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Welsh History Review


Vol. 18, nos. 1-4 1996-97

The early life of William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke (d. 1570)

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IN his Brief Lives, John Aubrey told a sensational story about the young
William Herbert:
He was (as I take it) a younger brother, a mad fighting young fellow. 'Tis
certaine he was a servant to the house of Worcester, and wore their blew-
coate and badge. My cosen Whitney's great aunt gave him a golden
angell when he went to London. One time being at Bristowe, he was
arrested, and killed one of the sheriffes of the city. He made his escape
through Back-Street, through the (then great) gate, into the Marsh, and
gott into France
When I was a boy there, living with my father's mother, the story
was as fresh as but of yesterday. He was called black Will Herbert.
In France he betooke himself into the army, where he shewd so much
courage, and readinesse of witt in conduct, that in short time he became
eminent, and was favoured by [Francis I] the king, who afterwards
recommended him to Henry the VIII of England, who much valued him,
and heaped favours and honours upon him.
The tale has not convinced Herbert's more recent biographers.2 Yet,
as S. Seyer showed in 1823, the story is corroborated in its essentials by
several Bristol chronicles. These name the victim as William Vaughan,
A. Clark (ed.), 'Brief Lives', chiefly of Contemporaries, set down by John Aubrey,
between the years 1669 & 1696 (2 vols, Oxford, 1898), I, 314-15.
2 Most recently, N. P. Sil, William Lord Herbert of Pembroke (c. 1507-1570).
Politique and Patriot (Lewiston, NY, 1988), p. 26. P. S..Edwards, in S. T. Bindoff
(ed.), History of Parliament: The House of Commons, 1509-1558 (3 vols, London,
1982), II, 342, is agnostic.
S. Seyer, Memoirs Historical and Topographical of Bristol and its neighbourhood (2
vols, Bristol, 1821-23), II, 213-14.
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