BERKELEY, James (c. 1680-1736)

BERKELEY, James (c. 1680–1736)

styled 1699-1710 Visct. Dursley; accel. 5 Mar. 1705 Bar. BERKELEY of BERKELEY; suc. fa. 24 Sept. 1710 as 3rd earl of BERKELEY.

First sat 7 Mar. 1705; last sat 14 May 1735

MP Gloucester 1701

b. c.1680, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Charles Berkeley, 2nd earl of Berkeley and Elizabeth, da. of Baptist Noel, 3rd Visct. Campden; bro. of George and Henry Berkeley. educ. ?Savoy sch.1 m. c. 13 Feb. 1711, Louisa (d.1717), da. of Charles Lennox, duke of Richmond, 1s. 1da. KG 31 Mar. 1718. d. 17 Aug. 1736; will 23 May 1735, pr. 23 Sept., 4 Oct., 20 Oct. 1736.2

Gent. of bedchamber 1714-27; first ld. of Adm. 1717-27; PC 17 Apr. 1717; ld. justice 1719, 1720, 1726, 1727.

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.; v-adm. of the coast 1715-d.

Vol. RN 1695, lt. 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.

Elder bro. Trinity House 1715-d., master 1715-19.

Associated with: Berkeley Castle, Glos.

Likenesses: oil on canvas by Sir G. Kneller, oils, 1710, NPG 3195; oil on canvas by P. Monamy and Sir G. Kneller, oils, 1720, NMM.

Described by Horace Walpole, 4th earl of Orford, as ‘a boisterous zealous Whig seaman’, as a younger son, James Berkeley was bred for the sea.3 His education probably reflected this, although it is possible that he was the ‘son of Lord Dursley’ referred to as attending the Jesuits’ short-lived non-denominational school founded at the Savoy in 1687. At the age of 15 he embarked on his naval career as a volunteer aboard the Centurion, and in March 1699 he was gazetted as a lieutenant on board the Boyne. In June of that year, though ‘little Jacklin’s’ prospects were altered dramatically with the death of his elder brother, Charles Berkeley, styled Viscount Dursley, from smallpox. Despite his change in expectations, the new Lord Dursley continued to pursue his naval career, warmly supported by his father, and in April 1701 he was given his first command as captain of the Sorlings.4

Dursley was returned for Gloucester in the second (December) election of 1701 (presumably on his family’s interest). Although Dursley’s election was noted as a gain for the Whigs by Charles Spencer, 3rd earl of Sunderland, he proved an inactive member and, as he was soon back at sea, he did not stand again.5 In January 1703 it was rumoured that he was to marry Lady Bridget Bertie. The report recorded (inaccurately) that Berkeley was underage and that an act of Parliament was to be drawn up ‘to make him of age so as he may sit in the House of Lords’: both points proved to be unfounded. Later that year he was again on active service under the command of his mentor Sir Clowdesley Shovell.6 Daniel Finch, 2nd earl of Nottingham, congratulated him for his services that summer and assured him of his interest, ‘As an old friend of your father’s I am concerned in all that relates to you.’7 Dursley returned to his old ship the Boyne in March 1704 and in August he was a prominent participant at the battle of Malaga.8

Dursley transferred to the Devonshire in December, but on 5 Mar. 1705 he was summoned to the House by a writ in acceleration in his father’s barony of Berkeley of Berkeley (though outside the House he continued to be styled Viscount Dursley). He took his seat on 7 Mar. introduced between Thomas Wharton, 5th Baron (later marquess of) Wharton, and Charles Montagu, Baron Halifax. The wording of the writ emphasized his service to the country at sea but the precise reason for his promotion at this time is uncertain.9 Perhaps an attempt to bolster the Whigs’ presence in the House to the detriment of those in favour of the Tack, it is also possible that his summons owed something to the interest of Prince George of Denmark, duke of Cumberland, Dursley’s overall commander as lord high admiral. Dursley attended just one day before absenting himself from the House on 8 March. He attempted to cover his absence by registering his proxy with Algernon Capell, 2nd earl of Essex, but the same day, curiously, Essex (who was also absent that day) registered his proxy with Dursley. Administrative confusion seems to be the only explanation and, technically, this ought to have invalidated both proxies, but entries in the proxy book suggest otherwise. Dursley resumed his seat on 9 Mar. thereby vacating his proxy, while Essex’s was marked vacated by his resumption of his seat on 13 March. The most likely reason for both peers being so eager to ensure their absences were covered was the discussion in the House on 8 and 9 Mar. of the militia and mutiny bills, both of which were passed with minor amendments.

Following the dissolution, Dursley may been meant as the ‘Lord Berkeley’ noted as being in favour of the Hanoverian succession in April, though this may as easily have referred to his father (both were supporters of the house of Hanover).10 Absent at the opening of the new Parliament, on 12 Nov. Dursley was excused at a call of the House but he took his seat two days later. Present for just under half of all sitting days in the session, on 8 Mar. 1706 he registered his proxy with Charles Seymour, 6th duke of Somerset, which was vacated by his return to the House the following day. He then attended on four more days. He was at sea during the summer of 1706 and again in 1707, when he served at the siege of Toulon, narrowly escaping disaster when his ship was one of several in the returning fleet to be badly damaged off the Scilly Isles on 22 October.11

Displaying notable sangfroid, Dursley took his seat in the new Parliament on 30 Oct., just a few days after his escape, after which he attended on approximately 52 per cent of all sitting days. Shovell and numerous other officers had been drowned and their loss may have assisted in Dursley’s rapid promotion to vice-admiral in January 1708, advancement for which the Whigs were said to be ‘very pressing’.12 Dursley was probably the ‘Lord Berkeley’ who subscribed the protest at the resolution to pass the bill for completing the Union on 7 Feb. 1708 (though the presence in the House that day of his father makes definite identification difficult). Marked as a ‘Whig’ in an analysis of the peerage of May, in December he was promoted again, to admiral of the white.13

Dursley was present for just two days of the 1708 Parliament (4 and 19 Feb. 1709), presumably because of his naval duties. In November 1709 he was promoted once more, this time as admiral of the red.14 Present for a single day in the second session of the 1708 Parliament (17 Jan. 1710) Dursley retired from active service in May. His retirement may have been in part the result of the alterations in the ministry that spring and summer, which caused him considerable disquiet. In August he was described as being ‘enraged’ at the news that Charles Mordaunt, 3rd earl of Peterborough, was to be appointed first lord of the admiralty and he remained a firm opponent of Harley’s administration throughout its existence.15

It was in such inauspicious circumstances that Dursley succeeded his father as 3rd earl of Berkeley. Before the 2nd earl’s death, rumours had circulated that he was to be put out as lord lieutenant of Gloucestershire, thereby encouraging his Tory rival, Henry Somerset, 2nd duke of Beaufort, to lobby hard for the office.16 To Beaufort’s profound disappointment it was the new earl of Berkeley who was appointed in his father’s stead, ‘by whose influence,’ as one newsletter writer opined, ’tis hoped the Church party in Gloucester will be relieved from the hardships they groan under by the bare-faced bribery of men in power in that place.’17 Berkeley was also chosen by the city of Gloucester to succeed his father as high steward.18 Beaufort, unsurprisingly viewed Berkeley’s appointment as an unmitigated disaster, and he complained openly about it to Robert Harley, later earl of Oxford, and to Charles Talbot, duke of Shrewsbury, griping to the latter of the misfortune the county would suffer being led by someone ‘whose expression in a public assembly was that he would have such representatives chose for that country as would nick the addressers’.19

Berkeley took his seat in his new dignity at the opening of the 1710 Parliament on 25 Nov., and attended for approximately 52 per cent of all sitting days in the session. On 11 Jan. 1711 he probably registered two protests, first at the resolution to reject the petitions of his father’s old colleague in Ireland, Henri de Massue de Ruvigny, earl of Galway [I], and Charles O’Hara, Baron Tyrawley [I], concerning the conduct of the war in Spain and second at the resolution that the defeat at Almanza had been occasioned by the opinions of Galway, Tyrawley and James Stanhope, later Earl Stanhope. In all probability he subscribed a further protest the following day at the resolution to censure the conduct of ministers in approving an offensive war in Spain, presumably as a demonstration of solidarity with other members of the armed forces (the presence in the House on the same day of William Berkeley, 4th Baron Berkeley of Stratton, makes definite identification difficult). On 5 Feb. Berkeley registered his proxy with Sidney Godolphin, earl of Godolphin, which was vacated by his return to the House on 26 Feb. (though the entry in the proxy book suggests that it was not vacated until the following day). The reason for Berkeley’s two-week absence from Parliament was his marriage to Lady Louisa Lennox.20 Although he had not yet met the new countess, Jonathan Swift’s assessment of Berkeley’s chosen bride was scathing and he held out little hope for the success of the marriage suggesting that ‘she’ll be fluxed in two months, and they’ll be parted in a year… the chit is but seventeen, and is ill-natured, covetous, vicious, and proud in extremes.’ When he did meet her, Swift commented merely that she was not, ‘near so handsome as she passes for.’21 His dire predictions of the marriage’s likely failure seemed to be proved right by gossip circulating in December of ‘a great quarrel’ between the earl and his countess over ‘one Captain Smith’s wife.’22

Berkeley resumed his seat after his marriage celebrations and on 31 May 1711 received the proxy of his father-in-law, Richmond, which was vacated on 4 June. On 7 June Berkeley registered his own proxy with Richmond, which was vacated by the close of the session. Berkeley took his seat at the opening of the second session on 7 Dec. 1711, on which day he was noted among the Whigs dining with Charles Bennet, 2nd Baron Ossulston (later earl of Tankerville).23 Present for approximately 55 per cent of all sitting days in the session, on 12 Dec. he received the proxy of Charles Beauclerk, duke of St. Albans, which was vacated on 14 Jan. 1712. Berkeley probably supported the presentation of the address over ‘No Peace without Spain’ and on 10 Dec. he was included in a list of office holders who had defied the ministry on the issue. The same month he was forecast as being opposed to permitting James Hamilton, 5th duke of Hamilton, to sit in the House by virtue of his British peerage of Brandon. On 20 Dec. he voted accordingly in favour of the motion barring Scots peers from sitting by virtue of British peerages. Berkeley was absent from the House between 31 Jan. and 11 Feb. 1712, covering his absence from 4 Feb. by a proxy to St. Albans. Berkeley was again given Richmond’s proxy on 14 Feb., which was vacated by Richmond’s resumption of his seat on 15 February. On 28 Feb. 1712, following debate on the bill to limit officers in the House of Commons, Berkeley acted as teller for those in favour of reading the bill a second time (carried by 63 to 42). Berkeley was absent again in March, but his proxy was held by John Churchill, duke of Marlborough, from 4 to 20 March. He received Richmond’s proxy again on 28 Mar., which was vacated on 1 April. Berkeley registered his own proxy with his kinsman, William Villiers, 2nd earl of Jersey, on 26 Apr., vacated on 5 May, and on 17 May he also received St. Albans’ proxy. He received Richmond’s proxy again on 26 May, which was vacated at the close of the session. Two days later (28 May) he voted with the opposition in favour of overturning the restraining orders imposed on James Butler, 2nd duke of Ormond, and on 7 June he subscribed the protest against the resolution not to amend the address on the queen’s speech concerning the peace.24

Berkeley’s opposition to the ministry, and a desire on the part of the government to win over a by now thoroughly disgruntled Beaufort, resulted in him being put out as lord lieutenant of Gloucester in 1712, though affairs in the county continued to be closely balanced between the Berkeley and Beaufort interests.25 Berkeley also seems to have come under pressure in the navy and it may have been his removal from office in Gloucestershire that inspired rear admiral Robert Fairfax to approach Oxford (as Harley had since become) to ask to be restored to his former position, ‘which his lordship has so long possessed to my unspeakable prejudice.’26 Berkeley took his seat in the third session on 9 Apr. 1713, during which he was present for approximately 55 per cent of all sitting days, and in June was estimated by Oxford as being opposed to confirming the eighth and ninth articles of the French commerce treaty.

Despite the upsets within the lieutenancy, at the election of September 1713 the seats in Gloucestershire were, once more, shared between the Whigs and Tories.27 Berkeley took his seat in the new Parliament on 16 Feb. 1714, after which he was present for approximately two-thirds of all sitting days. On 28 Feb. he registered his proxy with Wharton, which was vacated by his return to the House on 2 March. On 1 Apr. he received the proxy of Evelyn Pierrepont, marquess of Dorchester (later duke of Kingston), and on 27 May he was estimated by Daniel Finch*, 2nd earl of Nottingham to be opposed to the schism bill. On 2 June he received the proxy of James Stanley, 10th earl of Derby, which was vacated on 7 June, and on 11 June he acted as teller for the not contents on the question of whether to adjourn during debates on the schism bill (which was carried against by 57 to 51). Berkeley registered his protest on 8 July at the resolution not to make a representation to the queen describing how the asiento contract had been obstructed by the efforts of some individuals to obtain personal advantage. He took his seat on 1 Aug. 1714, but attended just five of the 15 days of the session before departing for Hanover in command of the squadron that was to escort the new king to England.28

Berkeley flourished under the new regime. He was appointed a gentleman of the bedchamber aboard the yacht that brought King George to England, reappointed lord lieutenant of Gloucestershire and from 1717 until the king’s death he occupied the post of first lord of the admiralty. Advanced a knight of the garter on the death of his kinsman, Shrewsbury, in 1718, the following year it was rumoured that he was to be promoted in the peerage as duke of Berkeley.29 Despite this, Berkeley’s interest declined towards the end of the 1720s. He was an opponent of Sir Robert Walpole, later earl of Orford, and had earned the enmity of the future George II when he was associated with a plan to deport him. In 1725 it was rumoured that he was shortly to be removed from office and, unsurprisingly, he was put out soon after the new king’s accession in 1727.30 Details of the latter part of his career will be examined in the next phase of this work.

A sufferer from chronic gout (a family affliction), Berkeley’s health proved a constant problem and in 1735 he quit England for France in company with his (perhaps unlikely) friend and distant relative, Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke, to recuperate.31 He spent the following year between Bolingbroke’s home and that of his brother-in-law, Charles Lennox, 2nd duke of Richmond, at Aubigny, where he died on 17 Aug. 1736 leaving behind his heir, Augustus Berkeley, styled Viscount Dursley ‘alone in the house without a friend to comfort me.’ Berkeley’s death provoked feverish activity from his sister, Lady Betty Germain, who was eager to save the young earl from the influence of Bolingbroke (to whose house he retreated). Her opinion of Bolingbroke, she confided to Richmond, was ‘as bad as your grace’s can possibly be.’32 Lady Betty’s concerns proved to be unfounded. Before departing for France Berkeley had composed his will in which he named Richmond, Spencer Compton, earl of Wilmington, James Brudenell and his brother George Berkeley as trustees to his young heir. One sizeable bequest of £1,000 was made to his friend William Chetwynd (presumably William Richard Chetwynd, one of Berkeley’s former colleagues at the admiralty and a friend of Bolingbroke) but the residue of the estates passed to Dursley, who succeeded his father as 4th earl of Berkeley.33


  • 1 Add. 28569, f. 63.
  • 2 TNA, PROB 11/679.
  • 3 H. Walpole, Mems. Geo. II, i. 67n.
  • 4 BCM, SB 35 (J), p. 72; CSP Dom. 1700-2, p. 301; Charnock, Biographia Navalis, iii. 202.
  • 5 HP Commons 1690-1715, iii. 187.
  • 6 Verney ms mic. M636/52, C. Gardiner to Sir J. Verney, 28 Jan. 1703.
  • 7 CSP Dom. 1703-4, p. 18.
  • 8 Charnock, iii. 203.
  • 9 Post Man, 8-10 Mar. 1705.
  • 10 Stowe 224, ff. 330-1.
  • 11 Charnock, iii. 203.
  • 12 Syrrett, Commissioned Sea Officers, 31; Charnock, iii. 204; Marlborough-Godolphin Corresp., iii. 1292.
  • 13 Syrrett, 31; Charnock, iii. 206.
  • 14 Syrrett, 31.
  • 15 Add. 61461, ff. 75-78; W. Suss. RO, Goodwood mss 5/6/21.
  • 16 HP Commons 1690-1715, ii. 207.
  • 17 Beaufort mss at Badminton, Letterbook: 1 shelf 2, no. 16; Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 643; Longleat, Bath, mss Thynne pprs. 47, ff. 63-64.
  • 18 Daily Courant, 5 Oct. 1710.
  • 19 HMC Portland, iv. 611; Badminton, Beaufort mss, Letterbook: 1 shelf 2, no. 16.
  • 20 Thynne pprs. 47, ff. 157-8.
  • 21 Jnl. to Stella ed. Williams, 192-3, 286.
  • 22 Wentworth Pprs. 219.
  • 23 TNA, C104/113 pt. 2.
  • 24 PH, xxvi. 177-81; Timberland, ii. 377-80.
  • 25 Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 715.
  • 26 Add. 70197, R. Fairfax to Oxford, 12 July 1712.
  • 27 HP Commons 1690-1715, ii. 209.
  • 28 Bolingbroke Corresp. ed. Parke, iv. 584; Add. 72501, f. 155.
  • 29 Tory and Whig, ed. C. Jones and S. Taylor (Parl. Hist. Rec. Ser. i. 1998), 225.
  • 30 HMC Portland, vi. 8.
  • 31 Add. 4806, f. 42.
  • 32 W. Suss. RO, Goodwood mss 108/781, 785, 786.
  • 33 HP Commons 1715-54, i. 548; W. Suss. RO, Goodwood mss 108/787.