Siege Musings - From York to the Scaffold (via Persia)
On High Petergate (the road leading direct from Bootham Bar, the northern point of entrance into the city, to the Minster), an inauspicious blue plaque notes that it was the lodgings of Sir Thomas Herbert, 'a Puritan who later became a Groom of the Bedchamber and a close friend of Charles I. He stayed with him on the night of the execution and attended him on the scaffold'. But Sir Thomas' family and life was even more remarkable than that singular footnote in history!
The Herberts had lived in the finely gabled house on Pavement (now Jones shoes) and had been closely involved in the governing of the city since the 1570s.
This generation also saw much political upheaval in the city. In 1572, when Christopher Herbert (Thomas' great grandfather) was an Alderman, the Earl of Northumberland was executed on the Pavement and his headless body was buried in St Crux's Church (now demolished). Northumberland had been the leader of the failed Rising of the North which wished to replace Queen Elizabeth I with Mary Queen of Scots.
Thomas was born in 1606 in the house on the Pavement, and was educated at St Peter's School and then Oxford. Using a connection of his cousin Sir William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke (to whom Shakespeare dedicated his First Folio), he then travelled with Sir Dodmore Cotton, the first ambassador to Persia, and for several years (1627-9) he explored the region extensively. His published journals include some remarkable sketches, including this one of a broad-billed parrot, a red bill and a dodo!
In 1633 Thomas was an Alderman of York, and was part of the civic welcome party when Charles I visited the city 'andwas met at Tadcaster Bridge by the Sheriffs and conducted to the City where the Lord Mayor, Recorder and Aldermen, standing within Micklegate Bar on a scaffold erected for the purpose, saluted the King, and the Lord Mayor, on his knees, delivered up the keys of the City with an address. The next day he dined with the Lord Mayor at his house in Pavement and knighted him and the Recorder' (Drake Eboracum) (The Herbert residence on Pavement now belonging to the Mayor, Sir William Allenson).
During the early years of the Civil War, Thomas was living on his estate in the Forest of Dean, and sided with Parliament. When Charles I was imprisoned by Parliament, Thomas was appointed to the King's Chamber, and at this point it appears that Thomas changed his loyalties, and became a close friend in Charles' final days. Still, it didn't stop Thomas from returning to the Parliamentary cause during the Interregnum, when he worked in various government offices in Ireland. He eventually retired to York in 1666, where he lived in Petergate. He was buried, alongside his predecessors, in St Crux Church (now demolished), opposite the family house in Pavement.
Linking directly with Charles' execution, our recording project Music in Troubled Times includes a work by John Wilson. Wilson, primarily a lutenist, gained his D.Mus. at Oxford in 1644. He demonstrated his loyalty publicly in a somewhat risky publishing venture in his 1657 collection Psalterium Carolinium, which set prayers by Charles I taken from Eikon Basilike, the king’s spiritual autobiography (published in 1649 after his execution and immediately a bestseller). My God, My King is subtitled ‘in the King’s solitude in Holmby’, recalling his imprisonment in 1647 by Parliament.