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  William Herbert (1580–1630), by Sir Anthony Van Dyck William Herbert (1580–1630), by Sir Anthony Van Dyck
Herbert, William, third earl of Pembroke (1580–1630), courtier and patron of the arts, was the son of , and his third wife, Mary Sidney (1561–1621) [see ], sister of and of . A tablet erected by his grateful father in St Mary's Church, Wilton, Wiltshire, noted William's birth before noon on 8 April 1580. The baby was baptized there on 28 April. Queen Elizabeth and his mother's influential uncles Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, and Ambrose Dudley, earl of Warwick, stood as his godparents, testifying to the importance of the infant heir to the Pembroke title.

Education and early life

Following the tradition of his mother's family, Lord Herbert received a careful education. Herself an accomplished writer and poet, the countess educated her son at home, employing Hugh Sanford, and later Samuel Daniel, a poet of some renown, as his tutors. Their influence, as well as the example of his mother and Sidney uncles, bred a lifelong appreciation for literature and the arts in the young man. Herbert composed poetry—which remained unpublished until after his death—but more importantly he was the best-known patron of his generation. Ultimately his education would make him the ‘greatest Maecenas to learned men of any peer of his time, or since’ (Brennan, 150). He received his first dedication, a theological work by William Thorne, when he was twelve, in 1592. In the same year he and his father travelled to Oxford, where in the queen's presence they banqueted at Magdalen College—the beginning of an association with the university which would continue for the rest of his life. On 9 March 1593 he matriculated at New College, where he was tutored by John Lloyd and garnered more dedications. One, Thomas Moffet's Nobilis, or, A view of the life and death of a Sidney (c.1594), began what would become a consistent theme in Herbert's life: comparisons with his uncle Sir Philip Sidney. In 1595 he left Oxford without a degree (though he was in 1605 awarded an MA), but retained an affection for the institution which would endure.

With his heir approaching manhood, Pembroke embarked upon the first of several abortive negotiations for his son's marriage—to Elizabeth, daughter of Sir George Carey. This alliance, along with proposals for women of the Cecil, Vere, and Howard families, all failed thanks to the earl's steep terms and Herbert's reluctance. More important for Herbert at this stage of his life was the acquisition of military glory. Some scholars have placed him in Essex's Cadiz expedition (1596), though there is no hard evidence to prove this. In 1597 he planned a trip to the continent, and two years later asked his uncle Robert Sidney for the loan of horses and weapons so that he could ‘follow the camp’ (Sydney and others, 2.113). In 1598 his military interests prompted yet another dedication, this time to Robert Barret's Theory and Practice of Modern Wars. On the whole, however, it is unlikely that Herbert did much, if any, soldiering. His proposed campaign in 1599 was unhinged by his father's fragile health.

Elizabethan courtier

In any event, Herbert's real interests lay neither in the university nor on the battlefield, but at court. Polite education however deep—as it undoubtedly was in his case—and a martial veneer were means to an end: a successful career as a courtier. His first brief visit to court was in 1595, and the experience whetted his appetite for more. He was again at court in the summer of 1597, and a sustained campaign eventually won his father's permission for longer-term residence in London, but not until the spring of 1598. Increasingly feeble, and unable to travel to court, the earl hoped that his son might represent his extensive political interests there.

Once in London, Herbert lost no time establishing himself. He courted Robert Devereux, earl of Essex, and Sir Robert Cecil, rivals for the queen's favours, and ingratiated himself with both. By the autumn of 1599 he had made remarkable progress: ‘My lord Herbert is exceedingly beloved at court of all men’, wrote his uncle's man Rowland Whyte in November (Sydney and others, 2.143). On 29 November the queen granted him an hour-long private audience before he returned to Wilton for the holidays. Back at court by the spring of 1600, he again turned heads: ‘he will prove a great man’, wrote Whyte. His father's illness soon forced a reluctant Herbert back to Wilton. He told Cecil that he hated the rustic life, but that Pembroke's weakness demanded constant attendance. Moreover, to his son's horror, the earl's approaching end spurred unwelcome generosity in him: the old man gave away £1000 on a single day during Herbert's absence. But though the earl's illness lasted far too long to suit his ambitious son, death finally released Pembroke early in the morning of 19 January 1601.

William Herbert was now third earl of Pembroke, lord of vast estates, especially in Wales and the marches. The second earl had been a knight of the Garter and lord president of the council in the marches of Wales, and his son had every hope that his successful début at court would ensure an easy succession to those honours. Unfortunately the young earl's plans fell foul of his own passions and the queen's defence of female virtue. On 14 June 1600, during his last stay at court before inheriting his title, he attended the wedding of his cousin Henry, Lord Herbert (the earl of Worcester's heir). Prominent among the performers in a masque celebrating the occasion was . Daughter of Sir Edward Fitton, a prominent Cheshire gentleman, Mary had been at court since about 1597. Some have speculated that she was Shakespeare's ‘dark lady’; whatever the truth of this, it is clear that she was a captivating young woman. Courtiers took much surreptitious amusement in the infatuation with her of the fifty-year-old treasurer of the household, Sir William Knollys—attentions which she rejected. Apparently, however, she welcomed Herbert's approach, and they began an affair, probably shortly after the wedding. Rumour alleged that Mary, disguised in men's clothing, visited his lodgings. In August, Whyte noticed William's lack of attention to family business—he seemed depressed and distracted. For this he had good reason; by this time Mary was pregnant. Under the circumstances, his trip to his father's deathbed might have come as a relief from his troubles at court. On the day the old earl died he wrote to Cecil complaining of the scandalous stories circulating about him. By the end of January 1601 Fitton's predicament was common knowledge. The queen ordered Pembroke to the Fleet prison by 25 March, where he remained until 26 April, after which he was banished to Wilton. His son was born in late March and died almost immediately. Throughout his ordeal Pembroke showed no concern for his lover and adamantly refused to marry her. This behaviour incensed the queen, who thereafter declined to name him to his father's offices. Pembroke's career at Elizabeth's court was finished.

But though the Fitton affair was a personal disaster, Pembroke was fortunate in its timing. Caught in the toils of his own scandal, he escaped any taint in the catastrophe that overwhelmed Essex at the same time. Essex counted Pembroke as a friend and expected his support in his rising, but Pembroke's political sense, even in the midst of his troubles, kept him out of danger. Though he lost the queen's favour, he at least kept his head. In October 1601, still denied access to court, Pembroke discovered a role for himself as one of the most assiduous members of the House of Lords. This period in the wilderness taught Pembroke the value of a parliamentary power base, and he began the process of building a following there important enough to oblige even kings to respect him.

Royal favourite and cultural patron

For the remainder of Elizabeth's life Pembroke laboured in obscurity; 1602 passed by with virtually no mention of the earl or his whereabouts. But he was by no means prepared to abandon his hopes and to retire. The queen's death on 24 March 1603 gave Pembroke a second chance, and he wasted no time in seizing it. He and his brother, joined the rush of courtiers northward to escort the new king to London. James showed both brothers particular favour from the start. After his exclusion under Elizabeth, the Stuart accession marked a dramatic turn in Pembroke's fortunes. James, open-handed by nature, did not stint the avid courtier. The king visited Wilton twice in 1603, and clearly enjoyed Pembroke's company. In May Pembroke became a gentleman of the privy chamber and keeper of Clarendon Forest—the latter a source of income and patronage. On 9 July he succeeded in his father's place as knight of the Garter.

For all his cultural interests, Pembroke was well suited for the boisterousness of the Jacobean court. He participated enthusiastically in every accession day tilt until 1615, and performed in many masques celebrating courtly milestones. His personal relationship with James drew comment from the Venetian ambassador, who recounted a scene from the coronation: ‘The earl of Pembroke, a handsome youth, who is always with the king and always joking with him, actually kissed His Majesty's face, whereupon the king laughed and gave him a little cuff’ (Brennan, 105). On one of his many stays at Wilton, James, aware that Pembroke detested frogs, put one down his favourite's neck to general hilarity. Nothing abashed, Pembroke later took his revenge by sneaking a live pig into the king's close stool.

Pembroke's relationship with James continued to flourish, and he was equally popular with Queen Anne. His new year's gift to the king in 1604 was a jewel allegedly worth £40,000. Finding the wherewithal for such extravagances became easier in the same year. On 18 January James made him high steward of the duchy of Cornwall and lord warden of the stannaries; a few months later he became lord lieutenant of Cornwall—a major expansion of Herbert influence as well as sources of considerable income. On 4 November he further advanced his fortunes with his marriage to Lady Mary Talbot (d. 1650), daughter of . The match was a natural one between two important families—Pembroke's father and grandfather had both married Talbot women, and he received an impressive dowry with his new wife. Not everyone approved of the bargain, however. Years later Clarendon—who began his parliamentary career as a Pembroke client—said that the earl ‘paid much too dear for his wife's fortune by taking her person into the bargain’ (Brennan, 106). Their union produced only one child, a boy who died at less than a month old.

Pembroke's success at court attracted increasing attention from those searching for a patron. During the early years of James's reign an extraordinary range of books were dedicated to Pembroke: works of theology, military affairs, history, diplomacy, law, and poetry were all offered to him; no one outside the royal family gathered as many dedications in the early seventeenth century. Pembroke obviously enjoyed his reputation as a patron of arts and letters, which appealed to his love of scholarship as well as enhancing his lustre at court. John Burton wrote that ‘his vigorous and restless mind ranged over the whole life of his age’ (Brennan, 148–9) and the list of his clients reads like a biographical dictionary of the Jacobean arts. In 1603 Ben Jonson dedicated his Sejanus to the earl, beginning a long association between the two men. Pembroke gave Jonson £20 a year to buy books, and in 1605 came to the playwright's rescue when his Eastward Ho! landed him in gaol for its tactless assault on the Scots. George Chapman, the famous translator of Homer, benefited from the earl's attentions. Shakespeare's sonnets, published by Thomas Thorpe in 1609, bore a dedication to , and some scholars have suggested that this was Pembroke. In any case it is certain that he and his brother Philip were the dedicatees of the first folio in 1623. Pembroke's personal relationship with Shakespeare is a murky subject, but he certainly knew and patronized some of the bard's associates, such as Richard Burbage and Edward Alleyn. The earl may also have protected Thomas Middleton when in 1624 his anti-Spanish play A Game at Chess appeared. George Herbert, the poet and a kinsman, received a living in the church and a seat in the House of Commons thanks to the earl. Nor did Pembroke confine his patronage to literature alone; he befriended Inigo Jones—thereby walking a tightrope between the architect and his enemy Jonson. Some time before 1605 Jones apparently toured Italy at Pembroke's expense. The earl also commissioned portraits by Nicholas Hilliard, Marcus Gheeraerts the younger, and Daniel Mytens. Among his many other clients were Thomas Tompkins and John Dowland, two of the best-known composers of the day.

While his broad popularity among writers and artists reflected Pembroke's cultural interests, it was built upon the foundation of his success at court. He steadily accumulated favours from the king, increasing his attractions as a patron. In January 1608 he became constable of St Briavel's Castle and warden of the Forest of Dean; in October 1609, captain of the Tower and Isle of Portsmouth and constable of Portchester Castle. On 29 September 1611 he joined the privy council. But Pembroke could never count on James's unalloyed favour; there were always potential rivals at court. Henry Howard, earl of Northampton, for instance, detested Pembroke as a ‘Welsh juggler’ who threatened the Howard family's position (O'Farrell, 73–4). But a more significant bar to Pembroke's progress was Robert Carr. James's infatuation with Carr left Pembroke angry and frustrated, as he saw more and more of the rewards of favour diverted from himself and his brother. Carr's dominance at court further inflamed Pembroke's dislike of Scottish courtiers: ‘… the Scots and he were ever separate’ (Lloyd, 917) and in 1610 he quarrelled over a matter of precedence with the earl of Argyll. Pembroke's difficulties mounted between 1611 and 1614 as the deaths of Prince Henry, and the earls of Salisbury and Northampton promised an extensive reordering of power and patronage at court. Were it not for Carr, Pembroke believed himself well placed to fill the vacuum created by these deaths. On his deathbed, vindictive to the last, Northampton warned Carr, now earl of Somerset, to prevent Pembroke's succession to any of his offices. Pembroke's attempts to secure the offices of master of the horse, lord chamberlain, and, less importantly, the keepership of Waltham Forest, all failed during this period.

The public antagonism with Somerset led to Pembroke's identification as the leader of a faction determined to reduce the favourite's influence. In 1611 Jonson dedicated his Catiline to Pembroke. A story of the decline of the Roman republic, the unstated—but unmistakable—contrast was between Pembroke, the noble Roman, and Somerset, the corrupt politician. Nevertheless, Pembroke's aims were more practical: the extension of his power and patronage. By the autumn of 1612 Sir Robert Naunton was writing that Pembroke sought a truce with Somerset, whose influence seemed to grow daily. In the spring of 1613 he played a small role in the downfall of Somerset's erstwhile friend Sir Thomas Overbury when, along with the lord chancellor, Thomas Egerton, Lord Ellesmere, he told the hapless knight of his commission as ambassador to Russia. In November 1613 he assisted in the creation ceremony for Somerset's earldom, and performed at his wedding masque a month later. Amicable relations with the favourite, wary though they were, continued until July 1614, when Somerset became lord chamberlain, an office Pembroke had long coveted.

The rise of Buckingham, 1615–1621

Smarting over this setback, Pembroke was a willing participant in a plan to undermine Somerset. In April 1615 he hosted a meeting at his London home, Baynard's Castle, where he and several of the favourite's enemies, including Archbishop George Abbot, agreed to promote the career of George Villiers, a handsome—but poverty-stricken—young man who had recently caught James's eye. Pembroke lent Villiers clothing for his appearances at court, and worked with Abbot to gain the queen's favour for the young man. They succeeded, on 23 April, in arranging Villiers's knighthood, a ceremony carried out in the queen's chamber. Anne's prophetic remark to Abbot at the time was:
My lord, you and the rest of your friends know not what you do: I know your master better than you all; for if this young man be once brought in, the first persons that he will plague must be you that labour to him. (Rushworth, 1.456)
Pembroke would soon come to realize the truth of the queen's prediction. Nevertheless, in the short term his scheme was remarkably successful. Somerset's influence waned and ended with his dramatic fall from grace in the Overbury murder scandal.

Somerset's eclipse resulted in Pembroke's achieving one of his long-standing ambitions: on 23 December 1615 he received his wand of office as lord chamberlain. This office, one of the three most important at court, greatly expanded Pembroke's authority. The lord chamberlain had an important role to play in the life of the court. He presided over the household above stairs, and supervised some 600 officers. He arranged entertainment—masques, plays, and musical performances. He supervised the office of works and licensed theatres. Additionally he gained more patronage in the church. As important as the patronage attached to the office were its very considerable profits: over £4800 annually. Pembroke must have organized the Christmas revels of 1615 well pleased by the events of the year, but the threat to his position represented by his erstwhile client Villiers grew far more quickly than the new lord chamberlain could have expected. James gave the young man a handsome new year's gift on 4 January 1616, making Villiers master of the horse. When, that summer, James visited Wilton, it was with Villiers in tow. Pembroke's appointment as a commissioner to execute the office of earl marshal in September was hardly adequate compensation for the prominence of the newly ennobled Viscount Villiers.

These political troubles might explain why at about this time Pembroke embarked upon an affair with his widowed cousin, , who over the next several years gave birth to two children, William and Katherine. Although their existence was not widely known, Pembroke, and later his brother, helped establish his offspring as adults. At the same time Pembroke became a particularly active freemason—in 1617 as grand warden and in the next year grand master. His masonic associations might have been due to his connection with Inigo Jones, but they could also represent an attempt to broaden his power base as conflict with the new favourite loomed. A particularly galling moment for Pembroke must have been in 1618, when a new edition of Sir John Harrington's epigrams appeared on London's bookstalls. Its 1615 dedication to Pembroke had been replaced by a fulsome tribute to Villiers, now marquess of Buckingham.

But Buckingham's rise did not completely overshadow Pembroke. On 29 January 1617 Pembroke's long-standing relationship with Oxford University reached its apogee when he was elected chancellor. He took his office there seriously, intervening on the university's behalf in disputes with the town, settling squabbles among the faculty, and siding against the more strident Arminians there. Not surprisingly his role as chancellor prompted a flood of dedications and pleas for patronage. He secured fellowships for clients, and was a generous benefactor to the Bodleian Library, donating £100 towards its construction. More importantly, in 1629 he donated a collection of 250 Greek manuscripts he had purchased for £700. The rest of his Greek manuscripts made their way into the Bodleian in 1654. In 1624 Broadgates Hall honoured him by changing its name to Pembroke College. As he had no legitimate heir, the shrewd academics of the college expected, in the fullness of time, a handsome bequest. In the end they were forced to make do with (depending upon the story) a single piece of plate or a napkin for their pains. Pembroke's relationship with Oxford is commemorated in the bronze statue of him by Hubert Le Sueur which now stands in the quadrangle of the Bodleian; originally placed at Wilton, it was presented to the university by Thomas Herbert, eighth earl of Pembroke, in 1723.

Buckingham's enemies at court expected Pembroke to lead them, and their hopes increased following Queen Anne's death on 13 May 1619. Pembroke had always been close to the queen and without her influence at court Buckingham's influence burgeoned. In September he and Buckingham clashed openly over the appointment of the groom porter and a gentleman usher, both positions within the earl's purview as chamberlain. Buckingham's attempted seizure of some of Pembroke's patronage touched the earl in a particularly sensitive place. Yet the hopes of Buckingham's enemies for outright warfare with Pembroke took some time to be realized. As early as December 1617 Archbishop Abbot, bitter at the disastrous consequences of pushing Buckingham forward, turned on his ally. Writing to Dudley Carleton, he said that ‘Pembroke looketh only to his own ends, and whatsoever leagues, promises, and confederations are made within one hour they come to nothing’ (Cogswell, 131). After his experience with Somerset, however, it seems likely that Pembroke preferred compromise with Buckingham to an open breach.

Friendship with Buckingham brought its rewards; James paid another summer visit to Wilton in 1620, and in 1621 appointed Pembroke lord lieutenant of Somerset and Wiltshire, further consolidating his already significant power in the west. Additionally, from May to July 1621 he acted as a commissioner for the great seal. Yet Buckingham and Pembroke could not stay allies for long. This was in part due to the increasing monopoly Buckingham exercised over the king's favour, but also over matters of policy. Pembroke had long been associated with the anti-Spanish ‘protestant’ faction at court; it was a matter of pride to him that his famous uncle Sir Philip had died fighting the Spaniard. Northampton's pro-Spanish attitude had reinforced Pembroke's natural predilections. He consistently sought ways to challenge Spanish interests, at home and abroad. An early investor in colonial enterprises—Pembroke was the Virginia Company's second-largest investor—he put money into many other schemes that would curb Spanish power. These included investments in the Guiana Company, the Somers Islands Company, the discovery of the north-west passage, and the East India Company. In 1618 he had argued on Sir Walter Ralegh's behalf after his abortive incursion into Spanish America. Buckingham's support for a Spanish marriage for Prince Charles increased tension between the two men. Pembroke's opposition to the match was no secret. Thomas Scott, an anti-Spanish polemicist, was one of his chaplains.

Pembroke's anti-Spanish views coincided with those of many members of parliament, and although he always supported the crown's parliamentary agenda, he was, unlike Buckingham, a popular figure there. In fact the earl welcomed sessions of parliament, for he commanded a formidable interest in both houses. In December 1621 he argued against a dissolution in council, opposing both Prince Charles and Buckingham. Ever since his exclusion from Queen Elizabeth's presence, he had recognized the value of parliamentary patronage, and could plausibly claim by 1621 to be the kingdom's foremost patron after the crown itself. The number of members identified with him varied from parliament to parliament but in the Commons it was never less than a dozen, rising to over thirty at times. Pembroke's extensive properties gave him control over several seats in the Commons, as in Cardiff and Wilton, and his many offices—his lieutenancies, the wardenry of the stannaries, the chancellorship of Oxford—further extended his reach. He sponsored the selection of old friends, such as Sir Benjamin Rudyerd, relatives like George Herbert, and dependants, such as his secretaries, for seats in the Commons. Moreover, he systematically collected proxies in the House of Lords; rarely did he have fewer than five, and at key moments he could deploy as many as ten. This parliamentary faction gave Pembroke an important advantage in his struggle with Buckingham, for though the latter (who had been elevated to duke in 1623) might have the king's heart, Pembroke could, when necessary, defend his position at court through his influence at Westminster. By 1624 the tension between the two peers was especially high, sparking yet another clash over patronage when Buckingham attempted to intervene in the appointment of court musicians.

That Pembroke could use his extensive parliamentary influence to threaten Buckingham was clear to at least one shrewd observer. Francis Bacon advised Buckingham to come to some arrangement with Pembroke, despite the low opinion he had of the earl: ‘For his person, not effectual; but some dependences he hath which are drawn with him’ (Ruigh, 263). The duke seems to have taken this advice to heart, if only briefly. Pembroke and his following refrained from challenging the favourite in the parliament of 1624, aided no doubt by Buckingham's conversion to the anti-Spanish cause. Friendship with the duke encouraged James to name Pembroke warden of the New Forest, a place he had wanted for some time, on 30 December 1624. A superficial amity characterized the earl's relationship with Buckingham until James's death on 25 March 1625. Pembroke was present at the royal deathbed, and James asked him to testify that he died a good protestant. Given Pembroke's popular reputation as the most prominent protestant at court, the king's last request was politically wise.

The reign of Charles I

Charles I's accession presented new challenges. Buckingham was as firmly entrenched as ever, and Pembroke did not enjoy the same easy friendship with the king as with his father—there would be no practical jokes between master and servant in this reign. But Charles understood the importance of the man whom Lucy Russell, countess of Bedford, described as ‘the only honest harted man imployed that I know now left to God and his countrie’ (Cogswell, 317). John Chamberlain reported rumours that Pembroke would be a member of Charles's cabinet council, and on his part the earl obliged Charles by denouncing the doctrine of predestination at the York House conference. The king named him to his council of war but the constant tension with Buckingham resulted in yet more quarrelling in August 1625. In October Charles visited Wilton in an effort to heal the breach. The king's stay resulted in rumours of significant changes at court, the outlines of which were not, in the end, fanciful.

The royally inspired truce lasted up to Charles's coronation on 2 February 1626, at which Pembroke bore the crown. But the earl launched his most effective assault on his rival in the new session of parliament. There Dr Samuel Turner, a Pembroke client in the Commons, raised questions about Buckingham that would lead to formal charges against him. Pembroke's parliamentary influence was at its peak—with as many as thirty-eight friends, relatives, and clients in the Commons and no fewer than ten proxies, including that of the disgraced John Digby, earl of Bristol, from his peers. He took care to support Charles's war, speaking on 10 March to a joint session of the need for supply. But he did nothing to rein in the pursuit of the duke. In June Pembroke joined three other privy councillors in a petition to the king, urging against parliament's dissolution.

By early summer 1626 it was clear that Pembroke had to be mollified, and once again Charles brokered a treaty—this time a lasting one. The arrangement contained two key provisions: a marriage alliance and an exchange of offices at court. Buckingham betrothed his daughter Mary to Pembroke's nephew Charles, son and heir of his brother Philip, earl of Montgomery. Charles would, in the course of time, inherit the Pembroke earldom as well as his father's title. Pembroke promised the couple land worth £4000 a year, rising to £10,000 after their marriage, which would not take place for some time owing to the children's ages—Mary was four and Charles seven. Buckingham promised a £20,000 dowry. The wedding finally took place in January 1635, by which time both principals were long dead. More important than the marriage from Pembroke's perspective was the king's contribution to the peace. Charles appointed Pembroke lord steward of the household, and allowed the earl to pass his chamberlain's wand to his brother Montgomery. In early August there were reports that Pembroke was having second thoughts about the arrangement, but nevertheless the exchange of offices was complete by 18 August. Now the Herbert family, as lord steward and lord chamberlain, controlled the royal household both above and below stairs. Only Buckingham, as master of the horse, could rival Pembroke. Pembroke's income was estimated at £22,000 a year, his patronage network was the most extensive in the kingdom, and his popularity higher than ever. The earl's long career as a courtier at last brought him—and his family—the position he had sought since his first introduction at Queen Elizabeth's court over thirty years before.

Charles made another visit to Wilton in October 1626, reflecting the newly established understanding between the king and his servants. Pembroke withdrew his favour from some of Buckingham's most strident opponents, such as William Coryton and Sir Robert Phelips. He even allowed Buckingham to poach in his Cornish patronage preserve, appointing a ducal client vice-warden of the stannaries. He dutifully—if unenthusiastically—supported the forced loan. But events showed that Pembroke still found it difficult to work harmoniously with Buckingham. On 23 November, in Charles's presence, he fiercely attacked Buckingham's leadership of the disastrous Île de Ré expedition. Buckingham's failure encouraged Pembroke to press his advantage, and he argued for a new parliament and peace with France. Charles's reluctant agreement to call a parliament seems at least in part to have been based upon an understanding that Pembroke's following would not support an attack on Buckingham. He kept his side of the bargain, allowing Buckingham's friends to dominate elections in Cornwall and Somerset, to the dismay of many of his clients such as Coryton. Yet Pembroke remained, at best, only a grudging friend of the duke—only Buckingham's assassination in August 1628 would put an end to their rivalry.

Death and assessment

Many observers saw Pembroke as the most important figure at court after the duke's passing, and he continued to receive marks of royal favour: in September 1628 he was appointed to the admiralty commission, and on 8 September 1629 Charles named him chief justice in eyre south of Trent and vice-admiral of Wales. But Pembroke's long enmity with Buckingham, his advocacy of moderation and compromise as a privy councillor, and, not least, his willingness to pressure the king with his parliamentary influence, could hardly ingratiate him with Charles. The king was now determined to pursue a more vigorous line with his opponents, and Pembroke would not be sympathetic. He would no longer be at the centre of Charles's counsel. Additionally Pembroke's health was, by 1629, failing. He had been subject to occasional sharp attacks of the stone since 1623, and of gout since 1625. Throughout most of 1627 and 1628 his health was poor. On 9 April 1630 he dined cheerfully with his old friend Catherine, countess of Bedford, in London. Pembroke turned fifty the day before, and an amusing subject of their conversation was a fortune teller's prophecy that he would not live to see his fifty-first birthday. At eight o'clock the following morning he collapsed and died of apoplexy at Baynard's Castle. He was buried in Salisbury Cathedral on 7 May. He was succeeded by his brother, who became fourth earl of Pembroke.

Pembroke was ‘the very picture of nobility: his person rather majestick than elegant, his presence whether quiet or in motion, full of stately gravity, his mood generous, and purely heroick’ (Lloyd, 918). His generosity was well known, as countless writers and artists from Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones down could testify, and his love of scholarship was unquestionable. But while he supported the protestant cause in Europe and moderate courses at home, he never lost sight of his own, and his family's, interests. Pembroke's career was remarkable. The son and grandson of nobles adept at accumulating power through royal favour, he surpassed them both, holding his own against the two great favourites of the Stuart court—the earl of Somerset and the duke of Buckingham. If his Herbert inheritance was an appreciation of power and its use, the legacy of his Sidney mother was a lifelong passion for literature and the arts. The combination made William Herbert the greatest patron of his generation and one of the most durable, and successful, courtiers of his age.

Victor Stater


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Berkeley Castle, Gloucestershire, letter to lord Berkley · TNA: PRO, lord chamberlain's papers · TNA: PRO, state papers, domestic


I. Oliver, miniature, 1611, Folger · A. Blijenberch, oils, 1617, Powis Castle, Powys · P. van Somer, oils, 1617, Royal Collection · H. Le Sueur, bronze statue, Bodl. Oxf. · D. Mytens, oils, Wilton House, Wiltshire; versions, NPG, Audley End House, Essex · A. Van Dyck, oils, Wilton House, Wiltshire [see illus.]

Wealth at death  

common talk asserted that he had £80,000 in debts: Birch, Court and times of Charles the First, 73