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Sir John Herbert,DCL,(OXON)PC,MP. Of Neath Abbey,



Keith Reed


John Herbert was born in Swansea. He lived in the Tudor Mansion House at Neath Abbey from the 1590's until his death in 1617. The Neath Abbey Estate was then inherited by his wife, Margaret, and his only daughter. He was the son of Matthew Herbert and grandson of Sir George Herbert, the first known Member of Parliament for Glamorgan. He was the son of Sir Richard Herbert, the illegitimate son of William Herbert, The Earl of Pembroke, who was the guardian of Henry Tudor at Pembroke Castle, later to become King Henry VII.

John Herbert was educated at Oxford University and was awarded the degree of Doctor of Civil Law. He was admitted to the College of Advocates, and became a judge at the young age of twenty four years at the Court of Admiralty, dealing with Maritime cases, especially wrecks, piracy and spoil.


Later, judicial appoointments occurred when he was appoointed as Master of Requests, which was one of the great legal offices of state. Because of his perfection of languages and being an expert linguist,  he began to interrogate foreign prisoners. This later found him involved in an intelligence gathering.


His abilities were far reaching enough to become involved in the Trade and Foreign Ministries, where he visited many European States including Denmark, Poland, Brandenburg, Holland and France. In 1600, he was chosen to become one of Queen Elizabeth's Privy Councillors, and Second Secretary of State. In fact, after Queen Elizabeth and Lord Burley,(a man who had a brilliant mind), who was the First Secretary of State came John Herbert, the Second Secretary of State, and therefore the third most powerful person in the realm.

He was Knighted in 1602 for services to the Crown, and became a Member of the Council of Ludlow, the defacto capital of Wales at this time. John Herbert first became a Member of Parliament in 1586 for the English Boroughs, then for Glamorgan and finally for Monmouth in 1604. However, he was no politician and was heckled for this on many occasions.


The year of the Spanish Armada (1588), John Herbert was on a trade mission to Holland and ironically, when Queen Elizabeth died in 1603, he was away on a trade mission to Denmark. The new King James 1, preferredhis favourites like Phillip Herbert, the Earl of Mongomeryto undertake the work of Sir John Herbert. In 1610, he took no further part in public affairs and did not sit in the 1614 Parliament. He died in Cardiff in 1617 aged sixty seven years, perhaps as a result of a duel he fought with Sir Lewis Tresham, a few months earlier. Sir John Herbert is buried in St John's Church, Cardiff, where he lies with his wife Margaret in a magnificent tomb.



www.Castles of Wales. Section on Abbeys and other Religious Houses.

The Dictionary of Welsh Biography by The Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion.

Cadw new booklet on Neath Abbey.



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