Monday, March 24, 2008

Thomas, Lord Berkeley (1353-1417)

Image credit: Nigel Saul

Monumental brass (1392) of Thomas, Lord Berkeley and his wife, Margaret Lisle. Purbeck marble tomb chest in the north aisle of the church of St. Mary the Virgin, Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire.

Thomas Berkeley ("the Magnificent"), son of Maurice, Lord Berkeley and Elizabeth Despencer, at his birth in 1353 brought together the blood of the baronial families of Berkeley, Despencer, Mortimer and Clare--four of the principal dynasties central to the struggle, a generation earlier, between the barons and Edward II. His maternal great-grandmother was Joan of Acre, daughter of Edward I. In November 1367 at Wingrave, Buckinghamshire, Thomas married Margaret, Baroness of Lisle & Teyes. Their only child, Elizabeth, married Richard de Beauchamp, earl of Warwick (d. 1439).

Thomas' resume included an extensive military service, by sea and by land, under Richard II; this service was continued and enhanced under Henry IV. Dugdale says that he was appointed Admiral of the King's Fleet in the 5th year of Henry IV: "He was likewise retained by Indenture to serve the King with three hundred Men at Arms, upon the Sea, for one quarter of a year, himself accounted, with eleven Knights, two hundred eighty five Esquires, six hundred Archers, seven Ships, seven Barges, and seven Ballingers, double manned with Marriners," having command to sail to Bordeaux.

By the terms of his will (1415, cited by Dugdale), Thomas bequeathed "unto the Fabrick of that Church, wherein his body should happen to be buried, a Cross gilt, with all the Relicks included therein. To his Daughter, the Countess of Warick, he thereby gave his best pair of Mattins, as also one gilt Cup with twenty pound contained therein. To James his Nephew (viz. his next Heir-male, being son of James, his brother, already deceased) his best Bed, and great Cup of Jet; as also twenty Coats of Male, twenty Brest-plates, twenty Helmets, and twenty Lances."

About the monumental brass (Monumental Brass Society,

Thomas and Margaret's brass was commissioned in 1392 on the death of Margaret, daughter and heiress of Warin, Lord Lisle. It was conceived as a joint memorial, to the Berkeleys as a couple, although Thomas himself was to live for another 25 years. Thomas’s choice of a brass for his wife is a measure of the high status enjoyed by brasses at this time. Earlier members of his family had all been commemorated by relief effigies – most of them of freestone but in one case of alabaster; and this tradition was to resume under his successors. Brasses, however, enjoyed particular favor with the aristocracy in Thomas’s lifetime.

It is noteworthy that Thomas' sword belt was adorned by a jewel inlay, now lost. Margaret's figure would also have been eye-catching; the crespine headdress had inlaid jewels and the brocade cushions on which her head rest would have had coloured mastic inlay to enhance the design. The collar of mermaids which he is wearing – not a known Berkeley device – may allude to the office of admiral to which he was appointed in 1403. In Thomas’s lifetime the estates of the Berkeley family reached their greatest extent. His wife, an heiress, whom he had married in 1367, brought him the wide Lisle estates in Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire. On Thomas’s death in 1417 without male issue, however, the Berkeley inheritance was divided between the heir male and the heir general, and the great lawsuit began which was to last for nearly two centuries.


Cockayne, The Complete Peerage, 2:130-31
Dugdale, The Baronage of England, 1:360-61

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