Herbert of Bosham (DNB00)

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HERBERT of Bosham (fl. 1162–1186), biographer, has told us himself that he was born at the place whence he took his name, Bosham, or, as he spells it, Boseham, in Sussex. Henry II once taunted him with being 'a priest's son;' 'That I am not,' retorted Herbert, 'for my father did not become a priest till after I was born' (W. Fitzstephen, Mat. for Hist. Becket, iii. 101 ). He may have been the 'Master Herbert' who once, while Thomas Becket was chancellor (1155-62), acted as a messenger from Henry to the emperor (Rad. Freisingen, l. i. c. 7). On the morrow of Thomas's election as primate, in May 1162, Thomas appointed him his special monitor in the discharge of his archiepiscopal duties. In this capacity, and also as the archbishop's master in the study of holy writ, Herbert held a foremost place among the eruditi or scholars in Thomas's household. He accompanied the primate to the council of Tours (May 1163) and to that of Clarendon (January 1164); he was one of the two disciples who alone dared to follow him into the king's hall on the last day of the council at Northampton (13 Oct. 1164); throughout that terrible day he sat at his master's feet, till 'the hour was past,' and the two friends fought their way out together and made their escape, both mounted on one horse (W. Fitzstephen, pp. 58, 68; Herb. Bosham, pp. 307-10); he was in the secret of Thomas's flight over sea, and rejoined him at St. Omer with some money and plate, which he had collected at Canterbury; he shared with Lombard of Piacenza the task of securing for Thomas a welcome from the French king and the pope; and thenceforth, throughout the six years of the primate's exile. Herbert was constantly at his side, sharing his scriptural studies, helping him in his correspondence, comforting and lecturing him by turns through the fits of despondency in which his spirit occasionally broke down, and encouraging him with somewhat needless warmth in his resistance to the king's demands. At Easter 1165 an attempt was made to obtain restitution for Herbert and some of the other clerks who had sacrificed their all for Thomas's sake, and they were called to a meeting with the king at Angers; but Herbert's defiant look and manner, as he made his appearance 'splendidly attired in a mantle of green cloth of Auxerre hanging down to his heels in German fashion,' his refusal to forsake his primate, his outspoken denunciation of the royal 'customs,' and his bold bandying of words with the king, only increased Henry's wrath against him (W. Fitzstephen, pp. 99-101). Soon afterwards Pope Alexander recommended him for the provostship of the church of Troyes (Ep. cxxxii., Materials for Hist. of Becket, v. 241), with what result does not appear. In autumn 1166 Herbert was acting as letter-carrier for Thomas, and characteristically 'thrust himself into greater peril than the matter was worth,' but contrived to escape the clutches of the king (Ep. ccliii., ib. vi. 73). He advised the archbishop's removal to Sens when expelled from Pontigny (30 Nov. 1166). At the conference at Montmirail (6 Jan. 1169), when Thomas was wellnigh overcome by the entreaties of the friends who urged him to unconditional surrender, Herbert managed at the last moment to whisper in his ear a passionate exhortation to hold fast by his original reservation, and was rewarded by hearing once more the words 'Saving God's honour and my order,' which brought the negotiation to an end. He returned to England with Thomas in December 1170, and remained with him until sent back again on an errand to the French king; vainly he implored his master to let him stay for the end which both felt to be close at hand, and which in fact came two days after his departure. He seems not to have revisited England till about 1184, when he was beginning to write his biography of the martyr. Henry's wrath against the 'proud fellow' who had once been so obnoxious to him had cooled now, and of all the surviving actors in the Becket drama he seems to have been almost the only one who did not give Herbert the cold shoulder; he frankly answered Herbert's characteristically bold questions as to his share in the murder, and told how his penance in 1174 had coincided with the capture of the king of Scots. But the 'British world,' and even the English church, amid their devotion to the martyr's bones, would have nothing to do with the 'living relic' of him, the old comrade whose long fidelity perhaps put their own luke-warmness to shame. He may have been the 'Dominus Herbertus' with whom Master David of London had a dispute for the living of Dodington (Liverani, Spicilegium Liberianum, p. 614), but he does not seem to have been resident there. Later writers have given him a career in Italy as archbishop, cardinal, and even pope, but all these stories arose from a confusion between Herbert of Bosham and other men of the same or similar names. On the other hand, Laurence Wade, a fifteenth-century biographer of St. Thomas, describes Herbert as having been, like himself, 'a brother off Cristes Church in Canterbury' (Hardy, Descript, Cat. ii. 363): but there is no evidence for his statement, and apparently just as little for a local tradition which points to a recess in the south wall of Bosham Church as the site of Herbert's tomb. Unless a sentence in his 'Life of St. Thomas' (lib. iv. c. 30, p. 461, Rolls ed.) is an interpolation by another hand, he was still living in July 1189.

Herbert's sole important work is the 'Life of St. Thomas of Canterbury,' written 1184-6. Its seven books of rambling, long-winded narrative, prosy sermonising, and turgid declamation would be intolerable if their faults were not redeemed by the writer's genuine enthusiasm for his hero, by his intimate knowledge of his subject, and by the fairness with which, notwithstanding his own vehement partisanship, he allows his readers to see both sides of the questions with which he deals. Herbert also compiled a yet more verbose and tedious 'Liber Melorum' in praise of the martyr, a 'Homily' for St. Thomas's day, and thirty-seven letters, several of them written in the name of Thomas or of some one of his friends, and all relating to his cause or his fate. Memorials of the scriptural studies which he shared with his illustrious friend survive in his glosses on the Psalms and on the epistles of St. Paul. The former was begun during his stay at Pontigny with St. Thomas; for the latter he seems to have received assistance from William, abbot of St. Dionysius at Milan; both works are addressed to Archbishop William of Sens (1169-76), and both consist merely of a recension by Herbert, with new prefaces, tables, summaries, and other additions, of the glosses of Peter Lombard.

The manuscripts of his writings now known are: 1. ‘Bibl. S. Vedast. Arras,’ MS. 649, twelfth century, formerly belonging to the monastery of Ourscamp or Orcamp; contains ‘Vita S. Thomæ’ (from which four leaves have been cut out), ‘Liber Melorum,’ and ‘Homilia de natalitio martyris die.’ 2. C.C.C. Oxford MS. 146, fourteenth century, mutilated at beginning and end, containing only lib. iv-vii. of ‘Vita’ and ‘Liber Melorum.’ 3. Phillipps MS. 4622, an abridgment of the ‘Vita,’ written in the twelfth century, and formerly belonging to the monastery of Aulne. 4. C.C.C. Cambridge MS. 123, fifteenth century; ‘Epistolæ Herberti de Bossam, tam in persona Thomæ Becket quam in sua, ad Papam et alios episcopos et responsiones ad illas.’ 5. Trin. Coll. Cambridge MS. B. 5. 4; gloss on the Psalter, pt. l (Ps. i-lxxiii.) 6. Trin. Coll. Cambridge MS. B. 5. 6, 7; glosses on St. Paul's Epistles. 7. Bodl. MS. Auct. E. infra 6; gloss on the Psalter, pts. ii. and iii. The three last-mentioned manuscripts are all of the thirteenth century; they all came from Canterbury, and are probably the identical 'prima pars psalterii secundum Longobardum, secunda pars psalterii secundum Longobardum, prima pars epistolarum Pauli secundum Longobardum, secunda pars epistolarum Pauli secundum Longobardum,’ which are grouped together with a work entitled ‘Thomus’ under the heading ‘Liber M. Herberti de Boseham’ in an early fourteenth century catalogue of the library of Christ Church monastery (printed in Edwards's ‘Memoirs of Libraries,’ i. 122, &.c., from Cotton. MS. Galba, E. iv.) The fate of ‘Thomus’ —perhaps Laurence Wade's ‘boke callyd Thomys,’ by which he seems to have meant Herbert's ‘Life of St. Thomas’—is apparently unknown. Another early thirteenth-century manuscript at Trinity College, Cambridge, B.5.5, contains a gloss on the Gospels, also ascribed to Herbert, but only by an inscription in a seventeenth-century hand. Early in the last century Oudin (De Scriptt. Eccles. ii. 1517) saw two other copies of the ‘Vita,’ at Igny and Signy; the latter he transcribed and sent to Papebroch for publication in ‘Acta SS.’ 29 Dec. Of the ‘Defensorium Annæ’ and ‘De suis Peregrinationibus,’ attributed to Herbert by Bale and others, nothing is now known. The first printed portions of Herbert's writings were the extracts from the ‘Vita’ contained in the composite ‘Lives of St.Thomas’ known as the ‘First Quadrilogus’ or ‘Historia Quadripartita’ (Paris, 1495, 4to), and the ‘Second Quadrilogus,’ edited by C. Lupus (Brussels, 1682, 4to; Venice, 1724, fol.) The ‘Vita,’ ‘Liber Melorum,’ ‘Homily,’ ‘Preface to Psalter’ parts ii. and iii., and ‘Letters’ were published by Dr. J. A. Giles as ‘Herberti de Boseham Opera quæ extant omnia,’ in his ‘Sanctus Thomas Cantuariensis,’vols. vii.viii. (1846), and reprinted by the Abbé Migne in ‘Patrologia Latina,’ vol.cxc. In his ‘Anecdota Bedæ.’ &c. (Caxton Soc. 1851), Dr. Giles printed the passages from the Phillipps MS. which correspond with the gaps in that of Arras. The Rolls Series of ‘Materials for the History of Archbishop T. Becket,’ vol. iii., contains a more accurate edition of the ‘Life,’ with selections from the ‘Liber Melorum,’ by Canon J. C. Robertson; vols. v. vi. and vii. include nineteen of Herbert's letters.

[Authorities quoted; Herbert's writings; Memoir by Canon Robertson in Materials for History of Becket (Rolls Ser.), vol. iii.]

K. N.