The second earl of Pembroke is the subject of poem 25, composed c.1471 for a young man who was not yet of full age. Even before that, Hywel Swrdwal had praised him on the occasion of his dubbing as a knight (GHS poem 6). In the 1470s, Wiliam Herbert received praise from Ieuan Deulwyn (Lewis 1982: poem 36) and Llywelyn ap Morgan (Bryant-Quinn 2010: poem 1). William’s patronage also lies behind Tomas Derllys’s praise poem for Gwent (Lewis 1982: poem 40). There is a strong argument for taking Lewis 1982: poem 17 to be a praise poem for the second earl, rather than his father, and GDLl poem 48 might have been composed for either man. On the other hand, Guto’s poem 28 addresses a man who may be identified as an illegitimate brother of the second earl, not the earl himself as was believed by the editors of GGl.
The genealogical table below is based on WG2 ‘Godwin’ 8A1 and A4. Those named by Guto in his poem for Wiliam are shown in bold print, and the names of his patrons are underlined.
William was the eldest legitimate son of William Herbert of Raglan, first earl of Pembroke. His grandfather was Sir William ap Thomas. His mother was Ann Herbert, daughter of Sir Walter Devereux of Weobley, Herefordshire. Sir Walter Herbert was his younger brother, and William Herbert of Pembroke and Troy an elder, but illegitimate, brother.
He lived at his father’s home, Raglan castle.
William was born in 1455, as is shown by the evidence of the inquisitio on the death of his father in 1469, where it is noted that William was 14 years old at the time (Thomas 1994: 73n1; Thomson 1921). On 1 September 1466 he was knighted by Edward IV at Windsor (GHS 151) and then married Mary Woodville, a sister of the queen. He received the title ‘Lord Dunster’ (Thomas 1994: 45). Dunster is a port in Somerset which had been in the hands of William’s father for some years.
In July 1469 the first earl of Pembroke was executed following his defeat at the battle of Edgecote/Banbury. William Herbert inherited the title of earl of Pembroke at once, as is seen in contemporary documents (Thomas 1994: 74). All the same, William was still underage during the dangerous years 1469–71, when the enemies of his father and of his wife’s family were struggling for control of the kingdom. Only after the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury (1471) could William feel assured in his position once more, and poem 25 is a product of 1471, looking back at and lamenting the terrible events of these three years.
William’s father, the first earl, had been to all intents the governor of the whole of Wales for Edward IV. The second earl did not succeed in regaining his father’s position, and because of this historians have been harsh in their judgements of him, accusing him of being weak, feeble or poorly governed (e.g. Griffiths 1972: 158). It has also been suggested that William’s health was delicate, a weakness which might account for his perceived lack of energy and determination (Thomas 1994: 73). It might well be argued, however, that this criticism reflects unrealistic expectations, for the circumstances which had favoured the rise of the first earl no longer existed. Edward IV’s grip on the throne was more secure than previously. The power of the Neville family had been crushed and they no longer needed to be counterbalanced. Above all, Edward had an heir. From now on there would be a prince of Wales, and in those circumstances it is difficult to see how the earl of Pembroke could act as freely as his father had done in the 1460s. In truth, the first earl had derived his power essentially from the king, and in the 1470s the king gradually moved away from relying on the earl of Pembroke in favour of trusting the group of men surrounding the young prince. Perhaps the most important thing to bear in mind is that the exceptional power of the first earl must inevitably have made enemies for him and his family (cf. William Herbert). As soon as a new authority, the prince’s council, showed itself in Wales, those who had been disfavoured by the first earl were bound to gravitate to this new focus. To what extent William Herbert himself was responsible for losing Edward’s favour is hard to say, but conflict between him and the council of the prince was all but unavoidable, however politically skilled he might be. And if the king were to find himself compelled to choose between William Herbert and his own son’s councillors, he would hardly choose the young earl. Thus the younger William Herbert inherited what was in fact a poisoned chalice from his father.
William Herbert’s gradual fall from grace has been chronicled by D.E. Lowe (1976–8). In 1473, when there was a general resumption (recalling of grants made by the king), the offices which the young earl had inherited from his father were not exempted (ibid. 293–4). Though he did not lose the offices all at once, nevertheless it was a strong signal that the king was not willing to trust him as he had trusted his father. Soon afterwards there is evidence that members of the Herbert family were causing unrest in south Wales (Ross 1974: 195; Thomas 1994: 77; DNB Online s.n. Herbert, William). By now the close alliance between the Herberts and their relatives, the Vaughans, an alliance which had been so successful in the 1460s, was in pieces (Griffiths 1993: 35). In 1475 there was some kind of reconciliation between Herbert and the king, for William Herbert went to France in the king’s army and was permitted to enter into his full inheritance (Thomas 1994: 78). However, this did not put an end to the problem, and in fact the relationship soured further. At last, in 1479, Herbert was compelled to renounce the title of earl of Pembroke and accept that of earl of Huntingdon instead. He and his brother Walter were forbidden to enter Wales for a year (Bryant-Quinn 2010: 62–3 and n31).
Herbert’s position was transformed under Richard III (1483–5). After the fall of the duke of Buckingham Richard needed a supporter to keep order in Wales (Griffiths 1993: 37). He turned to William Herbert, who married his illegitimate daughter, Katherine Plantagenet, in 1484 (Thomson 1921: 270). Herbert’s attitude towards Henry Tudor is a matter of debate, but it appears that his brother Walter fought for him at Bosworth in 1485 (Griffiths 1993: 41–2).
William Herbert died on 16 July 1490 (DNB Online s.n. Herbert, William).
Bryant-Quinn, M.P. (2010), ‘ “Aur yw pris y wisg”: Llywelyn ap Morgan a’r Grog yn Aberhonddu’, Dwned, 16: 51–91
Griffiths, R.A. (1972), The Principality of Wales in the Later Middle Ages: The Structure and Personnel of Government, i: South Wales, 1277–1536 (Cardiff)
Griffiths, R.A. (1993), Sir Rhys ap Thomas and his Family: A Study in the Wars of the Roses and Early Tudor Politics (Cardiff)
Lewis, W.G. (1982), ‘Astudiaeth o Ganu’r Beirdd i’r Herbertiaid hyd Ddechrau’r Unfed Ganrif ar Bymtheg’ (Ph.D. Cymru [Bangor])
Lowe, D.E. (1976–8), ‘The Council of the Prince of Wales and the Decline of the Herbert Family during the Second Reign of Edward IV (1471–1483)’, B xxvii: 278–97
Ross, C. (1974), Edward IV (Berkeley)
Thomas, D.H. (1994), The Herberts of Raglan and the Battle of Edgecote 1469 (Enfield)
Thomson, C.H. (1921), ‘William Herbert Earl of Huntingdon’, Notes and Queries (twelfth series), part viii: 270–2