Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Berkeley, George (1628-1698)

BERKELEY, GEORGE (1628–1698), first Earl of Berkeley and Viscount Dursley, ninth baron of Berkeley (since the writ of 1421), and fourteenth (since the writ of 1295) [see Berkeley, Family of], was son of Lord George, who died 1658 [q. v.] He was a canon-commoner at Christ Church, Oxford, but did not take any degree, and married, 11 Aug. 1646, Elizabeth, daughter of John Massingberd, treasurer of the East India Company, by whom he had two sons, Charles and George, and six daughters. One of these ladies, presumably the eldest, Elizabeth, was seen by Pepys dancing very 'rich in jewels' at the court ball on the night of 15 Nov. 1666. She was, says Pepys, much liked by the King of France, though when she was presented to that monarch he does not state. Having succeeded to the barony in 1658, Lord George Berkeley was nominated, May 1660, one of the commissioners to proceed to the Hague and invite Charles to return to the kingdom, and on 16 June following was present at the banquet given to the king on his return by the lord mayor at Guildhall. In July he was deputed by the House of Lords to convey their thanks to the king for the elevation of Monck to the peerage. In the following November he was made keeper of the house gardens and parks of Nonsuch, where the Duchess of Cleveland subsequently resided. In 1661 he was placed on the council for foreign plantations. In 1663 he became one of the members of the Royal African Company on its formation (10 Jan.), acquiring thus a share for the term of 1,000 years in the whole of the vast territory lying between the port of Sallee in South Barbary and the Cape of Good Hope. In the same year he was elected fellow of the Royal Society. He seems to have been disposed to make the utmost of what he conceived to be his legal rights, however unsubstantial. His claim to precedency over Lord la Warr is noticed in the article upon the Berkeley family. On 11 Sept. 1679 he was created Viscount Dursley and Earl of Berkeley. In the preceding April he had been made a member of the board of trade and plantations established in 1668, and in the preceding year a privy councillor. In 1680 (9 Feb.) he was elected to the governorship of the Levant Company, a position which he seems to have held for the greater part, if not the whole, of his subsequent life. In May of the following year he was elected one of the masters of Trinity House. In the same year he made a present to Sion College of the library which had belonged to Sir Robert Coke, the late husband of his aunt, Theophila, and son of Sir Edward, the well-known chief justice. At this time he was a member of the East India Company. In February 1684-5 he was appointed custos rotulorum for the county of Gloucester, and 21 July 1685 was sworn of the privy council. After the flight of the king, 11 Dec. 1688, the Earl of Berkeley was among the lords who assembled at Guildhall to draw up the celebrated declaration constituting themselves a provisional government until such time as the Prince of Orange should arrive. He died in 1698, and was buried in the parish church of Cranford, Middlesex, where he had an estate. His widow died in 1708, and was buried in the same place. Evelyn speaks of him as his 'old and noble friend,' but beyond mentioning sundry occasions on which he dined with him on one of which (at Durdans, Epsom, 1 Sept. 1662) he met the king and queen and Prince Rupert, on another (19 June 1682) 'the Bantame or East India ambassadors,' of whose behaviour at table he gives a minute account says but little about the earl, even omitting to record his death. The references to him in Pepys are even more slight and casual. He published in 1668 a religious work entitled 'Historical Applications and Occasional Meditations upon several Subjects,' to which Waller has given a kind of immortality by eleven couplets of rather neatly worded and not particularly fulsome praise, beginning

Bold is the man that dares engage
For piety in such an age.

The design of the work appears to have been to illustrate the value of religion from the recorded experience of distinguished men. A second edition appeared in 1670, and a third with amplifications in 1680. Wood, who, on the strength of this book and an address to the Levant Company published in 1681, includes the earl in the 'Athenae Oxonienses,' states that in a certain auction catalogue it appeared, under the quaintly unctuous title 'Divine Breathings, or Soul Thirstings after Christ.' The earl was succeeded in the family honours by his eldest son, Charles. His second son, George, who graduated M.A. at Christ Church, 9 July 1669, took holy orders, and became a prebendary of Westminster, 13 July 1687. He died in 1694. Of the daughters all were married except the fifth, Henrietta, who caused considerable scandal in the year 1682 by eloping with the husband of her sister Mary, Lord Grey of Werke [see Grey, Ford, earl of Tankerville].

[Wood's Athenae Oxon. iv. 625, 655; Fasti Oxon. ii. 315, 332, 372, 393; Berkeley Peerage Claim, i. 11, 28, 29, 30, vol. ii. Auths. and Preceds. 178-185; Atkyns's Gloucestershire, p. 139; Foster Coll. Gren. Musgrave's Obituary, p. 80; Lords Journals, xi. 12, xiii. 613; Lysons's Environs, i. 485, iv. 601, suppl. 26, 29; Kennet's Register, 133, 181, 204; Cal. State Papers, Dom. (1660-1661) 359, (1661-1662) 112, (1663- 1664) 201, (1664-1665) 213, 232; Colonial, (1661-1668) 56, 191, 408; Beatson's Polit. Index, i. 109, suppl. viii., iii. 430; Court and Society from Elizabeth to Anne, ii. 381; Pepys, 3 March 1659-60, 1 Sept. 1662, 15 Nov. 1666, 14 July 1 667; Evelyn, 1 Sept. 1662, 13 Aug. 1673, 19 June 1682; Manning and Bray's Surrey, i. 482, 561 n, ii. 606, 614, iii. 378, 390; Luttrell's Brief Relation of State Affairs, i. 21, 135, 199, 212, 229, 231,234, 240, 335, iii. 146; Collins's Peerage (Brydges) and Burke's Peerage, Berkeley Title.]

J. M. R.