William Herbert was the most prominent patron of Guto’r Glyn. Between 1445, when his father died, and his own death in 1469, he won for himself an unparalleled role in the administration of south Wales, and during the 1460s he was the chief supporter of King Edward IV throughout Wales. The patronage which he extended to poetry matched his political ambition. The bardic debate held between Guto and Hywel Dafi at Raglan (poems 20 and 20a) took place before him. He was the subject of two praise poems (poems 21 and 23), whilst the elegy that Guto composed in 1469 to remember him (poem 24) is among the most moving of his poems. Many other poets performed for William Herbert: Dafydd Llwyd of Mathafarn (GDLlM poems 28 and 54, perhaps 48), Lewys Glyn Cothi (GLGC poems 111 and 112), Hywel Swrdwal (GHS poems 4, 5 and 7) and Hywel Dafi (Lewis 1982: poem 16). Huw Cae Llwyd composed a joint elegy for William and his brother Richard (HCLl poem 4). The sons of the two brothers would in turn be notable patrons of the poets, among them Guto’r Glyn. On the Herberts’ patronage in general, see Lewis 1982.
Two poems mistakenly said to be for William Herbert may be discounted. HCLl poem 2 is in fact an ode for his brother, Sir Richard Herbert, and more particularly for Richard’s son, Sir William Herbert of Coldbrook. A poem edited by Lewis (1982: poem 17), I suggest, was in fact addressed to the younger William Herbert, the son of William Herbert of Raglan (see William Herbert of Raglan, second earl of Pembroke): the poem appears to respond to the tension which arose between the Herberts and their relatives, the Vaughans, during the 1470s, and line 46 most likely refers to the elder William Herbert’s death. There is some uncertainty regarding a third poem: GDLl poem 48 may have been addressed to father or son.
The genealogical tables below are based on WG1 ‘Godwin’ 8. Those named in Guto’s poems for William are shown in bold print, and the names of his patrons are underlined.
William Herbert was the eldest son of Sir William ap Thomas of Raglan, himself a patron who had welcomed Guto’r Glyn into his home. His mother was Gwladus Gam, the daughter of Sir Dafydd Gam of Brecon. He had numerous brothers and sisters, both legitimate and illegitimate. The most prominent was his younger legitimate brother, Richard Herbert. Sir William ap Thomas was Gwladus’s second husband, and she already had sons from her previous marriage to Sir Roger Vaughan of Bredwardine. These sons, Walter (Watkin), Thomas and Roger Vaughan, were half-brothers of the Herberts and loyal supporters of their cause.
The houses which Sir William ap Thomas had owned are listed in 19.21–6. Coldbrook, near Abergavenny, went to Richard Herbert, and Troy near Monmouth was held by Thomas Herbert, another brother, before reverting to William Herbert (Bradney 1991–4, 2.2: 162). Herbert gave Tretower to his half-brother Roger Vaughan; Roger was living there by 1457 (Ralegh-Radford 1960: 16). But Herbert retained for himself his father’s main residence, Raglan castle, and there he lived until his death. Sir William ap Thomas had begun to commission major improvements to Raglan, and his son continued to support this work. There is some uncertainty as to whether it was William Herbert or his father who built the great tower of Raglan (Emery 1975: 162–4, 167; Newman 2000: 490; Kenyon 2008: 114n69) but it was certainly William Herbert who was responsible for turning the castle into a truly magnificent residence by rebuilding the living quarters (ibid. 109).
His career to 1461
Only the highlights can be mentioned in this note, for the career of William Herbert, a man who rose from a local gentleman to being a lord who was summoned to parliament and eventually an earl, would fill a substantial book. Herbert was the first full-blooded Welshman to receive either of these honours.
William Herbert was the son of his father’s second marriage and so must have been born between 1420 and William ap Thomas’s death in 1445. R.A. Griffiths suggests the date c.1423 (DNB Online s.n. Herbert, William). He may have been a merchant early in his career (Thomas 1994: 13 and especially ibid. n3). For certain, he had substantial interests in commerce along the Severn later on (Evans 1915: 75). Herbert went to France during the final years of the Hundred Years’ War. In this he was following in his father’s footsteps, for William ap Thomas had served Richard, duke of York, in Normandy. In 1449 Herbert was captain of the town of Carentan, together with the famous Welsh soldier, Matthew Gough. They were compelled to surrender the town to the French, who by that time were about to deal a death blow to English power in Normandy (ibid. 75–6). The final battle took place at Formigny, 15 April 1450. Although Herbert managed to save the life of Matthew Gough on the battlefield (confirmed by Lewys Glyn Cothi, GLGC 111.27–8), he was himself taken prisoner by the French, and a heavy ransom had to be paid for his freedom (DNB Online s.n. Herbert, William).
In August 1449, back home in Wales, Herbert had married Ann Devereux, a daughter of Sir Walter Devereux, a substantial Herefordshire landowner (Thomas 1994: 13). Through this marriage Herbert’s influence in the Hereford area was strengthened, and during the following years Herbert and Devereux can be seen acting as close allies. Walter Devereux died in 1459, but the close relationship between the two families endured: he left a son, likewise called Walter Devereux, who was as loyal to his brother-in-law as his father had been (DNB Online s.n. Devereux, Walter).
The Herbert, Devereux and Vaughan families formed a strong and influential coalition which came to dominate the lordships of south-east Wales and nearby parts of Herefordshire and Gloucestershire. Indeed, they are described as ‘the Devereux-Herbert gang’ by one historian who has studied their turbulent activities in Herefordshire during the 1450s (Herbert 1981: 107). As tenants and supporters of Richard, duke of York, it was inevitable that they would be drawn into the confrontation between the duke and the court of King Henry VI in the 1450s. On 10 October 1452 Herbert received a general pardon, a sign that he had supported the duke against the court party: already in July of the that year Sir Walter Devereux had been accused of treason (Thomas 1994: 15; DNB Online s.n. Devereux, Walter). It seems that the court party tried to lure William away from Richard, duke of York. He was knighted at Christmas 1452 (DNB Online s.n. Herbert, William), soon after Jasper Tudor, the king’s half-brother, had been made earl of Pembroke. The earliest known poem for Herbert belongs to the period of November/December 1452. It is GLGC poem 111, loud in its praise for Herbert’s loyalty towards Jasper Tudor and the Crown.
This loyalty did not last long. Soon afterwards the quarrel resumed, this time on William Herbert’s doorstep in south Wales. Richard Neville, earl of Warwick, was lord of the great lordship of Glamorgan, and Herbert served as his sheriff there. The earl too was a supporter of Richard, duke of York. In 1453 Herbert was accused of defending the lordship by force of arms against the duke of Somerset who, with the backing of the court party, claimed it for himself (Pugh 1971: 196). In March 1456 there was another indication of William Herbert’s merciless determination when his half-brother, Walter Vaughan, was murdered in Hereford. Herbert and Walter Devereux led a host of supporters to Hereford, taking possession of the town by force and compelling the authorities summarily to hang the guilty men. A bloodthirsty poem demanding revenge for Walter Vaughan was composed by Hywel Swrdwal in commemoration (GHS poem 23; Evans (2006)). But this was small beer compared with the events of August 1456. By that time the contest between York and the court was reaching its climax. Sir William Herbert and Sir Walter Devereux led an armed host to south-west Wales. They took possession of Carmarthen castle in the name of the duke of York and imprisoned Edmund Tudor, the king’s half-brother. Then they took Aberystwyth castle too (Thomas 1994: 15). By October Herbert was raising more men in the lordships of south-east Wales (ibid. 16n2). Although Herbert was briefly imprisoned in the Tower of London, he was soon forgiven (April/May 1457, see ibid. 16–17). After that, it appears that he withdrew from the contest between York and the court. Most probably for this reason he was able to keep his position and offices after the duke and the earl of Warwick were attainted in 1459.
Things changed, however, in July 1460. Henry VI was captured after the battle of Northampton and the earl of Warwick emerged as master of the situation. Herbert and Devereux were commissioned to uphold York’s cause in Wales (Thomas 1994: 20). In February 1461 Herbert fought for Edward, the duke’s son, at the battle of Mortimer’s Cross, where Jasper Tudor’s army was defeated (DNB Online s.n. Herbert, William). He went with Edward to London and was present when Edward was declared king (Thomas 1994: 23; the duke of York himself had died in December 1460). After that he followed Edward to the north of England to face the Lancastrians. He fought in the decisive battle of Towton (29 March 1461), as confirmed by Lewys Glyn Cothi, who talks about him fighting in York (GLGC 112.33; the battle site is in Yorkshire).
Supremacy in Wales: 1461–9
Essentially the new king made William Herbert his chief representative in south Wales. There is not the space here to list all of the offices which he bestowed on Herbert: suffice to say that during the 1460s the king gave Herbert every office of consequence which became available in the region. On 8 May 1461 Herbert was made justiciar, chamberlain, steward and chief forester for life in the Principality of South Wales (Thomas 1994: 24). That meant that the Crown lands in south-west Wales were placed under his control. Around the same time he was commissioned to take into his possession the lands of Jasper Tudor in the south-west, i.e. the earldom of Pembroke (ibid.). In September he was commissioned to take into his possession the lands of the duke of Buckingham in Wales, since the rightful heir was underage. Among them were two large and rich lordships, Brecon and Newport (ibid. 25). Already in July 1461 he was named Lord Herbert. At the same time Walter Devereux was made Baron Ferrers of Chartley (Griffiths 2008: 266; DNB Online s.n. Devereux, Walter).
Herbert’s position in south-east Wales was secure, but if he wished to realize the powers which had been granted to him in the South-west, where Edmund and Jasper Tudor had been maintaining the cause of Henry VI, he would have to fight for them. On 30 September Pembroke castle surrendered to him and Walter Devereux (cf. 21.19–20). It was there that Edmund Tudor’s young son, Henry, came into Herbert’s possession (Thomas 1994: 25–6). On 16 October they defeated Jasper Tudor in the battle of Twthill, outside Caernarfon (Ross 1974: 49). There was further campaigning in 1462, this time against Thomas and Owain, the sons of Gruffudd ap Nicolas, who were holding Carreg Cennen castle. By May 1462 the castle surrendered to Richard Herbert and Roger Vaughan and its defences were slighted (Griffiths 1993: 28), a victory mentioned by Guto in 21.21–2.
In February 1462 extensive lands were granted to Herbert, including everything appertaining to the earldom of Pembroke and also the lordship of Gower (while the legal heir was underage). Furthermore Henry Tudor was granted to him in wardship. For this last grant he paid the sum of £1000, which shows not only the value of Henry but also how considerable Herbert’s resources by now were (Thomas 1994: 28). Dafydd Llwyd of Mathafarn, in a poem composed in the 1460s, mentions the presence of Henry Tudor at the court in Raglan and Herbert’s intention to arrange a marriage between him and his daughter (GDLlM poem 28). In March Herbert was made a member of the Order of the Garter (Thomas 1994: 28). In the summer he became lord of Crickhowell (ibid. 29). During winter 1462–3 Herbert and Devereux were with the king in the north of England, facing the Lancastrians’ attempts to raise rebellion there (ibid.). Herbert was rewarded once more, this time with lands in Somerset, Devon and Suffolk (ibid. 30).
1463 was also significant for the extension of Herbert’s authority to north Wales: in July Merionethshire was entrusted to him (ibid.). However, this authority remained theoretical, since Harlech castle remained under the control of its garrison, which was faithful to Henry VI, and its soldiers ranged freely through the county. It is likely that GLGC poem 112 was composed sometime in 1463/4. It is an ambitious ode for William Herbert which praises his service in northern England, his authority in Gwynedd and his intention to join King Edward in a crusade. This last never became reality, but the reference does reflect the talk, widespread during these years, that Edward might indeed lead a crusade (Hughes 2002: 182–3).
In 1465 Raglan was elevated to the status of a marcher lordship, independent of Usk (Thomas 1994: 32): this was the last time that the king created such a lordship (DNB Online s.n. Herbert, William). In 1466 Herbert received extensive lands in Gloucestershire (Thomas 1994: 33–4). Between 1465 and 1467 he also received the most important offices in the lordships which belonged to Edward IV as earl of March (Usk, Builth and others: ibid. 34; Griffiths 2008: 267). In September 1466 William Herbert’s son married Mary Woodville, a sister of the queen (Thomas 1994: 45). The marriage at Windsor and the ceremony of knighthood for the young man were celebrated by Hywel Swrdwal (GHS poem 6).
Herbert’s role in the North was expanded in 1467. He possessed the lordship of Powys while the heir was underage (Thomas 1994: 34). He was also appointed justiciar of North Wales (ibid. 35). Finally, he received Denbigh, Ceri, Cedewain and Montgomery (ibid.).
In 1468 the career of William Herbert reached its zenith. Harlech castle had been a thorn in the king’s side ever since he had gained the throne. In 1468 he finally authorized an expedition on a scale serious enough to overcome the stubborn resistance of its garrison. It was Herbert who was appointed to lead the expedition, which was a conspicuous success. The castle fell on 14 August 1468. Poem 21 celebrates this occasion, as does a poem by Hywel Dafi (Lewis 1982: poem 16). As a reward for his service Herbert received an honour which had never previously come to a full-blooded Welshman: an earldom. He was made earl of Pembroke on 8 September 1468. Poems 22 and 23 belong to the last year of William Herbert’s life, after this promotion. Around the same time, in 1468, Herbert achieved full possession of Gower and also purchased the lordship of Chepstow (Smith and Pugh 1971: 259).
The quarrel with Richard Neville, earl of Warwick, and the death of William Herbert
A man could scarcely rise in the world after the fashion of William Herbert without making enemies. Herbert’s main enemy was Richard Neville, earl of Warwick. Warwick was Edward IV’s chief supporter and the new king depended heavily upon him, for the earl controlled the north of England for the king just as Herbert did Wales. The cause of the quarrel between Warwick and Herbert was Herbert’s great influence with the king, his increasing power in Wales (where Warwick was also a significant landowner) and the close relationship between Herbert and the family of the queen, regarded by the earl of Warwick as a threat to his own influence. In 1469 Warwick’s supporters raised a rebellion in the north of England. Herbert was summoned from south Wales to face the rebel army, which was heading south. On 24 July 1469 the two met near the village of Edgecote in Northamptonshire, not far from Banbury (Lewis 2011: 103–6). After fighting bravely, Herbert’s army was overcome. Thomas ap Roger Vaughan, the Herbert’s half-brother, was killed during the battle, and William Herbert and his brother Richard were captured. They were taken to Northampton, and on 27 July William Herbert was executed. A copy of the codicil which he added to his will on that morning survives (Thomas 1994: 109–10). William Herbert was buried in Tintern abbey (for a picture of the tomb made before its destruction, see Lord 2003: 262). Elegies were composed for him by Guto’r Glyn, Hywel Swrdwal, Huw Cae Llwyd and Dafydd Llwyd Mathafarn.
It is difficult to estimate the significance of William Herbert for the Welsh poets. Historians often believe that they treated him as a national hero (e.g. Ross 1974: 78 ‘in contemporary Welsh literature, where he appears as a national hero’). Reading the poems which praise him, it is easy to find evidence for this. Hywel Swrdwal, for instance, urges his audience to appreciate their good fortune in having a lord who is a Welshman who speaks Welsh in place of the usual Englishmen (GHS 4.49–56). And, at the zenith of Herbert’s power in 1468, Guto’r Glyn offers a vision which may be called ‘national’: Herbert should unite Wales from one end to the other under his leadership (21.65–70). To be sure, the imagination of these poets was kindled by the extent of Herbert’s authority and his closeness to the king. The spirit of Geoffrey of Monmouth pervades Lewys Glyn Cothi’s ode (GLGC poem 112) where Herbert is portrayed as ruling Wales directly under the authority of King Edward IV, whose own lineage is traced back to the British kings of Britain.
This vision was realistic only to the extent that it recognized that Herbert’s power derived from his relationship to the king. Though the poets might urge Herbert to resist the English (e.g. 21.65–70), not a word is heard about challenging the Crown itself. It is the vision of Geoffrey of Monmouth – England, Wales and Scotland, three countries forming one kingdom under one crown, with second-rank, if worthy, rulers controlling Wales and Scotland under the authority of that crown – which forms the context of these dreams. We must remember this when reading the words of Guto’r Glyn, urging Herbert to gain y dalaith (23.58; cf. GDLl 28.4), i.e. the diadem of the prince of Wales. One character who is never mentioned in the poetry addressed to Herbert is Owain Glyndŵr, the last Welshman to gain rule in Wales on anything like the scale achieved by Herbert. This was surely because his rebellion against the English Crown stood in complete contrast to William Herbert’s method of winning personal power through consistent loyalty to his king. After all, Herbert’s grandfather, Sir Dafydd Gam, had been one of Owain’s greatest enemies.
If, then, William Herbert was a ‘national hero’ to the poets, that was true only within the bounds of the dominant political ideas of the time. And there was another side to the coin. The urgency with which Guto’r Glyn pleads with Herbert to spare Gwynedd from his rage (poem 21) chillingly suggests how cruel Herbert could be. Later generations would tell tales of the merciless harrying which Gwynedd suffered during the campaign of 1468 (Evans 1915: 168–9). It is, of course, impossible to know exactly how men such as Lewys Glyn Cothi and Dafydd Llwyd Mathafarn, who had been keen supporters of the Tudors and of the family of Gruffudd ap Nicolas, felt as they made the journey to Raglan in the 1460s. Most likely it became a fundamental impossibility for a professional poet to operate in south Wales in that decade unless he acknowledged the supremacy of Herbert and the group of families which suported him. We have a suggestion of this from the poet Llywelyn ap Gutun (GLlGt 15.5–6):
Nid rhydd man ym Morgannwg
Os diawl Gwent sy’n dala gwg.
‘No place in Glamorgan is free if the devil of Gwent bears a grudge.’
The ‘devil of Gwent’ is surely Herbert, as the editor suggests. We may recall that Lewys Glyn Cothi fled in outlawry to Merionethshire at the beginning of the 1460s. In his ode of praise for Herbert, Lewys mentions that Herbert had the authority to pardon those who had resisted Edward IV (GLGC 112.84). By 1463/4, with Herbert’s writ beginning to extend across the river Dyfi, it is clear that Lewys too was compelled to bend the knee before the lord of Raglan. It is quite possible that GLGC poem 112 was part of the price exacted for Lewys’s pardon.
Some of the poems which Herbert received give the impression that their authors are trying very hard to convince others of the benefits of Herbert rule. Hywel Swrdwal’s ode (GHS poem 4) is a case in point, as is GLGC poem 112 (cf., e.g., lines 13–16). They also mention opponents. It is true that the old topos, ‘brave to the brave, meek to the meek’ often occurs in Welsh praise poetry, but in the Herbert poems the opponents are surprisingly prominent and there is a notable emphasis on the fear which Herbert elicits in his enemies (GLGC 112.29–32). The theme recurs in the elegies made after his death. Hywel Swrdwal acknowledges that Herbert could be trwm ‘heavy’ to some (GHS 7.67). Dafydd Llwyd expresses amazement that Herbert was able to behave so magnificently, as if he were some kind of emperor (GDLl 54.57–8), and he begs his audience to forgive Herbert for his arrogance and to pray for his soul.
The poetry in honour of the ‘national hero’ William Herbert reminds us that the works of the medieval Welsh poets are no monolith. Rather, they vary from poet to poet and reflect differences of opinion. They are also a part of the political discourse of their day, and their ideas on nationality are those of the fifteenth century, not of today.
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