Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Herbert, William (1580-1630)
HERBERT, WILLIAM, third Earl of Pembroke (1580–1630), eldest son of Henry Herbert, second earl [q. v.], by his third wife, Mary Herbert [q. v.], was born at Wilton 8 April 1580. In his childhood his mother secured the services of Samuel Daniel [q. v.] as his tutor. A later tutor was named Sandford. On 8 March 1592-3 he matriculated from New College, Oxford, where he stayed two years. In April 1597 he was persuading his father to allow him to live in London, and in August his parents were corresponding with Burghley respecting a proposal to marry him to Burghley's granddaughter, Bridget Vere, daughter of the Earl of Oxford. The girl was only thirteen years old, and it was intended that Herbert should travel before settling down to married life. Both considerations suggested difficulties, and the proposal came to nothing, although the match was agreeable to Herbert, and the Earl of Oxford wrote of him as well brought up and 'faire conditioned,' with 'many good partes in him' (Tyler, Shakespeare'sSonnets, pp. 45-7). In the spring of 1598 Herbert seems to have settled in London. In August 1599 he announced that he meant to 'follow the camp' at the annual musters, and he appears to have attended her majesty with two hundred horse, 'swaggering it among the men of war' (Sydney Papers, ii. 43, 113, 115). Although handsome and accomplished, Herbert was no model courtier; he was constant in his attendance, but pursued the queen's favour in a 'cold and weak manner.' 'There [was] a want of spirit laid to his charge, and that he [was] a melancholy young man' (ib. p. 122); but he was from the first 'exceedingly beloved of all men' (ib. p. 143). The illness of his father recalled him to Wilton in September 1599, but when again in London in November Elizabeth began to notice him, and he had an hour's private audience with her (ib. p. 144). The rest of the winter he spent in the country, suffering from ill-health. He complained of a continual pain in his head, and found 'no manner of ease but by taking of tobacco' (ib. p. 165). In December another match for him was suggested with Anne, daughter of Lord Hertford. On 22 March 1599-1600, Whyte, the confidential correspondent of his uncle, Sir Robert Sidney, wrote of his return to court, where Whyte anticipated that he would yet prove a great man (ib. p. 182). On 16 June 1600 he took part in the festivities at Blackfriars, graced by the queen's presence, to celebrate the wedding of Lord Herbert, the Earl of Worcester's son, and Anne Russell, a maid of honour. At. the end of the month he expressed an intention of volunteering for military service in the Low Countries (Chamberlain, Letters, p. 82). In September and October 1600 he was vigorously practising at Greenwich for a court tournament. On the death of his father on 19 Jan. 1600-1 he succeeded to the earldom of Pembroke.
'I don't find any disposition at all in this gallant young lord to marry,' wrote Whyte on 16 Aug. 1600, but Whyte allowed that he was 'well thought of, and was keeping company with the best and gravest' courtiers. Herbert, however, was to some extent deceiving his friends. All his life he was 'immoderately given up to women,' and indulged himself in 'pleasures of all kinds, almost in all excesses' (Clarendon, History, i. 72). Before his father's death he had formed an illicit connection with Mary Fitton [q. v.], a lady of the court, who was in high favour with the queen. Very soon after Herbert had become earl of Pembroke, the lady was proved with child. Elizabeth treated the scandal very seriously. Pembroke was examined and admitted his responsibility, but renounced 'all marriage.' In March 1601 a boy was born, but died soon after birth. Pembroke was committed to the Fleet prison, and although released apparently within a month, he was banished the court. On 29 June he begged Cecil to obtain permission for him to 'go abroad to follow mine own business,' and declared that exclusion from the queen's favour and presence was 'hell' to him. On 13 Aug. he renewed his request to Cecil; 'the change of climate may purge me of melancholy, for els I shall never be fitt for any civil society.' An endeavour to obtain for himself the post held by his father of keeper of the Forest of Dean failed; he felt the indignity keenly, and was more desirous than before 'to wipe out the memory of his disgraces' by a long foreign tour. Although his father's death gave him a large fortune, he was at the time involved in pecuniary difficulties due to his personal extravagance. At the end of 1602 he was spending 'a royal Christmas' with Sir John Harington and a distinguished company at Exton, Rutland (Chamberlain, Letters, p. 171: Sydney Papers, ii. 262). In 1603 his mother conjured him, 'as he valued her blessing, to employ his own credit and that of his friends to ensure' the pardon of Raleigh. On 4 Nov. 1604 he married Lady Mary, the wealthy daughter of Gilbert Talbot, seventh earl of Shrewsbury (Lodge, Illustrations, iii. 56, 83). The wedding was celebrated by a tournament at Wilton (Aubrey).
Pembroke shared the literary tastes of his mother and uncle, Sir Philip Sidney. He wrote verse himself, and was, according to Aubrey, 'the greatest Mæcenas to learned men of any peer of his time or since.' Donne was an intimate friend. He was always well disposed to his old tutor Daniel and to his kinsman George Herbert [q. v.] William Browne lived with him in Wilton House. He was generous to Massinger the dramatist, son of his father's steward. Ben Jonson addressed an eulogistic epigram to him in his collection of epigrams, which is itself dedicated to him. Every New-year's day Pembroke sent Jonson 20l. to buy books (Conversations with Drummond, pp. 22, 25). Inigo Jones, who is said to have visited Italy at his expense, was in his service. Chapman inscribed a sonnet to him at the close of his translation of the 'Iliad,' and Davison's 'Poetical Rhapsody' (1601) is dedicated to him. The numerous books in which a like compliment is paid him, often in conjunction with his brother Philip, amply attest, the largeness of his patronage. The two Herberts, William and Philip, are 'the incomparable pair of brethren' to whom the first folio of Shakespeare's works is dedicated (1623); and the editors justify the selection of their patrons on the ground that the Herberts had been pleased to think Shakespeare's plays something heretofore, and had 'prosecuted both them and their author living with so much favour.' Other parts of the dedication prove as clearly that Shakespeare was on friendly terms with Pembroke, and the fact confirms the suggestion that the publisher's dedication of Shakespeare's 'Sonnets' 'to the onlie begetter of these insving sonnets, Mr. W. H.,' is addressed to Pembroke, disguised under the initials of his family name—William Herbert. The acceptance of this theory gives Shakespeare's 'Sonnets' an important place in Pembroke's early biography. The 'Sonnets,' though not published till 1609, were written for circulation among private friends more than ten years earlier. The opening series was addressed by Shakespeare to a handsome youth above his own rank, to whom the poet was deeply attached. He advises the youth to marry, is disconsolate when they are separated, and prophesies that his verse will secure his friend immortality. Some of the early sonnets seem to imply that the friend had temporarily robbed Shakespeare of his mistress, and the poet subsequently describes an estrangement between them owing to the young man's corruption by bad company. A reconciliation follows, but the concluding series of sonnets (clxxvi-cliv.) appears to relate how the friend supplanted the poet in the affections of 'a dark lady' associated with the court. Shakespeare's young friend was doubtless Pembroke himself, and 'the dark lady' in all probability was Pembroke's mistress, Mary Fitton. Nothing in the sonnets directly contradicts the identification of W. H., their hero and 'onlie begetter,' with William Herbert, and many minute internal details confirm it (cf. T.Tyler, Shakespeare'sSonnets, 1890, passim, and esp. pp. 44-73).
On the accession of James I Pembroke returned to court, and soon secured a high position there. He was wealthy, despite his reckless expenditure, and was popular with all parties. Although James never 'loved or favoured him,' he 'regarded and esteemed him' from the first. As early as 17 May 1603 Pembroke received the office of keeper of the Forest of Clarendon, and on 25 June 1603 he was installed a knight of the Garter. He entertained the king at Wilton on 29-30 Aug. 1603(Nichols, Progresses,i. 254). On 28 Jan. 1603-4 he was appointed lord warden of the Stannaries and high steward of the duchy of Cornwall, and on 21 May following became lord-lieutenant of Cornwall. He performed in the court masque on St. John's day, 1604, which celebrated the marriage of his brother Philip. He showed his active intelligence, and some love of speculation, in becoming governor of the Society of London for Mineral and Battery Works, which was incorporated on 18 Jan. 1603-4, and subsequently obtained government protection for waterworks erected at Trelleck, Monmouthshire, in October 1607 (Cal. State Papers, 1603-10, pp. 68, 378). He accompanied the king to Oxford in August 1605, and was created M.A. In June 1606 he was prominent in a tournament at Greenwich, and, with the Duke of Lennox, Lord Arundel, and his brother, spoke a challenge addressed in chivalric language, for which William Drummond of Hawthornden is said to have been responsible, to all knights adventurers of hereditary note' (ib. p. 319). On 8 Jan. 1607-8 he obtained that post of warden of the Forest of Dean which Queen Elizabeth had refused him. In 1603 a quarrel between Pembroke and Sir George Wharton over a game of cards led to an undignified scuffle between them in the huntingfield near Bagshot. A challenge followed, but the king and council forbade a duel, and compounded the dispute (Lodge, iii. 241). On 16 Oct. 1609 Pembroke was nominated captain of Portsmouth, and he became a privy councillor 29 Sept. 1611.
Pembroke was deeply interested in the explorations in New England. He became a member of the king's council for the Virginia Company of London 23 May 1609, and was an incorporator of the North-West Passage Company 26 July 1612, and of the Bermudas Company 29 June 1615. On 3 Nov. 1620 he was made a member of the council for New England. His interest in the Bermudas was commemorated by a division of the island being named after him, and in Virginia the Rappahannock river was at one time called the Pembroke river in his honour. In 1620 he patented thirty thousand acres in Virginia, and undertook to send over emigrants and cattle. In January 1622 the council in Virginia promised to choose the land for him out of 'the most commodious seat that may be.' On 19 May 1627 he was an incorporator of the Guiana Company. It is said that on 25 Feb. 1629 Pembroke obtained a grant of Barbadoes, and that it was revoked on 7 April 1629, owing to the prior claims of the Earl of Carlisle, but Barbadoes was included in a grant to his brother Philip of 2 Feb. 1627-8 (cf. Alexander Brown, Genesis of the United States, 1890, ii. 921). From 1614 Pembroke was a member of the East India Company.
At home Pembroke was no friend to James's imperious domestic policy, nor to his tortuous diplomacy abroad. He had opposed the alliance with Spain, which the king favoured, and was one of the councillors who had suggested the summoning of a parliament in the autumn of 1615 (Spedding, Bacon, v. 203). James then desired to conciliate his opponents. Somerset's fall in December of that year left the office of lord chamberlain vacant, and the appointment of Pembroke as Somerset's successor seemed to James a graceful concession to his opponents. Pembroke's amiability at the same time fitted him for the post. Although he never acted with much strength of will, his preferment made no impression on his political views. He distrusted Buckingham, and had difficulties with the favourite as soon as he assumed office concerning the chamberlain's rights of patronage to minor posts about the court. In 1616 he joined Ellesmere and Winwood in urging the despatch of Raleigh on his last expedition, undoubtedly in the expectation that Raleigh's action would compromise James's policy of peace with Spain; and there was some foundation for Raleigh's later charges that Pembroke and his friends had instigated his attack on the Mexico fleet, for which Raleigh suffered death. In 1619 Pembroke went to Scotland with Hamilton and Lennox. He used his personal influence to obtain the payment of the benevolence of 1620, and late in the summer James visited him at Wilton. It is said that while there the king visited Stonehenge, and that Pembroke directed Inigo Jones, whom he presented to James at the time, to prepare for the king his account of the monumental remains. Early next year Pembroke supported, in opposition to the king and Buckingham, the demand of the House of Commons for an inquiry into the monopoly-grants. In April 1621 charges of corruption were brought against Bacon, who offered to make his submission to the House of Lords. Pembroke took a prominent part in the debates that followed. He advocated further inquiry, supported Buckingham's motion to invite the chancellor to send a message to the house, and spoke strongly against the proposal to deprive Bacon of his peerage. He was a joint commissioner of the great seal on Bacon's retirement (3 May-10 July 1621). Memoranda made by Bacon after his degradation show that he intended writing to Pembroke to thank him for 'the moderation and affection his lordship showed in my business,' and to solicit his future favour 'for the furtherance of my private life and fortune' (Spedding, vii. 209).
At the end of 1621 Pembroke spoke with warmth in the council against the king's determination to dissolve parliament. The commons had just presented their famous protestation, and Pembroke was taunted by Buckingham with wishing to insult the king (cf. Court and Times of James I, ii. 287). Illness prevented Pembroke from attending the council when the oath was taken to the Spanish marriage treaty (26 July 1623), but in the following August James paid him a third visit at Wilton. After the failure of Buckingham's and Prince Charles's visit to Spain, Buckingham urged on James a declaration of war. Pembroke boldly denounced the favourite's counsel, and an open rupture between them took place. Prince Charles intervened to bring about a reconciliation, which Pembroke's affable manners made an easy task. On 2 Feb. 1624 Pembroke amiably defended Buckingham for his conduct in Spain, but tried to dissuade him from directly attacking Bristol, who was his own personal friend (April). In September 1624 Buckingham's subserviency to France in the French marriage negotiations excited Pembroke's distrust anew. In March 1625 Pembroke attended at Theobalds the deathbed of James I, who entreated him to testify publicly that he died a protestant.
On 9 April 1625 Pembroke was made a member of the committee of council appointed to advise the king on foreign affairs, and he took a prominent part in the negotiations for the surrender of those English ships to France which were employed against the French protestants (July 1625). He afterwards explained that he believed the ships were intended for employment against Genoa. Pembroke carried the crown at Charles I's coronation (2 Feb. 1625-6), and joined the permanent council of war (3 May 1626). But his misgivings of Buckingham's French policy soon revived. He expressed himself with sufficient freedom on the point to offend the king, and entered into communications with the parliamentary opposition. Pembroke was too rich and powerful for his support to be neglected. He had many seats in parliament at his disposal, and once again a reconciliation between him and Buckingham was patched up. It was arranged that Pembroke, who had no children, should make the eldest son of his brother Philip his heir, and should marry him to Buckingham's daughter (Court and Times of Charles I,i. 123-132). In July 1626 Pembroke was seriously ill of the stone, but on 18 Aug. 1626 he became lord steward. In September 1628 he recommended a peace with France as a needful preliminary to the despatch of assistance to the German protestants, whose cause he desired that England should actively support.
On 10 April 1630 Pembroke suddenly died at his London house, Baynard's Castle, 'of an apoplexy after a full and cheerful supper' the night before either at the Countess of Bedford's or the Countess of Devonshire's (ib. ii. 73). His death is said to have been exactly foretold by his tutor Sandford (Clarendon); by Thomas Allen of Gloucester Hall (Wood); and by Eleanor, lady Davies (Echard). He was buried in the family vault in Salisbury Cathedral. A very eulogistic funeral sermon by T. C., 'The Ivst Man's Memorial, as it was delivered at Baynard's Castle before the interment of the Body,' was published in 1630, with a dedication to the earl's brother and heir, Philip. Pembroke died intestate, and his debts are said to have reached a total of 80,000l. His income had amounted to 22,000l. a year (Court and Times of Charles I, ii. 73). Clarendon's eulogy on Pembroke (ed. Macray, i. 71-5) states that he was the most universally loved and esteemed of any man of his age, that he was always ready to advance worthy men, that he maintained an honourable independence amid court factions, and that he was a great lover of his country and of the religion and justice which he believed could only support it. He was 'loyal and yet a friend to liberty.' Clarendon admits, however, that late in life 'his natural vivacity and vigour of mind began to lessen' by immoral indulgences. He was unhappy in his domestic affairs. 'He paid much too dear,' writes Clarendon, 'for his wife's fortunes by taking her person into the bargain.' As a statesman, Pembroke lacked force of character. 'For his person,' said Bacon, 'he was not effectual.' He opposed Buckingham tamely, although their views were on most subjects diametrically opposed, and readily agreed to patch up their quarrels. Mr. S. R. Gardiner characterises him as the Hamlet of Charles's court (Gardiner, Hist. vii. 133). Wood describes his person as majestic rather than elegant, and his presence, whether quiet or in motion, as 'full of stately gravity.' His delight in the society of men of letters remained with him to the last.
From 29 Jan. 1617 till his death Pembroke held the office of chancellor of Oxford University. In 1624 Broadgates Hall was replaced by Pembroke College, the new society being thus named in compliment to the chancellor (cf. Lloyd, State Worthies, ii. 232; Wood, Colleges and Halls, ed. Gutch, p. 617). Pembroke became the visitor and a member of the new college's governing board, and, according to Aubrey, intended to prove 'a great benefactor' to it, but his sole gift was 'a great piece of plate,' which is no longer in existence. In 1629 Pembroke purchased the famous Barocci library, which had been brought from Venice by a London stationer, and on 25 May, at Laud's instigation, presented the greater part of the collection —250 Greek manuscripts—to the Bodleian Library. Twenty-two other Greek manuscripts and two Russian manuscripts which the earl retained were bought after his death by Oliver Cromwell, and given to the same library in 1654. Pembroke, in making the gift, stated that the manuscripts should, if necessary, be borrowed by students.
In 1660 the younger Donne edited and published 'Poems written by the Right Honourable William, Earl of Pembroke, Lord Steward of Her Majesties Household, many of which are answered by way of repartee by Sr Benjamin Ruddier, knight, with several distinct Poems written by them occasionally and apart.' There is a dedication to Christian, dowager-countess of Devonshire,to whom, according to the editor, Pembroke presented most of the verses included in the volume. A few of the poems undoubtedly by Pembroke are signed ' P.,' and were written in association with his friend Sir Benjamin Rudyerd, but mingled with them are poems by Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Edward Dyer, Carew, William Strode, and others. According to the editor's address to the reader, he had only printed a portion of Pembroke's manuscripts; Henry Lawes and Nicholas Laniere, who set some of Pembroke's songs to music, had supplied him with a few of those published, and were ready to supply him with more. One of Pembroke's published poems appears in the Browne MS. in the British Museum (Lansd. MS. 777, f. 73; cf. Tyler, p. 69). The whole volume was reprinted by Sir S. E. Brydges in 1817. Pembroke's verse is always graceful, but lacks higher qualities. A religious work, 'Of the Internal and Eternal Nature of Man in Christ,' London, 1654, is ascribed to Pembroke in the 'British Museum Catalogue,' on the ground of a contemporary manuscript note, but Pembroke's authorship is very doubtful.A fine portrait by Mytens has been engraved by Vandervoerst. It was painted for Charles I's gallery at Whitehall in 1627 and is now at Wilton (Devon, Issues of the Exchequer under James I, p. 358). There are rare engraved prints of the earl by Simon Pass, 1617, and by Stent. A brass statue of the earl, cast by Hubert Le Soeur from a design of Rubens, was placed at Wilton, and was presented to Oxford University in 1723 by Thomas, seventh earl of Pembroke, a great-nephew. It is now in the picture gallery adjoining the Bodleian Library. A portrait painted by Vandyck from the statue is at Wilton. [Doyle's Official Baronage; Collins's Peerage; Lloyd's State Worthies, 1766, ii. 230 sq.; Brydges's Peers of England during the reign of James I, pp. 148 sq.; Sydney Papers, ed. Collins; Nichols's Progresses of James I; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1603-30; Hoare's Hist. of South Wiltshire, vol. ii. pt. i. p. 143; Aubrey's Nat. Hist. of Wiltshire, ed. Britton, 1847; Macray's Annals of the Bodleian Library; T. Tyler's Shakespeare's Sonnets, 1890; Wood's Athenæ; Oxon. ed. Bliss, ii. 482-486; Wood's Fasti, i. 313; Gardiner's Hist.; Brit. Mus. Cat.]