BERKELEY, the name of an ancient English family remark able for its long tenure of the feudal castle built by the water of Severn upon the lands from which the family takes its name, and for the fact that a Berkeley fought the last private battle on English soil. It traces an undoubted descent from Robert (d. I I70) son of Harding. In the age of chivalry the lords of Berkeley were notable warriors. Thomas, the first hereditary baron, who succeeded to the Berkeley lands in the last quarter of the 13th cen tury, had ridden on the barons' side at Evesham, followed the king's wars for half a century of his long life, flying his banner at Falkirk and at Bannockburn, in which fight he was taken by the Scots. His seal of arms is among those attached to the famous letter of remonstrance addressed by the barons of England to Pope Boniface VIII. Maurice, his son, joined the confederation against the two Despensers, and lay in prison at Wallingford until his death in 1326, the queen's party gaining the upper hand too late to release him. But as the queen passed by Berkeley on her way to seize Bristol she gave back the castle, which had been kept by the younger Despenser, to Thomas, the prisoner's heir, who, with Sir John Mautravers, soon received in his hold the deposed king, Edward II., brought thither secretly. The chron iclers agree that Thomas of Berkeley had no part in the murder of the king, whom he treated kindly. It was when Thomas was away from the castle that Mautravers and Gournay made an end of their charge. Thomas of Berkeley fought at Crecy and Calais, bringing six knights and 32 squires to the siege in his train, with 3o mounted archers and 200 men on foot.
Being by his mother a nephew of Roger Mortimer, earl of March, the paramour of Queen Isabel, Maurice Berkeley, who had been taken prisoner at Poitiers, married Elizabeth, daughter of Hugh Despenser, the younger of Edward II.'s favourites and the intruder in Berkeley Castle. With his son and heir Thomas of Berkeley, one of the commissioners of parliament for the deposing of Richard II. and a warden of the Welsh marches who harried Owen of Glendower, the direct male line of Robert fitz Harding failed. On this Thomas's death in 14 r 7 Elizabeth, his daughter and heir, and her husband, Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, the famous traveller, statesman and jouster, seized Berkeley Castle. Earl and countess only withdrew after James Berkeley, the nephew and male heir, had livery of his lands by the purchased aid of Humphrey of Gloucester. But the Beauchamps returned more than once to vain attacks on the stout walls of Berkeley, and a quarrel of two generations ended with the pitched battle of Nibley Green. Fought between the retainers of William, Lord Berkeley, son of James, and those who followed Thomas Talbot, Viscount Lisle, grandson of the illustrious Talbot and great-grandson of the countess of Warwick, this was the last private battle on English ground between two feudal lords. Young Lisle was shot under the beaver by an arrow, and the feud ended with his death, all claims of his widow being settled with an annuity of Liao.
See John Smyth, Lives of the Berkeleys, compiled c. 1618, edited by Sir John Maclean (1883-85) ; J. H. Round, Introduction to the Somerset Domesday, V.C.H. series; G. E. C[okayne], Complete Peer age; Jeayes's Descriptive Catalogue of the Charters and Muniments at Berkeley Castle (1892) ; Dictionary of National Biography; The Red Book of the Exchequer; Chronicles of Roger of Wendover, Matthew Paris, Adam of Murimuth, Robert of Gloucester, Henry of Hunting don, etc. (Rolls Series) ; British Museum Charters, etc.