Herbert of Bosham, biographer of St. Thomas Becket, dates of birth and death unknown. He was probably born in the County of Sussex at the place from which he took his name, and he must have joined Becket’s household before 1162, as, on his elevation in that year, the new archbishop immediately promoted him to a responsible position. He was to give his master advice on the performance of his duties, and to assist and even direct his studies of Scripture. Herbert remained closely attached to St. Thomas during the arduous and troubled years of his episcopacy and exile down to the very eve of the final scene in Canterbury Cathedral. Of all the archbishop’s followers he was the keenest antagonist of the king and the royal “customs”, quite ready on occasion to beard Henry II to his face or to undertake dangerous missions to England. After the martyrdom Herbert seems to have lived mainly on the Continent, and he complains that he was neglected by the friends and adherents of the master whom he had served so faithfully; he records, however, a friendly interview with the king himself. We know nothing of him after the year 1189. As a biographer Herbert had many advantages. He shared St. Thomas’s ideals and was an eyewitness of most of the incidents of his episcopacy. He had sat by him, for instance, during the stormy scenes of the trial at Northampton. On the other hand he did not begin to write till 1184, many years after the events which he records, and Dom L’Huillier has given good reasons to doubt the accuracy of Herbert’s reminiscences. The biographer certainly exaggerated his own personal influence over St. Thomas. Herbert of Bosham’s work has not, therefore, the historical value of that of Fitzstephen, and it is also extremely verbose. Besides the “Life of St. Thomas”, he wrote a very lengthy “Liber Melorum” in praise of the martyr. The best edition of the “Life” is that contained in vol. III of the “Materials for the History of Thomas Becket” (Rolls Series) edited by Canon Robertson; the volume also contains some extracts from the “Liber Melorum”.
F. F. URQUHART