The Murder of Edward II.
"Mark the year and mark the night, when Severn shall re-echo with affright, The shrieks of death through Berkeley's roofs that ring, Shrieks of an agonizing King!"
- Gray's Bard.
Thomas III. Eigth Lord. 1326 to 1361
THOMAS de Berkeley and his brother Maurice had shared with their father in the rebellion against the Despensers, and when the father was captured and committed to Wallingford Castle, the sons revenged themselves by laying waste the manors of the favourites in Oxon and Berkshire. Thomas was however taken prisoner and committed to the Tower, but made his escape; being again captured he was sent successively to the castles of Berkhampstead and Pevensey, and remained a prisoner nearly five years, until he was set free by the success of the Queen's party in 1326.
During the last six years of the reign of Edward II, it is recorded that half the baronage of England were butchered, imprisoned, or banished by the king in the course of the struggle against the king's favourites. The popular party was however now reinforced by the Queen Isabella and the Prince of Wales, who were everywhere welcomed as the deliverers of the kingdom. Their first acts were to liberate those of their friends who were pining in the king's dungeons, one of the first of whom was Thomas de Berkeley. He joined the Queen's army at Oxford, from whence they marched to Gloucester, and thence by way of Berkeley to Bristol. On the plea of preparing to receive the Queen, Thomas, now lord Berkeley, his father having died a few months previously, hurried forward to Berkeley, and proceeded to victual the Castle as if for a siege. This was his first appearance at Berkeley as its lord, and his tenants welcomed him with presents of money, from twenty to forty shillings each, according to their holdings.
The Castle and manors having been for several years in the possession of the Crown, lord Berkeley found them well stocked with cattle, hay, corn and implements, of which he took possession, as well as of a quantity of treasure of the Despensers which he found in the Castle. A great number of men at arms had also been levied and armed from the Berkeley manors by order of the King, and these now gladly gave their allegiance to their rightful lord.
At Bristol the elder Despenser was taken and executed as a traitor, and his son soon shared a similar fate at Hereford. The unhappy king, now deserted by all his friends, was captured near Neath Abbey in South Wales and sent to Kenilworth Castle, and the Queen and her army marched to London. From Hereford lord Berkeley however returned to Berkeley, halting on the way at Wigmore the seat of his father-in-law the lord Mortimer, where he met his wife the lady Margaret, from whom his long imprisonment and the turbulent events which followed it, had separated him for nearly six years. The king was formally deposed at a parliament which was summoned in January 1327, and remained a prisoner at Kenilworth, Thomas lord Berkeley, Sir John Maltravers, and Sir Thomas de Gournay, being charged with his safe custody. Gournay and Maltravers who were his immediate gaolers removed him to Corfe Castle and thence to Bristol, from whence he was brought on Palm Sunday, April 15th 1327, to Berkeley Castle. Lord Berkeley courteously received the king, and seems to have treated him with kindness and consideration, but this did not please the Queen and her advisers, for letters were soon after sent to lord Berkeley commanding him to "use no familiarity with Edward the late King," but to deliver over the custody of him to Maltravers and Gournay. Perceiving what was intended, lord Berkeley withdrew with a heavy heart, to his manor house at Wotton-under-Edge. Gournay and Maltravers now treated their charge with the greatest cruelty and indignity, hoping thereby to hasten his death, and among other tortures they almost suffocated him with the stench of putrid carcasses placed in a cellar or dungeon under the floor of his apartment. As this treatment did not sufficiently hasten his death, they at length murdered him with circumstances of horrible barbarity at midnight on the 21st of September 1327. His shrieks were heard in the town, and in the morning the inhabitants were told that the king died in the night of some sudden seizure, and were invited to come and view the body. It showed no wound, but the features were terribly distorted, as though from a violent and painful death. The Monasteries at Kingswood, Bristol, and Malmesbury, refused to receive the corpse, fearing the Queen's displeasure, but the abbot of St. Peter's at Gloucester, to his honour, brought it from Berkeley and received it at his Cathedral with a procession of the whole convent and of the city, and buried it honourably in the north aisle near the high altar.
The steward's accounts of the time contain several entries having reference to the king's residence at Berkeley and the terrible tragedy of his death. Two sums, of £700 and £500, were received from the exchequer for the maintenance of the King and his attendants during the period of his imprisonment. There is an entry of 31s. 1d. for the expenses of Thomas de Gournay going to Nottingham to inform the Queen of Edward’s death. The reeves accounts of the manors of Ham and Alkington shew what provisions they sent in to the Castle for the royal maintenance from Palm Sunday to the 2lst of September that year. There are entries of money for dyeing canvass black to cover the carriage in which the corpse was conveyed to Gloucester for interment in the Cathedral; of 37s. 8d. for a silver vessel to place the king’s heart in; of 21d. paid in oblations at several times in the Castle chapel for the repose of his soul; and of 18s. 9d. the expenses of some of lord Berkeley's household going with the body to Gloucester.
The Queen's advisers, on whom the guilt really rested, endeavoured to get rid of the responsibility by charging the murder on lord Berkeley, and he underwent a trial by a jury of twelve knights, who acquitted him of the charge, except as regards some negligence, and he was liberated on bail. The charge was, however, kept hanging over him, probably to divert attention from the really guilty parties until 1338, when he was finally and fully acquitted.
These troubles over, lord Berkeley seems to have settled down at Berkeley, and devoted himself to the usual occupations and amusements of great lords of the period. The repairs and improvements of his estates, which had been much dilapidated and impoverished during their long occupation by the crown, formed his first care. The accounts of the reeves and bailiffs of his demesne lands are most minute and exact, shewing the produce of each manor and how it was disposed of; large quantities, being, as was usual, given to the poor and the neighbouring monasteries, and much shipped off by sea; as well as shewing what was consumed by the households at his different manor houses. Lord Berkeley had residences at Beverston, Awre, Wotton-under-Edge, Portbury, and Bedminster, as well as the Castle at Berkeley, and often removed from one to another, seldom residing a year together at any one. Like all his predecessors he was very fond of the sports of the field, and often lay out whole nights in his woods and parks, hunting. He kept hounds, hawks, and falcons, and was also devoted to jousts, tournaments, and military exercises. He was more frequently employed abroad by the king in military and other service, than almost any other subject, and when he was thus occupied, or in attending Parliament, his lady usually withdrew to one of their manor houses, for quiet and retirement.
Thomas lord Berkeley was at the battle of Cressy, in 1346, as well as his son Maurice who was in attendance on the Prince of Wales, and his brother Sir Maurice Berkeley of Stoke, who was afterwards slain at the siege of Calais. Lord Berkeley and his son Maurice also served at the battle of Poictiers, where Maurice was severely wounded and taken prisoner, a full account of which is given by Froissart.
Among the minor events of his life it is recorded that this lord built New Park House as a hunting lodge, and enclosed the park there; also the high tower on the north side of the keep of the Castle, called Thorpe's tower, since partly pulled down.
In 1340, lord Berkeley founded and endowed a chantry in the chapel of St. Maurice, at Newport near Berkeley; in the deed of endowment he directs what prayers and masses shall there be said, and lays down rules for the chaplain's life and conversation, forbidding him to take money of any, or to be servant to any but God in spiritual matters, and to himself in temporal concerns; enjoining him to live chastely and honestly, and not come to markets, alehouses or taverns, nor frequent plays or unlawful games. He also made similar endowments and arrangements at Wortley and Cambridge, "and all this," says Smyth, "he did in so devout and holy a manner, that unless he had been a disciple of Wickliff who now lived, he could not have come nearer to the doctrine of the Church of England in these days" (A. D. 1618)
In the latter years of this lord lived John Trevisa, a secular priest and Vicar of Berkeley, who was also chaplain to the lord Berkeley.*
* Trevisa was of an ancient Cornish family, bearing Gules a Garbe Or , long settled at Crocadon, in the parish of St. Mellion, near Callington. The estate was sold by William Trevisa to Sir William Caryton, in 1690, and is now the property of Colonel Caryton, of Pentillie Castle. William Trevisa died in 1703, when the family became extinct.
He translated the bible and many other works into English, and wrote much against the monastic system, saying that Christ instituted Apostles and Priests, but never Monks and begging Fryars. Trevisa and his patron seem to have been much in advance of their age, and to have professed doctrines very similar to those now about being promulgated by Wickliff. As Wickliff held the prebend of Aust in the collegiate church of Westbury in this county, it seems not too much to suppose that Trevisa and lord Berkeley may have imbibed some of the reformed doctrines which they appear to have held, by personal intercourse with Wickliff, though they do not appear to have been amongst his recognized supporters.
Lord Berkeley's first wife, Margaret the daughter of Lord Mortimer, died in 1337, and was buried at St. Augustine's. Ten years afterwards he married Katherine the widow of Sir Peter le Vele, who survived him twenty-four years; "she was" says Smyth, "a lady rich in good works, and founded the school and chantry at Wotton-under-Edge, and the chantry of St Andrew in Berkeley church."
Thomas eighth lord Berkeley died in 1361, and was buried beneath the fine altar tomb in Berkeley church under the second arch between the nave and the south aisle, where in 1385, his relict the Lady Katherine was laid beside him. The tomb is surmounted by their effigies, and in the nearest windows in the south aisle are those of three of their sons who died in their infancy. Maurice who succeeded, was lord Berkeley's eldest son by his first wife.