Courtier, Scholar, and Man of the Sword

A new book about the life of Lord Herbert of Cherbury is due out in December 2021. Courtier, Scholar, and Man of the Sword: Lord Herbert of Cherbury and his World is written by Dr Christine Jackson, former Associate Professor in History and co-Director of our Foundation Certificate in History and the Postgraduate Certificate and Masters programme in Historical Studies. Dr Jackson retired from the Department in the autumn of 2020 and is an emeritus fellow at Kellogg College.

Lord Herbert was a flamboyant Stuart courtier, soldier, and diplomat who acquired a reputation for duelling and extravagance but also numbered among the leading intellectuals of his generation. He travelled widely in Britain and Europe, enjoyed the patronage of princely rulers and their consorts, acquired celebrity as the embodiment of chivalric values, and defended European Protestantism on the battlefield and in diplomatic exchanges. 

As a scholar and author of De veritate and The Life and Raigne of King Henry the Eighth, Herbert commanded respect in the European Republic of Letters and accumulated a much-admired library. As a courtier, he penned poetry and exchanged verses with John Donne and Ben Jonson, compiled a famous lute-book, wrote a widely-read autobiography, commissioned exquisite portraits by leading court artists, and built an impressive country house.

‘When I started work on Herbert’s life and writings’, Dr Jackson explains, ‘I was already familiar with his aristocratic foibles, chivalric adventures, and diplomatic interventions because I had studied his autobiography and portraits, with successive cohorts of students. Like them, I found him a fascinating and colourful but not always admirable individual. Getting to grips with his philosophical, theological and historical writings, verse and diplomatic correspondence has increased my respect for his wide-ranging intellectual talents and his transition from militantly defending the Protestant cause in Europe to cautiously promoting religious toleration in his scholarly writing.’

Herbert was an enigmatic Janus figure who cherished the masculine values and martial lifestyle of his ancestors but embraced the Renaissance scholarship and civility of the early modern court and anticipated the intellectual and theological liberalism of the Enlightenment. His life and writings provide a unique window into the aristocratic world and cultural mindset of the early seventeenth century and the outbreak and impact of the Thirty Years War and British Civil Wars.

Dr Jackson’s new book examines Lord Herbert’s career, life-style, political allegiances, religious beliefs, and scholarship within their British and European contexts, challenges the reputation he has acquired as a dilettante scholar, boastful auto-biographer, royalist turncoat and early deist, and offers a new assessment of his life and achievement.  

‘Biography’, Dr Jackson suggests, ‘is often underestimated as an historical genre. My book positions Herbert securely within the history of his era and re-asserts the importance of biographical studies in contributing building blocks for the reconstruction and interpretation of the past and in providing multiple vivid and intimate prisms through which to view the development and impact of events and ideas upon both the individual and a social generation. Research and writing are rarely solitary activities and my presentation of Herbert’s character and achievements owes much to innumerable discussions with former students and colleagues in the class- room and over the lunch and dinner table.’

Courtier, Scholar, and Man of the Sword: Lord Herbert of Cherbury and his World is published by OUP.

Published 11 November 2021