1st Baron Herbert of Raglan (1461-1469)
1st Earl of Pembroke of the First Creation (1468-1469)
Also known as 'Gwilym Ddu' or 'Black William'
Born 1423 Died 1469

William's origins

Known originally as 'Gwilym ap Gwilym' or 'William son of William' in the English, he was the son of one William ap Thomas, head of a minor Welsh gentry family, which had achieved some degree of prominence in south-east Wales. William ap Thomas in particular had, through loyal service to the Duke of York as chief steward of the duke's Welsh estates, won himself a knighthood, married two heiresses and managed to buy Raglan Castle.

Our William ap William was the eldest son of this William ap Thomas, by his second marriage to Gwladys (the first marriage produced no sons); Gwladys being the daughter of Dafydd Gam, the 'star of Abergavenny' a celebrated Welsh knight who had died at the battle of Agincourt. Accordingly when William ap Thomas died in London in 1445, his son William inherited his worldly wealth including the family seat at Raglan.

William and the Wars of the Roses

Like his father William was a keen supporter of the Yorkists and therefore he no difficulty in deciding on which side to take when the War of the Roses kicked off with the battle of St Albans on the 22nd May 1455.

Henry IV had sent his maternal half-brother, Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond to Wales to put down the revolt of one Gruffudd ap Nicholas who had captured Carmarthen castle. Whilst Edmund Tudor succeeded in his mission, since Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York was formally constable of that castle, in the summer of 1456 he sent William Herbert and Walter Devereux (another prominent Yorkist from Herefordshire) to dislodge Edmund Tudor from his occupation of Carmarthen. William Herbert duly seized control of Carmarthen castle and imprisoned the Earl of Richmond. Whilst being held in capitivity at the castle Edmund Tudor fell ill and died, and whilst there is no suggestion that William had any hand in the earl's death, he was naturally blamed for Edmund's untimely demise.

As the influence of his master the Duke of York declined during the course of 1456, William discovered that there was a royal warrant out ordering his arrest and therefore went into hiding. Early in 1457 however, he was captured and arrested and in the March of that year stood trial at Hereford and was convicted of treason. He was however pardoned soon after in June and his attainder reversed in the February of 1458. This was in accordance with the spirit of reconciliation that prevailed in 1458 but also for the simple reason that William decided to switch his allegiance to the Lancastrian side.

Of course, the attempts to reconcile the two sides ultimately failed, and once open conflict broke out again in 1459, William changed sides once more and actively supported the Yorkist cause. He was the prime Yorkist recruiter in south Wales and at the battle of Mortimer’s Cross, fought on the 2nd February 1461, William was placed in command of the left flank of the future Edward IV's army, which defeated the Lancastrian forces and propelled Edward onto the throne of England.

The first Herbert

In return for this support, William naturally received his reward from a grateful Edward IV who later that same year appointed him as Chief Justice and Chamberlain of South Wales and created him a baron in July 1461.

Having been raised to the English peerage, William required an English surname to go along with his new station in life and decided to adopt the surname 'Herbert', and thus became Baron Herbert of Raglan. His choice of the name Herbert was based on his supposed descent from one Herbert the Chamberlain a Norman landholder who, it was said, was the bastard son of Henry I. Although Herbert the Chamberlain was real enough, it is very doubtful that he was the son of Henry I and any connection he might have had to our 'William ap William' entirely the product of a genealogists imagination.

Later Herberts even went to the trouble of forging a commission from Edward IV in which William Herbert was declared the descendant of "Herbert, a noble lord, natural son by King Henry the first" and included the royal command that William Herbert and his brother "take their surnames after their first progenitor Herbert fitz Roy and to forego the British order and manner".

Meanwhile, on the 30th September William took Pembroke Castle where found the infant Henry Tudor with his mother Margaret Beaufort and her second husband Henry Stafford, (the second son of the Duke of Buckingham). Herbert purchased the wardship of Henry for a £1,000 from Edward IV and raised him at Raglan Castle with, it appears, the intention of marrying him off to his daughter Maud Herbert.1

Earl of Pembroke

Thereafter William Herbert became Edward's prime agent in Wales and one of the cornerstones of his regime, tasked with ensuring the loyalty of that particular nation to the new Yorkist king. His main job was trying to clear up the up the remnants of Lancastrian support and in the autumn of 1464 he began a long siege of Harlech Castle which subsequently continued for a number of years without much sign of progress.

When in July 1468 Jasper Tudor landed in Wales with a small force financed by the French, this inspired Herbert to finally make the effort to take Harlech which fell on the 14th August. Undeterred Jasper Tudor went on to take Denbeigh but Herbert drove him out and scattered his forces, forcing Jasper to retire to Brittany.

With Wales now secure for the Yorkist cause and the final remnants of the Lancastrain cause driven out an act of attainder was passed through Parliament depriving Jasper Tudor of his lands and titles. On the 8th September 1468 William Herbert received his due reward for the capture of Harlech Castle and the defeat of Jasper Tudor when he was created Earl of Pembroke.

In many ways the earldom was only the icing on the cake as sometime around 1466, William Herbert married his son and heir, another William Herbert to Mary Woodville, the sister of the Elizabeth who her herself married Edward IV. This not only created a strong family link between William and the king himself but placed William very firmly within the arms of the 'Woodville faction' that came to dominate the government during the early year's of Edward IV's reign.

The end of William

William's meteoric rise to prominence naturally attracted animosity particularly from the more established aristocracy who resented this 'new man', especially a Welshman who had allied himself with those other arrivistes the Woodville family. William's nemesis turned out to be one Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick, a man of considerable power and influence in the north of England (his brother George was Archbishop of York at the time), and resentful of the influence that the Woodville faction had established over Edward IV.

Richard Neville had other reasons to dislike William as he had won possession of the Marcher Lordship of Newport, the Earl of Warwick was his near-neighbour as Lord of Glamorgan and Neville coveted nearby Newport as well2. In 1469 Richard Neville rebelled with a view to replacing Edward on the throne with Edward's brother George, Duke of Clarence who had similarly become disenchanted with Edward's rule. William Herbert came to the defence of Edward and together with his brother, Sir Richard Herbert of Coldbrook, once more raised troops in support of his king.

Circumstances were to place the Herbert brothers in a position where they forced to battle a superior force under the command of Sir William Conyers. On the 26th July 1469 the heavily outnumbered William Herbert duly lost this battle of Edgecote Moor. Both he and his brother were captured and in accordance with the spirit of the times, taken to Northampton where on the 27th July both were duly beheaded. The body of William was returned to his native Wales and buried at Tintern Abbey.

The remarkable William Herbert

William was one of the most remarkable men of his age who succeeded in transforming himself from the son of a minor Welsh knight into one of the leading peers of the realm. The Welsh however called him 'Gwilym Ddu', or 'Black William' on account of his long criminal career. The annalist of Gloucester Abbey called him a "a cruel man prepared for every crime" and the Brief Latin Chronicle descibed him as "a very grave oppressor and despoiler of priests and many others for many years"; which is to say that he lost no opportunity to enrich himself at the expense of others. He was an entirely self serving, two faced individual with no sense of morality whatsover.

He was the first native Welshman to gain an earldom (Neither of the Tudors count, they were half French and born in England) and is probably best remembered as the founder of a remarkably diverse and persistent family dynasty. To this day his descendants continue to be Earls of Pembroke, whilst other Herberts were to win recognition as Earls of Powis and Earls of Carnarvon. Indeed the subsequent history of Wales is full of damned Herberts, frequently popping up on opposite sides of whatever conflict was going on at the time.

The children of William Herbert

William had married Anne Devereux who was the daughter of Walter Devereux, a prominent Yorkist from Herefordshire with whom he had a long association. Anne bore him a son also named William, who subsequent to the defeat of Richard Neville in 1471 was recognised as Earl of Pembroke by Edward IV (although he subsequently surrendered that title in exchange for that of Huntingdon.)

However our William was also 'associated with' a lady by the name of Maud Turberville by whom he had an illegitimate son by the name of Richard Herbert. Although his legitmate son and heir was to die in 1491 without any heirs of his own, his grandson by his illegitimate son also named William also succeeded in becoming Earl of Pembroke in 1551 and therefore is confusingly also called William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke but of the second creation.


1 Henry being the Earl of Richmond and a potential if, at the time, a somewhat unlikely Lancastrian candidate for the throne, hence Edward's relatively relaxed attitude to wards him. Nothing actually came of the plans to marry Henry to Maud, and eventually Henry with some help from his mother took advantage of the disruption caused by William's death in 1471 to escape from custody and join his uncle abroad.
2 The Earl of Warwick engaged in the odd bit of piracy on the side and the control of Welsh ports was helpful in this regard as, at the time, they were outside the English customs system and therefore ever so useful should the Earl wish to dispose of any goods that had 'fallen off the deck of a ship' somewhere along the line. Newport was simply a better port at the time than Cardiff.


  • John Davies A History of Wales (Allen Lane, 1993)
  • Alison Weir Lancaster and York: The Wars of the Roses (Pimlico 1998)
  • Elizabeth Ann Lewis, The Herbert Family of Raglan Castle at
  • members.aol.com/Lizbetann/herbert.html
  • Raglan Castle at www.castlewales.com/raglan.html
  • The 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica entry for HERBERT (FAMILY)
    See http://1911encyclopedia.org/index.htm