THORPE, George (1575-1622), of Wanswell Court, Berkeley, Glos. and Westminster; later of Berkeley, Virginia

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press



Family and Education

bap. 1 Jan. 1576, 1st s. of Nicholas Thorpe of Wanswell Court and his 1st w. Mary, da. of Christopher Wikes alias Mason, of Abingdon, Berks.1 educ. Staple Inn; M. Temple 1598.2 m. (1) 11 July 1600, Margaret, da. of Sir Thomas Porter† of Newent, Glos., s.p.; (2) 21 Feb. 1611, Margaret (d.1629), da. and h. of David Harris of Bristol, Glos. 2s. 1da.3 suc. fa. 1600.4 d. 22 Mar. 1622.5 sig. Geo[rge] Thorpe.

Offices Held

J.p. Glos. by c.1605-c.1618;6 commr. sewers, Glos. 1607, 1615, Glos. and Worcs. 1607;7 freeman, Portsmouth, Hants 1615.8

Gent. pens. by 1605-d.;9 gent. of the privy chamber by 1620-?d.10

Cttee. Virg. Co. 1612-d.; member, Somers Is. Co. 1615;11 cllr. of state, Virg. 1620-d;12gov. Berkeley plantation, Virg. 1620-d.13


Thorpe came from an undistinguished gentry family that had held Wanswell Court since 1402.14 In 1609, together with Arnold Oldisworth*, he leased land recovered from the river Severn at Slimbridge in Gloucestershire from Viscount L’Isle (Robert Sidney†). However he was almost immediately involved in expensive litigation with the local inhabitants, which continued until 1620, who claimed common rights over the land. In 1612 Thorpe joined the board of the Virginia Company, perhaps on the recommendation of L’Isle, whose nephew, the 3rd earl of Pembroke, had a major financial interest in the Company.15 Two years later he was returned for Portsmouth on Pembroke’s interest.

Thorpe made six recorded speeches in the Addled Parliament. On 5 May he seconded the proposal of Christopher Brooke for legislation against impositions, adding that the king should be invited to attend a conference on the subject: ‘a satisfaction to the king, from both Houses of Parliament, the best that may be’.16 He returned to the subject on 16 May, urging that anyone who could substantiate the king’s right to impose should do so.17 In the debate concerning the Stockbridge election on 10 May he concurred with Sir Herbert Croft, who had argued that sequestration from the House was too light a punishment for Sir Thomas Parry*.18 On 17 May he introduced a bill to prevent tenants from committing waste, but it never received a second reading.19 On 20 May he supported calls for immediate action to halt the Cockayne project, and on 1 June supported the bill to regulate London housing, which was the subject of his only committee appointment.20 On the final day of Parliament he opposed any grant of fifteenths, which fell heavily on the poor, moving instead to give two subsidies on condition that James agreed to a date on which to hear impositions debated.21

On becoming lord chamberlain in 1615, Pembroke may have obtained a place at Court for Thorpe. However, Thorpe’s main interest was in the colonization of Virginia. He secured the support of Richard Berkeley*, sold land himself to finance the enterprise,22 and sailed for Virginia on 27 Mar. 1620. On his arrival he was installed as governor of Berkeley plantation and quickly won universal admiration. John Pory* compared his coming to that of ‘an angel from heaven’, while the governor, Sir George Yeardley, described him as ‘a most sufficient gentleman, virtuous and wise, and one upon whose shoulders the ... government of this whole colony would most fitly sit’. His plans to send for his family suggest that he intended to settle permanently. Principally concerned with evangelizing the Indians, he wrote to Sir Edwin Sandys* on 15 May 1621:

I doubt God is displeased with us that we do not do as we ought to do, take his service along with us by our serious endeavours of converting the heathen that live round about us. ... Scarce any man amongst us that doth so much as afford them a good thought in his heart ... in my poor understanding if there be wrong on any side it is on ours, who are not so charitable to them as Christians ought to be.23

He did all he could to win their confidence, studying their systems of religion and astronomy. When told on 22 Mar. 1622 that they were massacring the colonists he refused to believe it, and went, unarmed, to reason with his ‘children’. He was immediately clubbed and stabbed to death.24 Administration of his estate was granted on 28 May 1623 to his widow. No other member of the family entered Parliament.25

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Virginia C.D. Moseley / Ben Coates


  • 1. A. Brown, Genesis of US, 1031; J. Smyth, Berkeley Mss ed. J. Maclean, iii. 376.
  • 2. M. Temple Admiss.
  • 3. Brown, 1031; Smyth, ii. 179; Reg. St. Martin-in-the-Fields (Harl. Soc. Reg. xxv), 84; C142/395/107; Berkeley Muns. ed. I.H. Jeayes, 260.
  • 4. C142/262/121.
  • 5. C142/395/107.
  • 6. C66/1682; C66/2174.
  • 7. C181/2, ff. 23v, 104v, 240v.
  • 8. Portsmouth Recs. ed. R. East, 348.
  • 9. E407/1/37; PRO 30/26/186.
  • 10. Recs. Virg. Co. i. 332.
  • 11. T.K. Rabb, Enterprise and Empire, 389.
  • 12. Recs. Virg. Co. ed. S.M. Kingsbury, iii. 424.
  • 13. Ibid. i. 387.
  • 14. Smyth, iii. 371, 373.
  • 15. Ibid. 330; E. Geythin-Jones, George Thrope and the Berkeley Company, 40-3; Oxford DNB sub Herbert, William, 3rd earl of Pembroke.
  • 16. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 148.
  • 17. Ibid. 260.
  • 18. Ibid. 192.
  • 19. Ibid. 275.
  • 20. Ibid. 301, 402.
  • 21. Ibid. 439.
  • 22. Brown, 1031; PROB 11/133, f. 259v; Smyth, iii. 376.
  • 23. Recs. Virg. Co. iii. 123, 199, 305, 387, 417, 446.
  • 24. Brown, 1931; J.E. Gethyn-Jones ‘Berkeley Plantation’, Trans. Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. xciv. 10-11.
  • 25. PROB 6/11, f. 21.