Henry Herbert (Master of the Revels)

Henry Herbert (Master of the Revels)

Sir Henry Herbert (1595 – 1673) was Master of the Revels to both King Charles I and King Charles II of England.


Herbert was the son of Richard Herbert of Montgomery Castle, and a younger brother of Edward Herbert, Baron Herbert of Cherbury and the poet George Herbert. (They were related to the Herberts who were the Earls of Pembroke, prominent figures in English government and society throughout the Jacobean and Caroline eras—William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, and his brother and successor Philip Herbert, 4th Earl of Pembroke, Lords Chamberlain.) Henry Herbert was knighted in 1623.

Henry Herbert's role as Master of the Revels involved reading and licensing plays and supervising all kinds of public entertainment. Officially, Herbert became Master of the Revels in 1641; in actuality he had been doing the work of the office since 1623. John Astley, the official Master from 1622 to his death in January 1641, had appointed Herbert his deputy in 1623; Herbert paid Astley £150 per year, in return for the income the office provided (and clearly, he wouldn't have continued this arrangement if it had not been profitable for him).


Since Herbert was responsible for licensing and also censoring plays, he had a powerful influence on English drama for two decades, 1623-42. Herbert had barely gained the official position of master in 1641 when the theatres were closed at the start of the English Civil War in August 1642. Herbert retained the office throughout the time it was dormant, down to the re-opening of the theatres at the Restoration in 1660. When Charles II allowed Thomas Killigrew and Sir William Davenant to form two theatre companies under royal patronage, the King's Company and the Duke's Company, in August 1660, Herbert complained bitterly at what he perceived as the violation of his rights, and started court actions; he was especially irate with Davenant, who had carried on clandestine theatrical performances in the 1656-60 period, without Herbert benefitting. Over the next two years, Herbert's claims were adjusted and the two royal companies had their privileges renewed by royal patent in 1662. Afterward, he was no longer the power in the theatre that he had been before.

Charles I gave the manor of Ribbesford (in whose parish the Borough of Bewdley lies) to his brothers in 1627 and they passed it to him. He was member of Parliament for Bewdley in 1640, but was disabled from sitting by resolution of the Commons in 1642 because he put into execution the king's commission of array. Hen again sat for Bewdley from the Restoration until his death. ['Parishes: Ribbesford with the borough of Bewdley', "Victoria County History, Worcester;; 4 (1924), pp. 297-317. [http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=42900] Date accessed: 28 March 2008.]


Herbert was succeeded by his son Henry, for whom the barony of Cherbury was revived. Both he and his son served as Members of Parliament for Bewdley. Henry died in January 1709, and his son, another Henry, became 2nd Lord Herbert of Cherbury of the second creation. He died without issue in April 1738, and again the barony became extinct. In 1743 it was revived for Henry Arthur Herbert (c. 1703-1772), who five years later was created Earl of Powis. This nobleman was a great-grandson of the 2nd Lord Herbert of Cherbury of the first creation, and since his time the barony has been held by the Earls of Powis. However the Ribbesford estate passed to his cousin Charles Morley, who took the suranme Herbert. ["'VCH"]


*F.E. Halliday, "A Shakespeare Companion 1564-1964," Baltimore, Penguin, 1964.

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