Berkeley, Sir Charles, Earl of Falmouth 1630-1665, courtier, was born at Bruton Abbey, Somerset, and baptized 11 January 1630, the second son of Sir Charles Berkeley of Bruton and his wife Penelope Godolphin of Godolphin. He was tutored by Hugh Cressy [qv.], the former chaplain of Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford [qv.], and Lucius Cary, second Viscount Falkland [qv.]. During the civil war his family was strongly Royalist, and after it he was sent to serve the exiled Stuart court. In 1652 his uncle, Sir John (later first Baron) Berkeley [qv.], used his influence as governor to James, Duke of York, to secure the youth a commission as a cavalry officer under the command of that prince. He remained in Yorks employment until the Restoration, first in the French and then in the Spanish armies, and became his groom of the Stole and one of his closest friends. In 1660 he returned to England with his master, who ensured him several honours from the newly restored Charles II. These included a knighthood, the post of lieutenant-governor of Portsmouth, and the receipts from mooring fees levied on the Thames below London bridge. The latter provided him with the income needed to purchase a house beside the bowling green at Whitehall, and York also secured his election as MP for New Romney in 1661. At court he became associated with the faction led by George Digby, second Earl of Bristol, and Henry Bennet, first Earl of Arlington [qqv.], and friendly with the kings mistress, Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine [qv.].
In 1662 that faction became an important part of the government, and Berkeley received Bennetts post of keeper of the Privy Purse when the latter was promoted. But it was during the next year that observers noticed that King Charles himself had become so fond of Berkeley that he was now one of the principal royal favourites, and perhaps the greatest. In July he was given an Irish peerage as Viscount Fitzhardinge, and would have received an English title had the king not been conscious of hostility to his courtiers in the English House of Commons. But that title, of Earl of Falmouth, was granted in March 1665 as part of the honours bestowed when war was declared against the Dutch. The newly created earl volunteered for service in the royal fleet, and was killed by a cannon shot in the first battle, off Lowestoft on 3 June. He was given a heros funeral in Westminster Abbey. The king was more distressed by his death than by that of any other person except his own sister, and it seems certain that Berkeley would have received further advancement had he lived.
Even so, it may be doubted that he would have made a greater impact upon the course of history. No known portrait of him survives, and his character is almost as faintly recorded. He had no outstanding gifts, of intelligence, learning, or good looks, and was never employed for any important administrative, political, or diplomatic office. Instead he managed the Privy Purse, retained his post at Portsmouth, sat upon the committee for Tangier, and was sent upon polite diplomatic errands. He performed these minor tasks diligently, although he hated writing letters. He had no political aims and did not lead a faction, although he sought lesser posts for a few clients. If he had one trait of potential consequence it was his fondness for France, which led him to encourage efforts to ally with that country, but the international situation made these futile during his lifetime. His popularity with the royal brothers derived, indeed, from the fact that he was a devoted servant and affable companion who was content to further their wishes. His unpopularity with the more high-principled of the English derived from the same qualities, for he indulged or encouraged what they considered to be the kings lechery and laziness.
Berkeley himself does seem to have been physically brave, gracious, modest, generous (especially to his family), even-tempered, and usually honest. His most nefarious recorded act was to defame Yorks new wife Anne Hyde [qv.], in the hope of dissolving the marriage, which many considered to be a disaster. He could be coarse in his conversation, but he married for love, as his own bride came from an impoverished Royalist family. She was a famous beauty, Mary, daughter of Colonel Hervey Bagot of Pipe Hayes, Warwickshire. Their union, in 1664, had only produced one daughter before he was killed; the earldom became extinct. He had no celebrated quarrels, and although he disliked Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon [qv.], and Prince Rupert [qv.] he had this in common with many of the court. His prominence in his time and his lack of consequence for it both derive ultimately from his pleasant mediocrity.
C. H. Hartmann, The Kings Friend, 1951
French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Quai dOrsay, Paris, Correspondance Politique (Angleterre)
Samuel Pepys, Diary
Kent Archives Office, Sackville MSS
State Papers Domestic Series 29.
Contributor: Ronald Hutton