BERKELEY, Sir John II (d.c.1415), of Coston and Wymondham, Leics.
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Family and Education
Lt. of Guernsey bef. Apr. 1394.
Sheriff, Warws. and Leics. 22 Aug. 1399-24 Nov. 1400, 22 Nov. 1405-5 Nov. 1406.
J.p. Leics. 16 Sept. 1404-Feb. 1413.
Commr. of array, Warws., Leics. May 1405; inquiry, Leics. May 1408 (claim of William Bispham* to the manor of Dalby).
The third successive Sir John Berkeley in the Leicestershire branch of the family, he was descended from the Gloucestershire baron Thomas, Lord Berkeley (d.1321), who had settled Coston on his second son, Thomas. The latter had added to this inheritance the lordship of Wymondham and property in Barrow-upon-Soar through marriage to Sir John Hamelin’s only daughter, and their son, the Sir John who fought at Crécy, obtained in 1347 a royal charter of free warren on these estates. To this branch had also passed Lord Berkeley’s manor of Eynesbury in Huntingdonshire, which in 1412 was to be estimated to be worth £20 a year. Our John’s father (the shire knight of 1371) evidently retained close contact with his baronial kinsfolk, for in 1374 Thomas, 5th Lord Berkeley, wrote to the chancellor requesting Sir John’s discharge from the shrievalty of Warwickshire and Leicestershire so that he might join his retinue for military service overseas. At his death, not long before June 1377, he left a widow, Elizabeth, who lived on until 1402 or later, and, as his heir, his son John, the future knight of the shire, still a minor.1
In 1382 Berkeley’s wardship was being disputed between Elizabeth Berkeley and Sir Thomas Erdington†. He came into his inheritance at some unknown date in the course of the next ten years, a period during which he probably served in France, for by the early 1390s he had been knighted and had proved to the satisfaction of that famous war captain, Sir Hugh Calveley, governor of the Channel Islands, that he was capable of holding a post as his lieutenant on the isle of Guernsey. That Berkeley first held an official position at home after Henry of Bolingbroke had returned from exile to claim the throne, may be attributable to a family attachment to the house of Lancaster (certainly, his father had once been ward to Duke Henry). Significantly, as early as 22 Aug. 1399, when Henry was still escorting the captive Richard II to London, Berkeley was appointed sheriff of Warwickshire and Leicestershire, and before long he became a knight bachelor to the newly-crowned Henry IV. His commitment to the new regime found expression in the following year in a loan of £50, and in the winter of 1402-3 he accompanied Henry Beaufort, bishop of Lincoln, to Brittany to escort the new queen, Joan of Navarre, to England. It seems likely that Berkeley fought in the royalist army at the battle of Shrewsbury in July 1403, for a few months later he had in his possession certain cups, silver plate and jewellery which had belonged to one of those slain on the field. His services as a soldier were again required in the spring of 1405 when he received orders to help assemble the fencible men of Warwickshire and Leicestershire to ride with all speed to the King’s side for the chastisement of the insurgents in the north. Later that same year he was re-appointed sheriff.2
As a respected member of the local gentry, Berkeley was occasionally asked to act as a trustee of estates in Leicestershire and the neighbouring counties. Thus, he took on the feoffeeship of property at Whissendine (Rutland) on behalf of John Newbold* and that of the Northamptonshire manors of Maidwell and Drayton for Sir John Seyton’s† son. He was on amiable terms with James Bellers*, his co-executor of the will of young William Ward of Harpole, and it was in the interests of Bellers’s wife (Ward’s sister) that he was party to lawsuits brought against Robert Chiselden*. Berkeley attended the parliamentary elections held at Leicester in 1407.3
Early in 1404 on the occasion of the marriage of his son Laurence, Sir John had settled on the young couple ten messuages and other property at Barrow, Burton Lazars and Quorndon. A year later, with his own wife, Isabel, he obtained a licence from Bishop Repingdon of Lincoln permitting them to hear religious services in the privacy of their own chapel. Isabel may have been the widow of the Cheshire landowner, Sir Thomas Ardern (d.1391), for the lands which she held at Oakley in Staffordshire apparently pertained to the inheritance of Ardern’s heir. It is unlikely that Berkeley derived much financial profit from them, however, for in 14o8 he brought a legal action for waste against the tenant farmer.4
Berkeley is not recorded after his last appointment as a j.p. in February 1412. He died before January 1416 when, as his widow, Isabel obtained a general pardon from the King. Her widowhood was troubled by lawsuits brought by Thomas Stanley†, esquire, and his wife Maud (Ardern). In 1421 she purchased a papal indult enabling her