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Portrait of Sir William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke, c.1565. National Museum of Wales.
Signature of Sir William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke from Doyle's 'Official Baronage'
Sir William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke  (1501?-1570)

SIR WILLIAM HERBERT, first Earl of Pembroke of the second creation (1501?-1570), was eldest son of Sir Richard Herbert of Ewyas, Herefordshire, by his wife Margaret, daughter of Sir Matthew Cradock of Swansea. Sir Richard, who lies buried under a fine canopied tomb in Abergavenny Church, was illegitimate son of William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke of the first creation (d. 1469), by a mistress, Maud, daughter of Adam ap Howell Graunt. According to the statement on a portrait at Wilton that he was sixty-six years old in 1567, William was born in 1501.

As a youth he seems to have entered the service of his kinsman Charles Somerset, Earl of Worcester, and soon attracted notice at court. He became a gentleman-pensioner in 1520 and esquire of the body to the king. Aubrey in his 'Lives' states that he was 'a mad young fighting fellow.' On Midsummer-day 1527, Aubrey continues, he took part in an affray at Bristol between some Welshmen and the watchmen, and a few days later killed a mercer named Vaughan on account of 'a want of some respect in compliment.' Thereupon he is said to have fled to France; to have joined the French army; and to have distinguished himself so conspicuously by his courage and wit that the French king wrote in his favour to Henry VIII. He soon returned home, and married Anne, younger daughter of Sir Thomas Parr, and sister of Catherine Parr, who became, on 12 July 1543, Henry VIII's sixth queen.

Thenceforth Herbert's place in the royal favour was assured, and royal grants soon made him a man of fortune. In 1542 and 1544 he and his wife received the rich estates belonging to the dissolved abbey of Wilton, Wiltshire. He destroyed the monastic buildings and built a magnificent mansion. In 1543 he was knighted, and on 24 Jan. 1548-4 was appointed captain of the town and castle of Aberystwith. On 27 April 1546 he became gentleman of the privy chamber, and was granted the keepership of Barnard's Castle on the banks of the Thames, near the spot now occupied by St. Paul's Wharf. At the same time he was appointed steward of much royal property in the west of England, and became owner of Cardiff Castle and of much additional land in Wales. The manor of Hendon, Middlesex, also fell to him. Baynard's Castle was thenceforth his London residence, and remained in the possession of his descendants. Herbert was an executor of Henry VIII's will, and the king bequeathed to him £300, and nominated him one of Edward VI's new privy council of twelve. Herbert and Sir Anthony Denny rode in the chariot carrying the coffin at Henry VIII's funeral.

Herbert supported the election of Seymour as protector on Edward VI's accession. On 10 July 1547 the young king granted him the manors of North Newton and Hulcot, and in the following year he was made master of the horse and a knight of the Garter. When disturbances broke out in 1549 in the west of England, he raised a force of two thousand Welshmen from his Welsh estates, and with ">Lord Russell relieved Exeter, which was threatened by an irruption of Cornishmen. His own park at Wilton had been invaded earlier, and he had dealt severely with the rioters. To repay him the heavy expenses of the campaign, the council allowed him to take the profits of minting two thousand pounds of bullion silver, which are said to have amounted to 6,709l. 19s.*

Meanwhile the quarrel between Protector Somerset and his rival Warwick had come to an open rupture. Both were anxious to gain Herbert's support. Somerset entreated him to bring his Welsh followers to his aid in London, while Warwick warned him that Somerset was engaging in treasonable practices. Herbert informed Somerset that his forces were still required to meet the rebels in the west (8 Oct.), and thenceforth acted with Warwick. On 8 April 1550 he was appointed president of Wales, and held the post till the end of the reign. On 9 July 1550 he took part in the examination of Gardiner, bishop of Winchester, and on 20 Dec. 1550 was allowed to maintain a hundred horsemen.

In April 1551 Somerset made a new attempt to gain Herbert's support, but Herbert declined his advances. Herbert, Warwick, and Northampton had become supreme in the king's council, and Somerset seems to have meditated the forcible capture of the triumvirate. But Warwick was too powerful. Somerset was thrown into the Tower, and Warwick became undisputed dictator. Herbert, who took part in Somerset's trial, 1 Dec. 1551, was richly rewarded for his acquiescence in Warwick's promotion. He was raised to the peerage as Baron Herbert of Cardiff(10 Oct.) and Earl of Pembroke (11 Oct. 1551). He received Somerset's Wiltshire estates, including Ramsbury and a newly built mansion at Bedwin Broil, and much woodland on the borders of the New Forest (7 May 1553). He was also granted, on Sir Thomas Arundel's attainder, Wardour Castle and park, and obtained some property belonging to the see of Winchester. The Wardour property subsequently reverted to the Arundel family by exchange and purchase, but Pembroke's increase of wealth exceeded that of any of his colleagues.

He was in attendance on the queen-dowager of Scotland when she visited London in November 1551, and on 21 Dec. he and Northumberland took the great seal from the custody of Lord-chancellor Rich. In April 1652 he resigned the office of master of the horse to Northumberland's eldest son. In June 1552 he accompanied the king in his progress through the west with fifty horsemen, and on 28 Aug. 1552 conducted him to Wilton, where Edward stayed the night. In October rumours were spread that Pembroke and Northumberland had quarrelled, and these were repeated in April, but there was no outward sign of dissension. Pembroke arranged the marriage of his eldest son Henry to Lady Catherine Grey on the same day (21 May 1553) as Lady Jane Grey was married to Northumberland's son, Guildford, and he acted with Northumberland in all the negotiations for securing Lady Jane Grey's succession to the throne on Edward's death. He signed the engagement of the council and the letters patent confirming Jane's claims. According to Northumberland's account, Pembroke was the original deviser of the whole conspiracy, and was moved by a personal dread of losing his property if a Roman catholic sovereign should ascend the throne.

Throughout Lady Jane's short reign Pembroke was with her and Northumberland at the Tower of London, but when Northumberland left London to meet Mary's forces in the eastern counties, Pembroke declared for Mary, and was with the lord mayor when her proclamation was read in Cheapside (19 July). On Mary's arrival at the Tower her advisers regarded his attitude as ambiguous. He was directed to confine himself to his house at Baynard's Castle. On 8 Aug., however, he acted as one of the chief mourners at Edward VI's funeral; on 13 Aug. was appointed a privy councillor, and on 1 Oct. attended Mary's coronation. On the outbreak of Wyatt's rebellion the queen again entertained suspicions of his loyalty. But after some hesitation she allowed him to take chief command of the army gathered in London to resist Wyatt's entry. He placed his cavalry at what is now the Piccadilly end of St. James's Street, and his infantry at Charing Cross (9 Feb. 1553-4); but his troops made so slight a resistance to Wyatt's passage from Hyde Park to Ludgate Hill, that Pembroke's good faith was once more questioned. After the capture and execution of Wyatt general confidence in his fidelity seems to have been re-established.

Pembroke's religious views inclined to Calvinism. He had stood godfather to a son of Edward Underhill, 'the hot gospeller,' and he never pretended to sympathise with the Roman catholic revival. According to an improbable statement of Aubrey, Wilton Abbey was restored by Mary, and the nuns reinstated there, to Pembroke's disgust. In the council he was avowedly opposed to Gardiner, Petre, and the ardent catholic party, but his political principles were pliant, and he assented to the queen's marriage with Philip. The gift of a pension of two thousand crowns from Charles V's envoy Egmont seems to have dispelled some early misgivings. He introduced into the royal chamber the Spanish ambassador, who came to represent Philip at the formal betrothal of the queen (6 March 1553-4). Even then Gardiner expressed a fear that Pembroke was playing the queen false, and Mary was advised to arrest him. But the suspicions of his foes were finally lulled when in June he sumptuously entertained at Wilton Philip's ambassador, the Marquis de las Navas.

On 19 July he met Philip on his arrival at Southampton, and attended him with a large retinue to Winchester, where the queen was awaiting him. Pembroke was one of the four peers who gave Mary away at the wedding in Winchester Cathedral, and carried the sword of state before Philip after the ceremony (25 July). He rapidly secured the prince's favour, and when Mary sought to arbitrate between France and the empire, Pembroke was sent early in 1555 to Calais with Pole, Gardiner, and Paget in order to discuss terms with the French envoys. The negotiations failed, and Pembroke on his return tn England retired to Wilton. In March Philip hastily summoned him to London, and ordered him to Calais to superintend the fortifications of Guisnes, and to advise the warden of Calais as to the action to be taken in case of a French attack. On his journey Pembroke attended Pole's consecration as archbishop of Canterbury at Greenwich. The Venetian ambassador at Charles V's court reported at the time that Pembroke was the chief personage in England, and the French, with whom he had served in early life, are stated to have held him in esteem. But in May he was recalled from Calais, according to some writers, because Philip desired his society and counsel; according to others, because his inability to speak any other language but his own rendered him nearly useless.

On 4 Sept. 1555 he accompanied Philip to Brussels, where Philip introduced him to Charles V. He was nominated governor of Calais in November 1556, and resumed the office of president of Wales for the years 1555-8. In March 1557 Philip paid a last visit to England to organise an English expedition in aid of the Spanish troops who were fighting against the French in Flanders. Pembroke was appointed captain-general of the English army, and arrived two days after the defeat of the French outside St. Quentin, but took part in the storming of the town, and made prisoner Duke Anne de Montmorency, constable of France. The armour worn by the constable, as well as that worn at St. Quentin by Pembroke himself, is still preserved at Wilton.

Immediately after Mary's death Pembroke travelled to Hatfield and attended Elizabeth's first privy council. He and Cecil were, with two others, appointed a committee to discuss the ecclesiastical situation with the queen. Pembroke zealously supported a protestant revival. On 25 April 1559 the queen supped with him at Baynard's Castle. When Cecil went to arrange peace with Scotland in May 1560, Pembroke maintained his interests at court, and afterwards welcomed the Scottish ambassadors who were sent to negotiate Elizabeth's marriage with the Earl of Arran. In July Pembroke was taken seriously ill at his house at Hendon, and for a year his recovery was doubtful. In 1561, when Cecil was much embarrassed by rivalries at court and disturbances in Ireland, he declared that in Pembroke's absence he was without a supporter in the council.

Late in 1561 Pembroke again attended the council, advocating the policy of alliance with the Huguenots. In 1562 he agreed to support the claims of the Earl of Huntingdon to the throne in succession to Elizabeth, who was at the time seriously ill. In September 1564 Pembroke's health was again failing, and for some years he took a subordinate part in politics. The distressed merchant staplers of Calais, which had fallen to the French in January 1558, petitioned him to secure relief for them, and he invited to England oppressed protestant weavers from the Low Countries, arranging for the settlement of some at Wilton. In March 1563 the queen lent him, Dudley, and others [see Sir John Hawkyns] a ship known as the Jesus of Lambeth, which they fitted out for a voyage to the coasts of Africa and America, and two years later he was interesting himself in the hydraulic inventions of one Daniel Hochatetter.

In 1568 Pembroke was appointed Lord Steward of the royal household but in the next year he compromised his reputation by supporting the scheme for the marriage of the Duke of Norfolk with Mary Queen of Scots. He was ordered to Windsor, and placed under arrest in September 1569. He at once admitted sympathy with the scheme, but denied the charges of disloyalty to Elizabeth. On 5 Dec., when the Earls of Northumberland and Westmorland were in open revolt in the north of England, Pembroke wrote to the queen that they had wickedly and falsely used his name to his discredit; vehemently denied that he had ever thought of acting against Elizabeth or the protestant religion, and begged to be allowed to prove his words in action. He was appointed captain of an army of reserve, but his services were not required.

He died at Hampton Court on 17 March 1569-1570. He was buried (18 April), as he desired, in St. Paul's Cathedral, where an elaborate monument was erected to his memory. His will was dated 28 Dec. 1569, and his son and heir was sole executor. His friends Leicester, Sir Walter Mildmay, Sir Nicholas Throgmorton, and Sir Gilbert Gerard were the overseers, and to these a codicil (16 March l569-70) added Sir Nicholas Bacon, Sir James Croft, and Cecil. To the queen he left his ' best jewel, named the Great Ballace,' and his richest bed. On 26 March Elizabeth sent his widow a sensible letter of condolence.

A silver medallion-portrait, dated 1562, by Stevens, a Dutch medallist, is in the British Museum. A painting of Pembroke with a dog is at Wilton House, and Pembroke also appears in Streetes's picture of Edward VI at Bridewell Hospital.... A stained-glass window in Wilton Church contained portraits of Pembroke and his first wife. The latter is extant, but the existing portrait of himself is a modern restoration. Aubrey, who preserves many anecdotes of the earl, describes him as 'strong sett, but bony, reddish favoured, of a sharp eye, stern look.' He adds that Pembroke could neither read nor write, but documents with his signature in capital letters are extant. The favourite 'cur-dog,' which appears in the Wilton picture,is said by Aubrey to have died on his hearse. Aubrey declares that he was regarded by the Wiltshire gentry as an 'upstart,' and his retainers were constantly engaged in brawls with the retainers of neighbouring noblemen. Lord Stourton and he were certainly on very bad terms.

Pembroke belonged to the new aristocracy, which the Tudor sovereigns created and encouraged, and his views in politics and religion were largely moulded by his personal interests; but he was a brave soldier, and faithfully served those with whom he allied himself. Of his buildings at Wilton the east front, much altered, alone survives, together with an elaborate porch, traditionally known as Holbein's porch, and now standing by itself in the gardens of the house. The porch cannot be from the designs of Holbein, who died in 1543 before Herbert was granted Wilton. A drawing of Wilton House, dated 1563, is engraved in Mr. Nightingale's 'Notices.'

Pembroke's first wife, Anne, was buried in St. Paul's Cathedral, 28 Feb. 1551. By her he had two sons, Henry, second earl, his heir, and Edward, and a daughter Anne. The daughter married Francis, lord Talbot, son and heir of George, sixth earl of Shrewsbury, in February 1562. At the same time, the bride's elder brother, Henry, married the bridegroom's sister Catherine. Pembroke's second wife was Anne, sixth daughter of George Talbot, fourth Earl of Shrewsbury, and widow of Peter Compton. By her he had no issue; she was buried at Erith, Kent, on 8 Aug. 1588.

(Sidney Lee)

£6,709, 19s in 1549 had roughly the same purchasing power as £3,294,000 in 2020!
Source: Measuring Worth]


      Dictionary of National Biography. Vol XXVI. Sidney Lee, Ed.
      London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1891. 220-223.

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Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex
Penelope Devereux, Lady Rich
Sir Christopher Hatton
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Edward Manners, 3rd Earl of Rutland
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Henry Radcliffe, 4. Earl of Sussex
Robert Radcliffe, 5. Earl of Sussex
William Parr, Marquis of Northampton
Henry Wriothesley, 2. Southampton
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Charles Neville, 6. E. Westmorland
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Henry Percy, 8. E. Northumberland
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William Herbert, 1. Earl of Pembroke
Charles, Lord Howard of Effingham
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Henry Hastings, 3. E. of Huntingdon
Edward Manners, 3rd Earl of Rutland
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Francis Manners, 6th Earl of Rutland
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The Cinque Ports
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Chart of the English Succession from William I through Henry VII

Medieval English Drama

London c1480, MS Royal 16
London, 1510, the earliest view in print
Map of England from Saxton's Descriptio Angliae, 1579
London in late 16th century
Location Map of Elizabethan London
Plan of the Bankside, Southwark, in Shakespeare's time
Detail of Norden's Map of the Bankside, 1593
Bull and Bear Baiting Rings from the Agas Map (1569-1590, pub. 1631)
Sketch of the Swan Theatre, c. 1596
Westminster in the Seventeenth Century, by Hollar
Visscher's View of London, 1616
Larger Visscher's View in Sections
c. 1690. View of London Churches, after the Great Fire
The Yard of the Tabard Inn from Thornbury, Old and New London

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