Norborne Berkeley, Baron Botetourt, Gov. of Virginia (c.1717 - 1770)

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Death: Died in Williamsburg, Virginia
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About Norborne Berkeley, Baron Botetourt, Gov. of Virginia

Family and Education b. ?1717, o.s. of John Symes Berkeley of Stoke Gifford, Glos. by his 2nd w. Elizabeth, da. and coh. of Walter Norborne of Calne, Wilts., wid. of Edward Devereux, 8th Visct. Hereford. educ. Westminster Sept. 1726, aged 9. unm. suc. fa. 1736. Abeyance of barony of Botetourt terminated in his favour 13 Apr. 1764.

Offices Held

Groom of the bedchamber 1760-4; keeper of St. Briavel’s castle in the Forest of Dean May 1762; constable of the Forest of Dean 1763-66; ld. of the bedchamber 1767-d.; ld. lt. Glos. 1762-6; gov. Virginia 1768-d.

Biography Norborne Berkeley was descended from a younger branch of the Berkeleys of Berkeley Castle, who had held the manor of Stoke since the fourteenth century.1 Stoke Gifford house overlooked Bristol, four miles away, and the Berkeley property near the city was mined for coal. According to a report sent to the French Government in 1743 ‘c’est le nombre prodigieux de gens qui travaillent aux mines de charbons dans ses terres aux environs de Bristol qui rend M. Norborne Berkeley ... un des plus considérables de la noblesse du royaume’.2

When in 1740 Berkeley stood as a Tory for the county in conjunction with Thomas Chester Thomas Carte, the historian, reported to Rome that

Mr. B’s cousin, the Earl of Berkeley had promised him his interest; but ... Sir Robert Walpole represented to him that it was an inconsistency in him to give his interest to a gentleman who declared he stood upon an opposite interest to that of the court and join with Mr. Chester, an open enemy of the Government as well as the Administration, and it was expected he should engage all his friends and his interest against Mr. Berkeley as well as Chester. Lord Berkeley thereupon declared against his cousin; but

young Mr. Berkeley, who ... does not want spirit and good sense, went to the Earl and representing to him that upon his assuring him of his interest he had been first encouraged to offer his services to the county ... that the gentlemen finding his Lordship declare openly against him had reason to suspect that he had imposed upon them by a false pretence to his Lordship’s promise and interest and as it was a terrible thing for a young man to enter the world with the character of a fourbe he must vindicate his own reputation and conduct and ... desire his Lordship to sign a certificate, declaring ... [he] ... had promised his cousin Berkeley his interest for the county and ... allowed him to assure the gentlemen thereof, but that finding he had joined with Mr. Chester and so embarked in an interest opposite to that of the court, he had thought fit to retract his promise and use of his interest to oppose his election. Lord Berkeley agreed,

and now it proves that upon his promise his tenants were engaged to Mr. Berkeley, that is, they follow their inclination and not the Earl’s example in breaking their word, so that he will not be able to make ten votes against Mr. Berkeley.3 Returned unopposed, and again in 1747, Berkeley voted consistently against the Government. On 24 Apr. 1744 he carried by his casting vote as chairman of a committee of the Commons a clause in favour of the Jews in a bill for ending the monopoly of the Levant trade by the Turkey Company.4 In 1749 he was given a D.C.L. by the University of Oxford at the Jacobite demonstration on the opening of the Radcliffe Library (see under Oxford University). ‘I think his heart is thoroughly against us’, the second Lord Egmont wrote in his electoral survey c.1749-50 - ‘how he may be influenced by [his brother-in-law] the Duke of Beaufort to act I can’t say’. His vote for the Jewish naturalization bill threatened to prejudice his re-election in 1754, when there was ‘such a spirit in Gloucestershire against Norborne Berkeley upon this account, that though he is otherwise the perfect idol of the country, they are now quite in an uproar against him’.5

Berkeley was returned unopposed in 1754 and again in 1761. He was classed as a Tory in Dupplin’s list of 1754, but on 31 May 1759 he seconded an address moved by Pitt.1 In December 1760 Berkeley was one of the five Tories whose introduction into the bedchamber greatly upset Newcastle.2 In Bute’s list of December 1761 he was classed as ‘Tory’ and ‘Bute’; and he appears in Fox’s list of Members favourable to the peace preliminaries, December 1762. He was described in Grafton’s Autobiography (p. 184) as ‘much attached to Lord Bute, and considered to be wholly devoted to his Majesty’. James Harris writes that Berkeley, supporting the cider bill, 22 Mar. 1762, told the House of his own independency—‘that he had been for the jew-bill, and avowed it to his constituents, though the year before a general election—signified to us now, however, that he expected a seat among the peers’. In April 1763 he vacated his seat; claimed the Botetourt peerage which had been in abeyance for 250 years, and the following year established his claim.

In 1768 Botetourt was appointed governor of Virginia. Horace Walpole writes:3

Lord Botetourt, a very courtier, who was ruined in his fortune, was sent governor to Virginia, where resided some of the ablest of the American patriots; yet in the two years that he lived to govern them his soothing flattering manners had so wrought on the province, that his death was bewailed with the most general and affectionate concern. He died 15 Oct. 1770.

Norborne Berkeley was born about 1717 in Stoke Gifford, Gloucestershire, to John Symes Berkeley and Elizabeth Norborne. In 1726, at the age of nine, Berkeley was admitted to Westminster School but remained there for only a year. His political career began in 1741 when he was elected MP for Gloucestershire, a seat he held until 1763 when he left the House of Commons to pursue a peerage, the Barony de Botetourt, which had lain in abeyance since 1406. Considered a staunch Tory, Berkeley's fortunes were boosted considerably on the accession of George III in 1760 when he was appointed a Groom of the Bedchamber. He was named Lord Lieutenant of Gloucestershire in 1763 and then, in April 1764, his petition for the Barony was confirmed. Shortly thereafter he took a seat in the House of Lords as the 4th Baron de Botetourt and, in 1767, appointed Lord of the Bedchamber.

Having ruined his fortune in a failed mining project, by the late 1760s Botetourt was in serious need of a steady income. His allies in the British government, Lord Bute chief among them, found one for him as governor of Virginia, a position to which Botetourt was appointed on 29 July 1768. Although he proved to be very popular among many Virginians, he was to enjoy the post for only two years, dying in Williamsburg on 15 October 1770, after an illness lasting several weeks.

Botetourt never married and so left no direct heirs. It has been speculated that Sir Charles Thompson, a naval officer and baronet, born about 1740, was his illegitimate son. Botetourt was the legal guardian of his nephew, Henry Somerset, 5th duke of Beaufort, from the time of the death of the 4th duke in 1756. His niece was the celebrated Mary Isabella Manners, duchess of Rutland, a social and political rival of the duchess of Devonshire.

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Norborne Berkeley, Baron Botetourt, Gov. of Virginia's Timeline

1717
1717
1740
1740
Age 23
1770
October 15, 1770
Age 53
Williamsburg, Virginia