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This report is taken from PN Review 181, Volume 34 Number 5, May - June 2008.

Thereby Hangs a Tale Neil Powell


William Herbert was created first Earl of Pembroke in 1551. He actually liked to think of himself as the twentieth earl; but, as the last holder of the title had died in 1469, leaving no legitimate successor, this was a self-glamorising fiction. In Brief Lives, John Aubrey describes him as 'a mad fighting fellow', while Adam Nicolson, in Earls of Paradise, calls him 'a Welsh hardman'. On midsummer's eve in 1527, during an Anglo-Welsh confrontation at Bristol which sounds very like a 1960s mods and rockers set-to at Clacton, he murdered one of the city sheriffs, a man called Richard Vaughan. According to Aubrey, he subsequently 'got into France', although this seems unlikely, as later in life he spoke no French (he could barely read or write English); instead, he probably faded back into Wales, where a William Herbert killed 'one honest man' at Newport in 1533. 'He was of good natural parts,' Aubrey concedes, 'but very choleric. He was strong set but bony, reddish-favoured, of a sharp eye, stern look.' There is something delightful about the fact that the founder of Elizabethan and Jacobean England's greatest cultural-intellectual dynasty was a semi-literate thug.

Restored to favour at court in 1535, Herbert lost no time in doing well for himself. His marriage to Anne Parr two years later not only brought him a conspicuously intelligent, well educated and theologically advanced wife but in due course made him brother-in-law ...


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