Informed account of the role played by the fabulously wealthy Herbert family in the years leading up to the English Civil War.
The family began to accumulate wealth and possessions with William Herbert, whose wife was the sister of Henry VIII’s sixth queen, Katherine Parr. Shortly after Henry confiscated Catholic Church properties in 1539, William was granted stewardship of a magnificent 50,000-acre Wiltshire estate attached to ancient Wilton Abbey. He built a flashy new house on the property in 1543, gained permanent title to the land in 1544 and was named the first earl of Pembroke in 1551. The ship of prosperity sailed merrily on for the Herberts from there, though their relationship with the crown was not always easy. When Henry’s heir, young Edward VI, died in 1553, William initially supported Lady Jane Grey for queen; then, realizing the weakness of her forces, he shifted his allegiance to Mary Tudor, who rewarded his prudence. Travel writer and popular historian Nicolson (God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible, 2003, etc.) describes the early earls as consumed by “the dream of Arcadia” (a theme he follows throughout), profoundly conservative in their land management and cultural tastes. He chronicles the Herberts’ rise in wealth and political influence and assesses their patronage of the arts. “The Onlie Begetter” of one William Shakespeare’s Sonnets, coyly masked as “W. H.” in the dedication to the 1609 edition, is identified by the author as young Will Herbert, grandson of the first earl. Nicolson provides ample cultural context to keep general readers abreast of events. He shows, for example, how the Christian calendar organized the year, and he highlights the ongoing ferocious conflict between Protestants and Catholics. He traces the intricate choreography of the Herberts’ dance with royalty, culminating with the text of the fourth earl’s equivocating 1642 speech to Parliament about his fear of losing all in a civil war.
Clear and compelling popular history.