Berkeley, Gilbert (DNB00)

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BERKELEY, GILBERT (1501–1581), bishop of Bath and Wells, is said to have been a member of the noble family of Berkeley, whose armorial bearings he used (Wood, Athenae Oxon. ii. 806; Britton, Hist. Wells Cath. p. 113). No certain information, however, exists as to his genealogy (Cassan, ii. 1). Wood and Strype (Parker, i. 128) say that he was a Lincolnshire man by birth; Fuller, probably incorrectly, that he belonged to Norfolk (Worthies, ii. 126). He appears to have taken the degree of B.D. at Oxford about 1539 (Wood). He accepted the doctrines of the Reformation, and during the reign of Mary was in exile at Frankfort. No notice exists of his having held any ecclesiastical preferment before his consecration. After the deprivation of Bourne, bishop of Bath and Wells, license of election was granted 11 Jan. 1560. Berkeley was elected to the see 29 Jan., the royal assent was given 20 March, he was consecrated at Lambeth 24 March, and received the temporalities 10 July (Le Neve; Rymer, Foedera, xv. 598). In common with the other bishops consecrated at this time he is described as 'an excellent and constant preacher of God's word' (Strype, Parker, i. 128). He attended the convocation of 12 Jan. 1562, and signed the articles then drawn up and the orders framed in 1559 for the conduct of deacons and readers (ib. 240). In a letter written in the November of that year he informed the lord treasurer that the patrons of chapels in his diocese were stripping off the lead from the roofs of their chapels (Annals I. i. 540). He received the degree of D.D. per gratiam in 1563. The conduct of Dr. Turner, the dean of Wells, caused him some trouble. Turner disliked the attempts made to enforce uniformity. He made an adulterer do penance in a priest's square cap, and used to call the bishops 'white coats' and 'tippet gentlemen.' Berkeley admonished him, and, finding that he paid no attention to his admonition, in 1565 complained of his conduct to the archbishop, and suggested that a letter from Cecil might bring him to obedience (Strype,Parker, i. 301). In 1574 the burgesses of Wells applied for a renewal of their ancient corporation. Berkeley resisted their claim as injurious to the rights of the see, and wrote to the lord treasurer representing that the town had no trade to support a mayor, recorder, and two justices. His conduct excited considerable indignation among the townsmen (Annals, ii. 504). Berkeley had a severe illness in 1572, and was long forced to keep his room, as he suffered during the rest of his life from sciatica. He was, however, present at the funeral of Archbishop Parker, 6 June 1575. In 1578 he successfully resisted an iniquitous attempt made by Lord Paulet to impropriate the tithes of the living of West Monkton, of which he was patron (ib. II. ii. 185). He died 2 Nov. 1581. Strype describes him as a prelate 'of great gravity and singular integrity of life,' but records that in 1564 he licensed Thomas, son of Sir John Harington, to the living of Kelston when only eighteen years of age and a scholar at Oxford, with provision that if he took orders the license should become perpetual (ib. III. i. 40), and observes in another place (Aylmer, 58) that from age and the affliction of a lethargy he was not so diligent as the size of his diocese required, and that in consequence it (Cassan, ii. 2, reads the sentence as applying to the bishop) ' inclined to superstition and papal religion.' Harington (Nugae Antiq. ii. 150) says that 'he was a good justicer, saving that sometimes being ruled by his wife he swerved from the rule of justice and sincerity, especially in persecuting the kindred of Bourne, his predecessor. The fame went that he died very rich, but the same importunate woman carried it all away, that neither the church nor the poor were the better for it.' In relation to this remark it should be noted that Berkeley took the extraordinary step of procuring for himself the chancellorship of the church of Wells (23 Aug. 1560), which he held until 1562 along with his bishopric. During his last illness he wrote to the lord treasurer urging that good appointments might be made both to the see he was so soon to vacate by death and to other bishoprics. Nevertheless after his death the diocese of Bath and Wells was left without a bishop for nearly three years.

[Wood's Athenae Oxon. (ed. Bliss); Fuller's Worthies (ed. Nichols); Strype's Annals, Memorials, Life of Parker, Life of Aylmer, 8vo; Harington's Nugae Antiquae, 8vo; Godwin, De Praesulibus; Cassan's Lives of the Bishops of Bath and Wells; Le Neve's Fasti (Hardy).]

W. H.