HERBERT, Henry (aft. 1678-1738)

HERBERT, Henry (aft. 1678–1738)

suc. fa. 22 Jan. 1709 as 2nd Bar. HERBERT OF CHIRBURY

First sat 29 Jan. 1709; last sat 1 Feb. 1737

MP Bewdley 1708-22 Jan. 1709.

b. aft. 1678, o.s. of Henry Herbert, later Bar. Herbert of Chirbury and Anne, da. and coh. of John Ramsey, alderman of London. educ. Westminster 1695-6; privately (Abel Boyer) 1699. m. 12 Dec. 1709, Mary (d. 19 Oct. 1770), da. of John Wallop of Farley Wallop, Hants, s.p. d. 19 Apr. 1738; will 27 Jan. 1736-2 Feb. 1738, pr. 27 Nov. 1738.1

Freeman, Worcester 1705; steward, Bewdley 1708-d.

Associated with: Ribbesford, Worcs. and Dowles, Salop.

Henry Herbert was still a schoolboy in September 1696 when his master at Westminster school, Dr Thomas Knipe, wrote despairingly to the young man’s father of his ‘idle and careless fits’, his ‘unsufferable negligence and unwillingness to apply his mind to his business’ and his general ‘childishness’ for his age. Herbert was later tutored privately by the Huguenot exile Abel Boyer, who commented on his ‘averseness to books’ and his preference for country sports but reassured the father that ‘your lordship’s orders are a prevailing motive to bring him to his studies’. By October 1699 Henry Herbert was still underage, as Charles Talbot, duke of Shrewsbury rebuffed the father’s efforts to have the young man made a deputy lieutenant of Worcestershire.2

His demanding father quickly pushed Henry to the fore in his long-running campaign to control the single seat for the Bewdley borough constituency in Worcestershire. Herbert stood for the borough at the election of 1705 but lost to the standing member Salwey Winnington by one vote, owing to some sharp practice from the returning officer Henry Toye.3 Herbert petitioned but the committee of elections found against him by a majority of 48 in a clearly partisan division.4 After several expensive law suits and frequent solicitations of the ministry, Herbert of Chirbury and his Whig allies were able to have the borough’s charter of 1685 declared invalid, owing to a trivial mistake in its wording. A new charter was issued on 20 Apr. 1708, about the same time as writs were issued for new elections. The Tories refused to recognize the new charter, which effectively handed the borough to supporters of the Whig ministry. Consequently, two elections, each with a different set of electors, were held at Bewdley in May 1708. The indenture returning Herbert was accepted but his opponent petitioned, and the Bewdley election case became a cause célèbre among the defeated Tories, representing in their eyes the worst of Whig electoral manipulation.5

Henry Herbert was declared, after a series of often close divisions, duly elected in late February 1709, but in the meantime he had succeeded to the peerage. Thus the decision of the House actually triggered another by-election to replace him, in which the Whig naval official, Charles Cornwall, was returned. The political forces were reversed at the next election of autumn 1710 when the return of the Whig, Anthony Lechmere, on the Herbert interest was immediately challenged by the Tories who continued to insist that the 1708 charter was invalid. On 20 Dec. 1710 the Tory-dominated Commons resolved that the 1708 charter ‘attempted to be imposed upon the borough of Bewdley against the consent of the ancient corporation is void, illegal and destructive to the constitution of Parliament’. The Tories continued their assault on the charter, and in 1710-11 both Daniel Finch, 2nd earl of Nottingham, and Arthur Maynwaring made contributions in the ongoing partisan debate over this small borough.6

The new Baron Herbert of Chirbury’s participation in this battle, and its attendant law suits, came at a great cost. Sometime during the reign of George I, Herbert informed a fellow nobleman, unfortunately unidentified, of his poverty arising from his long struggle for the Worcestershire borough, as well as from his participation for the Whigs in the elections for Worcester county and borough, and for Shropshire and its borough of Bridgnorth. ‘When I began these disputes’, he lamented, ‘I owed not one shilling in the world; and at my father’s death was near £6,000 in debt, the allowance I had from him being little or nothing.’7

Like his father before him, a Whig, if not a Junto Whig, Herbert eventually found that he had to give his vote to the highest bidder; the party which could most effectively rescue him from his perilous financial situation. Initially, though, he was able to vote by his own inclination. He sat in 12 meetings of the 1708-9 session after first taking his seat on 29 Jan. 1709, and came to just under half of the sittings of the following session, where on 20 Mar. 1710 he voted Dr Sacheverell guilty. He attended just over half of the 1710-11 session, the first of the Tory-dominated Parliament, and over the period 11 Jan.- 8 Feb. 1711 subscribed to all seven protests against the proceedings against the Whig generals and ministers for their conduct of the campaign in Spain which had led to the defeat at Almanza. On 3 Feb. 1711, in a committee of the whole, he told for the minority not contents against agreeing to the resolutions of the committee, two of which resolutions he protested against when they were agreed to by the House later that day. On 9 Feb. when the House sought to expunge the text of the reasons given in one of the protests of that day, Herbert joined in the three Whig protests against this move. Herbert registered his proxy on 20 Mar. 1711 with William Cowper, Baron (later Earl) Cowper, who had earlier been instrumental in the surrender of the 1685 Bewdley charter. He returned to vacate his proxy on 5 Apr. before he left the House for good on 18 May, registering his proxy with Evelyn Pierrepont, marquess of Dorchester (later duke of Kingston) two days later.

The diary of the second-rank Junto Whig, Charles Bennet, 2nd Baron Ossulston (later earl of Tankerville), reveals that from the winter of 1710-11 Herbert was a peripheral member of a ‘Westminster Anglo-Scottish dining group’, which had as its inner core Ossulston himself, his close friend William Ferdinand Carey, 8th Baron Hunsdon, and the Scottish peers William Johnston, marquess of Annandale [S], William Livingstone, 2nd Viscount Kilsyth [S], Archibald Primrose, earl of Rosebery [S], William Keith, 8th earl Marischal [S], John Elphinstone, 4th Baron Balmerino [S], and the Scottish Member of the Commons, Sir James Abercromby.8 Herbert first appears in this diary in an entry for Christmas Day 1710, when he was present at a dinner at Pontack’s ‘in the City’ with Ossulston, Hunsdon, Annandale, Kilsyth, Rosebery and Marischal. He dined again with this group, without Rosebery and Marischal, on 10 Feb. 1711, the day after he subscribed to the three dissents against the expurgation of the reasons for the protest of 3 Feb., and in early April he dined with Annandale and with Scrope Howe, Viscount Howe [I], at Ossulston’s homes, both in Westminster and in Middlesex.

The other entries in Ossulston’s diary in which Herbert appears show him associating in English Whig circles. On 3 May 1711 Herbert was at the Queen's Arms where he was joined by Ossulston, Hunsdon, Thomas Grey, 2nd earl of Stamford, and Thomas Howard, 6th Baron Howard of Effingham. After both Herbert and Ossulston attended the prorogation on 13 Nov. 1711, they had dinner at the Red Lion tavern in Pall Mall with Hunsdon and Russell Robartes, while later that day Ossulston, Herbert and Hunsdon assembled for supper at the British Coffee House, with two of Herbert’s ‘friends’ (as Ossulston deemed them) – George Treby and a ‘Captain Caesar’.9 On 8 Dec. 1711, the second day of the new session, Herbert was at a dinner at the Queen’s Arms at which were present his former proxy recipient Dorchester, as well as Lionel Sackville, 7th earl (later duke) of Dorset, Charles Powlett, 2nd duke of Bolton, John Ashburnham, 3rd Baron (later earl of) Ashburnham, John Montagu, 2nd duke of Montagu, Charles Howard, 3rd earl of Carlisle, Henry Clinton, 7th earl of Lincoln, and James Craggs.10

This meal was most likely convened for business as well as pleasure, as the assembled group consisted of some of the leading Whigs in Parliament, who earlier that day would have participated in the procedural debacle when Robert Harley, earl of Oxford tried to hold a division, unwarranted by the rules of the House, to reverse the motion of the previous day that the address to the queen should include an insistence that there should be ‘No Peace without Spain’. Herbert was probably among those who voted for the clause, as suggested by Oxford’s own forecast of the abandoned division of 8 December. Herbert also joined the Whigs 12 days later when he voted to disable James Hamilton, 4th duke of Hamilton [S], from sitting in the House under his British title as duke of Brandon. Yet despite this apparently anti-Scottish vote, Herbert appears to have remained on friendly terms with the Scottish peers he had befriended through Ossulston. A letter from Balmerino recounts how on 26 Jan. 1712, when he and Annandale were refusing to enter the House in protest against the vote disabling Hamilton, Herbert and Ossulston did them the favour of leaving the chamber early and providing them with an account of that day’s proceedings, after which the two English peers went off to dinner with the two Scottish ones. Later that evening Balmerino, Annandale and Rosebery supped at Pontack’s with Ossulston, Herbert and Hunsdon.11 Only two days after this encounter, on 28 Jan. 1712, Herbert registered his proxy with the Junto Whig Charles Spencer, 3rd earl of Sunderland, who held it until Herbert returned to the House on 5 Apr. 1712.

Despite these Whig sympathies, sometime in early 1712 Herbert, most likely in exchange for financial support, lent his vote to the ministry. Although concrete evidence for this relationship comes only from 1713 and later, that Herbert felt bound to betray the ‘honest interest’ is evident in many of his actions in the last weeks of the 1711-12 session. The first occasion when Herbert’s wavering loyalties became clear is, if the contrasting sources relating to it are accurate, perhaps indicative of the conflict he must have felt. A contemporary printed division list contends that he was among the ‘not contents’ voting with Oxford’s ministry on 28 May 1712 not to present the queen with an address against the ‘restraining orders’ preventing an offensive campaign against France. Yet his signature appears clearly and prominently among those who protested against the rejection of this address.12 Perhaps the best explanation of this seeming contradiction (barring that the printed division list may be incorrect) is that while he may have felt obliged to help the ministry obtain the majority it needed, he also wished to show that he still personally disagreed with its policies. The list of protesters to this resolution stretch over two pages in the manuscript journal, and it may be significant that Herbert’s signature appears at the bottom of the small group of six signatures at the top of the page turn. This suggests that he was one of the last peers to append his signature to the protest, after what might have been second thoughts and regrets, and may even have been allowed to subscribe to it at his next sitting in the House, 2 June, the second day of business after the vote and protest. In a list of sometime around June 1712 Oxford still marked Herbert as a ‘doubtful’ court supporter. His divided and wavering conscience may also be detectable in the account of the vote on the Whigs’ last-ditch motion on 7 June 1712 to include a ‘guarantee clause’ for the benefit of the Allies in an address of thanks to the queen for her communication of the peace terms. A correspondent of William Wake, bishop of Lincoln (later archbishop of Canterbury) claimed that Herbert was among the 12 peers who ‘went off’ from the Whigs and joined the ministry in voting against the motion but suggested that they had only agreed to do so if their identities were kept secret:

these [peers], had made a sort of agreement that the court should prevent a division, by which means they should not be discovered, but they were gudgeons, for the court wanted not a majority, but a triumph, to show the people the disparity of numbers [the ministry won the vote by a majority of 45], and so they were caught like fools. A great deal of money and promises were spent to work this apostasy’.13

This time Herbert did not sign the protest that would have shown his misgivings about his vote for the ministry. Herbert attended in total only 36 per cent of the meetings of this session, which was prorogued on 21 June 1712, but his voting record provides a clear example of the political arts of Oxford, who, with the proper application of government money, promises and influence, was able to turn a staunch Whig at the beginning, a supporter of ‘No Peace without Spain’, to a dependent, if unwilling, voter for the ministry by the end.

Yet even by the time of the third session in spring 1713, Oxford was still not entirely sure of Herbert’s loyalty to the ministry and marked him as one to be canvassed before the session and in advance of the debate on the bill confirming the French commercial treaty. This bill never got to the Lords, but Oxford’s pressure and canvassing did have some effect. Herbert was unusually attentive to the proceedings of this important session, as he attended 57 per cent of its meetings. His vote for the ministry was crucial in a tight division on the Malt Tax bill on 8 June 1713. As Balmerino lamented to Harry Maule, Herbert was one of three peers ‘who had all along been with us’, that is, the alliance of Scots and Whigs in opposition to the measure, but who ‘deserted to the enemy’ at the division. Without this defection, the ministry’s majority in this vote would have been cut to only two.14

Throughout 1713-14 Herbert clearly looked to Oxford as his benefactor for present and future favour. Herbert pleaded for office, preferably ‘something out of England, no matter where, the farther the better’, even as far away as Barbados, to help him recover his fortune.15 Herbert’s wretched state was well known to all parties by late 1713. Sunderland included him in his list of ‘Lords who always will be right out of principle, but are in the lowest condition’ and whom he thought could be maintained for the Whigs by a pension from Hanover. On Herbert himself, Sunderland could write that he ‘never failed but one vote’, probably thinking of the close vote on the Malt Tax Bill, ‘is poor and may be thoroughly fixed for £500 a year’.

To keep him on his side Oxford himself provided Herbert with that amount, £500, paid out of his own pocket during the first session of the 1713 Parliament.16 Oxford’s first instalment to Herbert of £300 was paid in March 1714, but on 5 Apr. Herbert was one of three of Oxford’s previously reliable pensioners who voted against the motion that the Hanoverian Succession was not in danger under the present ministry.17

Despite receiving another instalment of £200 in May, Herbert’s stance remained doubtful to political observers, and Nottingham was uncertain how he would vote on the schism bill.18 Having attended only 24 of its sittings, Herbert left that session on 10 May 1714, and registered his proxy with his kinsman Arthur Herbert, earl of Torrington, who would have been able to use it to vote against the schism bill, against whose passage he protested on 15 June. Herbert returned to the House on 12 Aug. 1714, well into the session convened on the death of Anne, and sat for six meetings before it was prorogued on 25 August.

At the Hanoverian succession, the government of George I provided him with a pension of £600 a year but neglected his continuing requests to be given office as far as possible from his creditors in England.19 This pension, which continued well into the reign of George II, allowed Herbert to return to his original Whig priorities in Parliament.20 Admittedly he was not always a keen attender of the House and came to only 35 per cent of the sittings of George I’s first Parliament of 1715-22 and 46 per cent of the meetings of the 1722-27 Parliament. His attendance on the House steadily declined during the reign of George II, and he never attended more than 43 per cent of any session until his death in April 1738. He was in the House, however, to vote against his old benefactor Oxford in a preliminary division on his impeachment in June 1717 (although he later, following the wishes of the ministry, helped to acquit the former lord treasurer on 1 July).21 In December 1718 he voted ‘with the Dissenters’ in favour of the repeal of the Schism and Occasional Conformity Acts.22 He made his political preference clear through his choice of proxies. He had among his many proxy recipients: his own brother-in-law, John Wallop, Viscount Lymington (later earl of Portsmouth); Charles Townshend, 2nd Viscount Townshend and his son Charles Townshend, summoned in his father’s lifetime as Baron Townshend of Lynn Regis (later 3rd Viscount Townshend); Peter King, Baron King; Lewis Watson, earl of Rockingham; and William Coventry, 5th earl of Coventry. His most frequent proxy recipients were Thomas Fane, 6th earl of Westmorland (on four occasions) and Thomas Parker, Baron Parker (later earl of Macclesfield) (on five occasions). Herbert himself held the proxy of Harry Grey, 3rd earl of Stamford for the 1726 session. A more detailed account of Herbert’s activities in the Hanoverian Parliaments will be provided in the next phase of this series.

Herbert remained in dire financial straits throughout this period, and at one point he addressed his woes to an unidentified nobleman, pointing out his need for an office with income, the insufficiency of his pension and the continuing unreliability of its payment. This was especially galling considering his continued efforts to maintain ‘at great expense’ the Whig interest at Bewdley. ‘I can say without vanity,’ he wrote to his correspondent, ‘there were few Whigs when I came to live there, and at this time there are few very who are otherwise.’23 Herbert’s interest was victorious at Bewdley, returning Grey James Grove in 1715 and Crew Offley for the following two elections, until the choice of burgess was wrested from him at the 1734 election by William Bowles.24 This loss of local prestige and influence may have been the final blow after years of penury in the Whig cause and probably helped to lead him to commit suicide on 19 Apr. 1738. He appointed his wife Mary, sister of Viscount Lymington and first lady of the bedchamber to Anne, Princess of Orange, and his cousin Francis Walker as executors and trustees of his estate, charged with the onerous duty of paying his debts. Any residue was to go to his cousin Henry Morley who, to receive this bequest, changed his name to Henry Morley Herbert. Herbert had had no children, and at his death his peerage became extinct, for the second time within 50 years, although it was soon revived again, in 1743, in the person of Henry Arthur Herbert, Baron Herbert of Chirbury of the third creation (later earl of Powis), a great-nephew of the last Herberts of Chirbury of the first creation.


  • 1 TNA, PROB 11/692.
  • 2 Epistolary Curiosities, i. nos. 104, 109, 113; Add. 37157, ff. 80-81.
  • 3 HP Commons, 1690-1715, ii. 706-8.
  • 4 BIHR, xlv. 48-49.
  • 5 University of Birmingham Historical Journal i. 125-33.
  • 6 HP Commons, 1690-1715, ii. 707-8; Brit. Pols, 313; Birm. Univ. HJ i. 92-133.
  • 7 Epistolary Curiosities, ii. no. 29.
  • 8 SHR, lvii. 110-28.
  • 9 TNA, C104/113 pt. 2 Ossulston diary, 25 Dec. 1710, 10 Feb., 7-8 April, 3 May, 13 Nov. 1711.
  • 10 TNA, C104/113 pt. 2 Ossulston Diary, 8 Dec. 1711.
  • 11 Scot. Hist. Soc. Misc. xii. 147.
  • 12 PH, xxvi. 178; PA, HL/PO/JO/1/83, p. 394.
  • 13 Christ Church, Oxford, Wake ms 17, f. 329; Holmes, ‘Great Ministry’, 209-10.
  • 14 Scot. Hist. Soc. Misc. xii. 160.
  • 15 Add. 70283, Herbert to Oxford, 7, 15 Aug., 21 Oct., 25 Nov. 1713, 3, 5 May 1714; Add. 70241, Herbert to Oxford, 10 May 1714.
  • 16 Add. 70033, f. 52.
  • 17 NLS, Wodrow Pprs. Wodrow Letters, quarto VII, ff. 82r-83v.
  • 18 Add. 70033, f. 52; Brit. Pols, 428.
  • 19 Epistolary Curiosities, ii. no. 29; Add. 61604, ff. 1-2, 5-10.
  • 20 Add. 37157, ff. 89-92.
  • 21 BIHR, lv. 82.
  • 22 Add. 47028, ff. 264-5.
  • 23 Epistolary Curiosities, ii. no. 29.
  • 24 HP Commons, 1715-54, i. 354.