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William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, KG, PC (8 April 1580 – 10 April 1630) was the son of Henry Herbert, 2nd Earl of Pembroke and his third wife Mary Sidney. Chancellor of the University of Oxfordmarker, he founded Pembroke College, Oxfordmarker with James VI of Scotland and I of England. He was also a patron of William Shakespeare.

Life and marriage

William was a bookish man, once tutored by the poet Samuel Daniel, and preferred to keep to his study with heavy pipe-smoking to keep his "migraines" at bay (which may have been head pains that accompany syphilitic infections).

His father negotiated a marriage between the young Herbert and Wiliam Cecil's granddaughter, Bridget Vere. Offered 3,000 pounds and an annuity to begin at Burghley's death, the prospective groom wanted immediate payment of the annuity. The negotiations failed, and he remained single.

At the age of twenty, he had an affair with Mary Fitton (who has been suggested as a possible model for the Dark Lady of the sonnets), whom he impregnated. Admitting paternity, he refused to marry her and was sent to Fleet prisonmarker where he wrote verse. In 1601, Mary gave birth to a boy who died immediately. He petitioned Sir Robert Cecil and was eventually released, though barred from court.

He married Mary Talbot, the dwarfish and deformed daughter of Gilbert Talbot, 7th Earl of Shrewsbury, on 4 November 1604.

His affair with Lady Mary Wroth, daughter of Robert Sidney (his uncle) led to the birth of two children (after her husband, Robert Wroth's death) – William and Catherine.

He died in 1630, aged 50 and his titles passed to his brother, Philip Herbert.

Herbert and Shakespeare's Sonnets

Herbert is one of several aristocrats claimed to be the model for the character of the youthful "Fair Youth" in William Shakespeare's sonnets, whom the poet urges to marry. Since Herbert, some years Shakespeare's junior, was a patron of the playwright, and since his initials match with the dedication of the Sonnets to one "Mr. W.H.", "the only begetter of these ensuing sonnets", he is a popular candidate, although Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton has also been popular. E. K. Chambers, who had previously considered Southampton to be the Fair Youth changed his mind when he encountered evidence in letters that around 1595 young Herbert had been urged to wed Elizabeth Carey, granddaughter of Henry Carey, the Lord Chamberlain who ran Shakespeare’s company. But he refused to marry her. In her Arden Shakespeare edition of the Sonnets, Katherine Duncan-Jones argues that Herbert is by far the likeliest candidate.


  1. Chambers, Short Life, 1956, pp.129-30.
  2. Katherine Duncan-Jones, ed. Shakespeare's Sonnets (1997), pp. 52-69.


  • Haynes, Alan. Sex in Elizabethan England. Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing Limited, 1997. ISBN 0-905-778-359

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