Berkeley, George Charles Grantley Fitzhardinge (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 04
Berkeley, George Charles Grantley Fitzhardinge

by William Charles Mark Kent

BERKELEY, GEORGE CHARLES GRANTLEY FITZHARDINGE, M.P. (1800–1881), sixth son of Frederick Augustus, fifth earl of Berkeley (the second son after his marriage, on 16 May 1796, to Mary Cole, thenceforth Countess of Berkeley), was born on 10 Feb. 1800. His elder brother by three years, Thomas Moreton Fitzhardinge, having, by the decision of the House of Lords, been declared Earl of Berkeley [see Berkeley, Family of], Grantley was for seventy years heir presumptive to the earldom. His childhood was passed almost entirely at Cranford House in Middlesex, one of the dower houses settled by the late earl on the countess. At sixteen years of age his godfather, the prince regent, present him with a commission in the Coldstream guards. Having been for a few months entered as an undergraduate at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, he was sent for a year's instruction to the Royal Military College at Sandhurst. He first joined his regiment in 1816 at the Tower of London, being afterwards on duty among the household troops during the next four or five years at St. James's Palace and Windsor Castle, at Chatham and at Woolwich. Shortly after coming of age he retired upon half-pay from the Coldstream guards into the 82nd foot. On 16 Aug. 1824 he married Caroline Martha, youngest daughter of Paul Benfield [q. v.], and in 1829 settled down as an ardent sportsman at Harrold Hall in Bedfordshire. Between 1810 and 1829 his eldest brother, William (to whom the late earl had left Berkeley Castle and the bulk of his large property), then known as Colonel Berkeley, was seeking to establish his claim to succeed his father, the fifth earl, in the earldom of Berkeley, and Grantley believed that Colonel Berkeley's cause might be advanced by the presence of himself and his three brothers, Maurice, Henry, and Craven, in parliament. Maurice [q. v.] therefore entered parliament in 1831, and Craven [q. v.] and Grantley were, in the December of 1832, returned to the House of Commons, the latter us member for West Gloucestershire; Colonel Berkeley himself never established his claim, but he became Baron Segrave (1831) and Earl Fitzhardinge (1841).

For twenty years together, from 1832 to 1852, Grantley held his ground as member for West Gloucestershire. He did so at last not merely in spite of the earl, but in open defiance of him. At five general elections he appeared successfully before the constituency as a candidate. His maiden work, 'Berkeley Castle,' an historical romance in three volumes, was savagely reviewed in the August number for 1836 of 'Fraser's Magazine.' Accompanied by his brother Craven, Berkeley went on the afternoon of 3 Aug. to the bookseller's shop in Regent Street, No. 215, kept by James Fraser, the publisher and proprietor of the magazine. Craven Berkeley having posted himself on guard there at the shop door, Grantley, who was in form a stalwart athlete, confronted the rather puny publisher, demanding from him the name of the anonymous critic. Failing to obtain this information, he felled his feeble antagonist with a blow, and then standing over him beat him savagely about the head and face with the butt-end of a heavy gold-headed hunting-whip. The two Berkeleys were brought before the neighbouring police magistrate in Great Marlborough Street. In the subsequent trial it was stated that a professional pugilist had kept watch as a hired bully outside Fraser's premises. Two actions, indeed, were tried, on 3 Dec. 1836, in the court of exchequer — one, Fraser v. Berkeley, for assault; the other, the cross action, Berkeley v. Fraser, for libel — in each of them the damages being set at 6,000l. In the action for assault the plaintiff (Fraser) got the verdict, with 100l. as his damages; while in the action for libel the plaintiff (Berkeley), though he also got the verdict, had to content himself with 40s. damages. Meanwhile, two days after the assault on the publisher, i.e. on 6 Aug., a hostile meeting had taken place between the Hon. Grantley Berkeley and the author of the anonymous criticism in 'Fraser,' Dr. William Maginn, then editor of that magazine. They fought in a secluded meadow near the Harrow Road. Three shots each were exchanged by the belligerents. Dr. Maginn at the last being slightly wounded.

On 3 May 1836 Mr. Berkeley raised a laugh by proposing that ladies should be admitted to the gallery of the House of Commons. The same day he was cheered along Rotten Row by the fashionable concourse, and in 1841, on the concession of the privilege, received a piece of plate from grateful ladies.

Grantley Berkeley's second publication appeared in 1839, being 'A Pamphlet dedicated to the Noblemen, Gentlemen, and Sportsmen of England, Ireland, and Scotland. In Reply to a Prize Essay by the Rev. John Styles, D.D., on the Claims of the Animal Creation to the Humanity of Man,' 8vo, pp. 49. His only other novel, 'Sandron Hall, or the Days of Queen Anne,' 3 vols., was published in 1840. In 1847, in spite of a bitter quarrel with his brother, Lord Fitzhardinge, and the expenditure of 30,000l. against him, he was returned for West Gloucestershire; but his defence of protection lost him the seat in 1852. From that time forward he took no part whatever in public political life. He devoted himself more than ever to field-sports. He was a master both of stag and of fox hounds. Four of his favourites were famous: his terrier Smike, his bloodhound Druid, his mastiff Grumbo, and his retriever Smoker. Even his tame cormorant Jack was for a long time noted as a wonder. He prided himself to the last upon having learnt pugilism from Byron's instructor, Jackson, and retained until far on in middle life a coarser kind of buckish coxcombry. He delighted in wearing at the same time two or three different-coloured satin under-waistcoats, and round his throat three or four gaudy silk neckerchiefs, held together by passing the ends of them through a gold ring. Even when he had come to be an old man, he piqued himself upon having been the last to cling to the flat cocked hat of polite life, known early in the century as the chapeau bras.

In 1854 Grantley Berkeley published a pamphlet on 'The Potato Disease,' and his 'Reminiscences of a Huntsman,' 8vo, pp. 416. The latter book was illustrated by John Leech, as was another work issued from the press three years afterwards, in which he described 'A Month in the Forests of France,' 8vo, pp. 286. In that same year (1857) he brought out in a thin duodecimo a miniature poem called 'Love and the Lion,' the substance of which was derived from a tale narrated by the French lion-hunter, Jules Gérard.

He crossed the Atlantic and produced in 1861, profusely illustrated, 'The English Sportsman in the Western Prairies,' 8vo, pp. 431. In 1865 he published the first half and in 1866 the second half of his autobiography in 4 vols., entitled 'My Life and Recollections.' During the course of the next year (1867) he brought out 'Anecdotes of the Upper Ten Thousand, their Legends and their Lives.' In 1870 appeared his 'Tales of Life and Death,' in 2 vols., and in 1871, dedicated by him to the Crown Prince of Germany, 'A Pamphlet on the French and Prussian War, written in the month of January while events were passing,' 8vo, pp. 36. Three years later, in 1874, he brought out his last work, 'Fact against Fiction,' 2 vols., in which the habits and treatment of animals were practically considered. The last years of Grantley Berkeley's life were embittered by the loss of his wife and their two sons. His wife, who was a catholic, died on 18 Feb. 1873. Swinburne Fitzhardinge Berkeley, the elder of Grantley's two sons, born on 20 Oct. 1825 and married on 4 March 1862 to Eliza Maria, only daughter of John Gray, of Wharnlands, Northumberland, and Trefin, Flintshire, and widow of Edward Dixon of Horsley House. Worcestershire, died without issue on 31 Dec. 1865; while Grantley's younger, and then only remaining son,' Edward Stratton Fitzhardinge Berkeley, captain in the 2nd life guards, born on 16 July 1827, died unmarried on 29 May 1878. Grantley Berkeley himself, just upon a fortnight after the completion of his eighty-first year, died on 23 Feb. 1881 at Longfleet, Poole, Dorsetshire, having still, to the last, as far beyond his reach as ever what had been dangling all but within his grasp for nearly seventy years — the earldom of Berkeley.

[Grantley Berkeley's Life and Recollections, 4 vols., 1865-6; Times, 6 Aug. 1836. 24 and 25 Feb. and March 1881; Men of the Time, 7th edition, pp. 99-100; Fraser's Magazine, August 1836, pp. 242-7, January 1837, pp. 100-143; Morning Chronicle, 6 Aug. 1836.]

C. K.