BERNEY, Richard (1674-c.1738), of Langley, Norf.
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Family and Education
bap. 3 Aug. 1674, 2nd s. of John Berney of Westwick by Susan, da. of John Staines, prob. of Weston Longville, Norf. educ. G. Inn 1695. m. Mary, da. of Augustine Briggs of Norwich, mayor of Norwich 1695–6, 1da.
Steward, Norwich 1703–27, recorder 1727–d.; clerk of the peace, Norf. by 1730–d.1
Originally Norwich merchants, but established as country gentry since the 14th century and boasting one distant parliamentary ancestor, the Berneys had been ‘the greatest family next the lords’ in Norfolk in the early 17th century, when Richard Berney’s grandfather had been created a baronet. The 1st baronet’s fortune, estimated at ‘£7,000 p.a. and £50,000 in money’ had however been left away from the title, to the Member’s uncle and namesake, who had ‘squandered’ it all. A successful attorney in Norwich, Berney was returned on the Tory interest in 1710 (his elder brother appeared at the time to sympathize with the Whigs, but he too was later a Tory). Classed as a Tory in the ‘Hanover list’, he was noted among the ‘worthy patriots’ who exposed the mismanagements of the previous ministry. In January 1711 he reported the ‘remarkable and famous victory’ on the place bill in the Commons, in which ‘we opposed the Court party in our own interest’. On 17 Dec. 1711 he presented a bill for establishing a workhouse in Norwich. Professional duties no doubt explain three leaves of absence during his tenure (14 Mar. 1711, 14 Mar. 1712 and 9 Mar. 1714). On 18 June 1713 he voted for the French commerce bill. In the Worsley list he was described as a Tory.2
Berney came bottom of the poll for Norwich in 1715 and was listed by the Jacobite Christopher Layer in 1721 as one of the ‘loyal gentlemen’ of Norfolk, with an income of £500 a year. He stood again in 1727, against the outgoing Whig Members, which caused some offence,
for he had lately been made recorder . . . principally by their interest. They could not forbear thinking that some of the old leaven of the Tories still lodged in him, whose party he had formerly been of, but seems to have abandoned them for some time past.
In 1733 he married his daughter and heiress to Thomas Bramston†. Three years later Berney was bankrupt. Coming to a man ‘who had a visible estate of £2,500 per annum’, this caused a great stir in Norwich: it was reported in October 1736 that he
has made over all that he is worth to Mr Bramston . . . for payment of his debts, and it is doubted whether there will be enough to pay everybody their own. He has got the Duke of Norfolk’s [manorial] courts for Mr Bramston, who had with his wife £200 p.a. Surprising vanity of one who passed for a wise man, and a great lawyer, to affect the reputation of a great estate when he knew he was poor!
The following month:
Recorder Berney’s affairs look darker and darker. Mr Bramston they say is very much crestfallen. Half a year ago he would not have given half a crown to have secured £40,000, and now, they say, except the Duke of Norfolk’s courts, his wife will be worth nothing to him.
Berney’s will, in which he described himself as ‘weak in body’, was dated 8 Dec. 1737 and proved 2 Mar. 1738.3
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: D. W. Hayton
- 1. H. Le Strange, Norf. Official Lists, 114–15, 127, 128; HMC Townshend, 349.
- 2. Rye, Norf. Fams. 43–46; Suff. RO (Ipswich), Gurdon mss mic. M142(1), Berney to Thornhagh Gurdon, 3 Jan. 1710[–11]; Prideaux Letters (Cam. Soc. n.s. xv), 166; HMC Townshend, 339; P. S. Fritz, Ministers and Jacobitism 1715–45, p. 143; Norf. RO, Dean Prideaux’s diary, vol. 3, p. 19.
- 3. Fritz, 145; VCH Norf. ii. 520; R. W. Ketton-Cremer, Country Neighbourhood, 120, 126; PCC 54 Brodrepp.