BERKELEY, Sir Thomas (1575-1611), of Caludon Castle, nr. Coventry, Warws.
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Family and Education
b. 11 July 1575, 2nd but o. surv. s. of Henry, 7th Lord Berkeley (d.1613), of Caludon Castle and Berkeley Castle, Glos. and his 1st w. Katherine, da. of Henry Howard, styled earl of Surrey. educ. privately (Edward Cowper) by 1584; Magdalen, Oxf. 1590;1 G. Inn 1598;2 travelled abroad (France, Italy, Low Countries) 1600, 1608, 1610-11. m. 19 Feb. 1596 (with £1,000) Elizabeth (d. 23 Apr. 1635), da. and h. of George Carey†, 2nd Bar. Hunsdon, 2s. 1da.; 4 other ch. d.v.p.3 KB 25 July 1603.4 d. 22 Nov. 1611.5
Berkeley’s ancestry can be traced back to Eadnoth the Staller, an official at the court of Edward the Confessor. Eadnoth’s grandson, Robert Fitz Harding, was granted the barony of Berkeley by Henry II, and the family supplied a representative for Gloucestershire as early as 1290.8 John Smith*, their servant and chronicler, bestowed on Berkeley’s father the sobriquet of ‘Henry the Harmless’. The latter’s feckless extravagance rendered him unfit for responsible office, but the obsolete splendour of his retinue (many of them local gentry) and his reputation as ‘the best landlord in England’ might have put a county seat at his disposal, but for the lack of a qualified candidate. Berkeley was born at Caludon in 1575, but only after his parents had undergone a long course of medical treatment, his elder brother having died aged two in the early 1560s. Queen Elizabeth, who was visiting her favourite Leicester at Kenilworth, became his godmother. An accident in childhood left his head and neck permanently awry, but his education (unlike his father’s) was not neglected. Smith joined the household from Derby grammar school as attendant and fellow pupil to the young heir in 1584, and accompanied him to Oxford six years later. Unfortunately, Berkeley fell ill at the university of ‘a burning fever ... from the dregs whereof his future days were never cleared’.9 At the age of 20 he married ‘a wife answerable to his estate and calling’, and much his superior in character, intelligence and court connections.10 The wedding may have been graced by a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in its final version.11 The bride’s portion was only £1,000 in cash, but on her parents’ death she was to have lands in Kent worth nearly £1,000 p.a. Initially the young couple had ‘no houses wherein to settle themselves’ and were forced to ‘sojourn with friends or hire where they [might] for money’; but they were residing at Caludon by about 1598, when they added a banqueting house. Lord Berkeley initially allowed his son an annuity of £600, later reduced to £500, but, ‘profuse in expenses beyond his ordinary means’, he lived at the rate of some £2,100.12 He borrowed largely, at first from Coventry tailors and later from London scriveners and, partly with, and partly without, his father’s privity, sold land and reversions to the value of £7,150. ‘Inconstant and too sudden in his determination’, he made the first of three unexpected and apparently unlicensed trips abroad in 1600.13
Either as an official messenger or, like his wife’s uncle, Sir Robert Carey*, ‘of his own motion’, Berkeley went to Scotland with the news of James I’s accession; and the new reign brought some improvement in status for the family. Lord Berkeley was appointed lord lieutenant of Gloucestershire, while Berkeley himself received the order of the Bath, and was returned as senior knight of the shire to the first Jacobean Parliament.14 He is mentioned only once in the records, as a member of the committee sent to the Lords to request a conference about wardship (26 Mar. 1604), and this is probably an error for Sir Maurice Berkeley.15 While in London, he lodged with his mother-in-law in Blackfriars. His financial embarrassments continued. In 1606 his wife had to sell her reversionary interest to the Kentish lands, and three years later she attempted, with Smith’s assistance, to impose some restraint on his expenditure. Enraged at their interference, he fled abroad, missing the last two sessions of Parliament, and returned a Catholic and an incurable invalid.16 During the few remaining months of his life at Caludon he may have joined with his father in presenting 29 volumes to the library of the free school at Coventry, for which he was appointed to the corporation.17 He died intestate on 22 Nov. 1611, ‘a most gentle and mild death’, and was buried at St. Michael’s, Coventry. According to Smith, Berkeley’s widow took out letters of administration for his estate but it has not been possible to confirm this.18 Berkeley’s son George became the ward of Henry Howard, earl of Northampton, succeeding to the peerage in 1613, and his grandson, later the 9th Lord, was returned for Gloucestershire under the Protectorate.19
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Author: Alan Davidson
- 1. J. Smyth, Berkeley Mss ed. J. Maclean, ii. 393-5.
- 2. GI Admiss.
- 3. Smyth, Berkeley, ii. 395-6, 399.
- 4. Shaw, Knights of Eng. i. 153.
- 5. Smyth, Berkeley, ii. 399.
- 6. C181/2/23.
- 7. B. Poole, Coventry, 149.
- 8. CP sub 4th Lord Berkeley, Robert Fitz Harding; OR.
- 9. Smyth, Berkeley, ii. 265, 385-6, 393-5, 408.
- 10. PROB 11/123, f. 87; L. Stone, Fam. and Fortune, 250-1; Smyth, Berkeley, ii. 395-6.
- 11. W.B. Hunter, ‘The first performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, N and Q, ccxxx. 45.
- 12. Smyth, Berkeley, ii. 362, 396-9, 426.
- 13. Stone, 250, Smyth, Berkeley, ii. 359-61, 397-9.
- 14. Nichols, Progs. Jas. I, i. 39n; Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 189; Smyth, Berkeley, 370, 397.
- 15. CJ, i. 154a, 936a.
- 16. Smyth, Berkeley, ii. 321, 397, 399; HMC 5th Rep. 354; Stone, 251; HMC 4th Rep. 367.
- 17. T. Sharp, Illustrative Pprs. on Hist. and Antiq. of Coventry, 174.
- 18. Smyth, Berkeley, ii. 399-400, 405.
- 19. WARD 9/162, f.146.