A rare document signed by one of William Shakespeare's most important patrons goes under the hammer on August 23.

The document, signed by William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, is dated 1608 and is being auctioned in Ludlow, Shropshire.

It is believed Herbert was the "Mr W H" to whom Shakespeare's sonnets are dedicated.

Document expert Richard Westwood-Brookes, from Mullock Madeley auctioneers, said: "It is fascinating to think that the person who signed this document knew Shakespeare personally, and can be seen as one of the most important figures in the development of his plays."

Herbert was an important literary figure of the late 16th and early 17th centuries.

His father formed a company of players which had exclusively performed several of Shakespeare's plays. "The company, known as 'Pembroke's Men' sold their plays to other companies when they disbanded and the Shakespeare plays went to the Lord Chamberlain's Men," Mr Westwood-Brookes said.

"When his father died in 1601, William continued the patronage of the stage and supported both Shakespeare and the other major playwright of the time, Ben Jonson."

The document being auctioned was a legal transaction involving the sale of two manors to John Still, the Bishop of Bath and Wells.

Mr Westwood-Brookes added: "Just why this transaction took place when it did is a mystery.

"The bishop was an ailing old man and indeed wrote his will on the very same day that this document was signed. He died 26 days later, having parted with the considerable sum of £2,800 - something approaching £3 million in today's money."