George Herbert Biography

George Herbert, a renowned 17th century English poet, left a lasting impact with his devotional poems. Born and raised in London by his widowed mother, he received his education at Westminster School and Cambridge University. After starting his career at his alma mater, he made the decision to pursue a life in the church and was ordained as a priest. Tragically, he passed away from consumption three years later. Herbert’s poetic journey began at Cambridge, where he wrote his first poems, expressing his dedication to God’s glory. Throughout his life, he continued to write devotional poems, with the majority believed to have been composed during his time at Cambridge. Despite his untimely death, Herbert’s legacy lives on through his manuscript, The Temple, Sacred Poems and Private Ejaculations, which he prepared at his deathbed in Bemerton.

Quick Facts

  • British Celebrities Born In April Died At Age: 39
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Jane Danvers (m. 1629–1633)
    • Father: Richard Herbert, Lord of Cherbury
    • Mother: Magdalen Newport
    • Siblings: Edward Herbert, Herbert of Cherbury
  • Born Country: Wales
  • Quotes By George Herbert
  • Poets
  • Died on: March 1, 1633
  • Place of death: Bemerton, England
  • More Facts
  • Education: Trinity College, Cambridge, Westminster School, University of Cambridge

Childhood & Early Life

George Herbert was born on 3 April 1593 in Montgomery, Wales. His family, one of the oldest and most powerful in the country, had settled there in the 13th century. His father, Richard Herbert, was the Lord of Cherbury and Montgomery Castle, as well as an English Parliamentarian and Justice of the Peace. His mother, Magdalen née Newport, was an English patron and the head of an early English literary family. George had ten siblings, including four brothers and two sisters who were older than him, and three younger brothers.

When George was three years old, his father passed away, and his mother took on the responsibility of raising the children. She managed their financial affairs and ensured their academic and spiritual education. George had a close relationship with his mother. The family moved several times during his childhood, first to Shropshire in 1597, then to Oxford in 1599, and finally to Charing Cross, London in 1601.

Education at Westminster School and Trinity College, Cambridge

In 1604, George entered Westminster School as a day pupil. He excelled academically and graduated in 1609. He then received a scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he arrived on 5 May. It was during this time that his poetic inclinations began to emerge, and he may have written his first poems on 1 January 1610. In 1612, he contributed two Latin poems to a collection of elegies on the death of Prince Henry, which are believed to be his published works.

George earned his bachelor’s degree in 1613, ranking second out of 193 graduates. He was elected a Minor Fellow the following year. In 1616, he obtained his master’s degree and was appointed a Major Fellow at Trinity College. He also took on teaching responsibilities and became a Lecturer in Rhetoric and the Deputy Orator. During this time, he continued to write and publish his works.

Career at Cambridge and Change of Course

In 1620, George was elected the University’s Public Orator, a prestigious position that required him to speak on state occasions and compose official correspondence. However, his life was not without challenges. He struggled with poor health throughout his adult life and faced financial insecurities. Despite his important position, he received a modest salary and often had to rely on his brother for his inheritance.

While George initially intended to pursue a career in the court, circumstances led him to change his course. In 1625, King James I passed away, and two of his patrons also died, reducing his chances of a court career. Realizing the situation, George decided to pursue a career in the church. In 1626, he was presented with the prebend of Leighton Bromswold and was appointed a deacon while still a don at Cambridge.

Priesthood and Life at Bemerton

In 1630, George was ordained as a priest and appointed rector of the rural parish of Fugglestone St Peter with Bemerton. He spent the rest of his life in Bemerton, looking after the parish church of St Peter and the chapel of St Andrew. He led a simple life, attending services at St Andrew’s church twice a day and making weekly trips to Salisbury Cathedral.

George also used his own funds to rebuild the church and rectory at Bemerton. During this time, he revised some of his poems, which were later included in his posthumous collection, “The Temple.” He also wrote a guide to rural ministry titled “A Priest to the Temple or, The County Parson His Character and Rule of Holy Life.”

Major Works and Legacy

George Herbert is best known for his posthumously published collection, “The Temple, Sacred Poems and Private Ejaculations,” which carries the sub-title “The Church.” The majority of these poems were likely written during his time at Cambridge and later revised. Another important work is “Jacula Prudentum,” a collection of proverbs.

George Herbert married Jane Danvers in 1629, but they did not have any children. He passed away on 1 March 1633, just one month before his 40th birthday. He was buried in St Andrew’s church at Bemerton, and a memorial window was built in his honor. He is also remembered with a niche at Salisbury Cathedral.

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