Henry Herbert (Master of the Revels)

Sir Henry Herbert
Born 1595
Died 1673 (aged 7778)
Occupation master of revels
Known for theatrical censor in England from 1623-1641 and again from 1660-1673

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


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 erasWilliam 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.[1] 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.

Other positions

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 Herbert. He was the 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. Henry again sat for Bewdley from the Restoration until his death.[2] He was a Justice of the Peace for Worcestershire by 1636 to 1646 and from July 1660 to his death. He was appointed High Sheriff of Worcestershire for 1648–49 and was also a member of the Council of the Marches of Wales for 1633-?46. [3]


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 surname Herbert.[4]


The surviving transcripts of Herbert's "office-book" are among the most important documentary records of English Renaissance drama. Herbert recorded all of his activities as Master of the Revels, in particular his licensing of plays for performance and his organization of court performances. His detailed records provide modern scholars with dates for many plays of the period, as well as dates of performances at court, and evidence for the existence of lost plays. The office-book itself has been lost since 1818, but its information partially survives in incomplete eighteenth- and nineteenth-century transcripts.[5]

When Herbert died in 1673, his papers, including the office-book, were stored at his home, the manor-house of Ribbesford, Worcestershire. In 1738, Herbert's grandson, Henry Herbert, 2nd Baron Herbert of Chirbury died childless and the archive was bequeathed to another relative, Francis Walker, and was gradually dispersed over time. However, the office-book and other documents related to it were overlooked, remaining at Ribbesford in an old wooden chest where they were partially damaged by water leakage. In 1787, Ribbesford House was sold to Francis Ingram who discovered the chest and its contents.

In the next few decades, Ingram and his descendants permitted scholars to study the revels documents.[6] The most important was Edmund Malone, who found the office-book to be partially moldered, but still readable. He published selections from it in his edition of Shakespeare (1790). Malone claimed to have made a full transcript of the office-book, but he only published a fraction of it, and his transcript has never been found. At some point, the scholar Craven Ord studied the office-book and transcribed a large number of entries from it but did not publish them. In the 1790s, George Chalmers published some extracts not published by Malone in 1799; however, although he did not acknowledge it, these may have been supplied to Chalmers by Ord. At some point before 1818, Thomas Ingram temporarily loaned the office-book to Reverend Richard Warner and his sister Rebecca Warner, and they published some extracts from it.[7]

When Craven Ord died, his transcripts of the office-book were auctioned and ultimately ended up in the hands of Jacob Henry Burn, who was compiling notes toward a history of the Office of the Revels. Burn copied, or sometimes cut out and pasted, some of Ord's records into his own notebook, which is now in the Beinecke Library. After his death, the Ord transcript was bought by J.O. Halliwell-Phillips, who also did not publish anything from it. The Ord transcript appeared to be lost until 1937, when R.C. Bald discovered fragments of it pasted into Halliwell-Phillips' notebooks, stored at the Folger Shakespeare Library. It was revealed that Halliwell-Philips had gone through the Ord transcript and cut out interesting items, apparently discarding the rest. In 1996, N.W. Bawcutt discovered a few more of Hallilwell-Phillips' cuttings in a notebook at Edinburgh University Library.[5]

After 1818, the original office-book appears to have been lost. It was in the possession of Reverend Edward Winnington-Ingram, but it is not known what he did with it and it is no longer in the family's papers. Halliwell-Phillips asserted that it was in the library of the Earl of Powis, but the Earl denied this; the Powis papers are now owned by the Public Record Office and the National Library of Wales and the office-book is not among them. N.W. Bawcutt, who published in 1996 a complete collection of all of the surviving Revels records, believes that the lost information might still be rediscovered some day: the office-book, Malone's transcript, the remains of Ord's transcript, and Chalmers' notebooks are all unaccounted for and might still come to light.[5]



Further reading

Adams, John Quincy (1917), The Dramatic Records of Sir Henry Herbert: Master of the Revels, 1623-1673, New Haven: Yale University Press 

Bawcutt, N.W. (1996), The Control and Censorship of Caroline Drama: The Records of Sir Henry Herbert, Master of the Revels: 1623-73, Oxford: Clarendon Press 

Court offices
Preceded by
John Astley
Master of the Revels
acting from 1623
Succeeded by
Thomas Killigrew
Parliament of England
Preceded by
Ralph Clare
Succeeded by
seat vacant until 1648
Nicholas Lechmere
Preceded by
Thomas Foley
Succeeded by
Thomas Foley
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