HERBERT, William I (1506/7-70), of Wilton, Wilts. and Baynard's Castle, London.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. 1506/7, 2nd s. of Sir Richard Herbert of Ewyas, Herefs. by Margaret, da. and h. of Sir Matthew Cradock of Swansea, Glam.; bro. of George. m. (1) by 1540, Anne (d. 20 Feb. 1552), da. of Sir Thomas Parr of Kendal, Westmld., 2s. inc. Edward 1da.; (2) by 19 May 1552, Anne, da. of George Talbot, 4th Earl of Shrewsbury, wid. of Peter Compton (d. 30 Jan. 1544), of Compton Wynyates, Warws., s.p. Kntd. 1543; KG nom. 1 Dec. inst. 13 Dec. 1549. cr. Baron Herbert of Cardiff 10 Oct. 1551, Earl of Pembroke 11 Oct. 1551.3

Offices Held

Gent., the Household bef. 1534, privy chamber by 1540-d.; esquire of the body by 1535; jt. attorney-gen. Glam. (with John Bassett II) 1535-51, (with unknown) 1551-5, (with David Evans) 1555-68, (with Thomas Morgan) 1568-d.; approver and overseer, Glam. and Morganwwg 1535; clerk chancellor, lordship of Cardiff, Glam. 1535; sewer by 1540; gent. pens. 1540; lt. Pewsham and Blackmore forests, Wilts. 1541; capt. Aberystwyth and Carmarthen castles 1543; ordinary, the chamber by 1545; steward, duchy of Lancaster, Wilts. 1546; receiver-gen., Caerleon, Trelleck and Usk, Mon. 1546; commr. contribution Wilts. 1546, mints 1550, relief numerous counties 1550, penal laws 1552, goods of churches and fraternities numerous counties 1553; doorward, Devizes castle, Wilts. 1546; keeper, Baynard’s castle, London 1546, the wardrobe, Hanworth, Mdx. by 1553; steward, lands of Queen Catherine Parr in Dorset and Wilts. 1546-8, unknown property of Thomas Seymour, Baron Seymour of Sudeley by 1548; PC Feb. 1547-d.; j.p. Wilts. 1547-d., Cornw., Devon, Dorset, Kent, Mdx., Salop, Worcs. 1554-64, Herefs. 1554, Glam 1558; custos rot. Glam c.1547-c.1562; master, the horse 2 Dec. 1549-28 Apr. 1552; constable, Bristol castle, Glos. 1550, Brecon, Dinas and Montgomery castles, Brec., Ruthin castle, Denb., Neath castle, Glam., St. Briavels castle, Glos., Grosmont, Skenfrith and Whitcastle castles, Mon. by 1552, Chirk castle, Denb. by 1570; steward, Bristol by Nov. 1550, manor of Weymouth, Dorset temp. Eliz.; v.-adm. Dorset by 1550; pres., council in the marches of Wales 1550-3, 1555-8; ld. lt. Wales 1551, Wilts. 1551, 1569, Som. 1569; recorder, Ruthin, Denb. by 1552; approver and coroner, Dyffryn Clwyd by 1552; trier of petitions in the Lords, Parlts. of Mar. 1553, Oct. 1553, ?Apr. 1554, 1555, 1559, 1563; chancellor and chamberlain, Brecon 1555-d.; steward, the Household by 1567; numerous minor Eng. offices.4


William Herbert’s father was a bastard son of that Yorkist Earl of Pembroke who had been killed at Banbury in 1469 fighting against Warwick the Kingmaker. The younger brother of George Herbert he was born in Monmouthshire according to John Aubrey, who calls him ‘a mad fighting young fellow ... [who] was a servant to the house of Worcester and wore their blue coat and badge’. Aubrey describes an incident, apparently at midsummer 1527, when Herbert got involved in a brawl at Bristol and on being arrested killed a man; he escaped from the town and eventually succeeded in reaching France, where he joined the royal army and ‘showed so much courage and readiness of wit in conduct that in short time he became eminent and was favoured’ by Francis I, who thought highly enough of him to recommend him to Henry VIII. How much truth there is in all this it is hard to tell but, although Herbert seems to have been out of England for several years after 1527, his detractors later commented on his total ignorance of French. When he reappears in 1535 he is found taking over some of the local offices of his kinsman Henry, 2nd Earl of Worcester, offices which were to give him much influence in Glamorgan: two years later he leased Abergavenny priory, Monmouthshire. He also made progress at court: granted an annuity of £46 13s.4d. in 1537, he was by 1540 a gentleman of the privy chamber and a member of the new royal bodyguard.5

It was in May 1540 that Herbert received his first important grant of property, a 21-year lease of the site of Wilton abbey; in the following July he was appointed chief steward of all the abbey’s lands. Herbert was to make Wilton his home, and his return for the borough to the Parliament of 1542 was both a symbol and a portent. In April 1542 the abbey was among a number of properties in Wiltshire granted for life to Herbert and his wife; in January 1544 the life grant was converted into a freehold, inheritable in tail male, and at the same time the couple acquired the borough of Wilton. To this nucleus were added during these years, besides other lands in Wiltshire, properties in Cheshire, Devon, Dorset, the Isle of Wight, Somerset and Worcestershire. In March 1545 came the first inroad into Glamorgan, a lease of two lordships which had belonged to Jasper Tudor; it was followed in August 1546 by the leasing of the lordships of Miskyn and Glynrhondda and the borough of Llantrisant, in September 1546 of the lordships of Neath Ultra and Neath Citra, the manor and borough of Neath and the town of Briton Ferry, and in the following December of another six Glamorgan lordships. This prodigious accumulation was the dividend of Herbert’s marriage to the sister of Henry VIII’s last Queen, which also earned him a knighthood in 1543, a place of honour in the campaign of 1544 and the privilege of reporting the capture of Boulogne to his sister-in-law, and finally a nomination as one of the 12 executors of the King’s will and a legacy of £200.6

In the early years of Edward VI’s reign Herbert was a leading Privy Councillor and a supporter of the Protector Somerset, being named on the two surviving patents for the Protectorate. Himself elected for a second time as knight of the shire for Wiltshire to the Parliament of 1547, he seems to have co-operated with Somerset’s brother, Admiral Seymour, in securing the return of their followers to Parliament: Herbert and Seymour had sat together in the Commons as knights of the shire for Wiltshire in 1545, and Seymour’s marriage to Catherine Parr in the summer of 1547 had made them kinsmen. Many of their parliamentary clients were members of Catherine Parr’s entourage. Apart from Wilton, where as owner of the borough he chose the Members, Herbert’s two main spheres of influence at elections from 1545 were Wiltshire and south Wales. Herbert was a signatory of four Acts which were passed during the third session of the Parliament of 1547, those for a general pardon, for a churchyard in West Drayton, for the restitution of Sir William Herbert, and for the fine and ransom of the Duke of Somerset.7

Herbert’s alliance with John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, began in 1549, shortly after he had helped to crush the western rebellion, where with Sir John Russell, Baron Russell, he was in command of the royal forces. It was their refusal to move to the support of Somerset in October that tipped the scales against the Protector. Herbert was rewarded for his success in both crises by being made a Knight of the Garter and given the presidency of the council in the marches in succession to Warwick. Then in May 1550 Herbert gained huge grants of land in Glamorgan and Monmouth, including the lordships of Aberafon, Cardiff and Radyr, the boroughs of Aberafon, Cardiff and Cowbridge and the castles of Aberafon, Caerphilly, Cardiff and Kenfig in Glamorgan; in Monmouthshire he acquired the manors of Caerleon, Newgrange, Troy and Usk and the boroughs of Caerleon, Trelleck and Usk: Herbert thus became the largest single landowner in South Wales. With his brother-in-law the Marquess of Northampton and with Warwick he became one of the leading men in the government who were determined to get rid of Somerset. The duke is alleged to have planned Herbert’s arrest in the spring of 1551, when he was contemplating a return to power, but it was Somerset, not Herbert, who eventually entered the Tower. Herbert claimed to have dissuaded the duke from going north to raise an army against his opponents: thus, Herbert argued, he had saved Northampton, Warwick and himself from the fate that Somerset had reserved for them. On 4 Oct. 1551 Warwick became Duke of Northumberland and a week later Herbert was created on successive days Baron Herbert of Cardiff and Earl of Pembroke. His elevation caused a vacancy in the Commons which was filled by Sir William Sharington. Pembroke took part in the trial of Somerset and later received some of his Wiltshire lands. The years 1552 and 1553 were in many ways the zenith of Pembroke’s career. In August 1552 he was host to the King at Wilton, and in May 1553, on the same day as Lady Jane Grey married Guildford Dudley, he concluded the marriage of his eldest son Henry to Lady Catherine Grey. During 1552 relations between Pembroke and Northumberland had cooled and when in July of that year Northumberland took him northwards on business some said ‘it is because [one] does not trust the other’. His failure in the autumn to answer a summons to court lent colour to these rumours, which persisted until the following spring. Whatever their origin, there was no outward dissent between the two men, and Pembroke supported the device to put Jane on the throne. If she had remained there he would have had a similar relationship to the crown as that he enjoyed after 1543; indeed Northumberland later tried to ascribe the idea of altering the succession to Pembroke.8

Although Pembroke was with Jane at the Tower during her brief interlude, he was present when the lord mayor of London read Mary’s proclamation at Cheapside. Retained on the Privy Council, he was at first suspect but cleared himself of the remaining doubts when he crushed Wyatt’s rebellion. He had helped to organize the parliamentary opposition to the Spanish marriage and, until he was rebuked by the Queen, he had supported the Earl of Devon as a suitor for her hand. Before the arrival of Philip he incurred further displeasure by voting against the heresy bill in the Lords: he afterwards expressed contrition, saying that he and others had been ‘swayed by Paget’s prejudice’ when Paget argued that the bill would deprive them of their secularized property. One of the four peers to give the Queen in marriage to Philip, he was slow to capture Philip’s favour. The imperial ambassador reported his absence from the following Parliament, after 26 Dec. 1554, on the pretext of illness or private business, but the reason was almost certainly Pembroke’s anxiety not to offend the King and Queen by speaking on the contentious treasons bill giving Philip the custody of their children in the event of Mary’s early death. His circumspect behaviour in this and other matters soon brought its reward. In 1555 he was restored to the presidency of the council in the marches, a post which he had lost at the succession, and in the autumn he accompanied Philip to Brussels to meet the Emperor. The extent of his allegiance was demonstrated several months later when the Commons’ debate on the bill to penalize exiles was discussed at Baynard’s castle. To the concern of many present he spoke out in support of (Sir) Edward Hastings whose advocacy of the bill had enraged many Members. For contradicting him, he dismissed ‘Master Paretes [presumably (Sir) John Perrot], his most favourite and familiar gentleman’, whereupon ‘many other gentlemen in the earl’s service took their leave of him’. In 1557 he was placed in command of the army which invaded France and gained lustre from the brilliant but fruitless victory at St. Quentin. Three days before Mary’s death he made what was probably his final appearance in the Commons, when as a Privy Councillor he joined the delegation to ask for a subsidy.9

Pembroke welcomed the accession of Elizabeth and he repaired to Hatfield as soon as her sister’s death was announced. He was re-appointed as a Privy Councillor, but notwithstanding his interest in the Anglican settlement illness kept him away from much business of state in the following years. Never a regular attender in the Lords, his presence there became increasingly rare. His reputation was again injured when his name was invoked during the northern rebellion and when he publicly supported the scheme for marrying Mary Queen of Scots to the 4th Duke of Norfolk. Pembroke made his will on 28 Dec. 1567 providing for his sons and stepdaughter Anne Talbot, and appointing as executor his son Henry and as overseers Sir Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, (Sir) Walter Mildmay, (Sir) Nicholas Throckmorton and Gilbert Gerard. On his deathbed he instructed his son Edward, in the presence of Thomas Highgate and others, to add a codicil to the will remembering the Queen, his wife and several noble colleagues. As it was at Hampton Court on 17 Mar. 1570 that he died, he was buried in accordance with his instructions beside his first wife in St. Paul’s, where a monument was later erected to his memory.10

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: P. S. Edwards


  • 1. Wilton entry bk. p. 160.
  • 2. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 3. Date of birth estimated from age on MI. DNB; CP; Stowe 692, f. 55; Harl. 806, ff. 40-41; CPR, 1550-3, pp. 122, 128; Hoare, Wilts., Branch and Dole, 139.
  • 4. LP Hen. VIII, iv, viii, xvi, xviii, xxi, add.; PCC 30 Alenger; CPR, 1547-8 to 1569-72 passim; Hoare, Wilts. Alderbury, 121; P. H. Williams, Council in the Marches of Wales, intro. xiv. 36; HMC Hatfield, i. 443; W. R. Williams, Welsch Judges, 152; LJ, i. 430, 448, 465, 492, 542, 580; Bristol AO, 04026/5/106, 04721, f. 298; information from J. C. Sainty; EHR, xxiii. 741; Weymouth and Melcombe Regis mss Sherren pprs. 39; E163/12/17, nos. 38, 51, 54; Somerville, Duchy, i. 632.
  • 5. Aubrey, Brief lives, ed. Clark, 314-15; LP Hen. VIII, iv, xii-xiv.
  • 6. LP Hen. VIII, xvi-xxi; J. J. Scarisbrick, Hen. VIII, 491; Wealth and Power, ed. Ives, Knecht and Scarisbrick, 87-89, 95.
  • 7. W. K. Jordan, Edw. VI, i passim; VCH Wilts. v. 114-15; House of Lords RO, Original Acts, 3 and 4 Edw. VI, nos. 24-25. 30-31.
  • 8. Jordan, i, ii passim; R. L. Beer, Northumberland, 79-80, 82; Lit. Rems. Edw. VI, 256, 371-2, 449; CSP Span. 1550-2, pp. 425, 546, 579; 1553, p. 13; CPR, 1547-8, p. 97; 1549-51, p. 579; 1553, p. 13; CPR, 1547-8, p. 97; 1549-51, p. 418; 1550-3, pp. 31, 122, 128; P. H. Williams, intro. xiv. 36; HMC Bath, iv. 108; Machyn’s Diary (Cam. Soc. xlii), 37; Wriothesley’s Chron. ii (Cam. Soc. xx), 88-89; Chron. Q. Jane and Q. Mary (Cam. Soc. xlviii), 11-12; HMC Shrewsbury and Talbot, ii. 348.
  • 9. D. M. Loades, Two Tudor Conspiracies, 15, 19-20, 53, 67, 71-73, 90, 164, 184; M. A. R. Graves, ‘The Tudor House of Lords 1547-58’ (Otago Univ. Ph. D. thesis, 1974), i. 181, 242-3, 401, 549, 733; ii. 23-24, 279-80; C. G. Ericson, ‘Parl. as a legislative institution in the reigns of Edw. VI and Mary’, (London Univ. Ph. D. thesis, 1973), 482; CSP Ven. 1556-7, p. 272; CJ, i. 52.
  • 10. PCC 15 Lyon; Wards 7/12/51; Wilts. Arch. Mag. xviii. 128.