BERKELEY, Sir Maurice (by 1514-81), of Bruton, Som.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Constituency

Dates

Mar. 1553

Family and Education

b. by 1514, 2nd s. of Richard Berkeley of Stoke by Elizabeth, da. of Sir Humphrey Coningsby, l.c.j. m. (1) by 1547, Catherine (d. Mar. 1560), da. of William Blount, 4th Lord Mountjoy, wid. of John Champernon (d.1541/42) of Modbury, Devon, 3s. inc. Edward and Henry 5da.; (2) 1562, Elizabeth, da. of Anthony Sands of Throwley, Kent, 2s. inc. Robert 1da. Kntd. 30 Sept. 1544.2

Offices Held

Servant, household of Cromwell by 1538, of Queen Catherine Parr 1543; gent. usher of the chamber 1539, gent. by 1550; keeper, Northwood park, Som. 1541-d.; constable, Berkeley castle, Glos. 1544; chief steward of lands of Bath abbey 1544; chief banner-bearer of England 27 Sept. 1545: commr. musters, Som. 1546, chantties, Berks., Bucks., New Windsor 1553; j.p.q-Som. 1558/59-d.; sheriff, Som. and Dorset 1567-8.3

Biography

The Berkeleys of Stoke formed a junior branch of the noble family and Maurice, a younger son, had no certain or easy way to the success at court that he achieved. The marriage of his mother to Sir John Fitzjames, chief justice of the King’s bench, gave him prospects for a career in the legal profession, and although l here is no evidence of his being at an inn of court, he was trained in the office of the prothonotary of the common pleas. By 1535 his stepfather thought him fit for the post of clerk of the assize on his circuit, but Cromwell wrote to Fitzjames asking that his own nominee should be given this post. Fitzjames probably concurred and, in return, Cromwell took Maurice Berkeley into his own household. Berkeley clearly became one of Cromwell’s favourites and at his instance was given a number of leases and offices in the lands of Glastonbury abbey.4

During 1539 Berkeley entered the royal household and soon received marks of royal favour. On 22 Mar. 1541 he was granted the site and many of the lands of Bruton priory, which he made his chief residence, and in the following month he was appointed to the keepership of Northwood park. In 1543 he was licensed, though a layman, to hold a prebend in Ripon minster. By 1547 his landed income was assessed at £304 a year, and he added considerably to this during the next few years. In November 1544, on his return from France, where he had commanded a troop of light horse and been knighted by the King, he received the constableship of Berkeley castle, and in the following year he succeeded his elder brother as chief banner-bearer of England. He was probably the ‘Mr. Barkley’ who in 1543 and 1544 received New Year gifts from the Queen, and Henry VIII bequeathed him 200 marks in his will. Berkeley jousted at the coronation of the new King and probably continued at court, which may account for his not being placed on the commission of the peace. He had several valuable grants from Edward VI, particularly after the fall of the Duke of Somerset.5

If Berkeley’s standing at court and his local ascendancy account for his return in 1547 as knight of the shire for Somerset, his seat at Bletchingley in the following Parliament he probably owed to his brother-courtier and fellow-Protestant, Sir Thomas Cawarden, patron of that borough. Although in June 1553 he signed the device settling the crown on Lady Jane Grey, Berkeley seems to have played no further part in the succession crisis. Yet before he sued out his general pardon in October 1553 he paid the price of his misjudgment by surrendering his office of banner-bearer. After the collapse of Wyatt’s rebellion early in 1554 he took Wyatt prisoner, but as a convinced Protestant he had no part in politics or administration under Mary; he sat in none of her Parliaments and was named to no commission—but he also escaped involvement in sedition.6

The accession of Elizabeth, and his marriage in 1562 to one of her gentlewomen, were to bring Berkeley fresh influence both at court and in Somerset, and a notable extension of his parliamentary career stretching over nearly 20 years. He died on 11 Aug. 1581.7

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: Roger Virgoe

Notes