He is the subject of poem 27. Apart from Guto’r Glyn, two other poets addressed poems to Walter Herbert: Huw Cae Llwyd (HCLl poem VII) and Iorwerth Fynglwyd (GIF poems 12, 13 and 14 and also an elegy, poem 15).
The genealogical table below is based on WG2 ‘Godwin’ 8A1 and A4. Those named in Guto’s poem for William are shown in bold print, and the names of his patrons are underlined.
Walter Herbert was the second legitimate son of William Herbert of Raglan, first earl of Pembroke. His grandfather was Sir William ap Thomas. His mother was Ann Herbert, daughter of Sir Walter Devereux of Weobley, Herefordshire. William Herbert, second earl of Pembroke was his elder brother, and William Herbert of Pembroke and Troy another elder brother, though an illegitimate one.
It is uncertain where Walter lived until 1490, when his brother, William Herbert, earl of Huntingdon, died. From then on Walter lived in two splendid residences inherited from his brother, namely Raglan and Chepstow castles (Robinson 2008: 310). Both Guto and Iorwerth Fynglwyd (GIF 12.2) also connect him with Powys, where Guto apparently performed poem 27 (rather than in Gwent).
Walter Herbert was born c.1461: that follows from the fact that he was 46 years old at the time of his death in 1507 (Thomas 1994: 98). He would have been eight or nine when his father, the first earl of Pembroke, was killed in July 1469. Walter was knighted on 18 April 1475 (Robinson 1986–7: 294). Poem 27 seems to celebrate this occasion, and if so it will have been composed c.1475. The poems which Huw Cae Llwyd and Iorwerth Fynglwyd addressed to him are somewhat later.
What was Walter Herbert’s relation with Powys? Richard Grey, lord of Powys, died in 1466, leaving an heir, John, who was underage. The heir seems to have entered into his lands by 1482 (Jones 1868: 344–5). In the meantime the lordship was in the custody of William Herbert, first earl of Pembroke (Thomas 1994: 34) who arranged for the heir to marry his own daughter, Anne Herbert (ibid.; Jones 1868: 345). Guto’s references to Powys and to places within the lordship suggest that Sir Walter Herbert was in charge there in the later 1470s, but it is difficult to understand why Huw Cae Llwyd should mention Powys, since his poem dates to a period after John Grey had received his inheritance. It may well be that Sir Walter had some other interest in Powys.
Walter was associated with his brother, the second earl of Pembroke, during the disturbances of the later 1470s, as the family gradually fell out of the king’s favour. In 1479 the two brothers were forbidden to enter Wales for a year, and William Herbert was required to yield the earldom of Pembroke in exchange for the earldom of Huntingdon (Thomas 1994: 79; Bryant-Quinn 2010: 62–3 and n31). Under Richard III (1483–5), however, the family’s fortunes revived. After the duke of Buckingham’s revolt in 1483, Richard needed a supporter who could keep order in Wales (Griffiths 1993: 37). He turned to William Herbert, now earl of Huntingdon. William married the king’s illegitimate daughter, Katherine Plantagenet, in 1484 (Thomson 1921: 270). William Herbert’s attitude towards Henry Tudor is a matter of debate but it appears that his brother Walter fought for him at Bosworth in 1485 (Griffiths 1993: 41–2). Thus the Herberts’ fortunes prospered under the new king: there is an outline of his career of service under Henry VII in Robinson (2008: 313–17).
A precise date can be plausibly assigned to GIF poem 12, since it urges Sir Walter to campaign in Brittany (line 48). In 1489 Walter led an army to attack the French in Brittany (Robinson 2008: 313). GIF poem 13 belongs to the reign of Henry VII (1485–1509), and possibly to the period when Walter was serving Jasper Tudor in south Wales (line 22; Robinson 2008: 310): that is, before the death of Jasper in 1490. GIF poem 14 cannot be dated so precisely, but the 1490s are the most likely time for its composition.
When William Herbert died in 1490, Walter inherited Raglan castle. It is most likely that HCLl poem VII was composed about this time. There is no mention of William Herbert in the poem and Sir Walter is called pen-cenedl ‘chief of a kindred’ (line 34). Huw Cae Llwyd expresses his desire to see Walter and his wife being addressed as ‘earl and countess’ (43) and begetting even more earls (48) while maintaining the household at Raglan. He states that this is preferable to seeing a countess trying to maintain Raglan on her own (46). Is this a reference to Ann, countess of Pembroke, the first earl’s widow, who died in 1486? It is somehow hard to accept this, for her son, the second earl, was alive in the 1480s. His wife, Katherine, died before he did, so it cannot be her either (Hammond 1985: 20). The most likely possibility, then, is that the ‘countess’ is the second earl’s daughter, Elizabeth. If that is the case, we have to admit that the term ‘countess’ is being used figuratively. After her father’s death there arose a dispute between her and Sir Walter regarding the inheritance; it was Walter who gained the upper hand (Robinson 2008: 310). She married in 1492, so by that time she could no longer be described as being ‘on her own’ (HCLl VII.44). Based on all this, I suggest that Huw Cae Llwyd’s poem is to be dated to the time of the dispute between uncle and niece or soon afterwards, with the poet approving Walter Herbert’s possession of the castle. Maurer (1985: 96) explains that Walter would have been the lawful heir to the title of earl of Huntingdon after his brother. He did not obtain it, however, and there are hints that Walter Herbert’s relations with the king deteriorated on this account (ibid.). Sir Walter’s expectations receive clear expression in Huw Cae Llwyd’s poem, which repeatedly mentions the possibility of Sir Walter achieving the title of earl.
Sir Walter Herbert died on 16 September 1507 (Robinson 2008: 317).
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Griffiths, R.A. (1993), Sir Rhys ap Thomas and his Family: A Study in the Wars of the Roses and Early Tudor Politics (Cardiff)
Hammond, P.W. (1985), ‘The Illegitimate Children of Richard III’, J. Petre (ed.), Richard III: Crown and People (Gloucester), 18–23
Jones, M.C. (1868), ‘The Feudal Barons of Powys’, Mont Coll i: 257–423
Maurer, H. (1985), ‘The Later Careers of William Herbert, Earl of Huntingdon, and his Brother Sir Walter Herbert’, J. Petre (ed.), Richard III: Crown and People (Gloucester), 95–7
Robinson, W.R.B. (1986–7), ‘Knighted Welsh Landowners, 1485–1558: A Provisional List’, Cylchg HC 13, 282–98
Robinson, W.R.B. (2008), ‘The Early Tudors’, R.A. Griffiths et al. (eds.), The Gwent County History, 2: The Age of the Marcher Lords, c.1070–1536 (Cardiff), 309–36
Thomas, D.H. (1994), The Herberts of Raglan and the Battle of Edgecote 1469 (Enfield)
Thomson, C.H. (1921), ‘William Herbert Earl of Huntingdon’, Notes and Queries (twelfth series), part viii: 270–2