Bourchier, John, second Baron Berners 1467-1533, statesman and author, was the son of Humphrey Bourchier, by Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Frederick Tilney, and widow of Sir Thomas Howard. His father was slain at the battle of Barnet (14 April 1471) fighting in behalf of Edward IV, and was buried in Westminster Abbey (Weever's Funerall Monuments, 1632, p. 482). His grandfather, John, the youngest son of William Bourchier, earl of Ewe, was created Baron Berners in 1455, and died in 1474. Henry Bourchier [qv.], the Earl of Ewe's eldest son and the second Lord Berner's granduncle, became Earl of Essex in 1461. Another granduncle, Thomas Bourchier [qv.], was archbishop of Canterbury from 1454 to 1486.
In 1474 John Bourchier succeeded his grandfather as Baron Berners. He is believed to have studied for some years at Oxford, and Wood conjectures that he was of Balliol College. But little is known of his career till after the accession of Henry VII. In 1492 he entered into a contract to serue the king in his warres beyond see on hole yeere with two speres (Rymer, Federa, xii. 479). In 1497 he helped to repress the Cornish rebellion in behalf of Perkin Warbeck. It is fairly certain that he and Henry VIII were acquainted as youths, and the latter showed Berners much favour in the opening years of his reign. In 1513 he travelled in the king's retinue to Calais, and was present at the capture of Terouenne. Later in the same year he was marshal of the Earl of Surrey's army in Scotland. When the Princess Mary married Louis XII (9 Oct. 1514), Berners was sent with her to France as her chamberlain. But he did not remain abroad. On 18 May 1514 he had been granted the reversion to the office of chancellor of the exchequer, and on 28 May 1516 he appears to have succeeded to the post. In 1518 Berners was sent with John Kite, archbishop of Armagh, on a special mission to Spain to form an alliance between Henry VIII and Charles of Spain. The letters of the envoys represent Berners as suffering from severe gout. He sent the king accounts of the bull-baiting and other sports that took place at the Spanish court. The negotiations dragged on from April to December, and the irregularity with which money was sent to the envoys from home caused them much embarrassment (cf. Berners to Wolsey, 26 July 1518, in Brewer's Letters &c. of Henry VIII). Early in 1519 Berners was again in England, and he, with his wife, attended Henry VIII at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in the next year. The privy council thanked him (2 July 1520) for the account of the ceremonial which he forwarded to them. Throughout this period Berners, when in England, regularly attended parliament, and was in all the commissions of the peace issued for Hertfordshire and Surrey. But his pecuniary resources were failing him. He had entered upon several harassing lawsuits touching property in Staffordshire, Wiltshire, and elsewhere. As early as 1511 he had borrowed 350l. of the king, and the loan was frequently repeated. In December 1520 he left England to become deputy of Calais, during pleasure, with 100l. yearly as salary and 104l. as spyall money. His letters to Wolsey and other officers of state prove him to have been busily engaged in succeeding years in strengthening the fortifications of Calais and in watching the armies of France and the Low Countries in the neighbourhood. In 1522 he received Charles V. In 1528 he obtained grants of manors in Surrey, Wiltshire, Hampshire, and Oxfordshire. In 1529 and 1531 he sent Henry VIII gifts of hawks (Privy Purse Expenses, pp. 54, 231). But his pecuniary troubles were increasing, and his debts to the crown remained unpaid. Early in 1532-3, while Berners was very ill, Henry VIII directed his agents in Calais to watch over the deputy's personal effects in the interests of his creditors. On 16 March 1532-3 Berners died, and he was buried in the parish church of Calais by his special direction. All his goods were placed under arrest and an inventory taken, which is still at the Record Office, and proves Berners to have lived in no little state. Eighty books and four pictures are mentioned among his household furniture. By his will (3 March 1532-3) he left his chief property in Calais to Francis Hastings, his executor, who became earl of Huntingdon in 1544 (Chronicle of Calais, Camd. Soc. p. 164). Berners married Catherine, daughter of John Howard, duke of Norfolk, by whom he had a daughter, Joan or Jane, the wife of Edmund Knyvet of Ashwellthorp in Norfolk, who succeeded to her father's estates in England. Small legacies were also left to his illegitimate sons, Humphrey, James, and George.
The barony of Berners was long in abeyance. Lord Berners's daughter and heiress died in 1561, and her grandson, Sir Thomas Knyvett, petitioned the crown to grant him the barony, but died 9 Feb. 1616-7 before his claim was ratified. In 1720 Elizabeth, a great-granddaughter of Sir Thomas, was confirmed in the barony and bore the title of Baroness Berners, but she died without issue in 1743, and the barony fell again into abeyance. A cousin of this lady in the third degree married in 1720 Henry Wilson of Didlington, Norfolk, and their grandson, Robert Wilson, claimed and secured the barony in 1832. The barony is now held by a niece of Henry William Wilson (1797-1871), the third bearer of the restored title.
While at Calais Berners devoted all his leisure to literary pursuits. History, whether real or fictitious, always interested him, and in 1523 he published the first volume of his famous translation of (1) Froissart's Chronicles. The second volume followed in 1525. Richard Pynson was the printer. This work was undertaken at the suggestion of Henry VIII and was dedicated to him. Its style is remarkably vivid and clear, and although a few French words are introduced, Berners has adhered so closely to the English idiom as to give the book the character of an original English work. It inaugurated the taste for historical reading and composition by which the later literature of the century is characterised. Fabian, Hall, and Holinshed were all indebted to it. E. V. Utterson issued a reprint of Berners's translation in 1812, and although Col. Johnes's translation of Froissart (1803-5) has now very generally superseded that of Berners, the later version is wanting in the literary flavour which still gives Berners's book an important place in English literature. But chivalric romance had even a greater attraction for Berners than chivalric history, and four lengthy translations from the French or Spanish were completed by him. The first was doubtless (2) Huon of Burdeux, translated from the great prose French Charlemagne romance, about 1530, but not apparently published till after Lord Berners's death. It is probable that Wynkyn de Worde printed it in 1534 under the direction of Lord George Hastings, earl of Huntingdon, who had urged Berners to undertake it. Lord Crawford has a unique copy of this book. A second edition, apparently issued by Robert Copland in 1570, is wholly lost. Two copies of a third revised edition, dated 1601, are extant, of which one is in the British Museum and the other in the Bodleian. The first edition was reprinted by the Early English Text Society 1883-5. (3) The Castell of Love (by D. de San Pedro) was translated from the Spanish at the instaunce of Lady Elizabeth Carew, late wyfe to Syr Nicholas Carewe, knight. The first edition was printed by Robert Wyer about 1540, and a second came from the press of John Kynge about the same time. (4) The golden boke of Marcus Aurelius, emperour and eloquent oratour, was a translation of a French version of Guevara's El relox de Principes. It was completed only six days before Berners's death, and was undertaken at the desire of his nephew, Sir Francis Bryan [qv.]. It was first published in 1534, and republished in 1539, 1542, 1553, 1557, and 1559. A very definite interest attaches to this book. It has been proved that English Euphuism is an adaptation of the style of the Spanish Guevara. Lyly's Euphues was mainly founded on Sir Thomas North's Dial of Princes (1558 and 1567), and the Dial of Princes is a translation of an enlarged edition of Guevara's El Redox, which was first translated into English by Berners. The marked popularity of Berners's original translation clearly points to him as the founder of Guevarism or so-called Euphuism in England (Landmann's Euphuismus, Giessen, 1881).
Berners also translated from the French (5) The History of the moost noble and valyaunt knight, Artheur of Lytell Brytaine. The book was reprinted by Utterson in 1812. Wood, following Bale, attributes to Berners a Latin comedy, (6) Ite ad Vineam, which he says was often acted after vespers at Calais, and a tract on (7) The Duties of the Inhabitants of Calais. Nothing is known now of the former work; but the latter may not improbably be identified with the elaborate Ordinances for watch and ward of Calais in Cotton MS. (Faust. E. vii. 89-102 b). These ordinances were apparently drawn up before 1532, and have been printed at length in the Chronicle of Calais published by the Camden Society, pp. 140-62. Warton states, on the authority of Oldys, that Henry, lord Berners, translated some of Petrarch's sonnets, but the statement is probably wholly erroneous (Hist. Engl. Poet. iii. 58).
Holbein painted a portrait of Berners in his robes as chancellor of the exchequer (Walpole, Anecdotes of Painting, ed. Wornum, i. 82). The picture is now at Keythorpe Hall, Leicestershire, in the possession of the Hon. H. Tyrwhitt Wilson. It was engraved for the Early English Text Society's reprint of Huon of Burdeux (1884).
Dugdale's Baronage, ii. 132-3
Marshall's Genealogist's Guide
Bale's Cent. Script. ix. 1
Wood's Athenę Oxon. (Bliss), i. 72
Brewer's Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, 1509-1534
Utterson's Memoir of Berners in his reprint of the Froissart (1812)
Walpole's Royal and Noble Authors, i. 239-45
Introduction to the Early English Text Society's reprint of Huon of Burdeux, ed. Lee.
Contributor: S. L. [Sidney Lee]