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Edward Herbert, portrait by Isaac Oliver (1560–1617)

Edward Herbert, 1st Baron Herbert of Cherbury (3 March 1583 – 20 August 1648) was a British soldier, diplomat, historian, poet and religious philosopher.




Early life

He was the eldest son of Richard Herbert of Montgomery Castle (a member of a collateral branch of the family of the Earls of Pembroke) and of Magdalen, daughter of Sir Richard Newport, and brother of the poet George Herbert. He was born at Eyton-on-Severn near Wroxeter. After private tuition he matriculated at University College, Oxford, as a gentleman commoner, in May 1596. On 28 February 1599, at the age of 15, he married his cousin Mary, then aged 21, ('notwithstanding the disparity of years betwixt us'[1]), who was daughter and heiress of Sir William Herbert (d. 1593). He returned to Oxford with his wife and mother, continued his studies, and learned French, Italian and Spanish, as well as music, riding and fencing. During this period, before he was 21, he started a family.

On the accession of King James I he presented himself at court and was created a Knight of the Bath on 24 July 1603. He was Member of Parliament for Merioneth.[2] From 1605 he was magistrate and sheriff in Montgomery.[3]


Edward Herbert, by William Larkin, ca 1609-10

In 1608 he went to Paris, with Aurelian Townshend, enjoying the friendship and hospitality of the old Constable de Montmorency at Merlou and meeting King Henry IV; he toured Europe with Inigo Jones, and lodged for many months with Isaac Casaubon.[4][5] On his return, as he says himself, he was "in great esteem both in court and city, many of the greatest desiring my company." At this period he was close to both Ben Jonson and John Donne, and in Jonson's Epicoene, or the Silent Woman Herbert is probably alluded to.[6] Both Donne and Jonson honoured him in poetry.[7]

In 1610 he served as a volunteer in the Low Countries under the Prince of Orange, whose intimate friend he became, and distinguished himself at the capture of Juliers from the emperor. He offered to decide the war by engaging in single combat with a champion chosen from among the enemy, but his challenge was declined. During an interval in the fighting he paid a visit to Spinola, in the Spanish camp near Wezel, and afterwards to the elector palatine at Heidelberg, subsequently travelling in Italy. At the instance of the Duke of Savoy he led an expedition of 4,000 Huguenots from Languedoc into Piedmont to help the Savoyards against Spain, but after nearly losing his life in the journey to Lyon he was imprisoned on his arrival there, and the enterprise came to nothing. Thence he returned to the Netherlands and the Prince of Orange, arriving in England in 1617.


In 1619, Herbert was made ambassador to Paris, taking in his entourage Thomas Carew.[8] A quarrel with de Luynes and a challenge sent by him to the latter occasioned his recall in 1621. After the death of de Luynes, Herbert resumed his post in February 1622.

He was very popular at the French court and showed considerable diplomatic ability. His chief objects were to accomplish the marriage between Charles, Prince of Wales and Henrietta Maria, and to secure the assistance of Louis XIII for Frederick V, Elector Palatine. He failed in the latter, and was dismissed in April 1624.

He returned home greatly in debt and received little reward for his services beyond the Irish peerage of Castle Island on 31 May 1624 and the English barony of Cherbury, or Chirbury, on 7 May 1629.

Later life

In 1632 he was appointed a member of the council of war. He attended the king at York in 1639, and in May 1642 was imprisoned by the parliament for urging the addition of the words "without cause" to the resolution that the king violated his oath by making war on parliament. He determined after this to take no further part in the struggle, retired to Montgomery Castle, and declined the king's summons.

On 5 September 1644 he surrendered the castle, by negotiation, to the Parliamentary forces led by Sir Thomas Myddelton.[9] He returned to London, submitted, and was granted a pension of £20 a week. In 1647. he paid a visit to Pierre Gassendi at Paris, and died in London the following summer, being buried in the church of St Giles's in the Fields.


Lord Herbert left two sons, Richard (c. 1600-1655), who succeeded him as 2nd Lord Herbert of Cherbury, and Edward, the title becoming extinct in the person of Henry Herbert, the 4th baron, grandson of the 1st Lord Herbert, in 1691. In 1694, however, it was revived in favour of another Henry Herbert (1654-1709), son of Sir Henry Herbert (1595-1673), brother of the 1st Lord Herbert of Cherbury. Lord Herbert's cousin and namesake, Sir Edward Herbert, was also a prominent figure in the English Civil War.

De Veritate

Herbert's major work is the [[De Veritate|De veritate, prout distinguitur a revelatione, a verisimili, a possibili, et a falso](On Truth, as It Is Distinguished from Revelation, the Probable, the Possible, and the False)][10] He published it on the advice of Grotius.[11]

Other works

Lord Herbert of Chirbury.

The De religione gentilium[12] was a posthumous work, influenced by the De theologia gentili of Gerardus Vossius, and seen into print by Isaac Vossius. It is an early work on comparative religion, and gives, in David Hume's words, "a natural history of religion." It is also to some extent dependent on the De dis Syris of John Selden, and the Quaestiones celeberrimae in Genesim of Marin Mersenne.[13] By examining pagan religions Herbert finds the universality of his five great articles, and that these are clearly recognizable. The same vein is maintained in the tracts De causis errorum, an unfinished work on logical fallacies, Religio laici, and Ad sacerdotes de religione laici (1645).

Herbert's first historical work was the Expeditio Buckinghami ducis,[14] a defence of the Duke of Buckingham's conduct on the La Rochelle expedition of 1627. The Life and Raigne of King Henry VIII (1649) is considered good for its period, but hampered by limited sources.[15]

His poems, published in 1665 (reprinted and edited by John Churton Collins in 1881), show him in general a faithful disciple of Donne. His satires are poor, but a few of his lyrical verses show power of reflection and true inspiration, while his use of the metre afterwards employed by Tennyson in his "In Memoriam" is particularly happy and effective. His Neo-Latin poems are evidence of his scholarship. Three of these had appeared together with the De causis errorum in 1645.

To these works must be added A Dialogue between a Tutor and a Pupil[16], which is of disputed authenticity;[17] and a treatise on the king's supremacy in the Church (manuscript in the Record Office and at the Queen's College, Oxford). His well-known autobiography, first published by Horace Walpole in 1764, a naïve and amusing narrative, is much occupied with his duels and amorous adventures, and breaks off in 1624. Missing from it are his friendships and the diplomatic side of his embassy in France, in relation to which he only described the splendour of his retinue and his social triumphs.

He was a lutenist, and Lord Herbert of Cherbury's Lute-Book survives in manuscript.[18]


  • R. D. Bedford (1979), The Defence of Truth: Herbert of Cherbury and the seventeenth century


  1. ^ Autobiography
  2. ^ Bedford, p. 2.
  3. ^ Welsh Biography Online
  4. ^ Bedford, p. 2.
  5. ^ Michael Leapman, Inigo (2003), p. 295.
  6. ^ Richard Dutton (editor), Epicene, Or, The Silent Woman: By Ben Jonson (2003), p. 10.
  7. ^ Bedford, pp. 10-11.
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ On Truth, as it is Distinguished from Revelation, the Probable, the Possible, and the False) (Paris, 1624; London, 1633; translated into French in 1639 and into English in 1937.
  11. ^
  12. ^ Completed 1645, published Amsterdam, 1663, translated into English by William Lewis, London, 1705.
  13. ^ Bedford, p. 179.
  14. ^ Published in a Latin translation in 1656 and in the original English by the Earl of Powis for the Philobiblon Society in 1860.
  15. ^
  16. ^ 1768; a treatise on education, manuscript in the Bodleian Library.
  17. ^ Upheld by Günter Gawlick in his 1971 facsimile edition, after this had been cast in doubt by Rossi.
  18. ^

Further reading

  • De Veritate translated into English by Meyrick H. Carré (1937); facsimile edition of the 1937 translation published by Thoemmes Continuum (1999) ISBN 1-85506-126-0
  • The autobiography edited by Sidney Lee with correspondence (1886); article in the Dict. of Nat. Biog. by the same writer and the list of authorities there collated
  • Lord Herbert de Cherbury, by Charles de Rémusat (1874)
  • Eduard, Lord Herbert von Cherbury, by C. Guttler (a criticism of his philosophy; 1897)
  • Collections Historical and Archaeological relating to Montgomeryshire, vols. vii., xi., xx
  • Rebecca Warner's Epistolary Curiosities, i. ser.
  • Reid's works, edited by Sir William Hamilton
  • National Review, xxxv. 661 (Leslie Stephen)
  • John Locke, Essay on Human Understanding
  • Anthony Wood, Ath. Oxon. (Bliss), iii. 239
  • Gentleman's Magazine (1816), i. 201 (print of remains of his birthplace)
  • Lord Herbert's Poems, edited by J. Churton Collins (1881)
  • Aubrey's Lives of Eminent Men.
Peerage of Ireland
Preceded by
New Creation
Baron Herbert of Castle Island
Succeeded by
Richard Herbert
Peerage of England
Preceded by
New Creation
Baron Herbert of Cherbury
Succeeded by
Richard Herbert


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

He that cannot forgive others, breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself, for every man hath need to be forgiven.

Edward Herbert, 1st Baron Herbert of Cherbury (1583-03-031648-08-20) was a British soldier, diplomat, historian, poet, autobiographer and metaphysician, sometimes called "the father of deism". The poet George Herbert was his brother.



Verse quotations are cited from John Churton Collins (ed.) The Poems of Lord Herbert of Cherbury (London: Chatto and Windus, 1881).

  • Now that the April of your youth adorns
    The garden of your face.
    • "Ditty in Imitation of the Spanish Entre tantoque el'Avril", line 1
  • Sleep, Nurse of our life, Care’s best reposer,
    Nature's high'st rapture, and the vision giver.
    • "To his Mistress for her True Picture", line 11
  • Our life is but a dark and stormy night,
    To which sense yields a weak and glimmering light,
    While wandering Man thinks he discerneth all
    By that which makes him but mistake and fall.
    • "To his Mistress for her True Picture", line 49
  • Let then no doubt, Celinda, touch,
    Much less your fairest mind invade:
    Were not our souls immortal made
    Our equal loves can make them such.
    • "An Ode Upon a Question Moved Whether Love Should Continue for Ever", line 121

The Autobiography

Quotations are cited from Sidney Lee (ed.) The Autobiography of Edward, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, revised edition (London: Routledge, 1906).

  • I must no less commend the study of anatomy, which whosoever considers, I believe will never be an atheist; the frame of man's body and coherence of his parts, being so strange and paradoxal, that I hold it to be the greatest miracle of nature.
    • P. 31
  • He that cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself, for every man hath need to be forgiven.
    • P. 34
  • There [is] no little vigour and force added to words, when they are delivered in a neat and fine way, and somewhat out of the ordinary road, common and dull language relishing more of the clown than the gentleman. But herein also affectation must be avoided; it being better for a man by a native and clear eloquence to express himself, than by those words which may smell either of the lamp or inkhorn.
    • Pp. 35-6
  • A good rider on a good horse, is as much above himself and others, as this world can make him.
    • P. 39


  • Sum up at night what thou has done by day.
    • This line, in the more grammatical form, "Sum up at night what thou hast done by day", is from George Herbert's The Temple, The Church Porch, line 451.

External links


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