Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Herbert, William (d.1593)

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HERBERT or HARBERT, Sir WILLIAM (d. 1593), Irish 'undertaker' and author, was son of William Herbert of St. Julians, an estate in Monmouthshire lying between Caerleon and Newport. His mother was Jane, daughter of Edward Griffith of Penrhyn or Anglesea. He claimed to be 'heir in blood of ten earls.' He was undoubtedly sole surviving legitimate heir-male of William Herbert, earl of Pembroke (d. 1469) [q. v.], being great-grandson of Sir George Herbert of St. Julians, that earl's second son. Born after 1552, he was a pupil of Laurence Humphrey [q. v.], president of Magdalen College, Oxford (cf. Croftus), but none of the many William Herberts whose names appear on the Oxford University register can be identified with him, and if he studied at Oxford at all, it must have been as Humphrey's private pupil. He seems to be the William Herbert who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth at Richmond on 21 Dec. 1578 (Metcalfe, Knights, p. 133). Herbert was described by his friends as learned, and 'of a very high mind.' Throughout his life he was 'much conversant with books, and especially given to the study of divinity,' astrology, and alchemy (Herbert of Cherbury's Autobiog. 1886, p. 41; Cal. State Papers, Irish, 1588-92, p. 133). As early as 1 May 1577 he sent Dr. John Dee [q. v.] the astrologer notes for Dee's 'Monas Hieroglyphica.' In 1581 he was residing at Mortlake, and was benefitting by Dee's curious learning (Dee, Diary, Camd. Soc., pp. 3, 10). Thomas Churchyard the poet was another admirer, and to Herbert Churchyard dedicated his 'Dream,' which forms 'the ninth labour' of 'the first parte of Church-yardes Chippes,' 1575.

On 14 Feb. 1587-8 Herbert wrote to Walsingham that he desired to show posterity his affection for his God and his prince 'by a volume of my writing,' by 'a colony of my planting,' and by 'a college of my erecting.' The first two objects he accomplished, the last he did not carry further than a resolve to place a college at Tintern, where he owned a house and property. The colony he planted in Ireland. He was a distant relative and an intimate friend of Sir James Croft [q. v.], whom he always calls 'cousin,' and who had been lord-lieutenant of Ireland in 1551-2. Acting probably at Croft's suggestion, he became an 'undertaker' for the plantation of Munster on 5 May 1586, and on 17 June applied for three 'seignories' in Kerry. In April 1587 he arrived at Cork, and was allotted many of the confiscated lands which had been the property of Gerald Fitzgerald, fifteenth earl of Desmond (d. 1583) [q. v.] Herbert's property included Castleisland and its neighbourhood, and covered 13,276 acres (cf. Cal. State Papers, Irish, 1592-6, p. 55, and Dep.-Keepers Reports of Records of Ireland, xvi. 95). He flung himself with energy into the work of colonisation, recommending that Desmond and Kerry should be combined into a single county; that the government should be wholly in English hands; that Limerick should be garrisoned and fortified, and that an army formed of Monmouthshire men should be maintained to resist foreign invasion. He also desired to see all the worst lands in Kerry colonised by English gentlemen, and such Irish customs as tanistry abolished. On the whole he treated the native Irish with more consideration than many of his colleagues in the plantation, but he put into execution many clauses of the statute against Irish customs, expressly forbidding, under heavy penalties, the wearing of the native mantle. As a zealous protestant he tried to induce the Irish to abandon Roman Catholicism; had the articles of the creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the ten commandments translated into Irish, and directed all the clergy on his estate to read the religious services in the native language. With the Dean of Ardagh, whom he describes as a reverend old man' inclined to papistry, he held many conferences, directing his attention to passages in St. Augustine and St.Chrysostom, and to works by Whittaker and Sadaell, copies of which he was careful to carry to Ireland with him. After nearly two years' residence at Castleisland, he wrote home that he had hopes of making Kerry and Desmond 'a little England, after the example of Pembrokeshire in times past' (9 Jan. 1588-9). About the same time he acted as vice-president of Munster, in the temporary absence of Sir Thomas Norris, and sat on many commissions to settle disputes among the undertakers. But Herbert's work was severely attacked by Sir Edward Denny, high sheriff of Kerry, and owner of Tralee and the neighbourhood, who complained of Herbert's self-conceit, and declared that his constables were rogues, and that the native Irish under his care were ruthlessly pillaged. Herbert replied that Denny encouraged pirates on the Kerry coast, and did not treat with consideration native converts to protestantism (cf. Cal. State Papers, Irish, 1588-92, pp. 189-92). Denny's complaints tally ill with the commendatory letters which Herbert carried with him to Lord Burghley and Sir Francis Walsingham when he finally returned to England in the spring of 1589. Meiler Magrath, archbishop of Cashel, wrote of Herbert as 'one able and willing to do good,' and of his 'articles' for his Kerry tenants as 'godly, politic, and wise,' adding that six men like him would win the people's hearts better than six thousand soldiers (ib. p. 133). Adam Loftus, the lord chancellor, and Sir Warham St. Leger wrote in similar terms, and emphasised Herbert's success as a protestant missionary (cf. Lansd. MS. lviii. 81; Strype, Annals, iii. ii. 74—5: Cal. State Papers, Irish, 1588-92, pp. 119. 126). In September 1589 Herbert was at his house at Tintern. He died at St. Julians on 4 March 1592-3. He married early in life Florence or Florentia, daughter of William Morgan of Llantarnan, Pembrokeshire, and left an only child, Mary, who was born about 1578. He settled by will, dated 12 April 1587, all his property, which included, besides St. Julians and his Irish estates, land in Anglesea and Carnarvonshire, upon his daughter, on condition that she married 'one of the surname of Herbert.' On 28 Feb. 1598-1599 she satisfied this condition by marrying her kinsman, Edward Herbert, afterwards lord Herbert of Cherbury [q. v.] On the petition of Herbert's widow and daughter, a new survey of his Irish property was made, and the rent reduced in 1590 (Morrin, Cat. Patents, temp. Eliz. pp. 438-9). Herbert's house at Castleisland was destroyed in the rebellion of 1598. Churchyard, in his 'Worthines of Wales,' 1587, described St. Julians as 'a fair house.' Coxe, in his 'Tour of Monmouthshire,' 1801, gives two drawings of it as a partial ruin. The porch is still standing (cf. Morgan and Wakeman, Notes on Ancient Domestic Residences, Newport, 1860).

Herbert was author of: 1. ‘A Letter written by a trve Christian Catholike to a Romaine pretended Catholike, vppon occasion of Controuersie touching the Catholike Church; the 12, 13, and 14 chapters of the Reuelations are briefly and truelie expounded,’ London (by John Windet), 1586, small 4to, anonymous, with Sir William's arms on the back of the title-page. A copy is in the British Museum. Lord Herbert of Cherbury describes the book as ‘an exposition upon the Revelations’ (Autobiog. p. 41). 2. ‘A Poem intituled Sir William Herbertes Sydney' was licensed by the Stationers' Company to John Windet on 16 Jan. 1586-7 (Arber, Transcripts, ii. 463). This seems to be identical with ‘Sidney, or Baripenthes; briefely shadowing out the rare and neuer ending landes of that most honovrable and praiseworthy Gent. Sir Philip Sidney,’ London (by John Windet), 1586, 4to. This work is mentioned by Ames (Typogr. Antiq. p. 1226) and by Ritson, who ascribes it without doubt to Herbert, but no copy is accessible. 3. Herbert has been identified with the ‘Sir W. H.’ who signs a poor lyric in the ‘Phœnix Nest,’ 1593 (cf. Park, Heliconia, 1815, vol. ii.). 4. A reply in Latin prose by Herbert to Campion's treatise in favour of Roman Catholicism (‘Decem Rationes,’ 1587) has not been printed, and is now in Brit. Mus. Lansd. MS. 27, No. 7. Strype refers to it. in his life of Parker (ii. 166). 5. ‘Croftus; siue de Hibernia Liber;’ an historical, political, and geographical treatise by Herbert, on Ireland, also in Latin prose, and named in compliment to Sir James Croft, was first printed from a copy preserved among Earl Powis's manuscripts at Powis Castle for the Roxburghe Club, under the editorship of the Rev. W. E. Buckley, in 1887. 6. Abstracts of three valuable tracts by Herbert on the plantation of Munster appear in ‘Calendar of Irish State Papers,’ 1586-8, pp. 527-47. In the latter series of publications are also printed many of Herbert's letters to Walsingham and Burghley, written while he was in Ireland. A fiercely worded letter from Herbert to one Morgan, who had sent him a challenge, is in Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 4173, No. 1, and is printed in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ 1785, pt. i. p. 32 (cf. also Lansd. MS. 143, No. 167).

[Lord Herbert of Cherbury's Autobiog., ed. Sidney L. Lee. pp. 40-1; Powysland Club Collections, xi. 364; Cal. State Papers, Irish, 1586-1593; Bagwell's Ireland under the Tudors, iii. 305, 378; Wood's Athonæ, ed. Bliss, ii. 483; Powis MSS. in Hist. MSS. Comm. 10th Rep. pt. iv. p. 398; Strype's Parker, ii. 166; Ritson's Bibliographia Poetica, p. 234, where Sir William is confused with William Herbert(fl. 1604) [q. v.], author of 'A Prophesie of Cadwallader;' the Rev. W. E. Buckley's introduction to Sir William's Croftus (Roxb. Club).]

S. L. L.