HERBERT, John (c.1540-1617), of London and Neath Abbey, Glam.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer




Family and Education

b. c.1540, 2nd s. of Matthew Herbert of Cogan Pill, Glam. by Mary, da. of Sir Thomas Gamage of Coity, Glam.; bro. of Nicholas and William Herbert I. educ. Christ Church, Oxf. 1554, BA 1558, MA 1561, BCL 1565; adv. 1573. m. Margaret, da. of William (or Rawling) ap Watkin Morgan of Pen y Clawdd, Abergavenny, Mon., 1da. Kntd. 1602.1

Offices Held

Jt. commr. of Admiralty court 1575-84; master of requests 1586-1600; j.p. Glam. from c.1592, custos rot. 1601; j.p. many other counties; second sec. and PC 10 May 1600; sec. to council in the north 1601-4; member, council in the marches of Wales 1602-17; commr. for eccles. causes by 1604, for Scottish union 1606, for recusants 1606; dean of Bath and Wells 1590-1607.2


Herbert’s grandfather, Sir George, was the first known MP for Glamorganshire, and his father was a nephew of Sir William Herbert, created 1st Earl of Pembroke in 1551. This Pembroke connexion was a valuable introduction to public life, though it did not, at any rate directly, provide Herbert with his parliamentary seats. His first appearance in Parliament, for the Cornish borough of Grampound may have been due to the influence of his cousin, Lady Warwick, while his return for Gatton may have been brought about either through a court connexion (Lord Burghley was frequently nominating at this time) or through Charles Howard I, the dominant political figure in Surrey, and distantly related to the Herberts. Christchurch, Herbert’s seat in was controlled by the earls of Huntingdon, lords of the manor (with whom Herbert had no known link), and again a contact at court seems the only explanation for his return. Sir Robert Cecil was presumably behind his return at Bodmin in 1597. Elected for both Glamorganshire and Wallingford (where he was nominated by Thomas Fortescue I) in 1601, Herbert chose his native county.3

Herbert obtained honorary admission to Gray’s Inn in 1592, the year in which he was chosen for disputation before the Queen on her visit to Oxford. Owing to his ‘perfection in languages’ (Polish included) he was frequently employed on diplomatic and commercial missions abroad between 1576 and 1602. He accompanied Cecil on a mission to France in 1598, serving as his secretary, and it was no doubt on Cecil’s recommendation that the Queen created for him after his return the office of second secretary: it had at first been expected that he would be made chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster. One of his first secretarial duties was to deputise for Cecil at the abortive Spanish negotiations at Boulogne in 1600. In the following year he was named as a candidate for the mastership of the rolls. Herbert’s legal and linguistic abilities made him a useful administrator and an acceptable link between Privy Council and regional councils.

He did not, however, take a very active part in the Commons. He is first mentioned in the journals of the House in 1593, his third Parliament, when he was appointed to the conference with the Lords on the subsidy (1 Mar.), to a Commons delegation to the Lords about the subsidy (3 Mar.) and to a conference on the collection for the relief of wounded soldiers (30 Mar.). No mention of him is made in the records of the 1597 Parliament. In his new capacity as Privy Councillor, he administered the oaths at the opening of the 1601 Parliament (27 Oct.). On 7 Nov. and 7 Dec. he spoke on the subsidy; on 10 Nov. he was put in charge of a bill concerning customs regulations and on 12 Nov. he was one of those to whom the bill concerning letters patent was committed. He was active in the controversy over the Denbighshire elections, to-ing and fro-ing between the lord keeper and the Commons. As knight for Glamorganshire he was eligible to attend the main business committee and the monopolies committee (3, 23 Nov.), and his appointment as Privy Councillor no doubt involved him in other committee work.4

James I kept him in office, and used him on several important commissions, but although diverted by Herbert’s occasional lapses into Welsh, he found him tedious and kept him at arm’s length. Disappointed at being passed over for the principal secretaryship on his senior colleague’s death in 1612, Herbert sank into obscurity, rarely seen at court or on the Privy Council, and not even standing as a candidate for the Addled Parliament. There are signs of failing health after 1614.5

In 1591 Herbert leased the manor of Cadoxton, which had belonged to Neath abbey, from Francis Cromwell, a great-nephew of Thomas Cromwell. Eight years later, he bought it outright, and built himself a residence out of the ruins of the abbey, which were included in the purchase. To this he was able—on the death of his elder brother in 1609—to add the family property in the neighbourhood of Cardiff and Swansea. In May 1617 Herbert fought a duel with Sir Lewis Tresham, brother of Francis, the Gunpowder conspirator: the grounds of the quarrel are unknown, but the incident may have resulted in his death, which took place two months later. His only child, Mary, wife of Sir William Dodington, was sole heiress, and the property passed through her into the Dodington family, and thence to the Hobys.6

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: A.H.D.


  • 1. Clark, Limbus , 286, 390; Bradney, Mon. i. 218.
  • 2. Al. Ox. 695; APC, xiv. 184; xxv. passim; xxx. 314; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 137; Flenley, Cal. Reg. Council, Marches of Wales, 237; Chamberlain Letters ed. McClure, i. 160; CJ , i. 318; HMC Hatfield, x. 145; xvi. 290; P. H. Williams, Council in the Marches of Wales, 348-9; Lansd. 153, f. 303 seq.; 155, f. 432.
  • 3. EHR, 1. 246-7; CP; VCH Hants, v. 86-92.
  • 4. HMC Wells, i. 316, 345, 353; HMC Hatfield, ix. 198; x. 93, 142, 148; xi. 485; xii. 250; xvii. 121, 165; Chamberlain Letters, i. 74, 117, 126; F. M. G. Evans, Principal Sec. of State, 57-9, 68; D’Ewes, 481, 486, 512, 603, 607, 613, 620, 622, 624, 631, 634, 635, 636, 637, 638, 641, 647, 649, 658, 661, 664, 665, 666, 668, 678, 685, 689; Townshend, Hist. Colls. 141, 173, 215, 282; Trans. Cymmrod Soc. 1944, pp. 19-20, 27; D. H. Wilson, Privy Councillors in the House of Commons, 56, 82-3.
  • 5. Chamberlain Letters, i. 355, 523, 526; APC, 1613-14, pp. 4, 581; 1615-16, pp. 86, 188, 315, 489-90; 1616-17, pp. 103-4.
  • 6. D. R. Phillips, Hist. Vale of Neath, 44-6, 414; G. A. Taylor, Neath Abbey, 9; NLW, Dinas Powys mss 105, 109, 124; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 466; PCC 167 Weldon; DWB.