The Berkeley Family. A.D. 1066 to A.D. 1326.
................ Knights Half legend, half historic, Counts and Kings Who laid about them at their will, and died."
- Tennyson's Princess.
Harding. to 1115.
HARDING is said to have been a younger son of the King of Denmark, who, according to a custom in his family, went forth into the world to seek his fortune, and attached himself to William Duke of Normandy, who was at that time preparing for the invasion and conquest of England. William rewarded his services with a large grant of lands and property in and around Bristol, where he settled about A.D., 1069, and became Praepositus; an office somewhat resembling the more modern one of Mayor, except that it was a permanent appointment. He resided in Baldwin street, married a lady whose name was Livida, had five sons and three daughters, and died 6th Nov. 1115.
Robert Fitzharding. 1095 to 1170.
Robert was the eldest son of Harding and succeeded him in his estates and in the office of Praepositus at Bristol. He rendered important services both with arms and money to the Empress Maud, daughter of Henry I, and her son Henry Plantagenet, afterwards Henry II, in their contest for the Crown with the usurper Stephen, to recompense which, Henry, on the ultimate success of his party, bestowed upon Robert the great Manor and Barony of Berkeley, which had been previously held from the crown by Roger (called Roger de Berkeley) the lord of Dursley. Roger however for some time held his inheritance by force of arms, and to settle the dispute the king gave Roger the Manor of Dursley in fee, on condition of his surrendering Berkeley to Robert; a double marriage was also arranged between the two families, Robert's eldest son Maurice marrying Alice the daughter of the Lord of Dursley, while Roger's son espoused one of the daughters of Robert Fitzharding. After this they all seemed to have lived in peace, and the new lord of Berkeley took quiet possession of his castle and manors.
In 1140, Robert commenced the long series of benefactions to the church for which his family were so remarkable, by building and endowing the monastery of St. Augustine at Bristol, the church of which is now the Cathedral. It was consecrated and dedicated on Easter Day 1148, when Robert laid upon the high altar his deed of gift by which he endowed it with many fair manors and lands, which still form the endowment of the Bishopric. He died in 1170, and was buried in St. Augustine's, in a monk's habit and cowl, having some time previously become a regular Canon therein.
Maurice I. Second Lord. 1170 to 1189.
Maurice the eldest son of Robert Fitz-Harding succeeded his Father, and was the first to take up his residence in the castle of Berkeley. He added to the fortifications of the castle by digging a ditch or moat on the northern side, it being already sufficiently defended on other sides by watercourses and low marshy ground; in doing this he encroached a little on the soil of the churchyard, which with the church had been given by his father to St. Augustine's. So tenacious however were the monks of their property and privileges, and so forgetful of former benefits, that they pursued the lord Maurice with ecclesiastical censures and threats of excommunication until he was forced to compound for his sacrilegious act by a large grant of rents, tithes and rights of pasturage. Maurice never forgot this ungrateful conduct, and though he had shown his good will to the abbey by a gift of lands in Hinton and Alkington, when he first succeeded to the Barony, he never afterwards looked with any favour upon them. He however founded two monastic establishments in Berkeley, viz. the Hospital of the master and brethren of Lorrenge, now called Lorridge farm, and the Hospital of the Holy Trinity at Longbridge, at the north end of Berkeley adjoining the road to Wanswell. Maurice died in 1189, and was buried in the parish church of Brentford, to which he had been a great benefactor.
Robert II. Third Lord. 1189 to 1220.
Maurice was succeeded by Robert his eldest son, who discontinued entirely the name of Fitz-Harding by which his father and grandfather were distinguished, and was always styled Robert de Berkeley.
In 1194, when Richard the First, surnamed Coeur de Lion, was captured and imprisoned on his return from the Crusades by the Emperor of Germany, the Barony of Berkeley was taxed at and paid twenty shillings for each of the five knights' fees by which it was held, towards the king's ransom.
Robert de Berkeley was one of the most conspicuous among the Barons in the great struggle with king John which led to the granting of Magna Charta, and Berkeley Castle was one of the places of rendezvous of the Confederates. In 1211, and again in 1216, the King, whose arms were for the time in the ascendant, seized the Castle and imprisoned in its dungeons those who fell into his hands. On 20th July 1216, King John came to Berkeley, but the contest was terminated by his death in October following.
Robert de Berkeley died in 1220, and was buried in St. Augustine's. As he left no issue, he was succeeded by his brother Thomas.
Thomas I. Fourth Lord. 1220 to 1243.
Thomas, the fourth lord de Berkeley, like his predecessors, gave largely to the church, and was an especial benefactor to the Abbey of Kingswood, and the church of Slimbridge, of which latter he was probably the builder.
King Henry III was at Berkeley Castle for three days in August 1220, being then on his way to be present at a great council at Bristol.
In 1242 war broke out with France, but was by no means popular with the English people, and Parliament refused to grant the king supplies for the purpose. Many of the royal vassals refused to go when summoned, amongst whom was Thomas lord de Berkeley, who was fined 60 marks in consequence. He afterwards however sent Maurice his eldest son, with three knights and a proportionate retinue, and his services were so acceptable that the king rewarded them by ordering the sheriff of Gloucestershire not to levy the interest due from lord de Berkeley on 100 marks which he had borrowed from David the Jew of Exeter, to fit out Maurice with for the wars, and that the unfortunate Jew should give up the bond on payment of the principal only.
Thomas de Berkeley died in 1243, aged 76, and was buried in St. Augustine's. His widow survived him many years, and obtained from her son, the next lord, a grant of a market and fair to the town of Wotton-under-Edge, where she resided, with many other privileges to the inhabitants, which were the foundation of the present Borough of Wotton, the old town having been destroyed by a fire in the reign of King John.
Maurice II. Fifth Lord. 1243 to 1281.
In 1256, King Henry III, having been the guest of his son Prince Edward at Bristol was, on his return royally entertained by Maurice lord Berkeley for three days at the Castle.
Maurice lord Berkeley was in arms with his proportion of followers of the King's summons on no less than sixteen different occasions, against the French, Scots, Welsh, and rebels at home. He however found time to attend to his own concerns, and effected many great improvements on his estates by means of inclosures and exchanges. He converted Whitcliff Wood into a Park and inclosed it. He also made fishponds, and beautified the east, west, and south sides of the castle with walks and gardens. He died in 1281, and was buried with his predecessors in St. Augustine's. His eldest son Maurice having been accidentally killed at a Tournament at Kenilworth, he was succeeded by Thomas his second son.
Thomas II. Sixth Lord. 1281 to 1321.
This lord was one of the most remarkable men of his age. Smyth calls him-
"A man of men; a man for all hours and all affairs; a man at home and abroad, in peace and in war, in the foreign embassies of his Prince, and, in his country governments, of an universal understanding. And for his private husbandries and house keepings he admitted of few compeers. A wise, devout, and honest lord, much to be preferred above the best of his six forefathers."
After his succession to the Barony he devoted himself very much to the management and improvement of his estates, keeping many of his manors in his own hands, of which most minute and accurate accounts were kept, showing how the demesne lands were stocked and farmed, and how the produce was disposed of. Like several of his predecessors he granted away much land in fee, reserving what was then the full annual value as a chief rent; the object of this was to maintain the revenue of the estate at its then value, thinking that from the disturbed state of the kingdom it was more likely to diminish than to increase. His standing household consisted of upwards of 300 persons, of the various ranks of knights, esquires, yeomen, grooms, and pages, besides of others of less degree.
Lord Berkeley's public, civil, and military employments were as numerous as his domestic engagements. From the battle of Evesham in 1265, to 1319, he was almost constantly in arms and served in nearly every engagement in the civil wars, as well as against the French, Scots, and Welsh, during that turbulent period. In 1295 he was sent as ambassador to the king of France. In 1307, he was appointed with the Bishop of Worcester to go on an embassy to Rome, but their mission was stopped by the death of the king (Edward I) at Carlisle. Lord Berkeley was present at the coronation of Edward II and soon afterwards went with his two sons Maurice and John to France to witness the king's marriage with the Princess Isabella, little thinking probably, to what a tragedy that marriage would lead, and how great a share his family were destined to take in it! At the disastrous battle of Bannockburn, lord Berkeley and his son Thomas were both among the prisoners, but Maurice escaped, and aided in effecting the ransom of his father and brother. In 1319, lord Berkeley was again in arms, though 74 years of age, and joined the royal army at Newcastle with his son Maurice and Maurice’s two sons, there being thus three generations of Berkeleys in the field at once; this was Thomas lord Berkeley's 28th campaign and it was his last. After his return home he was several times written to by the king, Edward II, requiring him to repress the local and partial insurrections which were caused by the discontents occasioned by the King's weakness and incapacity and his devotion to favourites.
Thomas, 6th lord Berkeley, died in 1321, and was buried with his forefathers in St. Augustine’s under an arch between the vestry and the south aisle.
Maurice III. Seventh Lord. 1321 to 1326.
Maurice succeeded on the death of his father, whom he much resembled in his fondness for all martial exercises and pursuits. He was early accustomed to arms in the Scottish and Welsh wars, held many important military posts and commands, and was summoned to parliament as a peer in the lifetime of his father.
In 1322 he joined with the lords Audely and Mortimer in the rebellion directed against the King's favourites, the two Despencers. Being induced to go with some others to meet the King at Cirencester, on the faith of a safe conduct, he was there treacherously seized and committed to prison in the castle of Wallingford. Berkeley Castle and manors were declared forfeited and were seized by the King, who also laid his hands on all Maurice's plate, jewels, and valuables.
Maurice remained in prison at Wallingford, although several attempts were made to rescue him, until May 1326, when he died there. His remains were at first interred at Wallingford, but were afterwards removed to St. Augustine's at Bristol. He was succeeded by Thomas, his eldest son.