BERKELEY, Hon. George Cranfield (1753-1818), of Wood End, nr. Chichester, Suss.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Constituency

Dates

28 Apr. 1783 - Apr. 1810

Family and Education

b. 10 Aug. 1753, 2nd surv. s. of Augustus, 4th Earl of Berkeley, by Elizabeth, da. of Henry Drax† of Charborough, Dorset. educ. Eton 1761-6. m. 21 Aug. 1784,1 Emilia Charlotte, da. of Lord George Henry Lennox of West Stoke, Suss., 2s. 3da. KB 1 Feb. 1813; GCB 2 Jan. 1815.

Offices Held

Entered RN 1766; lt. 1774, cdr. 1778, capt. 1780, col. marines 1795-9; r.-adm. 1799, v.-adm. 1805; c.-in-c. N. American station 1806-7, Portuguese station 1808-12; adm. 1810; ld. high adm. of Portugal 1810.

Surveyor-gen. of Ordnance Apr. 1789-June 1795.

Biography

Berkeley was re-elected unopposed for Gloucestershire on the interest of his elder brother, the 5th Earl of Berkeley, in 1790. His brother was a friend of the Prince of Wales, but Berkeley had supported Pitt since 1784 and in 1789 he was rewarded with the post of surveyor-general of the Ordnance under his wife’s uncle, the 3rd Duke of Richmond.

He was listed ‘abroad’ by Sir Gilbert Elliot in April 1791, and hostile to repeal of the Test Act. He moved the order of the day to terminate a discussion on the slave trade, 6 June 1792, was a teller for the majority against the bill to prevent the supply of slaves to foreign countries, 12 June 1793, and voted against abolition of the trade, 15 Mar. 1796. When defending the Ordnance against opposition charges of supply delays, 15 Mar. 1793, he referred to General Dumourier as ‘the friend’ of Fox and ‘those who maintained the same principles of liberty’ and was harried by the Foxites into withdrawing this ‘unguarded expression’. He replied to Whig criticism of convoy protection, 31 Jan., and defended the Ordnance’s role in the Dunkirk evacuation, 3 Feb. 1794.

Soon afterwards Berkeley went to sea and he had an important share in the victory of 1 June, when he was severely wounded. He was one of the comparatively few officers to receive the gold medal, but disparaging rumours of his conduct in the battle began to circulate and in 1804 the Royal Standard newspaper printed a letter accusing him of cowardice. He sued and obtained a verdict with £1,000 damages. On 7 Jan. 1795 he conceded in debate that the design of British ships could be improved, but denied the alleged general superiority of French vessels and vindicated the Admiralty’s record on convoys. When Richmond was dismissed from the Ordnance later in the month it was reported that Berkeley wished to resign with him, but that the duke made him stay on and vote with Pitt against Grey’s peace motion, 26 Jan. 1795. In June, under pressure from Richmond’s successor Lord Cornwallis, he gave up his place for a colonelcy of marines.2 On 28 May 1795 he obtained leave to introduce a bill to curb the unlicensed sale of beer, which passed into law a month later. The same day he was ordered to his ship and he was at sea until early in 1796, when he regretted the proposed exemption of the poor from the dog tax, 27 Apr., and led the successful opposition to Curwen’s Game Laws repeal bill two days later. He was returned unopposed at the general election.

From 1795 Berkeley communicated various schemes of naval defence to government and in December 1797 he applied to Pitt through his brother-in-law, the 3rd Earl Bathurst, for ‘employment in an active line’, suggesting the command ‘with a broad pendant’ of a small squadron to blockade Ferrol and ‘annoy the trade of the Spanish coast’:

There can be no objection to this as it will not interfere with any other command, and it certainly will give me a chance of retrieving my ill fortune. It is however a situation that I do not choose to ask from the Admiralty, from which board I have received civilities, but have no right to expect favours.

Pitt insisted that Berkeley must apply to the Admiralty and when Lord Berkeley wrote to him on his brother’s behalf, evidently for a place at the Ordnance, in June 1798, replied that there was no opening and that ‘the distinction he received in the line of his own profession must be considered as placing his claim for civil office on a different footing from that on which it would otherwise have stood’. He was placed in command of the sea fencibles in Sussex and wrote to ministers with a scheme for coastal defences.3

In the House, 23 Feb. 1798, he seconded Huskisson’s motion concerning (Sir) William Sidney Smith*, held captive by the French, and referred pointedly to the absence of the Foxites, who had been so solicitous for Lafayette. On his promotion to flag rank in 1799 he commanded a squadron in the Channel fleet, where he served for two years. His commander-in-chief, Lord St. Vincent, reported that ‘my élève Rear-Admiral Berkeley does not like the Black Rocks where I was obliged to pin him’ and was ‘manoeuvring to get to Spithead’ on a pretext, and that the ships under his command had ‘done him no credit’. He was a teller for the majority against the poor rate relief bill, 5 Mar. 1801, and in the following August unsuccessfully solicited the governorship of Madeira.4

Berkeley’s half-sister was married to Lord Grenville’s brother, the 1st Marquess of Buckingham, and after Pitt’s departure from office he allied himself with the Grenvilles, though they gave him ‘perfect liberty to take his own line and support the peace’.5 He called for a general inquiry into the Poor Laws, 25 Nov. 1801, when he caused a stir by stating that in his neighbourhood ‘the poor were arrogant, and the overseers flagrantly indolent’, voted for inquiry into the Prince of Wales’s financial claims, 31 Mar., and opposed the coroners’ fees bill, 7 Apr., 19 May and 20 June 1802. On 15 Mar. 1802 he presented the petition of Dr Jenner, a native of Berkeley, claiming remuneration for his discovery of inoculation, and on 2 June he put Jenner’s case and moved successfully for a grant of £10,000.

After his unopposed re-election in 1802 he was listed among the Grenvillite opponents of the Addington ministry.6 He seconded Gascoyne’s motion on shipping tonnage, 1 Dec., voiced the opinion that the Admiralty already possessed many of the powers proposed to be vested in the commissioners of naval inquiry, 13 Dec., and on 17 Dec. complained of alterations made in the bill and criticized the personnel of the commission. In April 1803 Wilberforce noted that he seemed disposed to raise the question of the ‘cruel, unlawful and oppressive treatment of the sailors’, but he did not do so.7 He was a leading advocate of the woollen manufacturers’ protection bill in March and April 1803 and on 3 June he voted for Patten’s motion of censure on the ministry. He doubted the necessity for the Irish martial law bill, 7 Dec. 1803, but did not oppose it. Instead he gave notice of a motion for papers intended to refute ministerial slurs on his kinsman General Fox, commander-in-chief in Ireland during the rebellion; but he withdrew it, 8 Feb. 1804, on the understanding that Fox’s detractors had disavowed any intention of incriminating him. In December 1803 St. Vincent noted that Berkeley, ‘an active citizen’, had sounded him about the East Indian command.8 On 29 Feb. 1804 he attacked the volunteer consolidation bill and, in a digression, argued that the country’s naval defences were inadequate, though he specifically exonerated St. Vincent from blame. He joined in the combined attack on Addington, spoke in support of Pitt’s call for a naval inquiry, 15 Mar., when he disputed the accuracy of ministerial statistics, and supplied Pitt with further criticism of the naval accounts in April.9

On the formation of Pitt’s second ministry Berkeley, who hoped the Grenvilles would agree to take office without Fox, evidently applied for promotion but, as he told Bathurst, now master of the Mint, he had no success:

I have not seen Mr Pitt, although I called by appointment twice, and was then told by him that he would let me know when he could see me, since which I have not heard a word ... I feel that I have not been treated with much civility by him ... I was neither offered employment nor did I ask it, although he requested my plans of defence, which I gave him, and he seemed to think rather favourably of them ... Of course until he sends for me again, I shall not trouble the Admiralty.10

Listed under ‘Grenville’ in May, he opposed Pitt’s additional force bill in June and in September was placed under ‘Fox and Grenville’ in the ministerial list, though he was later transferred to ‘persons in opposition not quite certain’. He voted against the government on the Spanish war, 12 Feb., and defence, 21 Feb. 1805, but not on the Melville affair, and was classed as ‘Opposition’ in July. On 10 June he got leave to introduce a bill to continue the suspension of penalties on woollen manufacturers for the use of certain machinery, which became law on 2 July.

When Lord Grenville came to power in 1806 he recommended Berkeley as ‘a friend and connection of mine’ to Grey, the new first lord of the Admiralty, who in April appointed him to the North American command.11 He was returned unopposed for Gloucestershire in his absence in 1806 and again in 1807. The Chesapeake incident, 22 June 1807, which caused a diplomatic row between Britain and America, took place under his direct orders and the Portland ministry recalled him. Lord Buckingham feared that his brothers, now back in opposition, might show ‘too much hostility’ towards Berkeley when relations with America were discussed in Parliament, but they assured him that they would not lose sight of his friendship and connexion with the admiral. Buckingham remained anxious to delay Berkeley’s return in order to ‘keep him out of the discussion’ and he was assisted in achieving his object by Bathurst, now a member of the cabinet, who persuaded Mulgrave, the first lord, to give permission to Berkeley to ‘detain at Bermuda the frigate which is to convey him home, as long as he may judge it convenient either for his health, or the arrangement of his own affairs’. With luck, thought Bathurst, ‘the question will be long over in Parliament before he can arrive’:

With respect to all other discussions, if he is in England and not employed, it is by no means desirable that he should absent himself from Parliament ... but in voting with his friends, there is no necessity for his taking so active a part, as would make it disagreeable for him afterwards to accept a military situation.

Buckingham commented that

if upon his return he should feel it necessary to take a strong political part ... I shall see it with regret; but my greatest anxiety in that case will be to show him that he has lost nothing of his ground by the delay ... What his views may then be, I do not guess.12

The Commons debates on the American question were over by the time Berkeley came home and there is no record of any parliamentary activity of his in 1808. In June his brother-in-law the 4th Duke of Richmond, lord lieutenant of Ireland, noted that he was ‘not well pleased with ministers’ and tried unsuccessfully to procure military promotion for his son as a means of mollifying him ‘at a cheap rate’. In October Mulgrave observed that although his ‘language respecting government has been neither very decent nor very measured’, he was ‘quick enough to be aware of the very powerful crutches’ which Bathurst and Richmond were to him. At the end of the year he was given the command on the coast of Portugal, where he remained until his retirement from active service in 1812.13 His absence made his inclusion by the Whigs among their ‘thick and thin’ adherents in March 1810 academic. Indeed, Lord Berkeley had already persuaded him to vacate his seat. In August 1811 he was tempted by a proposal that he should stand for Bristol at the next general election, but nothing came of the notion; and on 25 Nov. 1811 Richmond told Bathurst that he would not do for Chichester:

I know him to be a wretched politician, and indeed it would not be creditable to him to change because I brought him in. If he brings himself in he may vote as he pleases, which will be always with the Grenvilles unless they remained too long in opposition.14

On Berkeley’s return from Portugal, Bathurst—‘with great difficulty, for he has been from the time he went out at variance with the Admiralty, and the first lord successively’—procured him the offer of a red ribbon, which he ‘refused indignantly’, maintaining that his services merited a peerage. Both Bathurst and Richmond, enlisted by the former to deflate Berkeley’s ‘excessive vanity’, argued forcibly that he stood no chance of obtaining a peerage for his professional services, as the navy had played little part in the Peninsular war. Richmond also reminded him that his financial circumstances were not adequate to sustain the rank, though he agreed that Berkeley was ‘quite right in not accepting a seat in the House of Commons, by which you would be bound to support people whom you do not seem quite to approve of’. He eventually settled for the red ribbon. Early in 1815 he was at Lisbon, ‘very much broken’ in health.15 He died 25 Feb. 1818.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: David R. Fisher

Notes

  • 1. Gent. Mag. (1784), ii. 636.
  • 2. Chatsworth mss, Lady E. Foster jnl. 25 Jan. 1795; PRO 30/8/125, f. 269.
  • 3. PRO 30/8/102, f. 35; 113, ff. 119, 123, 127, 133; 195, f. 183.
  • 4. Spencer Pprs. (Navy Recs. Soc. lix), 6, 17; Add. 33107, f. 316.
  • 5. HMC Bathurst, 27-28.
  • 6. Colchester, i. 411-12.
  • 7. Life of Wilberforce (1838), iii. 90.
  • 8. St. Vincent Letters (Navy Recs. Soc. lxi), 304.
  • 9. PRO 30/8/113, f. 141.
  • 10. HMC Bathurst, 42-43.
  • 11. Grey mss, Grenville to Grey, 7 Feb. 1806; Geo. III Corresp. iv. 3233.
  • 12. HMC Bathurst, 63; HMC Fortescue, ix. 139; Buckingham, Court and Cabinets, iv. 206, 211-13.
  • 13. Wellington Supp. Despatches, v. 452; HMC Bathurst, 78-79, 82, 148, 150.