BERKELEY, Sir Richard (1531-1604), of Stoke Gifford, Glos.

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



1604 - 26 Apr. 1604

Family and Education

b. 18 Apr. 1531, o.s. of Sir John Berkeley of Stoke Gifford and Isabel, da. of Sir William Denys of Dyrham, Glos. m. (1) by 1559, Elizabeth, da. of William Rede† of Mitton, Worcs. and Tewkesbury, Glos., 2s. (1 d.v.p.) 5da. (1 d.v.p.); (2) by 1593, Eleanor (d. 17 Mar. 1629), da. of Robert Jermy of Antingham, Norf. and wid. of Robert Rowe (d.1587), Haberdasher, of London, s.p. suc. fa. 1545;1 kntd. 21 Aug. 1574.2 d. 26 Apr. 1604.3

Offices Held

J.p. Glos. by 1559-d., Mdx. 1596-d.;4 sheriff, Glos. 1564-5;5 commr. victuals, Glos. 1573,6 tanning 1574, eccles. causes, Bristol and Gloucester diocs. 1574;7 member, Council in Marches of Wales 1590-at least 1602;8 commr. musters, Mdx. 1596; dep. lt. Glos. 1601-at least 1603;9 commr. oyer and terminer, Oxf. circ. by 1598-d., Wales and the Marches 1602.10

Lt. of the Tower 1596-7.11


The Berkeleys of Stoke Gifford, five miles north-east of Bristol, were descended from a younger son of Maurice, Lord Berkeley, who died in 1326, and first produced a Member for Gloucestershire in 1391.12 Berkeley’s father was killed at sea in 1545, and his wardship was granted to the secretary of state, Sir William Paget*, who probably sold it back to the family.13 Berkeley reportedly struck the sheriff in front of the assize judges in 1569 and subsequently spent some time travelling in Italy.14 He was described as a Catholic in 1582 by a supporter of Mary, Queen of Scots, possibly because he had married two of his children into the Throckmorton family.15 However he seems to have been a well-regarded local administrator and was included in a list of ‘gentlemen of good consideration in Gloucestershire’ prepared for Lord Burghley (William Cecil†).16 He was nonetheless excused from the Loan collectorship of 1589, ‘forasmuch as the said Sir Richard, by reason of the Parliament and other businesses, cannot attend that charge’. He was not a Member of this Parliament, although his son-in-law Sir Thomas Throckmorton was one of the Gloucestershire knights. The two were summoned before the Council in 1590, accused of favouring Lord Berkeley against the countess of Warwick at quarter sessions.

Berkeley started seeking preferment at Court in the 1590s. His name was associated with several offices, although his only appointment was to the lieutenancy of the Tower.17 He held the post for only a few months as, according to the Jesuit John Gerard, over whose torture he presided, he ‘freely resigned ... because he no longer wished to be an instrument in such torture of innocent men’.18 In 1598 he dedicated A Discourse of the Felicitie of Man to Elizabeth, finding that quality to lie not in pleasure, wealth, worldly honour, nor even in virtue, but in Heaven. Described as ‘a scissors-and-paste job on a grand scale’, the book displays wide reading in the classics, scripture, the church fathers and more recent authors and demonstrates that Berkeley could read Latin and Italian. Although virulently anti-Catholic, the work displays little understanding of Protestant theology: Berkeley acknowledged his limitations in this regard, and submitted himself to ‘the censure of the Church of England’.19 In 1600 he was employed to watch over the disgraced 2nd earl of Essex, then under house arrest at Essex House,20 and in 1603 was a bearer of the canopy at the funeral of Queen Elizabeth.21

Berkeley was returned to his first Parliament in 1604 as junior knight for Gloucestershire, alongside his young kinsman Sir Thomas Berkeley, although he was now in his 73rd year. After being named to the committee to consider bills to explain the Forcible Entry Act and to limit the use of writs of error (28 Mar.),22 he died in the Parliament’s sixth week, on 26 Apr. 1604. In his brief will, made 11 days earlier, he makes no mention of his son Henry, whom he had previously described as ‘possessed ... [of a] melancholy humour’, but left all those lands not already so conveyed to his grandson, Richard Berkeley*. He was buried, according to his request, in the lord mayor’s chapel at Bristol, where a monument was erected.23

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Alan Davidson / Ben Coates


  • 1. E150/376/7; J. Smyth, Berkeley Mss ed. J. Maclean, i. 263-4; Vis. Glos. (Harl. Soc. xxi), 8-9; Vis. Norf. (Harl. Soc. xxxii), 174; CPR, 1566-9, p. 418; Ath. Ox. iii. 111; S. Rudder, New Hist. Glos. 623; PROB 11/71, f. 61; 11/104, f. 109.
  • 2. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 75.
  • 3. I.M. Roper, ‘Effigies of Bristol’, Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. Trans. xxvi. 267.
  • 4. Lansd. 1218, f. 14; SP13/F/11, f. 22v; C66/1620.
  • 5. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 51.
  • 6. APC, 1571-5, p. 158.
  • 7. R. Flenley, Cal. Reg. Council, Marches of Wales, 120, 125.
  • 8. CSP Dom. 1581-90, p. 703; Eg. 2882, f.20v.
  • 9. APC, 1596-7, p. 386; 1601-4, p. 161; C66/1618.
  • 10. Smyth, Berkeley, ii. 370; C66/1482; C181/1, ff.17v, 33.
  • 11. CSP Dom. 1595-7, pp. 281, 438.
  • 12. Rudder, 698.
  • 13. LP Hen. VIII, xx. pt. 1, p. 494; xxi. pt. 1, p. 145.
  • 14. HMC Hatfield, ii. 84.
  • 15. ‘Two Lists of Influential Persons Apparently Prepared in the interest of Mary, Queen of Scots, 1574 and 1582’, ed. J.B. Wainewright, in Miscellanea viii. (Cath. Rec. Soc. xiii), 142; Vis. Glos. 9.
  • 16. Smyth, Berkeley, i. 264; APC, 1587-8, p.291; J.S. McGee, ‘The Mental World of Sir Richard Berkeley’, in Protestant Identities ed. M. McClendon, J.P. Ward and M. MacDonald, 86.
  • 17. HMC Hatfield, v. 503; vi. 51, 287; HMC De L’Isle and Dudley, ii. 436, 487.
  • 18. J. Gerard, Autobiog. of an Elizabethan trans. P. Caraman, 114.
  • 19. McGee, 85-97.
  • 20. HMC Rutland, i. 362.
  • 21. LC2/4/4, f. 46v.
  • 22. CJ, i. 959a.
  • 23. Roper, 265-8; PROB. 11/104, f. 109; APC, 1592, p. 324.