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Sunday, August 27, 2017

A Poem by Mr. W.H.

William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke
Standard Citation: Purdy, Gilbert Wesley. “A Poem by Mr. W.H.Virtual Grub Street. 27 August 2017.

For those of us who understand William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, to likely have been the “Mr. W.H.” of the sonnets, it can only be a disappointment that so little is known about him.  He was close to marrying Edward de Vere’s daughter, Bridget, at one time (before he had ascended to the Earldom).  Her father being a bankrupt (more or less), her grandfather William Cecil, Baron of Burghley, was responsible for her dowry.  He was near death and apparently tried to convince the Herberts to accept Bridget’s inheritance as dowry.  The offer proved unacceptable.

Herbert is said to have sworn off marriage.  Some two years later we learn from Bridget’s uncle, Robert Cecil, that young Herbert has been sowing his wild oats:

We haue no newes but that there is a misfortune befiallen Mistris Fitton,‘ for she is proved with chyld, and the E. of Pembrooke beinge examyned confesseth a ffact, but vtterly renounceth all marriage. I feare they will both dwell in the Tower awhyle, for the Queen hath vowed to send them thether.[1]

Some have theorized that Herbert was the recipient of the so-called “Fair Youth” sonnets and Mary Fitton the Dark Lady.

He did marry, however.  For money, we are informed by Anthony á Wood.

He indulged to himself the pleasures of all kinds, almost in all excesses. To women, whether out of his natural constitution, or for want of his domestic content, and delight (in which he was most unhappy, for he paid much too dear for his wife's fortune, by taking her person into the bargain) he was immoderately given up.[2]

His poetry and trail of illegitimate children makes clear that he saw the arrangement as no inconvenience to his love life.  His wife sought solace in her social life and spent the occasional morning at the breakfast table with Ben Jonson among her cultured guests.

Herbert's poems definitely reveal a charmer.  They make clear that the ladies could have wit, suave compliment and propinquity to power for as long as they could hang onto it.  This for just one instance:

“Of a fair Gentlewoman scarce Marriageable.”[3]

WHy should Passion lead thee blind,
Cause thy Lydia proves unkind:
She is too young to know delight,
And is not plum'd for Cupid's flight:
She cannot yet in heighth of pleasure,
Pay her Love with equal measure;
But like a Rose new blown, doth feed
The Eye alone, but yeilds no Seed.
She is yet but in her Spring,
And bears no Fruit till Cupid bring
A hotter season with his Fire,
Which soon will ripen her desire:
Autumn will shortly come and greet her,
Making her taste and colour sweeter;
And then her ripeness will be such,
That she will fall e'ne with a touch.

In amongst it all, Mr. W.H. found the time to run interference in behalf the First Folio of the plays of Shakespeare.[4]  The Folio was dedicated to he and his brother (the husband of Edward de Vere’s daughter Susan).

[1] Cecil, Robert.  Letters from Sir Robert Cecil to Sir George Carew, Ed. John Maclean (Westminster: Camden Society, 1864), 65.
[2] Wood, Anthony.  Athenae Oxonienses (1815),  II. 484.
[3] Herbert, William.  3rd Earl of Pembroke.  Poems written by the Right Honorable William earl of Pembroke, lord steward of his Majesties houshold. Whereof many of which are answered by way of repartee, by Sr Benjamin Ruddier, knight. With several distinct poems, written by them occasionally, and apart (London, 1660). 76
[4] Purdy, Gilbert Wesley.  Edward de Vere was Shakespeare: at long last the proof (Richmond, VA: The Virtual Vanaprastha, 2013), iii.

  • Desperately Seeking Bridget (de Vere).  "Even most people who assert that the Earl of Oxford was the poet and playwright Shake-speare (a group to which I resoundingly belong) do not seem to know that she was engaged, in 1598, to William Herbert, soon to inherit the Earldom of Pembroke,..."

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