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George Berkeley, 8th Baron of Berkeley

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George Lord Berkeley, literary patron, nobleman, occasional sitting peer and fond traveller was born to Sir Thomas Berkeley and Elizabeth Carey in Essex, October 1601. Sir Thomas was the son and heir apparent of Henry Lord Berkeley, 7th Baron Berkeley. Henry outlived his son and died in November 1613, at Caludon in Coventry. John Smyth of Nibley, antiquary and life-long steward of the Berkeleys' estates notes that Henry 'may bee called Henry the Harmlesse, or Posthumous Henry'. It was this Henry who, through the pursuit of a 192 year legal feud with the Lisle family over estates, and much injudicious spending, reduced the family wealth to a remainder of 25 manors of 11,000 acres, with a rental value of £1,200 per year. George inherited his grandfather's titles and possessions, which were then administered and defended by his mother Lady Berkeley in his minority. Smyth notes that the previous five Berkeley lords had not increased the estates of the family, each in turn living off and sustaining their inheritance. This, coupled with Henry Berkeley's near ruinous profligacy drove the financially adept Lady Berkeley into arranging a marriage for her young son. At age thirteen and a half, George was married to nine year old Elizabeth Stanhope, second daughter and coheir to Sir Michael Stanhope of Sudbury, adding to the Berkeley family wealth estates worth £1,503 per year.

During his childhood at Caludon, George Berkeley was tutored by the translator and classical scholar Dr Philemon Holland, whose translation of Livy was the first in English. This teaching greatly impacted upon George; he quickly became a good linguist and maintained an interest in languages and foreign travel later in life. Smyth recalls how George corresponded with him in Latin from the age of twelve and kept a keen interest in the maps of John Speed. Berkeley's education continued in London until he was ready to attend Oxford. He matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford in June 1618, becoming a canon-commoner a year later, being admitted to Gray's Inn and receiving an MA from Christ Church in 1623. George's time at Oxford saw his growth into a prominent literary patron. Both his mother and maternal grandfather had been patrons before him. Elizabeth Carey, George's mother, was the dedicatee of Thomas Nashe's The Terrors of the Night (1594) and continued in her later life with dedications in works by William Camden and George's teacher, Philemon Holland. Both Elizabeth's father and grandfather, the first and second Barons Hunsdon, had been Lord Chamberlain under Elizabeth I, responsible for court theatre and the acting group the Lord Chamberlain's Men. At Oxford George was friendly with the King's Men, successors to the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. Through this group, Berkeley was acquainted with John Webster, who dedicated his printed edition of The Duchess of Malfi to him in hope of future patronage. However, no record exists of any further patronage. In similar fashion, James Shirley dedicated his The Young Admiral to Berkeley in an attempt to, 'by some timely application[,] derive upon [him Berkeley's] influence.' Again, a speculative dedication failing to secure sustained patronage. One other playwright to dedicate to Berkeley was Phillip Massinger, another associate of the King's Men, who dedicated his 1630 printing of The Renegado.

Away from the stage, Berkeley patronized scholarship. The most notable work dedicated to him was Robert Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy. JB Bamborough notes that the dedication in Anatomy is respectful, but not greatly complimentary, as was often the style. Burton most likely taught Berkeley at Christ Church, Oxford, and in his home county of Leicestershire, Berkeley held manors and a title. The Burton family rented Lindley Manor from the Berkeleys, and George held the title Baron Seagrave, an area of Leicestershire close to Lindley, where Burton was later to be appointed rector. Burton's one-sentence dedication to Berkeley is somewhat understandable; he is dedicating it at once to a pupil, a patron and a landlord. Burton went on to struggle for patronage, being made rector of Seagrave by Berkeley, rather than receiving further commission. Berkeley seems to have been unable to support regular commissions or sustain patronage of an individual. John Wilkins, natural philosopher and linguist came closest to sustained patronage as private chaplain to Berkeley. Wilkins dedicated one work to Berkeley, his tract on secret messaging, Mercury and presented it as a fruit of his 'leasure studies', hoping to encourage Berkeley's interest in his 'higher studies'. However, commission and future patronage were again not forthcoming.

Berkeley seems to have been detached from works dedicated to him, with many dedications speculative rather than thankful. Alexander Ross was another author who dedicated speculatively to Berkeley. Ross' The new planet no planet is markedly anti-Galilean, in open opposition to John Wilkins' work. As a royalist and reactionary seeking patronage in London, Ross may well have chosen Berkeley due to perceived political similarities. However strong these may have been, Berkeley was in no financial position to patronize Ross' writing.

Berkeley's two other surviving dedications come from European travellers, Anthony Stafford and James Wadsworth. Wadsworth, a Jesuit recusant and overseas government official, dedicated his Further Observations of the English Spanish Pilgrime, Concerning Spaine, their acquaintance likely due to Berkeley's own overseas connections and a mutual friend, Robert Devereaux, Earl of Essex. Anthony Stafford lived and travelled in Europe with Berkeley during Berkeley's Oxford years. He was part of a network of correspondents contributing to corantos back in England. His relationship to Berkeley was close and lasted a number of years. Stafford dedicated his 1634 Guide of Honour, written 1621, to Berkeley. It advised temperance and care over religion, acquaintances and estate management. Stafford's advice to his 'deare Lord' was apt. Stafford's own family had been shamed by intemperance – his brother Humphrey was executed in 1607 for sodomizing two teenage boys – and there are clues throughout the correspondence of Smyth and other Berkeley documents which suggest Berkeley courted indulgence and intemperance. Warmington describes a 'thunderous' letter from Lady Berkeley, deploring George's financial management and personal affairs, Berkeley having become 'bitterly estranged' from his wife by the early 1630s. In a poem imploring Stafford to spend time at Berkeley castle, Thomas Randolph describes how he and Stafford will


...taste of Bacchus' blessings now and then,
And drink by stealth
A cup or two to noble Barkley's health,
I'll take my pipe and try
The Phrygian melody;
Which he that hears,
Lets through his ears
A madness to distemper all the brain:
Then I another pipe will take
And Doric music make,
To civilize with graver notes our wits again.

Randolph was also the author of The high and mightie commendation of the vertue of a pot of good ale. In a 1661 petition to parliament, Berkeley's son describes his father's 'long abode beyond sea', his 'late troublesome liver' and 'other accidents' hindering him. Smyth also saw a capacity for indulgence in Berkeley from a relatively young age. There is a striking paragraph in his Lives of the Berkeleys, intended as advice to the then teenage George. Smyth breaks from his narrative to candidly warn Berkeley that,


'wisdom is not gotten without paine ; folly may bee bought and findeth many Chapmen, but true honor noblenes and wisdom that makes great and happy, are the fruits of wise companions and the counsells of the dead ; Hatefull may his memory bee that by his evill company corrupteth these seeds, for honor and reputation in such a one as this young lord is like to prove, is so delicate a thing as a small excesse may blemish it, and acts of indiscretion may ruin it ; It is a spirit that goes and returnes not againe.'

The pattern of dedications to Berkeley shows he was well connected in the literary world, if not wealthy or influential. His theatrical dedications came from acquaintances, who often had an historical connection to the Berkeley family, and prose dedications came from friends and religious appointments. There are no surviving dedications to Berkeley past 1646, after when dedications come to his son. This son, also George, had married Elizabeth Massingberd, daughter and coheir to the fortune of John Massingberd, treasurer of the East India company. Unlike his father, George the younger was able to offer sustained patronage to an individual writer, Thomas Fuller, who produced several works for him throughout the 1650s.

Berkeley's poor finances left him important only as the senior Berkeley, not as a peer or patron in his own right. Berkeley's debts neared £18,000 in 1634. He lacked wealth and status enough to be an influential peer, and his appearances in parliament reflect this. Due to his taste for travelling and time spent occasionally living abroad, Berkeley's appearances in parliament are few and irregular. Much of his dealings with parliament were in relation to the New Grounds, Slimbridge and Frampton, lands the Berkeley's owned in South Gloucestershire. The New Grounds had been created when the Severn changed its course in Berkeley's minority and both the Berkeleys and local residents repeatedly asserted their claims on the land. David Underdown sums up Berkeley's relationship with his tenants in these areas aptly, describing how the Berkeleys 'regularly had their fences restored, and just as regularly local people destroyed them and put in their cattle to graze,' despite parliament finding in favour of the Berkeleys.

Berkeley was also forced to make representations to Parliament after Berkeley Castle was routinely plundered by victorious Parliamentary forces between 1643 and 1646. The governor of Berkeley Castle, Charles Lucas, had surrendered in 1643, but the surrender articles were soon broken. In the immediate aftermath, Colonel Thomas Morgan allowed his men 'free bowte' and five shillings each from Berkeley Castle. Whilst garrisoned at Berkeley, parliamentarian Colonel Forbes took down walls, bridges and houses for his own profit and removed much furniture to his Scottish home, and a later governor, Captain Matthews, sold lead, the castle's bells, gates, furniture, land and even the silk strings from ancient charters for his own profit. Unlike other landowners in his position, Berkeley was able to make complaints in the Lords, as he was not a sequestered Royalist. He had been present in the Lords in August 1644 when it was agreed no peer may sit in the House unless he had taken the covenant. Berkeley's loyalism appears to have saved his castle, as Smyth and Berkeley were able to dissuade parliament from ordering its destruction, arguing Berkeley had sustained £20,000 losses during the course of the war, and that it would take a further £100,000 to rebuild the castle if pulled down.

Berkeley served as a parliamentary commissioner and sat on committees between the civil wars. Despite this, he still appears not to have been a prominent member. Berkeley was one of over 150 new commissioners for determining scandalous offences and one of more than 75 made a commissioner for appeals of Oxford University. Berkeley was also on the Lords' 'committee to receive complaints from persons sued' when acting for or under Parliament. There were again over 75 members of the committee, and as it only needed five members present to reach quorum, it is unlikely Berkeley was ever called upon.

As a minor peer, Berkeley was still able to cause a stir in the heightened and tense political atmosphere around parliament in the summer of 1647. Having already displeased dissenting and military factions in parliament in 1646 by protesting against the vote concerning the disposal of the King's person, Berkeley's loyalism further antagonized parliamentarians. In late July, a group of young men and apprentices of the City of London stormed both Houses of Parliament, angry about the army's increasing role in politics. They sought the return of a London Militia, directed by Londoners and desired the King be brought to London for negotiation, under peaceable means, rather than transported by the New Model. The mob drove the speakers of both houses and most of the members away, leaving behind a rump which they dictated to. Berkeley was one of the peers to remain behind and vote, as encouraged by the Common Council of the City of London, to re-establish the London militia and ward Fairfax's army off coming any closer than 30 miles from the city. When Fairfax's men finally did march on the city and forcibly free parliament, Berkeley and six other peers who freely sat in the Lords whilst the army felt parliament was under duress, were impeached for high treason. They were charged, but never fully brought to trial as the Commons was never able to offer substantial evidence against the seven. Despite this, Berkeley et al were committed to custody on 8th September 1647 and released only on 19th January 1648, without prosecution brought against them. They were again sequestered and bailed in February, costing £4,000 each, with an extra £2,000 in sureties. The Commons were again unable to muster enough evidence to support an accusation of high treason, and nine months after the original vote of impeachment, in June 1648, the charges were finally dropped. They do not appear to have adversely affected Berkeley's standing in the Lords as the impeachment was instigated and pursued by the Commons. In August 1648 Berkeley was again selected for a committee, the 'committee to adjudge scandalous offences'. He was also returned as a 'member approved on by the councill to sit in Parliament' in 1654.

After 1648, Berkeley is scarcely mentioned in Parliament. It is presumed he spent the remainder of his time abroad, although he did return to England in the last years of his life. He was returned to parliament in 1654 and there remains a short letter relating to the New Grounds in Berkeley's hand from 1657, a year before he died. He most likely resided in the parish of St John, in Clerkenwell, Middlesex, where he died on 10th August 1658. He was survived by his second son George and only daughter Elizabeth, his first son Charles having drowned in the English channel in early 1642. Berkeley's tombstone in St Dunstan's Church, Cranford, tells of a kindly and generous man 'singular [in] Bounty & affability towards his Inferiors' with a 'readines (had it bin in his power) to have obliged all mankind.' His son George inherited his estate and was later made Earl of Berkeley.

by John Morgan, as part of the URSS Undergraduate Research Scheme.

Further reading:

C.H. Firth, R.S. Rait (eds) Acts and Ordinances of the Interregnum, 1642-1660 (1911) [ ]

Thomas Bayly Howell, Thomas Jones Howell, William Cobbett, David Jardine, A Complete collection of state trials and proceedings for high treason and other crimes and misdemeanors : from the earliest period to the year 1783, with notes and other illustrations, Volume IV (London, 1816-1828)

John Smyth, Sir John Maclean (ed) The Berkeley Manuscripts: Lives of the Berkeleys Lords of the Honour, Castle and Manor of Berkeley In the County of Gloucester From 1066 to 1618, With a Description of the Hundred of Berkeley and Its Inhabitants by John Smyth, of Nibley Vol. II (Gloucester, 1883)

John Smyth, Smyth of Nibley Papers, Gloucestershire Record Office D8887

Anthony Stafford, The guide of honour, or the ballance wherin she may weigh her actions A discourse written (by way of humble advise) by the author then residing inforreigne parts, to a truely noble lord of England his most honour'd friend. Worthy the perusall of all who are gently or nobly borne, whom it instructethhow to carry themselves in both fortunes with applause and security. / By Antony Stafford, Gent. (London, 1634) []

Andrew Warmington, ‘Berkeley, George, eighth Baron Berkeley (1601–1658)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edn, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004 []

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