HERBERT, Henry Arthur (?1756-1821), of Muckross, co. Kerry.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



19 Feb. 1782 - Feb. 1786
1806 - 1812
1812 - May 1813

Family and Education

b. ?1756, 1st s. of Thomas Herbert of Muckross by 1st w. Anne, da. of John Martin of Overbury Court, Worcs. educ. ?Harrow 1774-6; St. John’s, Camb. 1774; M. Temple 1776. m. 28 Oct. 1781, Elizabeth, da. of Lord George Germain, 2s. 2da. suc. fa. 1779.

Offices Held


Herbert’s father and grandfather owed their seats at Westminster to their family association with Lord Powis, but he owed his early introduction there to his father-in-law, at whose instigation he declined a place from Pitt but supported the minister, with his sights on an Irish barony. His standing in Kerry (his estate was worth about £7,000 p.a.1) enhanced by his relationship with Lord Kenmare and, by marriage, with Lord Glandore, was sufficient to make him aspire to the county seat, already held by his kinsman Richard Herbert. He canvassed in 1790 and stood unsuccessfully at a by-election in 1794. His premature retirement on the occasion was variously ascribed to timidity and his ‘aguish and irregular mind’.2 His next opportunity came in 1806 when the two peers supported him, Kenmare commending him as ‘my relation, friend, neighbour and a person well qualified to represent the county with credit’. This time, despite an illness during his canvass which caused him to dither, Herbert was returned.3

Herbert, who had been a supporter of the Act of Union, gave an independent support to the Grenville ministry, attempting at the same time to consult the wishes of his Kerry sponsors: corresponding with Glandore on the subject and concurring (27 Jan. 1807) with the latter’s belief that Catholic electors should be relieved of oaths in exercising the franchise.4 On 20 Feb. Herbert put in a word for the Maynooth College grant, helping Sir John Newport to resist Perceval’s attack on it. On 27 Feb. instructed, so he said, by his constituents’, he voted for the abolition of the slave trade. On 1 Mar. he informed Glandore, ‘I think you will approve of my having been the first to oppose the solicitor general’s bill for making freehold estates assets for payment of ... debts, as altering the fundamental foundation on which the whole of our common law relating to property is built’.5 The ministry were prepared to oblige Herbert by looking for a place for his brother-in-law and, on their dismissal, he voted with them on Brand’s motion, 9 Apr. 1807. Castlereagh complained of this to Glandore and Herbert was lectured by Judge Robert Day, who reported back:

I told him ... while I concurred with my friends in commending his zeal for the Catholic question ... I could not but lament his opposition to his Majesty’s administration. But this he assured me was not the case; that he had no connexion with or predilection for the ex-ministry; and that he was in principle a King’s man. You will see him immediately, and I submit to you whether it would not be right and reasonable for you to obtain from him an assurance of supporting unequivocally the King’s government. I even think you might fairly expect your friend Lord Kenmare’s concurrence in this recommendation to his favourite candidates, ‘Support the Catholic question and support the King’.6

In his election address in 1807, Herbert duly described himself as ‘of no party. I merely declare myself as of the same principle with regard to placing the Catholics in the situation of being capable of joining their fellow-subjects in the defence of the country and of their King and constitution.’ On 15 June, the viceroy reported of Herbert after an interview the day before ‘I rather think he is with us’, adding that Herbert was prepared to regard Richmond’s appointment as the continuation of ‘the Pitt system’ in Ireland.7

The viceroy was to be disappointed. Herbert supported Whitbread’s censure motion, 6 July, and if he quibbled with Sheridan’s critical motion on Ireland, 13 Aug. 1807, appears to have voted for it. He had opposed the Irish arms bill on 4 Aug. He acted with opposition on the Copenhagen expedition, 3, 8 Feb. 1808. On 15 Feb. the viceroy wrote to his chief secretary: ‘As you promised Herbert a cadetship it can’t be helped but he does not deserve it and will be decidedly against you.’8 This proved true: Herbert blamed the prolongation of war on ministerial obstinacy, 24 Feb.; seconded Whitbread’s peace resolution, 29 Feb.; voted against the orders in council, 3 Mar.; for Calcraft’s motion, 14 Mar.; for a larger grant to Maynooth College, 29 Apr., and for the Catholic petition, 25 May, on which he sought to prolong the debate, as well as for the admission of Catholics to the Bank of Ireland, 30 May. He was also a spokesman for the reform of the Irish tithe system, 16 June. He was an advocate of the assimilation and interchange of English and Irish or Scots militia, 22 July 1807, 2 May, 20 June 1808, 25 Jan. 1809. He was however more often than not a critic of Romilly’s bids to reduce capital punishment, thinking imprisonment a soft option. In other respects he was sufficiently in sympathy with opposition to attend their presessional meeting, 18 Jan. 1809.9 He voted with them against the convention of Cintra, 21 Feb., and for Ward’s motion on the Dutch commissioners, 1 May, though he was a partisan of the Duke of York and cross-examined witnesses in the House, February-March 1809. The viceroy reported, 10 May, ‘Mr Herbert is very angry with me. He has I understand voted on every question but the Duke of York’s against government and then writes to me to give a very good living at Kenmare to his friend’. He added that it had proved difficult to induce Herbert merely to stay away on the censure of Castlereagh, yet Herbert talked of being ‘driven into opposition’: it was an attempt ‘to bully’.10

Spencer Perceval thought it worthwhile making a bid for the support of such a constant attender and ready speaker and learnt through Glandore that ‘personal civilities’ would do the trick.11 After a few words in defence of ministers on the address, 23 Jan., Herbert voted with the opposition majority for the Scheldt inquiry, 26 Jan. 1810; on 16 Feb. (as on 7 June 1809), he defended the Peninsular campaign and he was won over on 22 Feb. by the chief secretary who informed the viceroy ‘he is now decided to support us thoroughly, and to the last extremity as he himself expressed it’. Herbert’s reward was to be a church living for his nephew and, to aid him electorally, a promotion in the peerage for Lord Ventry, whose son might otherwise contest his election. Perceval approved this and Herbert appeared on the government side on the Scheldt question in his speech of 27 Mar. and his vote on 30 Mar. 1810. He was not expected to change sides on the Catholic question or for that matter on Irish tithe reform and continued to speak up for both, but on Burdett’s conduct, parliamentary reform and criminal law reform he joined the hostile majority. On 3 May 1810, the Irish secretary wrote of Herbert’s ‘constant support and attendance’.12 The Whigs were ‘doubtful’ of his adhering to them. In the session of 1811, he wavered: on the Regency, he was in the government minority on 1 Jan. and spoke, with reservations, on their side on 17 and 18 Jan., but appeared in the opposition minority on 21 Jan. and, as before, supported a larger grant to Maynooth College and Irish tithe reform. He was also a critic of the bank-note bill in July. The militia interchange proposed by government had his warm support, though on 5 June he voted for the exemption from religious services of Catholic militiamen.

Herbert’s vacillation was doubtless connected with his loss of Ventry’s and Glenmare’s support on the Regency. To save the situation, he came to terms with Perceval shortly before the latter’s assassination: if his son Charles John were provided with a seat at one of the Irish boards or the reversion to one before the dissolution, he would wash his hands of Kerry and buy himself into Parliament, being already provided with an opening to do so. The viceroy was scornful of the arrangement: writing to Perceval, 11 Mar. 1812, to inform him that the secretaryship to the board of accounts, which was presided over by Herbert’s brother, was not available for Herbert’s son, he added ‘I am glad to find Mr Herbert supports government. By the newspapers I should have thought he was not very steady.’ Richmond, who thought Herbert should have been satisfied with a good living for his young nephew in the church, believed that if he meant to give up Kerry, he need not be so ‘forward’ in supporting the Catholic claims.13 His conduct that session had certainly been equivocal. He had supported Morpeth’s critical motion on Ireland, 4 Feb., and doubted the justice of the war with America, 13 Feb. On the other hand, he had supported the framework bill against the Luddites, 17 Feb. and McMahon’s sinecure appointment, 23 Feb., and had no time for Turton’s censure motion of 27 Feb. On 9 Mar. and 24 Apr. he was ‘forward’, as the viceroy had put it, in advocating the Catholic claims. On 13 May he embarrassed the House by a bid to secure a special grant of £10,000 to his ‘late lamented friend’ Perceval’s eldest son. On 21 May he sided with government against Stuart Wortley’s motion, though he expressed a wish for a less belligerent ministry.

Herbert saw the premier Lord Liverpool on 19 June 1812 in an attempt to get him to ratify Perceval’s bargain with him, adding, it would seem, that a British peerage would suit him even better. It was not until 14 Aug. that he could obtain an answer, which vetoed the peerage but confirmed provision, if possible, for his son. Meanwhile he had been absent from Parliament indisposed on a voyage of pleasure and had asked for a church living into the bargain. He duly gave up the county at the election of 1812. Judge Day, in anticipation of this, had commented:

it mortifies me that we lose Herbert. If he had failings and eccentricities of character, he was a gentleman, had the education and manners of a gentleman and did the country which he represented no discredit in the imperial parliament.14

Writing to Peel, 17 Aug. 1812, to remind him of his bargain with government, Herbert described himself as a martyr to the Catholic committee for his support of administration. The viceroy thought this a ‘stale joke’, admitting, ‘I am not very partial I own to Herbert who asks everything and I think does little’. Nevertheless he secured government backing for his return for the borough of Tralee, for £5,000, on the Denny interest. He subsequently admitted that had he been prepared to coalesce with James Crosbie*, he might have held the county. As it was, government found it difficult to provide for his son, on whose behalf he declined the secretaryship of the board of inquiry (£500 p.a. and not permanent) in the hope of something better.15 He took his seat as a government supporter but, apart from his votes for Catholic relief, 2 Mar., 13 and 24 May 1813 and a few desultory speeches, took little part in the new Parliament. He was the ‘Mr Herbert’ who sought an inquiry into the naval arsenals, 7 May 1813. By then, government had still not provided for his son and he had decided to resign his seat. As government failed to come to terms with him about his successor, Tralee went to a foe of theirs, on which unsatisfactory note Herbert’s public career ended. He died in London 21 June 1821, aged 65, an absentee landlord.16

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: P. J. Jupp


  • 1. Wakefield, Account of Ireland, i. 261.
  • 2. Talbot Crosbie mss, Dean Graves to Glandore, 9 Sept., Judge Day to same, 9 Dec. 1794.
  • 3. Ibid. H. A. Herbert to Glandore, 7, 9 Oct.; R. T. Herbert to same, 8 Oct.; Fitzgerald mss, Kenmare to Fitzgerald, 3 Aug. 1806.
  • 4. Talbot Crosbie mss.
  • 5. Ibid.
  • 6. NLS mss 12918, Fremantle to Elliot, 10 Mar.; Talbot Crosbie mss, Castlereagh to Glandore, 25 Apr.; Fitzgerald mss, Day to Glandore, 12 May 1807.
  • 7. Talbot Crosbie mss, Herbert to Glandore, 27 Apr. 1807; Add. 38568, f. 155.
  • 8. Wellington mss.
  • 9. Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 19 Jan. 1809.
  • 10. SRO GD51/3/349/12.
  • 11. Talbot Crosbie mss, Arden to Glandore, 11 Oct., reply 30 Oct. 1809, R. T. Herbert to same, 9 Jan. 1810.
  • 12. Geo III Corresp. v. 4126, 4177; NLI, Richmond mss 61/375, 64/654, 66/883, 73/1681, 1703, 1711, 1716.
  • 13. Add. 40221, f. 117; Richmond mss 66/947, 74/1765.
  • 14. Add. 38248, f. 350; 38249, ff. 35, 45, 73; Richmond mss 60/286a, b; Fitzgerald mss, Day to Fitzgerald, 26 Aug. 1811.
  • 15. Add. 40182, f. 12; 40185, ff. 51, 94; 40221, f. 117; 40222, f. 89; 40280, f. 123.
  • 16. Add. 40282, ff. 34, 67; 40283, f. 32; Leveson Gower, ii. 336.