Thursday 8 April 2021

William Herbert

 Born on this day in 1580 was William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, one of the numerous Herbert clan, which included the poet George (on a collateral branch) and, centuries later, very distantly and obliquely, the Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert – or so he believed. William was one of those Interesting Elizabethans, a man of many parts – nobleman, courtier and politician, founder of Pembroke College, Oxford, holder of a wide range of public offices and honours, and dedicatee of the First Folio, along with his brother Philip, that 'incomparable pair of brethren'. He is also believed by some to be the 'fair youth' of the Sonnets and the 'Mr W.H.', the 'onlie begetter of these sonnets'. One of his lovers, Mary Fitton, has also been suggested as the original of the 'dark lady'. William had an affair with Mary Fitton when he was 20, got her pregnant, admitted paternity but refused to marry her, and was sent to the Fleet prison for a while, where he passed the time writing verse. More interestingly from my particular point of view, he had earlier been urged to marry Elizabeth Carey, granddaughter of the Lord Chamberlain Henry Carey, patron of Shakespeare's company of players. He refused to do so (he seems to have been decidedly averse to matrimony, though he did have one regular marriage, to Mary Talbot, daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury). This Elizabeth Carey is the remarkable woman whose beautiful monument by Nicholas Stone is in St Dunstan's church, Cranford. I have written about her and her monument on this blog, and also, of course, in this book.   

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