Bernardi, John (DNB00)

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BERNARDI, JOHN (1667–1736), major, a suspected conspirator in the 'assassination plot' against William III, was the son of Count Francis Bernardi, a Genoese nobleman who, after representing the republic of Genoa for some years in London, took up a permanent residence in Worcestershire. The chief authority for the son's life is a narrative written by himself, which, although inaccurate in certain particulars, and pervaded throughout by a tone of exaggeration and boastfulness, must in its main outlines be accepted as trustworthy. He was born at Evesham in 1657. In childhood he occasionally received such severe treatment from his father, that at last, at the age of thirteen, he resolved to escape to Packington Hall, the seat of Sir Clement Fisher, whose wife had previously expressed sympathy for his misfortunes. Finding, when he reached Packington Hall, that Sir Clement and his lady were in London, he followed them thither, was kindly received, and was recommended to their relative. Captain Clent, then in garrison at Portsmouth, who caused him to be taught military exercises along with his company. When the regiment was disbanded at the close of the Dutch war, Bernardi, having received from the captain a parting gift of 20l., went to London, where he caught the small-pox, and was reduced to such hard straits, that he addressed himself to his godfather. Colonel Anselme. The colonel, being about to set out for Holland, invited Bernardi to accompany him, and shortly after his arrival he entered as a private the service of the states, exchanging afterwards into one of the English independent regiments. He was present at many of the principal battles and sieges of the war, receiving an English commission in 1674 under Sir John Fenwick, and being promoted captain in 1685 in Colonel Monk's company. He was wounded at the siege of Grave in 1674, was again wounded in 1675 in parting two gentlemen in a duel, and at the siege of Maestricht in 1676 lost the sight of an eye, was shot through the arm, and, but for the devotion of one of his company, would have been left for dead. When in 1687 James II resolved to recall the English troops from Holland, he was one of the sixty officers who obeyed the summons; and at the revolution he refused to sign the obligation to stand by the Prince of Orange. Being thus compelled to leave England, he arrived at St. Germains as King James was about to set out on the expedition to Ireland, and received from him the command of a division. After the death of Dundee at Killiecrankie, he was despatched from Ireland, along with Sir Robert Southwell, to the highlands of Scotland, to assist the Earl of Seaforth in organising a resistance to General Mackay. The defeat of the army of James at the battle of the Boyne rendering further efforts in his cause hopeless, Bernardi, after the dispersion of the highland forces, made his escape southwards to London, where, as he was about to set sail for Holland, he was apprehended on a charge of high treason. The bill was, however, rejected, and, after a visit on parole to Holland, he took up his residence near Brentford until the Christmas of 1695, when he began to frequent the Jacobite coffee-houses in London. In 1696 he was arrested in bed in a tavern on Tower Hill on suspicion of being concerned in the 'assassination plot,' but, no tangible evidence being forthcoming against him, he was never put upon his trial. When the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act had expired, a bill was brought in to sanction the imprisonment of him and four others for a year, on the plea that further time was required to collect evidence. The act was renewed at the end of a year, and on its second expiration an act was passed for confining them during the pleasure of King William. Similar acts were issued on the accession of Anne, George I, and George II. The strong Jacobite sympathies of Bernardi, and the fact that he was arrest in company with an old acquaintance, Captain Rookwood, who was convicted, formed indeed strong presumptive evidence against him; but to doom him to hopeless captivity without trial was a gross violation of those very principles of liberty which William of Orange came to vindicate. Bernardi attained the pathetic pre-eminence of surviving by several years all the other prisoners. After nearly forty years' imprisonment, he died in Newgate in his eightieth year, 20 Sept. 1736. Not withstanding that his later years were rendered additionally irksome from frequent suffering caused by the breaking out of his old wounds, he bore his hard fate with great cheerfulness. While in Holland he had married in 1677 a Dutch lady of good family, but she died before his imprisonment, and in 1712 he was married again in Newgate. His second wife bore him ten children, and her care did much to mitigate the evils of his lot.

[A Short History of Major Bernardi written by Himself in Newgate, where he has been for near thirty-three years a Prisoner of State, without any allowance from Government, and could never be admitted to his Trial, 1729; Biog. Brit. ii. 267-74; Thurloe's State Papers; Macaulay's History of England; Gent. Mag. vi. 553, l. 125.]

T. F. H.