HERBERT of Cherbury, Edward, Lord (1582-1648), elder brother of G. *Herbert, born at Eyton-on-Severn, Shropshire, into one of the foremost families of the Welsh border. In 1596, aged 14, he was enrolled as gentleman commoner at University College, Oxford. That year his father died, and Herbert became ward of Sir George Moore (later *Donne's father-in-law). At 16 he was married to his cousin Mary, daughter of Sir William Herbert of St Julians, five years Edward's senior and heiress to her father's estates in England, Wales and Ireland. By the time he was 21 the couple had had, he reports, 'divers children', of whom none survived him. He was created Knight of the Bath in 1603. His adventures are recounted by Herbert in his Life, a remarkable document, not least for its unabashed presentation of its author's martial valour, success with women, truthfulness, sweetness of breath, and other virtues. Herbert aspired to a career in public service and spent much of the time from 1608 to 1618 in France, getting to know the French aristocracy and court. He also travelled in Italy and the Low Countries, fighting at the siege of Juliers (1610).
In 1619 he became ambassador to France, on *Buckingham's recommendation. His most famous philosophical work, De Veritate, was published in Paris in 1624. He was recalled to London in 1624, where he unsuccessfully petitioned for high office. Although he joined Charles's council of war in 1629, becoming Baron Herbert of Cherbury, recognition still eluded him. To attract royal notice he wrote, in 1630, The Expedition to the Isle of Rhé, which tries to justify Buckingham's calamitous generalship, and in 1632 he began a detailed 'official' history of *Henry VIII's reign, assisted by Thomas Masters, which was published in 1649. At the outbreak of the Civil War he retired to Montgomery Castle and declined to become involved. The castle was threatened by Royalists in 1644, and he admitted a parliamentary garrison, under Sir Thomas Myddleton, in exchange for the return of his books, which had been seized. He moved to his London house in Queen Street, St Giles, and dedicated himself to philosophy, supplementing his De Veritate with De Causis Errorum and De Religione Laici, both published in 1645, and writing besides De Religione Gentilium and his autobiography (begun in 1643). In 1647 he visited Gassendi in Paris.
Herbert's De Veritate postulates that religion is common to all men and that, stripped of superfluous priestly accretions, it can be reduced to five universal innate ideas: that there is a God; that he should be worshipped; that virtue and piety are essential to worship; that man should repent of his sins; and that there are rewards and punishments after this life. It gained Herbert the title of father of English *Deism. It was widely read in the 17th cent., earning the attention and disagreement of Mersenne, Gassendi, *Descartes, and *Locke. Herbert also wrote poetry which is obscure and metrically contorted, evidently influence by his friend Donne, but he also wrote some tender and musical love lyrics. (See also METAPHYSICAL POETS.)
Life, ed. S. Lee (1886, rev. 1906), and ed. J. M. Shuttleworth (1976); Poems English and Latin, ed. G. C. Moore Smith (1923); De Veritate, ed. and trans. M. H. Carré (1937); De Religione Laici, ed. and trans. H. R. Hutcheson (1944); R. D. Bedford, The Defence of Truth (1979).