HERBERT, Sir Henry (1594-1673), of the Revels Office, Tuttle Street, Westminster and Woodford, Essex; later of Ribbesford, nr. Bewdley, Worcs. and James Street, Covent Garden, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press



1640 (Apr.)
1640 (Nov.) - 20 Aug. 1642
1644 (Oxf. Parl.)
1661 - 27 Apr. 1673

Family and Education

bap. 7 July 1594, 6th s. of Richard Herbert† (d.1596) of Montgomery Castle, Mont. and Magdalen, da. of Sir Richard Newport† of Eyton, Wroxeter, Salop; bro. of Sir Edward* and George*.1 educ. travelled abroad (France) 1615, 1618.2 m. (1) July 1625 (with £5,000), Susanna (bur. 5 Jan. 1650), da. of Richard Sleford, Clothworker of London, wid. of Edmund Plumer (d.1624), Merchant Taylor of London, 1s. d.v.p., 2da. (1 d.v.p.);3 (2) 1650/1, Elizabeth (bur. 12 July 1698) da. of Sir Robert Offley of London and Dalby, Leics. 2s. (1 d.v.p.) 5da. (3 d.v.p.).4 kntd. 7 Aug. 1623.5 d. 27 Apr. 1673.6 sig. H[enry] Herbert.

Offices Held

Gent. privy chamber 1622-46;7 dep. master of Revels 1623-40, master 1640-2, 1660-d.8

J.p. Worcs. 1628-42, 1660-d.;9 commr. oyer and terminer, Oxf. circ. 1632-42, Wales and Marches 1640;10 member, Council in the Marches 1633-42, 1661-?d.;11 commr. array Worcs. 1642,12 assessment, Worcs. and Worcester, Worcs. 1660-d., Bucks. and Westminster 1663-d., Salop and Mont. 1665-d., Poll Tax, Worcs. 1660, loyal and indigent officers, Mdx. and Worcs. 1662, subsidy, Worcs. 1663.13

Commr. abuses of goldsmiths 1635.14


At his death in 1596, Herbert’s father bequeathed his younger sons an income to provide for their education, but from the age of 26 each was to receive a life annuity of only £10, a condition presumably intended to give then an incentive to seek an independent career. Herbert’s eldest brother Sir Edward recalled that he was ‘brought up in learning as the other brothers were’, which suggests that Sir Henry went to school and then university, but nothing else is known of his formal education.15 Sent to France in the summer of 1615, Herbert must have been encouraged to make contact with the duc de Montmorency, whose father had shown great hospitality to Sir Edward Herbert during his time in Paris in 1608-9. Montmorency was brother-in-law to the prince de Condé, leader of the aristocratic faction then fomenting revolt against Marie de Medici, regent of France, and in August Herbert returned to England with a message for king James from the duc de Longueville, one of Condé’s closest allies. Although anodyne in its content, the letter was apparently reinforced by verbal pleas for English assistance, and Herbert was swiftly sent back to Paris with dispatches for Longueville and the English ambassador, Sir Thomas Edmondes*. He got no further than Boulogne, where he was detained by the loyalist lieutenant governor. Happily, King James intervened on his behalf, berating a French envoy then in England and instructing Edmondes to register his dissatisfaction at the highest levels.16

Herbert did not forsake France entirely after his release, but probably spent much of the next few years in London with his brother, who named him as a second in an abortive duel with Sir Robert Vaughan of Llywidiarth, Montgomeryshire, whose family had a longstanding feud with the Herberts.17 He should not be confused with a namesake, Capt. Henry Herbert, who was knighted during this period but spent most of his career as an officer in the English regiments in the Low Countries.18 Herbert stayed with his brother when the latter was appointed ambassador to France in the spring of 1619, being sent ahead to Paris to make preparations. Six months later Louis XIII’s favourite, the duc de Luynes, used Herbert as an unofficial contact when he wished to make overtures for a match between Princess Henrietta Maria and Prince Charles, while Sir Edward seems to have used his brother intermittently to convey sensitive information to Whitehall.19

Herbert presumably returned to England in September 1621 when his brother broke off his embassy after an intemperate exchange with Luynes. Before returning to France in the following summer, Sir Edward procured his brother a place in the Privy Chamber, and although the king sent Herbert to Paris in April 1623 for news of Prince Charles’s journey to Spain, he remained at Court thereafter, taking charge of the Revels in July 1623.20 Referred to as ‘master of the Revels’ thereafter, his position was legally anomalous until 1640, as his tenure was based upon the purchase of a deputation from the original patentee, Sir John Astley. His duties included not only supervision of the lighting for stage performances at Court, but also the licensing of plays and companies of actors throughout the country. Allowances for accommodation at Court and attendance at plays, and a fee for each licence awarded probably yielded him an income of several hundred pounds a year. His licensing duties extended to the censorship of texts, although the changes upon which he insisted were often based upon moral rather than political objections.21

One of the few plays Herbert might have banned on political grounds was Thomas Middleton’s A Game at Chess, licensed in the summer of 1624, which provoked a diplomatic incident over its lampooning of Spanish duplicity during the negotiations for a match with Prince Charles. Performed at a time of rapidly rising tension between the two nations, such sabre-rattling suited the government’s purposes. The Privy Council went through the motions of investigating the controversy, but the king, far from reproaching Herbert for his inaction, asked him to sound out his brother, then in Shropshire, about popular attitudes to the Spanish Match.22 It is difficult to believe that Herbert would have licensed such a controversial text without consulting his departmental chief, the notoriously hispanophobic lord chamberlain, the 3rd earl of Pembroke (his fourth cousin). Furthermore, a newsletter Herbert wrote to Sir John Scudamore* in October 1624 makes it clear that he endorsed his superior’s views on foreign policy. Although welcoming the prospect of a French Match, Herbert expressed concern that the king’s willingness to help the French in the Valtelline in return for support in the Palatinate would ultimately backfire. He also advised Scudamore of the forthcoming impressment of levies for Count Mansfeld’s expeditionary force to the United Provinces, which he hoped would help to raise the Spanish siege of Breda: ‘all Europe looks upon this action, which in the default would give a great blow to the Low Countries and us’.23

Having acquired a secure income and Court office, Herbert was finally in a position to seek a match of his own. In July 1625 he married the widow of a wealthy London merchant, who brought him lands worth almost £200 a year in Woodford, Essex and Stepney and Kilburn, Middlesex, together with a bequest of £5,000 from her late husband’s estate. The latter’s executor was, not surprisingly, reluctant to part with the cash until Herbert had given undertakings for his wife’s jointure and portions for any children produced by the marriage, but these problems were resolved in 1627, when Herbert assigned £1,500 to his stepfather, Sir John Danvers*, to hold in trust for any daughters his wife might bear. He invested the other £3,500 in an estate at Ribbesford, just outside Bewdley, Worcestershire.24

Herbert was so preoccupied with personal and professional concerns during the mid-1620s that it is tempting to regard his return for Parliament in 1626 merely as a convenient device for sustaining his family’s electoral interest in the Montgomery Boroughs seat. He was hardly a prominent Member, his only appearance in the surviving records of the session being a nomination to attend the conference with the Lords of 7 Mar. about the defence of the kingdom. However, it is undoubtedly significant that this was the occasion at which Pembroke declared his unequivocal support for the war with Spain, while retaining the hope that France might yet join the anti-Habsburg cause.25 Like many other MPs, Herbert may have felt it prudent to remain silent during a session dominated by attacks on the duke of Buckingham, but in his case instinct was reinforced by an apparently genuine illness, which kept him away from the House for seven weeks, during April and much of May. His ill-health did not eradicate his interest in parliamentary proceedings: apologizing to Scudamore for his absence on 23 May, he forwarded ‘such Parliament papers as I could collect together’, and promised to do his best to obtain a copy of the Commons’ impeachment charges against Buckingham. The fact that he asked Scudamore to return these papers to him suggests that his involvement was not that of a mere newshound. In subsequent letters he observed that ‘the House of Commons is very slow in passing of their subsidies, and are resolved to stick there till their grievances be redressed’, but was aware that the focus of the session had shifted to the Lords, where Buckingham, although he managed to shrug off the Commons’ impeachment charges, was still locked in a struggle with his aristocratic enemies:

The judges have determined that the king can be no accuser [in an impeachment], and then I am sure he can be no witness against any man, whereby the e[arl] of B[ristol] (Sir John Digby*) will have a great deal of ease. The earl marshal [Arundel] was yesterday restored to his peers, and now we shall see how he shall behave himself.26

Herbert’s weekly commentary was cut short by the dissolution, and his acquisition of Ribbesford in the following year presumably led him to decline a seat in the next Parliament, when the Montgomery Boroughs seat went to a local man.

Herbert continued to correspond with Scudamore for the rest of his life, expressing himself on political issues with a candour which suggests a particularly close friendship. In his first remarks on the Forced Loan, on 29 Sept. 1626, he hoped that the project would ‘not make him [the king] out of love with parliaments’ or be taken as a precedent, aspirations which reflected the moderate views of Pembroke, and the royal Proclamation which appeared shortly thereafter. Two months later, Herbert was still attempting to put a brave face on the situation, insisting that the king had sacked chief justice Sir Ranulphe Crewe* ‘not for not subscribing [to the Loan], but for denying it in ill language’. However, by the beginning of February 1627 he had all but abandoned any pretence of support for the Loan, giving a lengthy catalogue of individual refusals and refractory shires and ending with the biblical admonition that ‘a house at division within itself cannot stand’. Aware of his own audacity, he observed that ‘I write as if we were alone, and believe that you will free [us] from the danger of accusers or witnesses by committing it [the letter] to the fire’.27 Although Scudamore ignored this injunction, he must have destroyed a good deal of Herbert’s correspondence; in one of the few letters to survive from this period, dated 1 Sept. 1627, Herbert’s pro-French sympathies surfaced in the observation that the king of Denmark, having ‘engaged his person and kingdom to assist religion and the Bohemian cause, [sees] that we must begin a war with our neighbours [i.e. France], and if not our friends, yet no enemies of ours’.

Herbert’s surviving correspondence with Scudamore resumes shortly after the dissolution of Parliament in March 1629, with information about the fate of Sir John Eliot* and the others arrested at the end of the session. Having learned to express himself more circumspectly upon political matters, Herbert recounted the bare details of proceedings without commentary, and when the imprisoned Members appeared before the judges in October, he buried his description of the hearing in the middle of a passage written in French. By July 1631 he declined to write about the contentious issue of the collection of compositions for knighthood fines at all, merely observing that ‘at home we have our wars too, but they are civil ones as yet, but of an uncivil nature, as you shall hear more at large hereafter, for what is not safe to enquire after is less safe to write’. With Scudamore’s career aspirations turning towards an ambassadorial post, Herbert increasingly chose the easy option of focusing on European affairs, celebrating the prowess and then lamenting the death of Gustavus Adolphus.28 Herbert probably had little more sympathy for the religious ethos of the 1630s than he showed for its politics. In 1633 he brought the young Richard Baxter to Court, and while the latter quickly returned home, disgusted with the lack of morals and hostility to puritanism he had seen at Whitehall, Herbert was later to persuade his Worcestershire neighbour, Sir Ralph Clare*, to fund the lectureship at Kidderminster which ultimately brought Baxter to national prominence.29

For all his dissatisfaction with the Caroline Court, Herbert served as a volunteer in the First Bishops’ War, managed to sidestep most of the political controversies of the opening sessions of the Long Parliament while serving as MP for Bewdley, served briefly as a commissioner of array in Worcestershire and then joined the king’s Household during the Civil War. He surrendered some months before the fall of Oxford, and received a commendation from Sir William Brereton* for his fair treatment of prisoners; his landed estate was valued at £350, and his composition set at £1,330.30 During the 1650s he retired to his Worcestershire estates with his second wife, expending considerable energy in an attempt to force his son-in-law, Sir Henry Every, to provide an adequate jointure for his daughter Vere.31 He regained his post at the Revels at the Restoration, and sat for Bewdley once again in the Cavalier Parliament. In his will of 1 Jan. 1673 he ostentatiously professed his adherence to the Church of England and bequeathed portions of £3,000 each to his two unmarried daughters. He died on 27 Apr. 1673, and was buried at St. Paul’s, Covent Garden on 6 May. He was succeeded in his estates and his parliamentary seat at Bewdley by his only surviving son Henry, who was raised to the peerage as Lord Herbert of Cherbury in 1694.32

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Simon Healy


  • 1. Ped. at back of Herbert Corresp. ed. W.J. Smith (Univ. Wales, Bd. of Celtic Studies, Hist. and Law ser. xxi).
  • 2. Control and Censorship of Caroline Drama: the Revels Office under Sir Henry Herbert ed. N.W. Bawcutt, 2.
  • 3. Vis. Worcs. (Harl. Soc. xc), 47; PROB 11/83, ff. 36-8; 11/144, ff. 12-13; C10/13/42, f. 2.
  • 4. Revels, 112; St. Paul’s, Covent Garden (Harl. Soc. Reg. xxxvi), 165.
  • 5. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 182.
  • 6. Herbert Corresp. 213.
  • 7. Revels, 4; LC2/6, f. 37; Add. 37157, f. 54.
  • 8. C66/2512/5; Revels, 10-11.
  • 9. C231/4, f. 248; C193/12/3, 193/13/2; C220/9/4.
  • 10. C181/5, pp. 147, 367, 436-8.
  • 11. T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 4, pp. 6-18.
  • 12. Northants. RO, FH133.
  • 13. SR, v. 271, 303, 317, 264, 372, 378-9, 431, 466, 485.
  • 14. Rymer, viii. pt. 4, p. 123.
  • 15. C142/247/84; Life of Lord Herbert of Cherbury ed. J.M. Shuttleworth, 8-9, 15.
  • 16. Revels, 2; SP78/63, ff. 264, 276, 299, 303-7; CSP Ven. 1615-17, pp. 4, 6, 10-11; Life of Lord Herbert, 41-2; V.-L. Tapié, France in Age of Louis XIII and Richelieu, 76-7, 304.
  • 17. Life of Lord Herbert, 87-91; EDWARD VAUGHAN.
  • 18. Shaw, ii. 162; Revels, 111.
  • 19. CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 25; CSP Ven. 1619-21, pp. 21, 67, 263.
  • 20. Life of Lord Herbert, 106-10; Revels, 4; PRO 30/53/5, f. 31.
  • 21. Revels, 27-37.
  • 22. Ibid. 65-8; T. Cogswell, Blessed Revolution, 302-7; APC, 1623-5, p. 305; Cabala sive Scrinia Sacra, 229.
  • 23. C115/107/8536; J.I. Israel, Dutch Republic and the Hispanic World, 106-8; Cogswell, 129-31.
  • 24. PROB 11/144, ff. 12v-13; C2/Chas.I/H84/41, 2/Chas.I/P54/14; C10/13/42.
  • 25. CJ, i. 832a; Procs. 1626, ii. 221-3; C. Russell, PEP, 287-8.
  • 26. C115/107/8537-8, 8544; Russell, 307-20.
  • 27. C115/107/8539-41; Stuart Royal Procs. ed. J.F. Larkin and P.L. Hughes, ii. 112-13; R. Cust, Forced Loan, 40-6.
  • 28. Add. 11043, f. 80; C115/107/8543-55, 8561; L.J. Reeve, Chas. I and the Road to Personal Rule, 138-44.
  • 29. Revels, 8.
  • 30. CSP Dom. 1639, pp. 283, 349; Add. 37157, f. 54; CCC, 1072-3; CJ, iv. 431b, 468a; v. 516b.
  • 31. C10/13/42; CCAM, 832-3; Add. 37157, f. 62.
  • 32. PROB 11/342, ff. 51v-55; Herbert Corresp. 213; St. Paul’s, Covent Garden, 62; HP Commons, 1660-90, ii. 530-2.