, and left a numerous family, of whom the eldest son by his first wife, Henry, ninth earl of Pembroke and sixth earl of Montgomery, is separately noticed.

He is described as a man of ‘eminent virtue,’ and of great learning, especially in mathematics. Though somewhat too fond of a retired life he was beloved. He was president of the Royal Society in 1689-90; and as a virtuoso and collector of ‘statues, dirty gods, and coins’ had a high reputation, which has scarcely stood the test of time. The statues still decorate the hall of Wilton House, but are said to be of very second-rate merit, even where they are not modern forgeries. Macaulay describes him as ‘a high-born and high-bred man, who had ranked among the Tories, who had voted for a Regency, and who had married the daughter of Sawyer’ (sc. Sir Robert Sawyer, d. 1706 [q. v.]), and admits that although he was a tory he was not illiberal, as is proved by the dedication to him of Locke's ‘Essay,’ ‘in token of gratitude for kind offices done in evil times.’

[Collins's Peerage, ed. 1779, iii. 125; Burnet's Hist. of his own Time; Macaulay's Hist. of England.]

J. K. L.