barons against King John, his castle was taken into the king’s hands. Seizin, however, was granted in 1220 to Thomas his brother and heir, but the estate was again forfeit in the next generation for a new defection, although the wind of the royal displeasure was tempered by the fact that Isabel de Creoun, wife of Maurice, lord of Berkeley, was the king’s near kinswoman. Thomas, son of Maurice, was allowed to succeed his father in the lands, and, having a writ of summons to parliament in 1295, he is reckoned the first hereditary baron of the line.
Even in the age of chivalry the lords of Berkeley were notable warriors. Thomas, who as a lad had ridden on the barons’ side at Evesham, followed the king’s wars for half a century of his long life, flying his banner at Falkirk and at Bannockburn, in which fight he was taken by the Scots. His seal of arms is among those attached to the famous letter of remonstrance addressed by the barons of England to Pope Boniface VIII. Maurice, his son, joined the confederation against the two Despensers, and lay in prison at Wallingford until his death in 1326, the queen’s party gaining the upper hand too late to release him. But as the queen passed by Berkeley on her way to seize Bristol, she gave back the castle, which had been kept by the younger Despenser, to Thomas, the prisoner’s heir, who, with Sir John Mautravers, soon received in his hold the deposed king brought thither secretly. The chroniclers agree that Thomas of Berkeley had no part in the murder of the king, whom he treated kindly. It was when Thomas was away from the castle that Mautravers and Gournay made an end of their charge. Through the providence of this Thomas the Berkeley estates were saved to the male line of his house, a fine levied in the twenty-third year of Edward III. so settling them. Thomas of Berkeley fought at Creçy and Calais, bringing six knights and thirty-two squires to the siege in his train, with thirty mounted archers and two hundred men on foot. His son and heir-apparent, Maurice of Berkeley, was the hero of a misadventure recorded by Froissart, who tells how a young English knight, displaying his banner for the first time on the day of Poitiers, rode after a flying Picard squire, by whom he was grievously wounded and held to ransom. Froissart errs in describing this knight as Thomas lord of Berkeley, for the covenant made in 1360 for the release of Maurice is still among the Berkeley muniments, the ransom being stated at £1080.
Being by his mother a nephew of Roger Mortimer, earl of March, the paramour of Queen Isabel, Maurice Berkeley married Elizabeth, daughter of Hugh Despenser, the younger of Edward II.’s favourites and the intruder in Berkeley Castle. With his son and heir Thomas of Berkeley, one of the commissioners of parliament for the deposing of Richard II. and a warden of the Welsh marches who harried Owen of Glendower, the direct male line of Robert fitz Harding failed, and but for the settlement of the estates Berkeley would have passed from the family. On this Thomas’s death in 1417 Elizabeth, his daughter and heir, and her husband, Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, the famous traveller, statesman and jouster, seized Berkeley Castle. Earl and countess only withdrew after James Berkeley, the nephew and heir male, had livery of his lands by the purchased aid of Humphrey of Gloucester. But the Beauchamps returned more than once to vain attacks on the stout walls of Berkeley, and a quarrel of two generations ended with the pitched battle of Nibley Green. Fought between the retainers of William, Lord Berkeley, son of James, and those who followed Thomas Talbot, Viscount Lisle, grandson of the illustrious Talbot and great-grandson of the countess of Warwick, this was the last private battle on English ground between two feudal lords. Young Lisle was shot under the beaver by an arrow, and the feud ended with his death, all claims of his widow being settled with an annuity of £100. Bitter as was the long quarrel, it kept the Berkeleys from casting their interest into the Wars of the Roses, in which most of their fellows of the ancient baronage sank and disappeared.
The victorious Lord Berkeley, whose children died young, was on ill terms with his next brother, and made havoc of the great Berkeley estates by grants to the Crown and the royal house, for which he was rewarded with certain empty titles. Edward IV. gave him a viscount’s patent in 1481, and Richard III. created him earl of Nottingham in 1483. His complacence extending to the new dynasty, Henry VII. made him earl marshal in 1485 and marquess of Berkeley in 1487. For this last patent he, by a settlement following a recovery suffered, gave the king and his heirs male Berkeley Castle and all that remained to him of his ancestors’ lands, enjoying for his two remaining years a bare life interest. At his death in 1491 the king took possession, bringing his queen with him on a visit to Berkeley.
Here follows a curious chapter of the history of the Berkeley peerage. When Thomas, Lord Berkeley, died in 1417, it might have been presumed that his dignity would descend to his heir, the countess of Warwick. Nevertheless, his nephew and heir male was summoned as a baron from 1421, apparently by reason of his tenure of the castle and its lands. When the marquess of Berkeley was dead without surviving issue, the castle having passed to the crown, Maurice, the brother and heir, had no summons. Yet this Maurice’s son, another Maurice, had a summons as a baron, although not “with the room in the parliament chamber that the lords of Berkeley had of old time.” The old precedence was restored when Thomas, brother and heir of this baron, was summoned. This Thomas, who had a command at Flodden, held his ancestors’ castle as constable for the king. A final remainder under the marquess’s settlement brought back castle and lands on the failure in 1553 of the heirs male of the body of Henry VII., and Henry, Lord Berkeley, had special livery of them in his minority. Yet although seized of the castle he took a lower seat in the parliament house than did his grandfather who was not so seized, being given place after Abergavenny, Audley and Strange.
By these things we may see that peerage law in old time rested upon the pleasure of the sovereign and upon no ascertained and unvarying custom. Of the power behind that pleasure this Henry, Lord Berkeley, had one sharp reminder. He was, like most of his line, a keen sportsman, and, returning to Berkeley to find that a royal visit had made great slaughter among his deer, he showed his resentment by disparking Berkeley Park. Thereat Queen Elizabeth sent him a warning in round Tudor fashion. Let him beware, she wrote, for the earl of Leicester coveted the castle by the Severn.
At the Restoration, George, Lord Berkeley, who had been one of the commissioners to invite Charles II.’s return from the Hague, petitioned for a higher place in parliament, claiming a barony by right of tenure before 1295, but his claim was silenced by his advancement on September 11, 1679, to be viscount of Dursley and earl of Berkeley. James, the 3rd earl, an active sea captain who was all but lost in company with Sir Cloudesley Shovel, became knight of the Garter and lord high admiral and commander-in-chief in the Channel, he and his house being loyal supporters of the Hanoverian dynasty.
The last and most curious chapter of the history of the Berkeley honours was opened by Frederick Augustus, the 5th earl of Berkeley (1745-1810). This peer married at Lambeth, on the 16th of May 1796, one Mary Cole, the daughter of a small tradesman at Wotton-under-Edge, with whom he had already lived for several years, several children having been born to them. In order to legitimatize the issue born before the marriage, the earl in 1801 made declaration of an earlier marriage contracted privately at Berkeley in 1785. On his death in 1811 the validity of this alleged marriage was tested by the committee of privileges of the House of Lords, and it was shown without doubt that the evidence for it, a parish register entry, was a forgery.
Under the will of his father, Colonel William Berkeley, the eldest illegitimate son, had the castle and estates, and on the failure of his claim to the earldom he demanded a writ of summons as a baron by reason of his tenure of the castle. No judgment was given in the matter, the king in council having declared in 1669 that baronies by tenure were “not in being and so not fit to be revived.” But Colonel Berkeley’s political influence afterwards procured him (1831) a peerage as Lord Segrave of