HERBERT of Bosham (c. 1120–c. 1194) was Thomas Becket's closest advisor and confidant, his inseparable companion through his exile and the most enthusiastic champion of his cause. A pupil of Peter Lombard and almost certainly of the school of St Victor, he was a skilled and original biblical scholar. He produced a lavishly ornamented revision of Peter Lombard's Great Gloss on the Psalms and Epistles and a commentary on the literal sense of Jerome's Hebraica version of the Psalms, a project that reveals him as more learned in Hebrew than any known Christian contemporary. When he wrote about recent events in his letters, and in his two works devoted to Thomas Becket, the Historia and the Liber Melorum, he brought to them the skills and preoccupations of a theologian. Herbert's own works and the writings of contemporaries give us a wealth of information about his career, but he was also a very self-reflective writer who revealed much about his own feelings and motivations. He was a person who would attract admiration and patronage, but also a difficult character, who complained of being shunned and neglected. His works and reputation have had a similarly chequered path, though the more attention that has been paid to his writings, the more his depth of learning, his versatility and originality have been appreciated. What follows is intended to provide a guide to the uninitiated, and direction to those who would like to know more about Herbert's life and work.
Early life and education
At the end of the Historia, Herbert gives a list of Thomas's eruditi, his ‘learned men’. Last and least of these, he says, is ‘the disciple who wrote these things, Herbert by name, English by nation, and from birth and surname “of Bosham”’. This is the name that others give him too, and there is no reason to doubt that he came from that seaside town in West Sussex, two miles west of Chichester. Herbert's birth is conventionally dated to c. 1120, which would make him a close contemporary of Thomas Becket, but this is rough estimation.