BERKELEY, James, Visct. Dursley (c.1680-1736), of Berkeley Castle, Glos.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Dec. 1701 - 1702

Family and Education

b. c.1680, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Charles Berkeley†, 2nd Earl of Berkeley, by Elizabeth, da. of Baptist Noel†, 3rd Visct. Camden, sis. of Edward Noel†, 1st Earl of Gainsborough.  m. c.13 Feb. 1711, Lady Louisa Lennox (d. 1717), da. of Charles, 1st Duke of Richmond, 1s. 1da.  Styled Visct. Dursley 1699–1710; summ. to Lords in his fa.’s barony as Lord Berkeley of Berkeley 5 Mar. 1705; suc. fa. as 3rd Earl of Berkeley 24 Sept. 1710; KG 31 Mar. 1718.

Offices Held

Lt. RN 1699, capt. 1701, v.-adm. Jan. 1708, adm. Dec. 1708; v.-adm. of Great Britain 1718–d., adm. of the fleet and c.-in-c. 13 Mar.–15 Apr. 1719; ld. of bedchamber 1714–27; first ld. of Admiralty 1717–27; PC 17 Apr. 1717; ld. justice 1719, 1720, 1726, 1727.1

Freeman, Gloucester 1701; ld. lt. Glos. 1710–12, 1714–d.; custos rot. Surr. 1710–d.; high steward, Gloucester 1710–12, 1714–d.; warden, Forest of Dean and constable of St. Briavel’s Castle 1711–12, 1714–d.2

Er. bro. Trinity House 1715–d., master 1715–19.


Lord Dursley, the heir to one of William III’s middle-ranking politicians, began his career in the navy and was promoted captain of a frigate in April 1701 at the early age of 21. He successfully contested Gloucester in December 1701, when his return was counted as a gain for the Whigs by Lord Spencer (Charles*). Robert Harley* also classed him as a Whig in his list of the same date. He made no mark in proceedings, and his parliamentary career was cut short when his return to active service prevented his candidacy at the 1702 election. He was with Sir George Rooke* in the Mediterranean in 1704, distinguishing himself at the battle of Malaga. The following year he was summoned to the Upper House in his father’s barony of Berkeley. His naval career continued to prosper, though his promotion to vice-admiral early in 1708 owed much to his political connexions, Lord Treasurer Godolphin (Sidney†) explaining to Marlborough (John Churchill†) that it had been done to please the Whigs who had been ‘very pressing for him’. Further commands and promotion followed until his retirement from active service in May 1710, and in September he succeeded his father to the earldom of Berkeley and its estates. Despite the Tories’ accession to power, he was appointed to succeed his father as lord lieutenant of Gloucestershire, but was replaced in January 1712 and at the same time removed from his rank of admiral of the red. He was recalled to active service in 1714 to command the fleet sent to meet King George I, who appointed him one of his lords of the bedchamber while still on board ship. For the next 13 years he played a central part in the Whig administration, taking charge of the Admiralty as first lord from 1717 until 1727 when his worsening relations with (Sir) Robert Walpole II* led to his dismissal. He died 17 Aug. 1736 at Aubigny in France, a seat of his brother-in-law the Duke of Richmond, and was buried at Berkeley. He was, as Lord Hervey (John†) recalled, ‘born and educated a staunch Whig, and had never deviated a moment one step of his life from these principles’.3

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Authors: Paula Watson / Andrew A. Hanham


  • 1. Commissioned Sea Officers of RN (Navy Recs. Soc., occ. pub. i), 31.
  • 2. Gloucester Freemen (Glos. Rec. Ser. iv), 54; Bodl. Rawl. C.393, f. 52.
  • 3. Charnock, Biographia Navalis, iii. 201–13; MarlboroughGodolphin Corresp. 1292; Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 715; Hervey Mems. 37.